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By Christopher Long [email protected] | 252-265-7821 October 19, 2023
District 4 City Councilman James Johnson brings seven consecutive City Council terms and more than 30 years experience with his bid for an eighth term.

As the longest serving member of Wilson’s council, the mayor pro tem is the poster child for continuity, as he has served as a guiding mentor for every new member on council.

“Continuity has served Wilson well,” Johnson said. “I’m fortunate enough to be a part of it to where the people have appreciated me and reelected me to do that. That continuity, as you can ask the new members on council going back to Dr. (Michael) Bell, I reach out to that new person and offer to help them anyway I can, including the mayor. I helped them transition their way of thinking from, ‘I can do everything by myself,’ into a team effort. There is more than just one district. With that continuity, I’m able to help other people in other districts because I know where to go, I know who to call and who to recommend them to in order to get their problem solved.”

Johnson, a local insurance agent, has been serving west Wilson’s District 4 since 1992. This year, he faces one opponent in the race for District 4’s seat, candidate Davonta Ferguson. Johnson said he is appealing to voters because there’s still much to be done.

“If you look through the terms I ran, it’s pretty much forward thinking,” Johnson said. “The fear is that if someone else is to take the seat, that it may not be as focused on what’s down the road. You want to continue what the vision has been. If you look at the years, I’ve served with some great people. From top to bottom, it’s gotten better as the years have gone. I enjoy what I do. I love what I do.”

Johnson’s realized his love for his position on City Council after losing the 2002 North Carolina Senate race primary by less than a single percentage point. After the loss, Johnson said he took a step back and looked at his involvement locally.

“It made me appreciate being a local servant because I can do more to help folks here than I can somewhere else,” Johnson said. “People asked me, up until Ken Fontenot’s last race, to run for the House. I hadn’t seriously entertained that because I’m happy doing what I’m doing now. That lady at Walmart that stops me and says, ‘Mr. Johnson, you don’t know me, but I’ve got a problem.’ I can help. You’re not going to get that in another place. I like being able to do that for folks. As long as I’m able to and my family’s in a good situation, I’m going to continue to serve the people if I can.”

Johnson promised his days of running for office anywhere other than Wilson City Council are over.

“You’re not going to see my name on a ballot anywhere other than the city of Wilson,” Johnson said. “I will never have my name down for mayor. At the end of the day, if I have an idea and I’m the mayor, I have to bring at least four people together to agree with me. As a City Council representative, I only have to get three people to agree with me. The math alone, the ability to steer policy and be a part of it is much more fulfilling.”

Johnson also addressed those who think he’s been on council for too long, highlighting the fact he’s only 55 years old.

“People ask, ‘How old is he? He’s been there a number of years. He must be 80 years old,’” Johnson said. “I was able to present myself at the age of 24 with what I wanted to see Wilson be. People elected me over an incumbent and a lifelong Wilson County person. At 24, I was able to deliver a message to folks that they liked, and they’ve continued to like me. I have evolved with the way things have gone, but that’s what you’re supposed to do and I don’t see that ending anytime soon as long as God gives me a sharp mind.”


Johnson is the only City Council member who was on council when the issue of Vick Cemetery was brought to the city’s attention in 1995.

“I’d never heard of Vick Cemetery until 1995,” Johnson said. “They (the cemetery commission) told us what they needed to do, and rightfully so, I voted against it, but I qualified it and people don’t want to see what I qualified with. At 25 years old, I was just a young man myself and I never knew where Vick was because I lived in District 4. (District 1 Councilwoman Gillettia) Morgan didn’t know it was a cemetery because it was so overgrown. Riding by there, I wouldn’t have known it. They presented us a plan to take care of it, and I said I’m for it. It should be done, but I voted against it because I was upset no one had called it out to us sooner — something to that effect.

“There were neighborhood meetings that took place, people presented what they wanted and it came back to council,” he said. “Council agreed we’d fix it; we’d maintain it and we’d put a monument in the middle of it. That monument was about $30,000. We said, ‘Yeah, it needs to be done.’”

Johnson said the work done by the council in 1995 and 1996 wasn’t done out of neglect or malice.

“Everything had good intentions in 1996,” Johnson said. “There was a good effort done. Council voted to allot the money. Council gave a consensus to put the monument up and make it a little reflection area with the benches. The decisions that were made then, at that time, with what we knew, everyone was satisfied. The elders of the community were satisfied at the time. We didn’t know graves extended out, maybe to the road. Nobody even suggested it. The cemetery commission is in charge of cemeteries. We didn’t have anybody on staff who knew to deal with the cemetery and what was involved.

“At that point, everything was done to treat those people that are buried there with respect,” he said. “Everybody thought it was respectful for the past 25 to 28 years. I don’t know what has changed.”

Johnson worries whatever solution City Council comes up with now won’t satisfy the public, especially the next generation to learn about Vick Cemetery and its past.

“The question comes into play now, let’s say we do A, B, C, D,” Johnson said. “In 28 more years, will the children of the children have a problem with the way it’s being done now or did you make the best effort you could to treat the people that passed with respect?”


Johnson said District 4 has been fortunate in terms of the issues surrounding it. He said growth and traffic are the community concerns he hears about the most.

“It’s the growth towards I-95 and the traffic,” Johnson said. “Raleigh Road is evolving. Crime is sporadic. Traffic is maybe not the biggest issue, but it’s the one I hear the most about. There’s more serious issues, but traffic, speeding and loud cars. My district does have Forest Hills, Tarboro Street and Raleigh Road riding through all of it. Kids and adults use those roads as their expressway to do whatever they want to.”

Johnson said jobs and housing are also major concerns, but that it is not a new or unique problem.

“We have to make sure we’re still putting our eggs in the jobs basket,” Johnson said. “The housing is going to come with it. It’s growing out towards Sims as it is now, but jobs are always going to be a big concern.”

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