Posted on October 31, 2023

On Race, Mike Johnson Says His Views Were Shaped by Raising a Black Child

Adam Nagourney, New York Times, October 28, 2023

When Mike Johnson, R-La., the new House speaker, talks about race in America, he often draws a striking personal connection, telling the story of how he and his wife, Kelly, “took custody” of a Black teenager 24 years ago and raised him as a son.

“I have walked with him through discrimination that he has had to endure over the years and the hurdles he sometimes faced,” he told a House committee in 2019, while testifying against reparations for slavery. “I know all this because I was with him.”

When Johnson was named House speaker this week, his relationship with his son, like much of Johnson’s personal and political life, faced new scrutiny. There is no mention of the man, who is now an adult, raising his own family in California, in Johnson’s official biography. And he does not appear in family photos posted on the congressman’s website. Johnson has four biological children: two daughters and two sons.

On Friday, Johnson sought to explain the absence, saying it was in deference to his son Michael’s request for privacy.

“At the time of the speaker’s election to Congress, Michael was an adult with a family of his own,” Corinne Day, speaker’s communications director, said in a statement first reported by Newsweek. “He asked not to be involved in their new public life. The speaker has respected that sentiment throughout his career and maintains a close relationship with Michael to this day.”

The attention now being paid to Johnson — as well as to Michael — reflects the new world he has entered with his abrupt move to a position that puts him second in the line of succession to the presidency. Before this week, Johnson was an obscure southern Republican, with little known about his background beyond his home state; the story of Michael, who was 14 when he joined the Johnson family, was even less known.

In his public remarks over the years, Johnson describes Michael as his son and did not correct an interviewer who described Michael as “adopted.” {snip}


Johnson has spoken publicly about Michael largely when he has talked about race. He has described Michael as a “success story” and likened the experience of being a white couple adopting a Black teenager to the movie “The Blind Side,” the 2009 film that depicts a wealthy white family taking in an impoverished Black teenager who becomes a football star.

In his testimony on racial reparations before a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, Johnson said that Michael, too, opposed reparations because it defied an “important tradition of self-reliance.” {snip}