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Austin's Connection To The "Blind" Willie Johnson Historical Marker

"Blind" Willie Johnson
"Blind" Willie Johnson

If you don't know who "Blind" Willie Johnson is, take a second to listen to this seminal piece, Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground).

A copy of that song was attached to the Voyager One spacecraft before it was launched in 1977 a potential cultural offering to alien life. As you may have heard on KUT yesterday afternoon during All Things Considered, Voyager One, still functioning, is about to exit the solar system.

Back on planet Earth, Johnson is receiving a special designation today from the state of Texas. An Official Texas Historical Marker will be placed in Johnson's hometown of Beaumont. There are more than 15,000 official markers across the state.

Johnson was born in Brenham, Texas, about 90 miles east of Austin, in 1897. Legend has it that his step-mother threw soap lye in his face as a child, causing him to go blind.

KUT's Texas Music Matters, a music journalism unit at the station, reported that two graduates of the University of Texas at Austin, Shane Ford and Anna Obek, were inspired to push for a memorial for Johnson. Their campaign began when they started traveling the state after watching a PBS series on the blues. Listen to KUT's Andy Uhler report in this seven minute pieceon the role two young Austinites played in establishing the memorial being unveiled today.

The marker will be dedicated at 2 p.m. today at Pilgrim's Rest Baptist church, 1440 Forest Street in Beaumont. People from the Jefferson County Historical Commission and the Port Arthur Historical Society will do the unveiling.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.