First Street in Cleveland is now known as Johnson Street after an official street renaming ceremony on May 8. The street, located in the Pct. 20 community of Cleveland, was renamed in honor of Reuben “Sugarbear” Johnson and his late wife, Esther. The Johnsons lived in Cleveland for most of their lives, raising generations of their family on the street that now bears their name.
The street renaming was supported by Councilwoman Delores Terry, Johnson’s family members and friends, including longtime Cleveland resident Rodney Harrison. They appeared at a council meeting in April to petition for the street to be renamed.
At the May 8 unveiling of the new street signs, City Manager Bobby Pennington pointed to Reuben Johnson’s military service in the Vietnam War and said the Cleveland community should be proud to have a military hero like Johnson among its residents.
“I think it’s great that 1st Street has become Johnson Street because you, Mr. Johnson, represent what is number one in this community,” Pennington said.
During the war, Johnson was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 2nd Echo Company in the city of Danang in South Vietnam. After serving as the last man in his patrol unit for weeks, Johnson volunteered to be point man, known as one of the most dangerous positions on patrol. For seven months, he served as point man.
On his last day of duty as point man, he was ordered to do an exhibition patrol for new incoming personnel. The patrol was staged on an area where enemy combatants had placed landmines. One of the landmines exploded under his feet as he was finishing the exhibition.
With both legs blown off and one arm critically injured, Johnson was airlifted by medevac to a hospital in Danang where he awoke three days later.
After being medically discharged from the Marines, Johnson found a new career as a watchmaker, instrument maker and radio DJ.
Like her husband, Esther Johnson’s life was devoted to her family and community service. She helped organize events celebrating Juneteenth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Johnsons also were involved in politics with Reuben serving many years as the Pct. 20 chairman for the Liberty County Democratic Party.