(Memphis) Minerva Johnican was a Memphis trailblazer who helped open doors for both women and African-Americans. Ms. Johnican made history in city and county politics and for her ability to work across racial lines.
Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis worked with Ms. Johnican and considered her a friend.
“Minerva was a pioneer in terms of helping women and African-Americans and helping just a lot of young people get their start and helping them get into politics. She loved politics and she loved community service,” Cohen said.
In 1975, Minerva Johnican became the first woman elected to the Shelby County Quarterly Court. It would later become the Shelby County Commission.
During her time on the county commission, she worked to push for construction of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis also known as The Med.
Congressman Cohen and Ms. Johnican worked on that project while serving as county commissioners.
“Minerva and I, along with Vasco(Smith) and Jessie(Turner) and Walter Bailey helped in building that hospital and we wouldn’t stop until we got that full hospital built,” Cohen said.
Ms. Johnican served as president of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association and was a delegate to the Democratic Party National Convention.
A coalition of black and white support earned Ms. Johnican another historic victory in 1983.
She became the first African-American elected to the Memphis City Council At-Large position.
Ms. Johnican, during that time, founded the Building Bridges for a Better Memphis Task Force. The group was made up of 500 black and white neighborhood leaders who worked to solve community problems.
In 1987 she became the first African-American woman to be considered as a serious candidate for city mayor. In a field of six candidates, Johnican finished in second place behind incumbent mayor Dick Hackett.
But Ms. Johnican’s interest in politics wasn’t done yet. In 1990, she would become the first African-American and the first woman to become Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk. It was an office she automated and through which generated millions in revenue. She also won three national awards as criminal court clerk.
Ms. Johnican went on to work on Steve Cohen’s 2006 and 2008 race for the 9th Congressional District in Memphis
“Last month was Black History Month and this month is Women’s History Month and Minerva in Memphis is both black history and women’s history,” Cohen said.
Minerva Johnican, a trailblazer in Memphis politics and community service, worked to make Memphis and Shelby County a better place.