Summer 2021

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72 SAG-AFTRA | Summer 2021 | I n spite of injuries — a pulled stomach muscle and a strained knee — this star UCLA athlete earned a silver medal in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia — the last time the world record-setting athlete ever came in second. Three years later, he entered acting as the newest member of Screen Actors Guild, after he was hired for the role of Cpl. Krump in the John Ford western Sergeant Rutledge. The November 1959 Screen Actor magazine ran Johnson's photo as he posed outside the union's headquarters with his new membership card while wearing his Cpl. Krump uniform. The magazine's caption proudly explained, "Rafer Johnson, one of the greatest athletes in the world, is one of the newest members of Screen Actors Guild. Johnson, former decathlon champion, graduated from UCLA, where he was president of the student body. We happened to have a photographer handy when he joined and caught this picture of him at the Guild building." In August 1960, soon after Sergeant Rutledge was released, Johnson became the first African American to carry the United States flag at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Rome, where he earned a gold medal in the decathlon. In 1965, he was elected to the Screen Actors Guild National Board and would serve through 1968. In late 1966, Johnson was hired as a sports reporter by KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, soon joined AFTRA and found himself walking out in AFTRA's first network strike in March 1967. Evidently galvanized by his strike experience, Johnson was elected an AFTRA 1967 convention delegate under the newly created category of "newsmen," and an AFTRA National Board member, where he would serve until 1973. Always working to increase employment opportunities for members of color, the 1969 AFTRA magazine convention issue reported, "Rafer Johnson took the floor, reporting on the activities of the Joint Equality Committee in Los Angeles. Mr. Johnson's presentation utilized a film, depicting the increased use of black performers in commercial broadcasting. Mr. Johnson gave credit for much of the JEC's recent achievements to the actions of AFTRA's 1968 convention in New Orleans. Mr. Johnson gave specifics of minority group members employed in Los Angeles and revealed that his committee has compiled a listing of 209 members of minority groups with description, credits, phone numbers. This list is available to employers. He also noted that the Los Angeles Local had made a contribution of $1,000 to the Watts Workshop, which is training ethnic group members in the technical end of the TV business." That same year, Johnson co-founded the Southern California chapter of Special Olympics for people with intellectual disabilities. In 1998, Doubleday books released his autobiography, The Best That I Can Be, with an introduction by then-NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw — his friend, broadcast colleague and former member of the AFTRA L.A. Local Board. Johnson passed away on Dec. 2, 2020. Rafer Johnson: Union Leader, Humanitarian, Olympic Champion SAG-AFTRA ARCHIVES X2 "One of the greatest athletes in the world," Olympic medalist Rafer Johnson became a SAG member in 1959 and is shown here receiving his first membership card. He would go on to serve on both the SAG and AFTRA national boards and is shown above in 1969 at the AFTRA Convention, reporting on the activities of the Joint Equality Committee.

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