In memoriam: Dr. Johnny Lee Greene.

When I woke up in the middle of the night Monday and read that Dr. J. Lee Greene had died, my heart broke a little. I don’t even know how to explain what this man did for my little provincial teen-aged mind. His lecture topics ranged from Toni Morrison to Richard Ellison to Eldzier Cortor to Hughie Lee-Smith and were jewels not just for the anointing he put on works of literature and art, but for the solid-gold aphorisms he dished in between.

During the years in which we lost touch after I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both Dr. Greene and I discovered a ministry in the preservation of local African-American history and heritage. He offered early and much-valued encouragement of my mission with Black Wide-Awake, and today I made a donation in his honor and memory to Rutherford County’s African American Heritage Museum, which he founded in 2012.

Rest in peace, Lee Greene.


  1. Lisa, thank you so much for sharing this story about my uncle. He loved his students. Thank you for the donation towards the project he so cherished, African-American Heritage Museum of Rutherford County.

    1. It was absolutely my pleasure. I really cannot overstate the impact he had on my way of seeing the world. I’m so glad that we reconnected via Facebook and bonded over a shared love of local history.

  2. Dr J Lee Greene was the best professor I had at UNC-CH. I just now learned of his passing, as I have been living out of state. So many times I have thought to write him and thank him for helping to transform my teenage brain into an adult mind. He is one of the main reasons I majored in English education and went on to teach middle school and high school in Atlanta. I quoted him so many times in my classrooms! His gentle guidance was with me in 2006 when I started working on an educational charity in Johannesburg South Africa, and I’m still involved today. It’s been over 40 years since I had the pleasure of sitting in his classroom for not one, but two semesters. I was also in his play “Great Jones Street”. Wow I can still remember all the songs!
    I miss you Dr Greene and I wish your family all the best.
    Kindest regards,
    Beth Patterson Masters

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