Dubbed “Home Run” for his power hitting during the turn-of-the-century dead-ball era, the righthanded-hitting Johnson was one of the pioneers of black baseball. His first team, the Page Fence Giants, which he formed with fellow pioneer Bud Fowler, played for a time in a white league in Michigan. Johnson moved on to play for what was regarded as the best black team of the early 1900s, the 1906 Philadelphia Giants, managed by Hall of Famer Rube Foster. Foster then took Johnson and five other players with him to form the Chicago American Giants of 1910, which Foster said was his best team ever. Playing in Cuba that winter, Johnson hit .412 against top competition that included the Detroit Tigers with Ty Cobb. In five years in the Cuban Winter League, he batted .319 in 156 games.
A star shortstop, Johnson moved to second base with the New York Lincoln Giants in 1912 to make room for future Hall of Fame SS John Henry Lloyd. Johnson finished his career as a playing manager in Buffalo, retiring at the age of fifty-eight.