A professional American baseball player, Johnson joined the Indianapolis Clowns — a team in the Negro American League — in 1953. She was one of a handful of women players on the team (which used women for umpires, too), but is thought to be the only woman to pitch. She was good, too: in her three years with the team, she pitched for a 33–8 win-loss record (and had a batting average of .262). Known as “Peanut” for her stature (she was just 5-foot-3 and 120 pounds), she was given that name derisively by an opposing player: she struck him out. The Clowns also fielded such notables as Hank Aaron (who went on to play for the Boston Braves), John Wyatt (Kansas City Athletics), Paul Casanova (Washington Senators), and Choo-Choo Coleman (New York Mets).
Ironically, she previously tried to play for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (depicted in the 1992 film A League of Their Own), but that team wouldn’t allow her to try out — because she was black. “I’m so glad to this day that they turned me down,” Johnson said years later. “To know that I was good enough to be with these gentlemen made me the proudest lady in the world. Now I can say that I’ve done something that no other woman has ever done.” After retiring from professional play in 1955, Johnson went to nursing school — and coached youth league baseball teams on the side. She spent 30 years working as a nurse, and died from cardiac problems on December 19. She was 83.