CHARLES C. JOHNSON, P.E.
Assistant Surgeon General
Rear Admiral, USPHS (ret.)
Charles C. Johnson, known to his colleagues and friends as “C.C.”, was the first African American PHS officer to serve as an agency head in the Public Health Service when nominated by President Lyndon Johnson to serve as the Administrator of the Consumer Protection and Environmental Health Service within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Department of Health and Human Services.
C.C. Johnson was born in Des Moines, Iowa on September 6, 1921 and attended public schools in that city. After high school, he attended Dowling Junior College in Des Moines, Iowa, and then volunteered to serve in the US Marine Corps (USMC) during World War II in the pacific campaign.
After combat duty, while in the USMC, Johnson went to Perdue University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1947. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant, one of the first six African American officers commissioned in the USMC. Upon graduation, he transferred his commission to the United States Public Health Service (PHS) where he was to serve as an engineer officer for the next twenty-four years. On December 25, 1947, shortly after his commissioning in the PHS, C.C. Johnson married Betty J. Tanner in Indianapolis, Indiana.
C.C. Johnson’s career as a PHS officer featured postings to a variety of engineering programs, which started with a 3.5-year international assignment to Liberia to advise the Liberian Government’s Bureau of Public Health and Sanitation. There he was instrumental in the development of the Liberian environmental engineering program, which included malaria control, water supply, and waste disposal. From 1951 to 1956 he served in the PHS’s Bureau of State Services developing national references documents including the National Plumbing Code and the Manual of Septic Tank Practice. In 1957 he completed a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering at Purdue. He started in June 1957 in the Division of Indian Health, Bureau of Medical Services, (later the Indian Health Service) where he had major responsibility for establishing the PHS water supply and waste water construction program for the Indian reservations. From June 1966 through February 1967, he served as the Chief, Office of Environmental Health. In 1967 he was detailed to the State of New York as the Assistant Commissioner of Health for Environmental Health.
In 1968, Johnson was promoted to the Administrator of the Consumer Protection and Environmental Health Service, an agency combining all of the PHS environmental health programs with the Food and Drug Administration and related consumer protection activities. He held that post with the title of Assistant Surgeon General and the rank of Rear Admiral (RADM) until his retirement from the PHS in 1971.
Upon leaving the federal government, after twenty-nine years as a member of the uniformed services, Johnson served as Commissioner for Environmental Health for the City of New York; worked for a private engineering firm; and finally headed his own consulting engineering firm based in the Washington, D.C area.
After his departure from the government and following the passage of the first National Drinking Water Act, he was named to chair the National Drinking Water Advisory Council, a position he held for six years. He also served in a variety of advisory positions as a member of the EPA Science Advisory Board, first Chairman of the EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Council, Commissioner on the National Capital Planning Commission, Executive Director of Water For People, and advisor to the engineering programs at Perdue and Stanford Universities.
RADM Johnson was recognized by the Public Health Service with a variety of awards including the PHS Commendation Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. He also was honored by many professional organizations including the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, the American Water Works Association (Fuller Award), and the National Environmental Health Association (Walter F. Snyder Award).
RADM C.C. Johnson passed away on December 14, 2004 at the age of eighty-three.