Harvey Johnson, Jr. was born in the River City of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He received his early education in the Vicksburg Public School District, where he graduated from Rosa A. Temple High School.
He went on to receive a bachelor's degree in political science from Tennessee State University and a master's degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati. He has done additional study toward a doctoral degree in public administration at the University of Southern California's Washington Public Affairs Center. Johnson was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Tougaloo College.
Johnson served as the founding Executive Director of the Center for University-Based Development at Jackson University. The Center, housed in the Office of the President, facilitates development partnerships aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods adjacent to the University campus, while providing service learning experiences for students and research opportunities for faculty and students.
In 1997, Johnson made history by being elected Jackson, Mississippi's first African-American mayor. More than seventy percent of voters chose him to lead Mississippi's capital city. In 2001, Jackson voters again chose Johnson for a second four-year term as mayor.
Johnson's work while mayor of Jackson is apparent today throughout the city. The city's train station, Union Station, was renovated, transforming it into a beautiful new state-of-the-art multi-modal transportation center, accommodating trains, buses, taxies, limousines, and spaces for retail shops, restaurants and offices.
Farish Street, one of the nation's oldest African American neighborhoods, had fallen into a state of decay and decline. Part of it is now being developed into a premier entertainment district that will rival Beale Street in Memphis, due to Johnson's efforts while in office.
The construction of the Metro Parkway is transforming the area around Jackson State University, removing dilapidated houses and blight that have surrounded the campus for years, and creating a new entrance into the state's "Urban University."
Additionally, Johnson led the effort which resulted in voters approving the construction of the City's first Convention Center, located adjacent to a new state-of-the-art, high tech Telecommunications Training and Conference Center, the location of which in Downtown Jackson was spearheaded by Johnson.
Prior to being elected as Mayor of Jackson, Harvey Johnson, Jr. dedicated much of his time and expertise to helping economically depressed small towns with minority leadership obtain basic necessities such as water and sewer service. As the founder and executive director of the Mississippi Institute for Small Towns, a nonprofit agency, Johnson helped a number of towns in the Mississippi Delta in meeting their housing, community development and infrastructure needs.
His professional attributes include more than 25 years of experience in the field of planning and community development. He also has served as assistant professor of political science at Jackson State University, where he taught graduate level courses in public administration and directed the Center for Technology Transfer. He was a Captain in the United States Air Force, and he is a former member of the Mississippi State Tax Commission and the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
Johnson is a member of American Legion Tyner-Ford Post 213. He serves on the Board of Directors of National Urban Fellows, Inc, and Gulf Coast Housing Partnership. He is a former member of the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
During his years as mayor, Johnson served on the U.S. Conference of Mayors Advisory Council, as Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Urban Economic Policy Committee, and as President of the National Conference of Black Mayors. He was a member of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors and served on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Municipal League. He also served on the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee.
Johnson has also served on the Board of Directors of Union Planters Bank of Central Mississippi, Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, the American Red Cross of Central Mississippi, New Stage Theater, the Mississippi Housing Finance Corporation, the Arts Alliance of Jackson/Hinds County, the Metropolitan YMCA and the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce. Johnson is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and a charter member of 100 Black Men of Jackson, Incorporated. He has also served in local, state and regional positions for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., of which he is a life member. Johnson is also a life member of the NAACP.