Cosmetologist, hairstylist and Miami civic leader Sybil Johnson dies at 93
Sybil C. Johnson, veteran cosmetologist and the first African American woman appointed to the Miami-Dade County Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1971 by Mayor Stephen P. Clark
By Dedrick D. Henry, Sr.
Sybil’s Maison de Butè, a beauty salon located in the Bunche Park neighborhood of Opa-locka, Miami opened its doors in the 1950s by cosmetologist and hairstylist Sybil Cleare Johnson. Johnson died in her Miami home alone at the age of 93.
Johnson, a hard-working and sensitive business-woman that contributed to her community finding their own voice and inner strength.
For over 50 years, Johnson, played the role as therapist, adviser, counselor, friend, aunt, grandmother, mother-figure and confidante to the hundreds of regulars who visited her for hair care.
Johnson born on April 1, 1921 in Miami’s Overtown to Leonie Cleare and Charles Whitfield. When she was only 2 years-old, her mother died while giving birth to a second child, a son, who died within a few days.
Overwhelmed, her father left the toddler behind with family and friends.
The next eight years were difficult. Countless moves, abuse, hunger, hard labor, her daughter said.
By the age of 10, someone in the “Overtown village,” remembered that Johnson had a grandmother and family in the Bahamas. There, she found family support, schooling and the faith that would sustain her for generations. Johnson returned to the states at 16 when her father, then living in West Palm Beach, sought her return.
Johnson excelled in the Bahamas and later enrolled at Industrial High School in West Palm Beach graduated in 1938 and two years later met and married her husband, Thomas Oscar Johnson. The couple remained married until his death in 1974 and had three daughters: Brenda, who died in infancy, and Juanita and baby sister Thomasena who was born 18 years later when Johnson was 40.
Johnson also pursued her career in cosmetology by completing a vocational program at Sunlight Beauty School in Miami and opening her salon. Along the way she became active in civic organizations.
In 1971, she was the first Black woman appointed to the Miami-Dade County Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Commission by then-Mayor Stephen P. Clark. Johnson, and friend Esterlene Colebrook, were co-chapter organizers of the Miami Cupidettes Club in 1973, a civic, service and social organization that named a scholarship in Johnson’s honor. She was also a founding member of the Opa-locka chapter of AARP and its second chapter president.
Services will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Holy Family Episcopal Church, 18501 NW Seventh Ave. in Miami Gardens.