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Hazel Winifred Johnson-Brown (October 10, 1927 – August 5, 2011)[1][2] was a nurse and educator who served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1983. In 1979 she became the first black female general in the United States Army and the first black chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps.[3] She was also the Director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing.[4]

Hazel Johnson-Brown
Born(1927-10-10)October 10, 1927
DiedAugust 5, 2011(2011-08-05) (aged 83)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery, Virginia
Johnson-Brown as a brigadier general, circa 1979

Early lifeEdit

Hazel Winifred Johnson was born on October 10, 1927 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Clarence L. Johnson Sr. and Garnett Henley Johnson. Hazel was one out of seven children that her parents had. Her siblings included four brothers and two sisters (Lukens). Her parents, Clarence L. Johnson and Garnett Henley Johnson were farmers. They made a living off of their livestock, and selling their fruits and vegetables. They also had business with the soup company, Campbell, in which the supplied them the tomato that they grew for Campbell's tomato soup. According to the website, Chester County Historical Society, Hazel Johnson-Brown was raised with “loving strict parents” (Lukens) during her childhood. Since her parents were strict Hazel and her siblings were raised with a very productive mindset. They were good at being organized and getting their work done. Later in life she would use these skills that she had gained to benefit her throughout her life. As a child Hazel Johnson-Brown attended an elementary school called East Whiteland Elementary School with her siblings. With her extraordinary work ethic that she had learned from her earlier years as a young girl Hazel Johnson-Brown excelled in all of her academics. Later on when she would attend the high school called Tredyffrin-Eastown Junior/Senior High School (know today as Conestoga) she would also do exceptionally well with her academics. According to the online news article, “Profile of a Famous Nurse: Hazel Johnson-Brown”, Hazel, at the age of 12, she was “inspired to become a nurse” (Brieske). Hazel's sister believed that a nurse that used to visit them, “Elizabeth Fritz” (Lukens), was the reason that she wanted to be a nurse since Hazel admired Miss Fritz so much. After she graduated she attended the Harlem School of Nursing. According to the website article, History's People: Hazel Johnson-Brown, First Female Black General, Hazel Johnson-Brown nursing career started at the Harlem Hospital emergency ward (Lukens). She started there at “a beginning level staff nurse” (Lukens) position and as the years went by she slowly rose in the ranks.

Start of careerEdit

Hazel Johnson-Brown enlisted in the military in 1955, seven years after President Truman eliminated segregation in the military. Gen. Johnson-Brown obituary states “rising in the ranks as she impressed her superiors with her skill in the operating room”. She was incredibly talented surgeon who took assignments across the world, including Asia. Hazel Johnson-Brown served in Japan a few years after enlisting. Training nurses on their way to Vietnam. Twenty fours years later she made history when she was promoted to Brigadier General. With this promotion she took charge of 7,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. Hazel Johnson-Brown was the first black woman to hold the post. During Johnson-Brown's promotion she was quoted saying “Race is an incidence of birth” then furthering this by saying “I hope the criterion for selection did not include race but competence”. During her enlistment she got her degree in nursing from Villanova, and her masters in teaching from Columbia. Her career was distinguished she won many a medal, including distinguished service medal, and was awarded army nurse of the year twice. She won a Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Oak Cluster. Hazel Johnson-Brown won many medals, and her Service was distinguished and excellent.

