Eddie Bernice Johnson died Dec. 31, 2023 at the age of 89 after 40 years of serving as a politician at both the state and federal levels. Because of Johnson’s efforts in the Texas Senate, UTD began admitting underclassmen in the ‘90s.
Johnson began her political life as a civil rights activist in the 1960s, and she went on to work as a nurse and later as a public servant. Johnson served an important role in the development of UTD, the growth of Dallas and national education and scientific policy. Among her many accolades, Johnson was the first Black woman elected to public office in Dallas County, she served as the Chair of the House Science Committee from 2019 to 2023 and she played a pivotal role in developing UTD into the institution it is today.
Beginning as a graduate research institute with the intent of providing Texas Instruments (TI) with newly educated staff, UTD would eventually join the UT System with strict supervision from the state. Juniors and seniors could not enroll until 1975. The state would further expand UTD’s ability to admit students in 1989 with the passage of HB 42 during the first session of the 71st legislature of Texas.
HB 42 allowed for the enrollment of 5,000 freshmen and sophomores combined, as well as a 4% increase in enrollment each year. It also reserved certain sections of student body enrollment for minorities.
“It is the intent of the legislature that minority students be full participants in the educational opportunities created by the admission of lower-division undergraduate students to the University of Texas at Dallas,” the bill said.
HB 42 was written and originally introduced into the Texas House of Representatives by David Cain. After passing in the house, Johnson and co-sponsor Chet Edwards presented the bill in the state senate, where it gained enough votes to pass into law. HB 42 went into effect in October of 1989, and UTD’s first freshman class was admitted in 1990.
As a politician, Johnson also worked to provide increased funding to Texas universities and public transportation services. In 2019, DART renamed Union Station to Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station due in large part to her work to provide the agency with approximately $1 billion in funding for the development of the green, red and blue lines.
Johnson’s 10 years in state office and 30 consecutive years in federal office have left an influential impression on North Texas with the funding of public transit, the expansion of higher education at UTDand the push for civil rights.