Eugene Harper Johnson was born on July 6, 1916 in Birmingham, Alabama. His father, James Johnson, was born in 1880 in Alabama. His mother, Ida Wade, was born in 1896 in Alabama. His parents married in 1915 in Birmingham, and had two children, Eugene Harper Johnson (b.1916), and Mary Johnson (b.1917). They also lived with the mother's eldest son from a previous marriage, James Wade (b.1912). The family lived at 728 South 26th Street in Birmingham. The father was a laborer at a local coal company.
According to the artist, "As a lad, I was fond of painting, singing, playing the violin, writing, and performing daily operations on bullfrogs and alley cats. Before I reached fifteen, my talents attracted the attention of Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), a well-known painter and a former pupil of Jean Paul Laurens (1838-1921). Professor Delaney was so impressed with my various abilities, that he arranged for me to work with him in his studio for several years. He also helped me to study the violin. I studied with Alexander Kipnis, Warner Hawkins, and William Thomas Jones. My first love was music, but I turned to art only after I broke my wrist in a fall from a horse. I earned my first professional income selling humorous and political cartoons to newspapers. I studied in New York City at the National Academy of Design and the Pratt Institute. My instructors at these schools included Dean Cornwell, Norman Price, Charles Louis Hinton, Paul Rabut, John Allen Maxwell, O. F. Schmidt, Arthur William Brown, and Walter Biggs. My greatest mentor was Albert Dorne, president of the Society of Illustrators, who helped me over the rocky road to success."
During the Great Depression Eugene Harper Johnson worked as an assistant to Beauford Delaney, and his brother Joseph Delaney (1904-1991), on WPA murals in New York City.
In 1938 the artist received his first assignment to illustrate a book. The title and author is not known
Eugene Harper Johnson stated in an interview that he served in the Army during WWII.
In 1946 he painted a portrait of Arizona Senator Carl Hayden.
In 1947 Eugene Harper Johnson was hired as a staff artist at The New York Age newspaper. In 1948 the newspaper began to publish editorial cartoons by the artist, which he signed only as "Harper."
On November 6, 1948 The New York Age began to publish a new comic strip, "Ace Mallory" by Eugene Harper Johnson. To announce the new feature the newspaper also included an article on the artist, "Creator of New Age Comic Strip Praised" by Elmer Walker, who wrote, "A new and great artist has risen among us. Eugene Harper Johnson is in his very early thirties, but there is poetry and metaphysics in his art."
In 1949 Eugene Harper Johnson made his debut as a concert singer. According to a music critics at The New York Age, "He has an exceptional voice."
In 1950 Eugene Harper Johnson married Mildred Anita Daniels. She was born October 9, 1926 in Alabama. They lived at 119-30 198th Street in Saint Albans, Queens, Long Island, NY.
In 1950 Richard E. Hughes, the editor of American Comics Group (ACG) at 45 West 45th Street, employed Eugene Harper Johnson as a free-lance artist. His address book listed the artist's studio as apartment 2B at 2135 Madison Avenue and 134th Street in East Harlem.
In 1950 Eugene Harper Johnson drew an adaptation of "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville for Fox Feature Comics. The cover was drawn by Wally Wood.
The November 1952 issue of Soldiers Of Fortune Comics included the feature "Great Sea Battles Of History" drawn and written by Eugene Harper Johnson.
In 1953 he illustrated "The Winter At Valley Forge" by F. Van Wyck Mason for Landmark Books.
In 1954 he illustrated "The Story Of George Washington Carver" by Arna Bontemps for Signature Books.
He went on to illustrate dozens of books for young readers, including "Westward The Eagle" by Frederick Lane, "The French Foreign Legion" by Wyatt Blassingame, "The Little Giant Of Schenectady" by Dorothy Markey, and "Mark Twain" by Blaise Lane.
In 1956 Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Harper Johnson visited Africa.
In 1957 he wrote and illustrated "Kenny" for Henry Holt Books. According to the publisher, "Kenny is a story of the impact of modern Africa on a young American Negro boy."
In 1958 Eugene Harper Johnson was hired by the Compton Advertising Agency to illustrate an unusual new series of nationwide ads for Knickerbocker Beer, which broke a cultural prejudice by featuring integrated situations.
On May 24, 1958 The New York Age newspaper published the article, "Versatile Illustrator Harvey Johnson Is Author, Musician, and Public Speaker."
In August of 1960 Mr. & Mrs. Johnson visited Lima, Peru.
In 1965 Eugene Harper Johnson illustrated a five-part series for Ebony Magazine, "Africa's Golden Past," which he co-authored with William Leo Hansberry.
Eugene Harper Johnson received an honorary doctoral degree for his work to promote a greater awareness of the history of Africa.
By 1971 the artist's first marriage had ended in divorce.
In July of 1972 Eugene Harper Johnson married his second wife, Salma Tahira Malik in the City Council Building of Nairobi, Kenya. She was born in 1928 in Nairobi. She was a Barrister of Law and member of the Probation Case Committee of Nairobi. Her father, Niaz Begum Malik, was a prominent Kenyan lawyer.
In 1974 Mr & Mrs. Eugene Harper Johnson visited North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, where he most enjoyed the Sultanate of Oman.
On October 12, 1979 his second wife died in Los Angeles.
After 1993 the artist concentrated on painting the historic events of Oman. With the blessings of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the Sultan of Oman, Dr. Eugene Harper Johnson worked along with Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Rowas, the Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan of Oman for Cultural Affairs.
Dr. Eugene Harper Johnson was granted Omani nationality by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. In gratitude the artist said, "I have finally found my homeland after a long, tiring life, full of travel and work."
When asked what he most wanted to accomplish in art, he said, "I love people, with the accent on children. I want to encourage, inspire, or give them happiness.
Dr. Eugene Harper Johnson died at the age of one hundred on March 18, 2016 in his home in Murat, Oman. © David Saunders 2016