Later careerEdit

In 1977 Hazel was mentioned in the magazine Ebony, where they referred to Johnson-Brown as “one of the real ‘heavies’ in her field". They also anticipated Johnson-Brown to becoming “the first black woman general” in which she did (Lukens 2012). After Gen. Johnson-Brown retired from the army in 1983 she headed the American Nurses Association's government relations unit as well as directed the George Mason University's Center for Health Policy as an assistant professor and later a professor on her own (America's first Black woman general, Hazel Johnson Brown). A key to Hazel's success was driven by her immense well-rounded personality as well as her intellect. Hazel Johnson treated everyone the same and demanded that in return (Lukens 2012). “She recalled going with her mother to a hot dog stand in Philadelphia. Several times the waitress walked past them to serve white customers first. When the waitress finally delivered their order, Gen. Johnson-Brown turned it away. “Now you eat it,” she told the waitress. To her mother she said, “Let’s go.”” In an interview she stated that she was never a ‘quiet dissenter’ when it came to slights she suffered as a black woman, inside uniform and outside as well (America's first Black woman general, Hazel Johnson Brown). She “always was a people person,” her sister Gloria Smith remarks (Lukens 2012). Hazel Johnson- Brown's marriage to David Brown ended in divorce without children. Johnson-Brown soon developed Alzheimer's disease (America's first Black woman general, Hazel Johnson Brown). In 1990 during Operation Desert Storm, Johnson committed to her patriotic nature and volunteered to work in the surgical suite at Fort Belvoir, Virginia's Army Hospital (Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson Brown). Hazel Johnson-Brown was assigned to go to Vietnam as well, but later became very ill. The unit she would have gone to was attacked shortly after arriving to their station in Vietnam. The nurse who ended up taking her place was killed in the surprise attack along with numerous others of the group. Many were injured and even murdered in the incident (Lukens 2012). Johnson-Brown spent her last remaining years with her sister, Gloria Smith, in Wilmington, Delaware (Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson Brown). When remembering Johnson-Brown Army Nurse Corps Historian Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Cantrell explained that "Brigadier General Hazel Johnson-Brown was remarkable in that she commanded during a transitional period for the Army Nurse Corps and led with dignity and style; she was considered a great leader of the Corps and was well respected and loved” (Lukens 2012).

Death and burialEdit

Hazel Johnson Brown serving her time as “the first African American woman promoted to an army general, died on August 5th, 2011 in Wilmington, DE at the age of 83.” Hazel Johnson Brown died while en route to the hospital, which was then realized that the cause of Hazel Johnson Brown's death was said to be Alzheimer's.

    Alzheimer's disease is very severe, being that is an irreversible, and progressive disorder that slowly destroys memory and one's thinking skills, and eventually damages the ability to complete simple day to day tasks. The symptoms for people that are acquiring Alzheimer's usually occurs in their mid 60's and like stated before gradually becomes something unbearable, something that can't be reversed, made better, or easier for the individual suffering. 

Being that Hazel Johnson Brown was a very important factor and the general in her branch, “ABNF is saddened by the loss of Dr. Hazel Johnson-Brown and will treasure memories of her active participation in our early growth.” (Edwards) Hazel Johnson Brown was soon moved to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried there because of the work she did as a general. Arlington National Cemetery is the United States national military cemetery located in Virginia across the Potomac River. Johnson-Brown died in Wilmington, Delaware on August 5, 2011 while en route to the hospital. She was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


In the year 1981 Hazel Johnson married the love of her life, David Brown. She added on his name to hers and was known from then on as General Hazel Johnson-Brown. Unfortunately, their marriage did not last and the decided to get a divorce.


Military awardsEdit


  1. ^ "Hazel Johnson Obituary".
  2. ^ "Hazel Johnson-Brown Remembered". Retrieved 2011-08-22.
  3. ^ "Hazel Johnson". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  4. ^ "Famous Nurses". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  5. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 2". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  6. ^ "Hazel W. Johnson (1927–2011) | African American Almanac - Credo Reference". Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  7. ^ "Hazel W. Johnson (1927–2011) | African American Almanac - Credo Reference". Retrieved 2018-01-15.

Works Cited America's first Black woman general, Hazel Johnson Brown. (n.d.). In African American Registry. Retrieved from

Brieske John, “Profile of a Famous Nurse: Hazel Johnson-Brown.” AJC: Atlanta. News. Now., 14 Sept. 2011, -hazel-johnson-brown/xZrYyA5zd3hvwcvXyaAw4K/.

Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson Brown. (n.d.). In Army Women's Foundation. Retrieved from

“In Memory Of..” ABNF Journal, vol. 22, no. 4, Fall 2011, p. 83. EBSCOhost,

Lukens Rob. “HISTORY'S PEOPLE: HAZEL JOHNSON-BROWN, FIRST FEMALE BLACK GENERAL.” Chester County Historical Society, Accessed June 28, 2012.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit