Nellie Stone Johnson’s reach is felt today at MnDOT

Publish Date

Local 801’s April Lucas credits part of her successful career at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to a woman she’s never met but now feels like she knows: Minnesota civil rights activist and union organizer Nellie Stone Johnson.

Johnson had a decades-long record of public service in support of the advancement of people of color, the rights of workers and equal opportunities for all people. As a leader of organized labor in the 1930s and 1940s, she was the first woman vice president of the Minnesota Culinary Council and the first woman vice president of Local 665 Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. She was also the first Black person elected to citywide office in Minneapolis when she won a seat on the Library Board in 1945.

The Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship was later established to provide financial assistance to union members of color and their families who wish to pursue an education at one of the colleges and the universities of Minnesota State.

April Lucas on Graduation Day

“I  found out about the scholarship because I was attending my local MAPE meeting and the president mentioned the deadline for the 2015-2016 scholarship, and I applied,” Lucas said. She was a student at Metropolitan State University majoring in Diverse Human Relations and Financial Management, a degree she designed because she said she’s “an extraverted accountant who loves to teach people.”

“That $1,000 or $1,500 scholarship really bought my books so I could finish the classes.

Had I not finished that bachelor of arts degree, I would not have met the qualifications for any of the positions I’ve had in the last three years,” Lucas said.

Lucas is director of Shared Services in MnDOT’s Operations Division where she and her team identify efficiencies by partnering district and central services.

Lucas said she and her children lived in the same community Johnson had lived in and had noticed the elementary school named in her honor, “I could see her footprint in that community. The north Minneapolis community really works hard to support each other.”   

“In my current role at MnDOT, I see that we’re a collective working toward a goal and we’re more successful together. That is something I took away from Nellie – help other people see the success in themselves. She empowered individuals to see past their current situations, and that is what her legacy continues to do,” Lucas added.

Lucas also leads by example and chairs MnDOT’s African American Employee Resource Group, is a Champion for Black and Indigenous Women of Color (BIWOC) and serves as a member of the Equity and Justice Black Caucus, both of which are statewide Employee Resource Groups. She is a member of the African American Leadership Council, St. Paul Chapter, and is a board member nominee for ReConnect Rondo, Inc. Lucas is a third-generation resident of the Rondo community, a community her grandfather, Alphonso Alonzo Lee Lucas ( a railroad waiter for US Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and Rooming House owner) and grandmother Daisy Davis (a nurse and care facility owner in the Rondo Community) helped to establish.