Minerva J. Johnican is a well-respected community leader who has used her success in the public arena as a means to open doors of opportunity for other women and African Americans. A native Memphian, Minerva attended both Hamilton Elementary and High Schools, graduating among the top ten percent of her class. She attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, on scholarship for one year before transferring to Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree. She did graduate studies and received Librarian Certification from Memphis State University. Minerva spent 18 years as both a teacher and media specialist in the Memphis City Schools System. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and attends Parkway Gardens Presbyterian Church.
A political trailblazer, Minerva has gained a reputation of being a proven leader and administrator. Her first encounter with politics came as a child when she helped her father canvas the 26th Ward in a challenge against the powerful E. H. Crump machine. Mr. Johnican went door-to-door in a voter registration and get-out the-vote campaign on behalf of Estes Kefauver, the “People’s candidate” for U.S. Senate.
Kefauver was running against Judge John Mitchell, E. H. Crump’s hand-picked candidate.
As a toddler, Minerva handed out leaflets to the residents while her father talked to them about the campaign. Kefauver went on to defeat Judge Mitchell – in a race that proved to be the beginning of the end for the Crump machine. Mr. Johnican, however, was fired from his job in maintenance at the Dixie Homes Public Housing Development when it was learned he had dared to oppose Boss Crump. Undaunted by his determination, Mr. Johnican embarked on a successful career as a builder.
Displaying the same resolve as her father, Minerva went on to construct an impressive political career of her own. Her first political victory came in 1975 when she became the first woman ever elected to the Shelby County Quarterly Court, which became the Shelby County Commission during her tenure. She served two four-year terms.
As a County Commissioner, Minerva continued to personify her namesake, the Roman goddess of wisdom. She spearheaded a successful campaign for the construction of the new public hospital, now known as The Regional Medical Center at Memphis – (THE MED). She also came to the aid of the citizens of Boxtown, who were not receiving basic utility services. Basic service is now available and furnished to the Boxtown area.
Her visionary and progressive leadership has helped improve race relations in Memphis and aided other causes such as crime prevention, downtown revitalization, and neighborhood stabilization. She helped lay the groundwork for an Enterprise Zone in North Memphis.
An impressive coalition of black and white support was the thrust that earned Minerva another historic victory in 1983 when she became the first African American elected at-large to the Memphis City Council.
In that campaign she captured 38% of the white votes cast along with 87% of the African American vote. In demonstrating an uncanny ability to get all Memphians to look past race and focus on issues, she was able to return to public service two years after a stunning defeat in her reelection bid for County Commission. She served from 1984 through 1987.
While serving on the City Council, she founded the Building Bridges for A Better Memphis Task Force, an organization of 450 African American and Caucasian neighborhood leaders devoted to working together to solve community problems.
Paving the way for African Americans and women is one of Minerva’s trademarks. She was one of the first African American women to serve on the National Association of Counties’ Board of Directors as well as the first African American and first woman to serve as President of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association. She was a delegate to the Democratic Party National Conventions in 1972, 1976, and 1980.
She served on the State Democratic Executive Committee from 1978 to 1986.
In 1987, Minerva became the first African American woman ever to be considered a “serious” candidate for City Mayor of Memphis. Several political analysts predicted she would not fare well in this race noting, although Memphis was a major city, it was still controlled by mostly conservative white males. Once again, however, Minerva proved the political experts wrong. In a field of six candidates, she finished second behind incumbent Mayor Richard Hackett.
In August of 1990, Minerva recorded another astounding first when she beat out 10 other candidates to replace retiring J. A. “Bubba”
Blackwell and assumed the office of Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk. Thus, she became the first African American and the first female to hold this position in Shelby County and the State of Tennessee.
Minerva completely automated the Clerk’s Office and implemented innovative computerization which was on the cutting edge of courtroom modernization. The much needed improvements made it possible for the Clerk’s Office to better serve the citizens, lawyers, and the judges of the 10 Divisions of Criminal Court in Memphis. Another striking result of those innovations was a 500% increase in the collection of outstanding fees over previous Clerks. The most crucial aspect of the modernization program was seen in the additional millions of dollars generated by the Clerk’s Office which was being disbursed to 14 agencies of the Shelby County Government.
Members of the National Association of Counties were so impressed with Minerva’s performance as Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk that they presented her their Achievement Award for 1992, 1993 and 1994.
In August of 1994 despite a very successful tenure as Criminal Court Clerk, Minerva lost re-election to a republican. Minerva, a Democrat, ran as an independent.
After many accomplishments as Criminal Court Clerk, Minerva entered the private sector by becoming managing loan officer for Mid-America Mortgage in October 1994. After gaining valuable experience, Minerva established her own mortgage company, OMO Mortgage and Financial Services in July 1997. Minerva was owner and president of OMO Mortgage and Financial Services from 1997 until 2007.
Minerva’s passion for politics continued through the years. As she worked in the forefront of Steve Cohen’s 2006 and 2008 race for Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District, she maintained her vigorous involvement in the local political scene. In 2007, Minerva was asked by Herman Morris to serve as Co-Campaign Manager for his mayoral campaign. Minerva was proud to provide guidance for a candidate she believed in.
As a result of her years of selfless and diligent work in Memphis and Shelby County, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis honored Minerva Johnican along with Maxine Smith, Happy Jones, Susan Sanford, and Dr. Jane Walters with the Legends Award in 2009. Minerva has always had an ability to work across racial lines with both black and white citizens and proudly counts on continued support from both communities for her re-election as Criminal Court Clerk of the 30th Judicial District.