- NAME: Frank M. Johnson
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Lawyer, Judge
- BIRTH DATE: October 30, 1918
- DEATH DATE: July 23, 1999
- Did You Know?: Frank M. Johnson hailed from a section of Alabama, the county of Winston, which had little slavery, pro-Union sentiments and a movement to secede from the state.
- Did You Know?: After Thurgood Marshall himself, Frank M. Johnson was the first person to receive the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association.
- EDUCATION: Gulf Coast Military Academy, University of Alabama, University of Alabama School of Law
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Haleyville, Alabama
- PLACE OF DEATH: Montgomery, Alabama
- Full Name: Frank Minis Johnson Jr.
- AKA: Frank Minis Johnson
- AKA: Frank M. Johnson Jr.
- AKA: Frank M. Johnson
- AKA: Frank Johnson Jr.
- AKA: Frank Johnson
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Frank M. Johnson was an Alabama federal judge who in the mid-20th century oversaw major rulings favoring integration, voting equity and human rights.
Bloody Sunday (4:04)
On March 7, 1965 around 600 people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an attempt to begin the Selma to Montgomery march. State troopers violently attacked the peaceful demonstrators in an attempt to stop the march for voting rights.
On Sunday, March 21, 1965, nearly 8,000 people began the five-day march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.
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Born on October 30, 1918, in Haleyville, Alabama, Frank M. Johnson was an attorney before becoming a state federal judge. He made major rulings during his tenure declaring racial segregation unconstitutional and which favored African-American voting equity, later becoming known for his prison and hospital reforms. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he died on July 23, 1999.
"The civilizing function of a judge has been defined, I think, as 'the removal of a sense of injustice.' I have come to the firm conclusion that the American people revere the concept of justice, and their conscience tells them to obey the law once they understand what it is.''
"It is the obligation of every Judge to see that justice is done within the framework of the law."
"My basic philosophy as a trial judge and as an appellate judge is to follow the law and the facts without regard to the consequences."
Frank Minis Johnson Jr. was born in the town of Haleyville, Alabama, on October 30, 1918, the first of several siblings. Among a farming community, his father was also a teacher and probate judge, and the young Johnson pursued a career in law as well after attending a Mississippi military academy, ultimately graduating from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1943.
In 1938, Johnson had wed fellow student Ruth Jenkins, who also hailed from his home county of Winston; the couple later adopted a child, James Curtis.
Frank M. Johnson served in World War II, receiving commendations, before returning to his home state and setting up shop in Jasper as an attorney at the firm Curtis & Maddox. After corralling support for Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential election, he was appointed U.S. attorney for Northern Alabama in 1953. Then, in 1955, Johnson was named by Eisenhower to take over a federal judge position in the state's middle district. Hence Johnson and his family relocated to Montgomery.
Shortly thereafter, Johnson sided with the majority opinion in the case that made it illegal to segregate city busses after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to white passengers. Looking at 1954's Brown v. Board of Education case as a precedent, Johnson found it unconstitutional to segregate facilities based on race.
Johnson's steadfast belief in adhering to law found the judge becoming an instrumental force in key Civil Rights Movement rulings. He ruled for desegregating a host of public spaces in Alabama, as seen with the landmark school-based decision Lee v. Macon County Board of Education (1963), and supported African-American voting rights, with his decisions publicly opposed by former university schoolmate, Alabama Governor George Wallace.
In 1965, Johnson declared that the march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery for voting equity was "basic to our constitutional principles," and received support from President Lyndon B. Johnson, who authorized the state national guard to serve as protection. In another landmark move, Johnson determinedly pushed for deadlocked jurors to come to a verdict in the civil rights case of murdered activist Viola Gregg Liuzzo; her killers thus received jail sentences.
Johnson held fast to his rulings, though he faced ostracism from much of his area's white community and downright violence, with his mother's home firebombed and crosses burned on the grounds of his home. He and his family were thus placed under protection of federal marshals.
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"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." Stated by legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., these words represent a basic human philosophy to which black history's greatest leaders have passionately subscribed. Learn more about the world's most revered civil rights activists, known for their fight against social injustices and lasting impact on the lives of black citizens, including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
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