Salt of the Earth

Alumna and author Jessica Johnson with a Columbus legend, Dr. Willburn Weddington.

In 2006, Jessica A. Johnson (MA, journalism, 1994; PhD, education, 1998) and Wilburn H. Weddington, Sr., met at a gala in Columbus, Ohio, honoring 12 African-American men and women trailblazers in the fields of medicine, education, the arts and law.

Johnson wrote the profiles of the honorees, including Weddington’s, the son of a sharecropper from Georgia who went on to become one of the first black professors of clinical family medicine at Ohio State, and in the course of doing so, they became friends. She did such a good job that Weddington’s family asked her to write a book about their father.

The only problem was that she was doing a few other things at the time. “I was trying to juggle my teaching responsibilities, reporting and writing deadlines, all the while meeting with Dr. Weddington and going over boxes and boxes of notes and journals, many of them going back 70 years.”

Johnson, a special correspondent for The Columbus Dispatch and an opinion columnist for The Athens Banner-Herald (Georgia), had her hands full writing columns and teaching at Columbus State Community College.

“It takes a lot of time and thought to capture the essence of a life like Dr. Weddington’s,” said Johnson. “He truly was a pioneer—the only black surgeon assigned to the Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus in 1955; the youngest black physician in Columbus in 1957; one of the first black doctors in Columbus to become board certified in family medicine; and, one of a handful of black physicians to join the faculty at Ohio State in clinical family medicine.”

It would take Johnson more than six years to comb through his memoirs and records. Late last year, the years of work and long conversations with Weddington culminated in Johnson’s book, Salt of the Earth Georgia Boy (Tate Publishing, 2013), a fascinating look at the life of Weddington, who today, at 89, still lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Weddington retired from the Ohio State medical faculty in 1995 and co-founded The Weddington Society to provide support and assistance for any undergraduate student in pre-health programs at Ohio State.

I am truly humbled by all the years of service I was allowed to give my students at Ohio State, as well as all of my patients,” said Weddington. “Those of us who are blessed to have and provide access to medical care must be concerned about our fellow citizens who are less fortunate.

Johnson, an educator at heart, has lectured in the comparative studies and African American and African Studies departments at Ohio State and has taught English composition at Central State University (Wilberforce, Ohio). She was recently selected recipient of the 2013 Excellence Award in Research from Central State’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, in recognition of her book, Salt of the Earth.