Sol C. Johnson opened its doors in 1959 as Powell Laboratory School under the direction of Savannah State College. The college hired the teachers for the school but the Board of Education paid them. The school consisted of grades one through twelve and had approximately 1,000 students.
Johnson High School was named for Sol C. Johnson, a journalist, philanthropist, educator, and founder of the nation's oldest newspaper published for the black community, the Savannah Tribune.
Johnson's first principal was Mr. Alflorence Cheatham who later moved on to become a school area superintendent in Chicago.
In 1960, the school's second year of existence, Jacquelyn E. Mack wrote the alma mater. The school emblem, the "Atom Smasher" has been noted as one of the five most unique mascots in the nation and featured as a question on Jeopardy in 1999. In 1961 the senior class under the direction of Mrs. Gwendolyn Goodman, senior class advisor, presented the school with the Coat of Arms. It bears the motto "Not to Equal but Excel." In the center of the Coat of Arms is a large "J". The gavel symbolizes leadership; the quill represents academic achievement; the trophy signifies athletic excellence; and the laurel branch stands for honor and over-all achievement. In the center surrounding the "J" is the atom-a symbol of unlimited potential energy.
The class of 1962 presented the bronze arm of the "Atom Smasher" to the school to improve the school's look. A neon sign displaying the school name was placed over the administration wing a year later.