1955 October 22

Future Civil Rights Hero Frank M. Johnson Appointed District Court Judge in Alabama


Appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Frank M. Johnson became one of the judicial heroes of the civil rights movement, and one of the great civil libertarian justices of his era. As a Republican, he was not a part of the segregationist Democratic Party establishment and was committed to racial justice. He served as a U. S. District Court Judge in Alabama and then as a Justice on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In response to his decisions, Governor George Wallace of Alabama once said he would like to give Judge Johnson a “barbed wire enema.”

Some of his important cases include: Browder v. Gayle (see June 13, 1956), which ordered the desegregation of the Montgomery, Alabama, buses; Gomillion v. Lightfoot see the Supreme Court decision on (November 14, 1960), which invalidated a racially discriminatory redistricting plan for Tuskegee, Alabama; United States v. Alabama (1961), which held that African-American applicants for voting be registered if their qualifications were equal to the least qualified white applicant who was allowed to register; Lee v. Macon County Board of Education (1963), which ordered the desegregation of all schools in Alabama; Williams v. Wallace (1965), which ordered the resumption of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march; White v. Crook (1966), which ended race discrimination of jury selection in Alabama; United States v. Alabama (1966), which declared the Alabama poll tax unconstitutional; and NAACP v. Dothard (1974), which ordered a quota system recruitment process by the Alabama State Police.

On August 16, 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Judge Johnson to be the Director of the FBI. Johnson almost immediately developed a serious medical condition and had to withdraw. Given his deep commitment to civil rights, it is interesting to speculate on how Johnson might have changed the FBI. Judge Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

Read: Jack Bass, Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., And the South’s Fight Over Civil Rights (1993)

Learn more about Judge Johnson: http://www.jackbass.com/_u_taming_the_storm__the_life_and_times_of_judge_frank_m__johnson__jr__and_the_s_25513.htm

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