Silence Is For Fools: How Hazel Johnson Became America’s First Black Womxn General

Ajah Hales
Published in
7 min readAug 23


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A Black nurse in aqua Scrubtacular scrubs smiles from behind her desk.
Courtesy of Scrubtacular

In a previous article on Naomi Sims, I talked about how in 1948, activist and union organizer A. Phillip Randolph told President Harry Truman that Black Americans would not continue to serve in a segregated U.S. Army. Staring down the barrel, Truman signed Executive Order 9981, officially integrating all branches of the Armed Forces.

One year prior to this historic event, a young womxn named Hazel Johnson enrolled in the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing. Although no one knew it at the time, Johnson would go on to become one of the most decorated female officers in history, and eventually, change the face of nursing as we know it.

Hazel Johnson-Brown was the first nurse on staff at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, the first Black female General in the U.S. Army, the first Black Chief of the U.S. Army Nursing Corps, the first Black womxn Brigadier General, author of the first Army Nurse Corps standard of practice document, and the director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing.

Johnson served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, earning several military honors, including the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit Award, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Army Nurse of the Year Award — twice.

Even before all the accolades, Hazel was nothing to mess with. Born Hazel Winifred Johnson on October 27, 1927, Hazel was one of seven children working and living on a family farm in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Her community was run by Quakers and populated by Black, Italian, and Irish Americans. Despite cultural differences, community-wide economic dependence on Quaker money kept the town fairly peaceful.

Young Hazel did not suffer fools. In an interview with the National Visionary Leadership Project, she told a historian she probably would have been killed in the South because of her smart mouth and somewhat militant attitude.

“My nature is not to be walked on. You may walk on me, but you can look out, because I’m gonna get you…I’m not going to kill you, but…



Ajah Hales
Writer for

World Changer. Social Thinker. Business Owner. #WEOC