1977 August 16

President Carter Names Frank Johnson, Famed Civil Rights Judge, to Head FBI


President Jimmy Carter on this day nominated Frank M. Johnson to head the FBI. Almost immediately, however, Johnson developed a serious medical condition and had to withdraw from consideration. It is interesting to speculate on how Johnson, with his deep civil rights commitments, would have changed the FBI had he become its director. Judge Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

As a federal judge in Alabama, Johnson was one of the heroes of the civil rights movement, striking down discrimination in a series of important decisions. Johnson first served as a District Court Judge in Alabama and then as a member of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He had been a classmate of George Wallace’s at the University of Alabama — and he and the segregationist governor clashed on a number of occasions. Some of Johnson’s important decisions: Browder v. Gayle (June 13, 1956), which ordered the desegregation of the Montgomery, Alabama, buses; Gomillion v. Lightfoot (November 14, 1960), which invalidated a racially discriminatory redistricting plan for Tuskegee, Alabama; United States v. Alabama (1961); Lee v. Macon County Board of Education (1963), which ordered the desegregation of all the schools in Alabama; Williams v. Wallace (1965), which ordered the resumption of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march; United States v. Alabama (1966), which declared the Alabama poll tax unconstitutional; White v. Crook (1966), which ended race discrimination of jury selection in Alabama; and NAACP v. Dothard (1974), which ordered a quota recruitment system by the Alabama State Police.

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)

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