Bertha Johnson was born November 14, 1946, in Newport News, Virginia. She is the daughter of the late John Mathews Hawkins and Mary Alice Minor. Johnson is one of seven children (four boys and three girls). Johnson attended segregated public schools such as Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Booker T. Washington, and finally Huntington High School.
While attending grade school, Johnson picked up a love for reading and playing softball. She later went on to pursue her education in nursing at the Dixie Hospital School of Practical Nursing and would she further her studies at Hampton University and Virginia Commonwealth University. While studying as a nurse, Johnson rarely saw discrimination, but says it was present.
She worked for several years as a nurse. She enjoyed her job. She had a strong bond with her patients, other nurses, and doctors. Johnson was married for twenty-two years. She is the mother of one daughter, of whom she is very proud. Johnson still resides in Newport News, Virginia.