top of page

Fangirl Spotlight: Interview with Nashville Public Defender-Elect Martesha Johnson

Have you ever met a superwoman? I have! Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of working with and becoming friends with a real-life superwoman, Martesha Johnson. She is a single mother, fulltime attorney and now Nashville Public Defender-Elect.

I met Martesha last spring when she took the Emerge Tennessee program. Emerge Tennessee, an affiliate of Emerge America, seeks to recruit and train democratic women to run for office. Through a 70-hour core curriculum program, the trainings focus on providing women with the practical and applicable skills they will need to become successful candidates. On the first day of class, Martesha walked into the training polished and confident, but unsure if she could find time to manage running for office while maintaining her two full-time jobs-- as a mother and Assistant Public Defender. Over the past year she has truly embodied what it means to be resilient. During the training she sought two elected judicial appointments when 2 local judges stepped down from office. While she was unsuccessful in those appointments, she committed to running for Nashville’s Public Defender seat.

On May 1, 2018 Martesha competed in the Democratic open primary becoming the first African American EVER elected to the Nashville Public Defender role! She faces no challenger in the upcoming August general election and will officially assume office in September of 2018.

Martesha currently teaches trial advocacy at Vanderbilt Law School. She is a member of the Nashville Bar Association, the Napier-Looby Bar Association, the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, the National Association of Public Defenders, and the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Johnson was a member of the 2016-2017 Nashville Bar Foundation Leadership Fellows Class and is a graduate of Gideon’s Promise. She was appointed to the Community Corrections Advisory Board by former Mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean and was a 2012-2013 ATHENA young Professionals Leadership Award nominee.

She is passionate about the work of public defenders and will bring a new voice to this space in Nashville, TN. To learn more about Martesha Johnson and her campaign for Nashville Public Defender, visit

In early May while attending the United State of Women Summit 2018 in Los Angeles, CA I had the opportunity to catch up with Martesha and learn a little more about why she decided to run and what keeps her motivated. Please check out my interview below!

Kristal Knight is the executive director of Emerge Tennessee, which recruits, trains, and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office.

Like what you just read? Sign-up here for updates from The BGG so you don’t miss the latest posts!

bottom of page