Washington Post Columnist & senior advisor for New America’s flagship US@250 initiative
Author of When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America
Retired U.S. Navy Commander
Ted engages audiences with thought-provoking insights on issues related to race, politics, and culture. With his extensive experience in government, academia, and the private sector, his unique perspectives leave audiences with a deeper appreciation for the challenges facing our society today.
Theodore (Ted) R. Johnson is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post and a senior advisor for New America’s flagship US@250 initiative, which centers on the 250th anniversary of the nation's independence in 2026 and the narratives that accompany it. His research and writing primarily explore the role that race plays in electoral politics, democratic culture, and its influence on the national narrative and the American identity. Johnson is a retired U.S. Navy Commander following a two-decade career that included service as a White House Fellow and speechwriter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Prior to New America, he was a senior fellow and senior director of the Fellows Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and a research manager at Deloitte. He is the author of When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America (2021).
He’s at work on his next book, IF WE ARE BRAVE, an examination of how race challenges American identity and the mythology the United States was founded on, specifically the ways a multiracial society contests and exposes the first principles of American democracy, belonging, and equality (2024 release).
A native of North Carolina, Johnson is a proud HBCU graduate, holding a BS in mathematics from Hampton University as well as an ALM with a concentration in international relations from Harvard University and a doctorate of law and policy from Northeastern University.
The Promise of America
In this talk, Ted traces his family’s American journey from slavery to the White House, where he served as a White House Fellow and Navy Commander. Centered on the history of his full name, Theodore Roosevelt Johnson III, he shares the optimism in America held by his great-grandparents, despite their living and raising a family in Jim Crow South Carolina. In this inspirational talk filled with humor, hard truths, and historical vignettes, Ted demonstrates how a family’s faith in the American project sustained it for more than a century until the dream of sharecroppers finally became reality more than a century later.
Confronting Racism and Renewing the Promise
Based on his acclaimed first book, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America, Ted outlines how the Black America experience serves as a model for the multiracial solidarity the country needs to address structural racism. A work of history, political science, and sociology – with memoir mixed in – Ted merges the academic with the practical to offer a prescription for making the Union a little more perfect.
Why Do Black Americans Vote So Uniformly?
The voting behavior of Black Americans is arguably the defining feature of 21st American politics. Ted’s doctoral work investigated why Black people have overwhelmingly supported one party ever since the end of Civil War – first the Republican Party and now the Democratic Party. And he researched under what conditions this state of affairs may change. It is a story packed with insights that have eluded many pundits and strategists and helps us all understand contemporary American politics and elections.