Evanstonian leads Libertyville as first Black mayor

Libertyville Mayor Donna Johnson Credit: Studio West Photography/Vernon Hills

When Donna Johnson thinks back to her childhood in Evanston, she recalls a strong sense of community, togetherness and overall support from neighbors and family.

Johnson, who became the first Black mayor of Libertyville in 2021, said “there were a lot of role models, a lot of people that you could look up to” in the Fifth Ward. Among those role models were community members Edwin B. Jourdain and former council member Homer D. Fleetwood. On Aug. 15, 1986, the Foster Community Center, the oldest standing community center in Evanston, would be renamed the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in their honor.

“Those were people that you had access to by virtue of the fact that there was minimal integration,” Johnson said. “We were all in the same demographic, so we had access to each other.”

Some members of the community, Johnson added, even cut hair in the evenings after work, providing a necessary service that kept the money within the Black community. This also allowed neighbors to share stories and connect with one another.

“You went to the basement of their home and sat with your dad and other people and just listened to people talk because that’s where everybody went to get their haircut,” Johnson said.

There were a few disadvantages, according to Johnson, of having neighbors of varying backgrounds, occupations and incomes living in the Fifth Ward. She said that because she was raised by a middle-class family, some of the less-fortune neighborhood kids were jealous of her.

Some of the children, Johnson said, even experienced colorism, a form of discrimination against people with darker skin tones, in addition to classism. But none of those drawbacks outweighed the benefits of receiving guidance and mentorship from members of the community who Johnson said were high achievers.

When Johnson was a sophomore at Michigan State University, her family moved to Libertyville. Her family, in fact, was the second Black family ever to live there.

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