Frank Minis Johnson

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For other people of the same name, see Frank Johnson (disambiguation).
Frank Minis Johnson
United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
In office
Succeeded by Edward Earl Carnes
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
Nominated by President Jimmy Carter
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
In office
Appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Charles B. Kennamer
Personal details
Born Frank Minis Johnson, Jr.
(1918-10-30)October 30, 1918
Haleyville, Alabama, U.S.
Died July 23, 1999(1999-07-23) (aged 80)
Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Ruth
Alma mater University of Alabama
Occupation Judge
Military service
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1939-1945
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom (ribbon).png Presidential Medal of Freedom 1995

Frank Minis Johnson, Jr. (October 30, 1918 – July 23, 1999) was a United States Federal judge, made a number of landmark civil rights rulings that helped end segregation in the South. In the words of journalist and historian Bill Moyers, Judge Johnson "altered forever the face of the South."


An alumnus of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law (one of Johnson's classmates was future Governor George C. Wallace, who would be Johnson's bête noire in the civil rights litigation of the 1960s), Johnson served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, while his wife, Ruth (also a classmate from the University of Alabama) served in the WAVES as an advisor to Hollywood filmmakers. After military service, Johnson entered private law practice in Jasper, Alabama from 1946 to 1953. He was a delegate from Alabama to the 1948 Republican National Convention, and served as a U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, 1953-55.

Frank Johnson was a delegate to the 1948 Republican National Convention. He managed Alabama’s “Veterans for Eisenhower” during the 1952 campaign.

Johnson was a resolute foe of the Democratic Party's segregationist policies. President Eisenhower named him U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and then to the federal bench. In 1956, Judge Johnson ruled in favor of Rosa Parks, striking down the “blacks in the back of the bus” law. In 1965, it was Judge Johnson who struck down attempts by Alabama's Democrat governor to block the Selma voting rights march led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Federal Judicial Service[edit]

Received a recess appointment from President Dwight Eisenhower on October 22, 1955, to a seat vacated by Charles B. Kennamer; nominated on January 12, 1956; Confirmed by the United States Senate on January 31, 1956, and received his commission on February 1, 1956. Served as chief judge, 1966-1979. Service terminated on July 12, 1979, due to his next judicial appointment.
Nominated by President Jimmy Carter on April 2, 1979, to a new seat; Confirmed by the Senate on June 19, 1979, and received his commission on June 21, 1979. Service terminated on October 1, 1981, due to assignment to another court.
Reassigned October 1, 1981; Assumed senior status on October 30, 1991. He was succeeded on the bench by Edward Earl Carnes. Service terminated on July 23, 1999, upon his death.

FBI Nomination[edit]

In 1977 President Carter and Attorney General Griffin Bell asked Johnson to become FBI Director when Director Clarence M. Kelley stepped down. However the day after Carter nominated him, Johnson was found to have an aneurysm, or abnormal swelling, of his abdominal aorta, and later had to withdraw from the nomination.

Presidential Medal of Freedom[edit]

Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

Notable Decisions[edit]

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

Invalidated a plan by the city of Tuskegee, Alabama to dilute black voting strength by redrawing city boundaries so as to move concentrations of black voters out of the city limits.

  • 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.

  • United States v. City of Montgomery (1961)

Ordered the city of Montgomery to surrender its voting registration records to the US Department of Justice.

  • Sims v. Frink (1962)

Required the state of Alabama to reapportion state legislative districts to adhere to the 'one man, one vote' principle.

  • 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 to permit the Selma to Montgomery march, which were organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to take place.

  • White v. Crook (1966)

Ruled that the state of Alabama must permit Blacks to serve on juries.

  • 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.

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

Required the state of Alabama to hire one Black state trooper for every white state trooper until racial parity was achieved.

In popular culture[edit]

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


  • Bass, Jack (1992). Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and the South's Fight over Civil Rights. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-41348-3. 
  • Garrow, David J. (April 2000). "Visionaries of the Law: John Minor Wisdom and Frank M. Johnson, Jr.". Yale Law Journal 109: 1219–36. 
  • Kennedy, Jr., Robert F. (1978). Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr: A biography. Putnam. ISBN 0-399-12123-4. 
  • Krotoszynski, Ronald J., Jr. (April 2000). "Equal Justice Under Law: The Jurisprudential Legacy of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.". Yale Law Journal 109: 1237–51. 
  • Lewis, John (April 2000). "Reflections on Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.". Yale Law Journal 109: 1253–6. 
  • Marshall, Burke (April 2000). "In Remembrance of Judges Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and John Minor Wisdom". Yale Law Journal 109: 1207–18. 
  • "Judge Johnson Buried in the Alabama Hills". The New York Times. July 28, 1999. Retrieved 2008-06-24. 
  • Sikora, Frank (2007). The Judge: The Life and Opinions of Alabama's Frank M. Johnson, Jr. NewSouth Books. ISBN 1-58838-158-7. 
  • Thompson, Myron H. (April 2000). "Measuring a Life: Frank Minis Johnson, Jr.". Yale Law Journal 109: 1257–9. 
  • Yarbrough, Tinsley E. (1981). Judge Frank Johnson and Human Rights in Alabama. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-0056-2. 

External links[edit]