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Historic Local Educator Added to Syracuse University’s Notable Veteran Alumni List
A Syracuse University alum and historic figure for the Syracuse City School District, was recently added to the list of the University’s Notable Veteran Alumni. Sidney L. Johnson ’59, G’65, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is now among 18 other influential members who have graduated from Syracuse University and have made a substantial impact during or after their military service.
Johnson, originally from Summerville, Georgia, served in the military for more than two decades, during which he served with the historic Tuskegee Airmen. He also earned the rank of Major before retirement, an almost insurmountable challenge during the days of segregation, as well as a testament to his performance in service to the country.
He dedicated himself to the City of Syracuse after he retired from the military, then moved to the area with his wife Vivienne, along with their two daughters, Melinda and Cydney.
Cydney Johnson ’77, G’96, Syracuse University’s vice president of community engagement and government relations, was invited to unveil her father’s plaque during a surprise ceremony held in the National Veterans Resource Center (NVRC). On hand to share in the touching moment were Cydney’s husband, Jeffry Comanici ‘88, as well as staff, faculty and students from the military-connected community.
“Like most military families, we were not originally from the area. Syracuse adopted us, and both my parents loved serving this community,” says Cydney Johnson. “My father would have loved the NVRC, he would have been in this building all the time and would have loved the work that is done here. Both of my parents loved serving this community.”
The people of Syracuse elected Sidney Johnson to serve on both the Syracuse Common Council and the Board of Education. Throughout his life, Johnson was an advocate for education, particularly when it came to servicemembers and veterans. His legacy was cemented into history when the city named a prominent educational center after him. The Sidney Johnson Vocational Center continues to serve the people of Syracuse to this day by offering important non-traditional educational opportunities like adult education and GED programs.
“Sidney Johnson is a great example of how veterans can leave the service and make a community better, even if it’s not their childhood home. He gave himself selflessly to the city of Syracuse and his devotion to the city’s education system can continue to be felt to this day,” says J. Michael Haynie, founder and executive director of the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and Syracuse University’s vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation. “It is an honor to have him featured among our most notable Syracuse University veteran alumni where he can continue to serve as an inspiration. To have his daughter, Cydney, unveil his plaque makes the occasion truly special. As a leader and valued member of our military-connected community, she has carried her father’s legacy of service to this community and has been instrumental in making the University’s veterans initiative a success.”
Sidney Johnson consistently made breakthroughs during times of racial tension, particularly growing up in the south during the era of Jim Crow laws. His skin color created more closed doors than open ones, but when he did establish himself in positions of influence, he worked to create opportunities for others.
The Tuskegee Airmen served with distinction throughout World War II, and many of its members went on to accomplish notable firsts for Black and African American servicemembers. Having been a part of the Tuskegee Airmen, Sidney holds a spot in military history for the perseverance displayed by him and the more than 14,000 racially segregated servicemembers who served with distinction throughout the war.
Over a five-year period between 1941 and 1946, 992 pilots were trained near Tuskegee, Alabama, from where the unit obtained its name. More than 300 men from the unit were deployed overseas, and 68 are listed as having been Killed in Action during the conflict. On March 29, 2007, the unit was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, and the airfield where the airmen trained is now a national historic site.
In honor of Black History Month, members of the community are encouraged to read about the lives of other Black and African American servicemembers who join Sidney Johnson on the wall of Notable Veteran Alumni.
“I am deeply humbled and so very pleased that the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University has honored my Dad. His deep love of Syracuse and Syracuse University makes this honor so special to me and my family,” says Cydney Johnson. “My Dad believed that the military was the gateway for career achievement, public service and equality. I know he would share those same words today. Thank you to all who made this honor happen.”
In 2014, Sidney Johnson was interred at his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting tribute to someone who devoted his life in service to others.