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Frank Minis Johnson

Frank Minis Johnson American judge

American judge
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American judge
A.K.A. Frank Minis Johnson, Jr.
Countries United States of America
Occupations Lawyer Judge
Gender male
Birth 30 October 1918 (Haleyville, Marion County, Alabama, U.S.A.)
Death 23 July 1999
Politics Republican Party
Education University of Alabama, University of Alabama School of Law
The details
Biography

Frank Minis Johnson Jr. (October 30, 1918 – July 23, 1999) was a United States Federal judge, serving 1955 to 1999 at the District and Appeals Court levels. He made landmark civil rights rulings that helped end segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South. In the words of journalist and historian Bill Moyers, Judge Johnson "altered forever the face of the South."

Biography

Frank Minis Johnson Jr. was born in 1918 and grew up in Haleyville in northern Alabama, long an independent-minded part of the state. Winston County had opposed secession from the Union during the American Civil War. Johnson graduated from the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law and passed the bar.

He married Ruth Jenkins, a classmate from the University of Alabama. (Another classmate was George C. Wallace, future governor of the state, who became Johnson's bête noire during the civil rights era of the 1960s.) Johnson served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, while his wife Ruth served in the WAVES as an adviser to Hollywood directors making films about the war.

After military service, Johnson entered private law practice in Jasper, Alabama from 1946 to 1953. Unlike most white voters of the time in Alabama, he became active in politics with the Republican Party, serving as a delegate to the 1948 Republican National Convention. He managed Alabama’s “Veterans for Eisenhower” group during the 1952 campaign. Johnson was known as a foe of the Democratic Party's segregationist policies. He was appointed as a U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, 1953–55, during President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration.

President Eisenhower next nominated Johnson to the federal bench as a district judge, and he was approved by the Senate in 1955, embarking on a more than 40-year judicial career. In 1956, Judge Johnson ruled in favor of Rosa Parks, striking down the “blacks in the back of the bus” law of the city of Montgomery, Alabama, as unconstitutional. In orders issued in 1961 and 1962, he ordered the desegregation of bus depots and Dannelly Airport facilities, respectively, in Montgomery.

In March 1965, Judge Johnson ruled that activists had the right to undertake the Selma to Montgomery March as a means to petition the government, overturning Governor George Wallace's prohibition of the march as contrary to public safety. Thousands of sympathizers traveled to Selma to join the march, which had 25,000 participants by its last leg into Montgomery on March 25, 1965. It was considered integral to gaining passage by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Judge Johnson received death threats and ostracism for his role in advancing civil rights, and was protected by federal marshals for nearly two decades. A burning cross was placed on his lawn in 1956 following the Rosa Parks decision, and his mother's house was bombed in 1967, although she was not hurt.

Nominated for FBI Director

In 1977 President Carter and Attorney General Griffin Bell asked Johnson to become FBI Director when Director Clarence M. Kelley stepped down. But, the day after Carter nominated him, Johnson was found to have an aneurysm, or abnormal swelling, of his abdominal aorta. His nomination had to be withdrawn and William H. Webster was nominated in his place.

Federal Judicial Service

  • Judge of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, 1955–1979;
  • Judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 1979–1981;
  • Judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit 1981-1999;

Johnson served more than 40 years on the federal bench. At the memorial service after his death, he was praised by former US Senator Howell Heflin, Democrat of Alabama, who said that the judge's "unrelenting devotion to the rule of law" helped him strike down segregation laws.

Legacy and honors

  • 1979, inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor
  • 1993, American Bar Association's annual Thurgood Marshall Award
  • 1995, Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Notable decisions

  • Browder v. Gayle (1956)

Orders the racial integration of the public transportation system of the city of Montgomery, Alabama.

  • Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1961)

Invalidated a plan by the city of Tuskegee, Alabama to dilute potential black voting strength by redrawing city boundaries so as to exclude concentrations of black voters from the city.

  • United States v. Alabama (1961)

Ordered that black persons be registered to vote if their application papers were equal to the performance of the least qualified white applicant accepted on the voting rolls.

  • Lewis v. Greyhound (1961),

Required desegregation of the bus depots of the city of Montgomery, as these served interstate buses operating under federal law.

  • United States v. City of Montgomery (1961)

Ordered the city of Montgomery to surrender its voting registration records to the US Department of Justice; DOJ was studying why so few African Americans were registered to vote in a state with numerous majority-black counties.

  • United States v. City of Montgomery, 201 F. Supp. 590 - Dist. Court, MD Alabama 1962

Required desegregation of airport and related facilities at Dannelly Field in the city of Montgomery

  • Sims v. Frink (1962)

Required the state of Alabama to reapportion state legislative districts to adhere to the 'one man, one vote' principle as stipulated in its 1901 constitution. The state districts had not been reapportioned since that date, although such reapportionment was supposed to take place following every decennial census. This had resulted in marked under-representation of urban citizens, as demographic changes had created density of population in urbanized cities and areas

  • Lee v. Macon County Board of Ed. (1963)

Mandated, in Alabama, the first statewide desegregation of public schools.

  • Williams v. Wallace (1965)

Ordered Gov. George Wallace in March 1965 to permit the Selma to Montgomery march to take place, which was organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), DCVL and SNCC.

  • White v. Crook (1966)

Ruled that the state of Alabama must permit both male and female Blacks to serve on juries; they were qualified after regaining the ability to register and vote. The case was brought as a class action suit on behalf of black residents on Lowndes County, Alabama; other class members joined so that the decision applied to the state. It was "one of the first civil actions brought to remedy systematic exclusion of Negroes from jury service generally."

  • United States v. Alabama (1966)

Declared the Alabama poll tax unconstitutional.

  • Weeks v. Southern Bell (1969)

Ruled that women had a statutory right to choose, for themselves, whether to work in physically demanding jobs that were historically performed by men.

  • Smith v. YMCA of Montgomery (1970)

Ordered the desegregation of the Montgomery chapter of the YMCA.

  • NAACP v. Dothard (1974)

Required the state of Alabama to continue hiring (as ordered by the court in 1972) to overcome decades of racial discrimination in the Dept. of Public Safety, wherein the department should hire 50% blacks in state trooper and support positions until racial parity of 25% representation was achieved.

  • Garcia-Mir v. Meese (1986)

Upheld that existing U.S. law superseded customary international law.

In popular culture

  • Johnson is played by Martin Sheen in the 2014 film Selma.
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