Johnella Frazer (Jackson)


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Johnella Frazer (Jackson), 1896-1981


By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University and Liette Gidlow, Professor, Wayne State University

Johnella Frazer was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1896, daughter of Patterson T. and Laura T. Frazer. In 1910 the family lived in Hopkinsville, Kentucky and her father was president of Hopkinsville College. He died in September 1922 and was buried in Petersburg, VA.

Johnella was a lifelong music teacher and a graduate of the conservatory program at Fisk University Music School. "She toured with the Fisk Jubilee Singers for two years" and in 1916 joined the faculty at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (VNII) as its first professor of piano. She lived in a large boardinghouse at the Institute in 1920.

In September 1922 Johnella Frazer married Luther P. Jackson, a fellow teacher at the Institute, who held degrees from Fisk University and Columbia Teachers College. Prior to his marriage, in 1916, Jackson had co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, known today by its acronym, "ASALH." By 1930 both were listed as teachers at VNII with three children six and under. In 1930 Laura Frazer, Johnella's mother, was widowed and worked as a matron at VNII, living in a student dormitory. In 1937 Luther completed a Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago. During summer vacations, Johnella furthered her education by enrolling in courses at Temple University, the Chicago Music College, and Columbia University. In 1940 Luther was recorded as a history professor and Johnella as a music teacher. By this date, the census noted that Johnella had completed four years of college and her husband five years. Together they reported about $3300 of annual income and had four children between the ages of five and sixteen. Johnella's mother, now 69, lived in the household, located in Faculty Row of the Institute.

In October 1920, after they succeeded in registering to vote, Johnella and eight other VNII teachers had their photo taken as "The First Colored Women Voters Club of Ettrick, Virginia."

Dr. Luther Jackson died in April 1950 in Ettrick, Virginia. During his lifetime, he authored five books on African American history in Virginia. His obituary further noted that he "long was an advocate of Negroes voting in greater numbers." In 1934 he founded the Petersburg League of Negro Voters, and in 1941 he founded the Virginia Voters League, "an organization to extend Negro sufferage [sic]" which he served as president.

Johnella Frazer Jackson continued to teach music at the renamed Virginia State College and to play the piano as an accompanist at numerous concerts. She also hosted receptions sponsored by the Ministers' Wives Alliance (1956) and the Senior Women's Council (1963). In June 1965, she hosted a social get-together of the Petersburg Council of the Virginia Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. She retired from VSU in the same year.

A son, Luther Porter Jackson, Jr., became a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the first African American so hired.

Johnella died in 1981, at the age of 84, in Petersburg, Virginia.

Alternate name for group pictured: 1920 First Colored Women Voters in Ettrick, Virginia


The First Colored Women in Ettrick to Vote. Johnella Frazer is the second woman from the right in the front row. Special Collections and University Archives, Johnston Memorial Library, Virginia State University.


Liette Gidlow, "Resistance after Ratification: The Nineteenth Amendment, African American Women, and the Problem of Female Disfranchisement after 1920," in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (2017).

Andrew Buni, The Negro in Virginia Politics, 1902-1965 (Charlottesville: Univ of VA Press, 1967

Federal Manuscript Censuses, Virginia., 1920-1940; Kentucky, 1910, accessed online with Ancestry Library Edition.

Marriage record, Luther P. Jackson and Johnella M. Frazee [sic], 1922; death record, Dr. Luther P. Jackson, Ettrick, VA, 13 April 1950; death record, Johnella Frazer Jackson, Petersburg, VA, 1981, accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

Death Record, Johnella Frazer Jackson, Petersburg, VA, 1981. Accessed online at Find-a-Grave website at

"Dr. Jackson's Funeral Set at 4 Monday," Richmond News Leader, 14 April 1950, p. 24.

Maurice B. Jones, "Dr. Luther Porter Jackson," a joint biographical sketch of Luther and Johnella Jackson on the website of Virginia State University. Accessed online at

An array of indexed articles in provides mentions of Jackson's concerts and recitals and those of her former students between 1940 and 1970. The articles also indicate her participation in women's voluntary organizations in these years.


Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about




Back to List of Black Woman Suffragists
back to top