Patricia Johansson, who is white, was a 36-year-old senior at Winston-Salem State University when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, her daughter said.
“One of her professors took aside and told her that she might want to go home a few days,” Charity Johansson of Pittsboro said of her mother. Patricia Johansson told her professor, “If I can’t be here today, then I can’t be here at all.”
Patricia Johansson remained on the campus that day and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, becoming the first white person to receive a degree at WSSU, a predominately Black school, according to Archway, the university’s magazine.
Johansson later received a master’s degree at Wake Forest, according to the Wake Forest University website.
“She had very fond memories of her time at Winston-Salem State,” Charity Johansson said of her mother.
Patricia Adams Johansson died Thursday night of natural causes at the Reynolds Hospice Home in Winston-Salem, her daughter said. Johansson was 90.
In September 2017, Patricia Johansson told Archway that WSSU “gave me the opportunity to go to a school I could afford.”
Johansson drove to the campus daily while she managed her family at her Tobaccoville home, her daughter said.
“She loved being a mother,” Charity Johansson said. “That was the most important thing in her life.”
Patricia Johansson instilled her love of the environment, books and travel into her six children, Charity Johansson said.
“She read a lot of Southern fiction,” her daughter said. “She read Shakespeare to us before we were born.”
Patricia Johansson joined the faculty at Wake Forest University as an English instructor in 1969, the Winston-Salem Sentinel reported in July 1983. In 1970, she was appointed as an assistant to the dean. Four years later, Johansson received the excellence in teaching award at Wake Forest.
Johansson also served as the director of the university’s overseas study center in Venice, Italy. In 1998, Johansson retired as an associate dean of the college at Wake Forest.
Toby Hale, of Winston-Salem, said he worked as one of four associate deans at Wake Forest with Johansson.
Hall said he will remember Johansson’s “kind spirit and her genuine love of learning, her students and her family.”
Raymond Farrow, of Chapel Hill, and Ashley Hairston, of Durham, said they are Johansson’s former students who traveled with Johansson to Venice for the university’s program in Italy. Hairston is an associate dean of academic advising at Wake Forest.
Farrow said he will remember Johansson’s love of poetry.
“She was a powerful mentor to many students, including myself,” Hairston said.