Louise B. Johnson
|Louise Brazzel Johnson|
|Louise B. Johnson|
|Louisiana State Representative from District 11 (Union and Claiborne parishes)|
|Preceded by||John Sidney Garrett|
|Succeeded by||Loy F. Weaver|
October 6, 1924|
Dubach, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died||January 6, 2002(aged 77)|
|Alma mater||Chillicothe Business College
Louise Brazzel Johnson (October 6, 1924 – January 6, 2002) was a little-known insurance agent in Bernice in Union Parish who rocketed to state prominence when she upset the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives in the 1971 Democratic primary. Johnson unseated 24-year incumbent John Sidney Garrett of Haynesville in Claiborne Parish to win the nomination for the District 11 seat in the legislature. Garrett had previously represented Claiborne and Webster parishes. The Union Parish portion of District 11 was represented previously by another Democrat, James Peyton Smith of Farmerville.
After she defeated Garrett, Mrs. Johnson faced Gene Allen, the first Republican to seek the seat in modern times. She won overwhelmingly, 7,143 votes (74.8 percent) to Allen's 2,410 (25.2 percent). She served one term until 1976, and was succeeded by her fellow Democrat, Loy F. Weaver, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent from Homer, the seat of Claiborne Parish.
In the nonpartisan blanket primary held on November 1, 1975, Johnson sought the District 35 state Senate seat then held by K.D. Kilpatrick, a funeral home director from Ruston in Lincoln Parish. She ran strongly enough to enter the general election held on December 13, 1975, against her intraparty rival, former state Senator Charles C. Barham of Ruston. Barham, Kilpatrick's predecessor in the Senate and a son of former state Senator and Lieutenant Governor (1952–1956) Charles E. "Cap" Barham, polled 16,878 votes (52.4 percent) to Mrs. Johnson's 15,385 ballots (47.6 percent). Barham's Senate service extended from 1964–1972 and again from 1976–1988, when he was succeeded by Randy Ewing, a Democrat from Quitman in Jackson Parish. Whereas Johnson was known for her opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, Charles Barham was an ERA supporter, a defining difference between the candidates. Barham also carried the backing of organized labor and the majority of the African- American community.
On October 27, 1979, Mrs. Johnson ran unsuccessfully in a bid to regain her previous state House seat. She received 5,422 votes (38.5 percent) to the 7,093 ballots (50.4 percent) garnered by incumbent Loy Weaver. Two other candidates split the remaining 11.2 percent of the vote. Weaver was among a field of candidates who had run unsuccessfully in 1978 for the Fourth Congressional District seat vacated by Democrat Joseph David "Joe D." Waggonner, Jr., of Bossier Parish.
Early years and education
Louise Johnson was born in Dubach in Lincoln Parish. She graduated at the age of sixteen as the valedictorian of Hico High School in Lincoln Parish and later from Chillicothe Business College in Livingston County in northern Missouri. She thereafter graduated magna cum laude from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, where she obtained both Bachelor of Arts and master of arts degrees. She studied abroad at the University of London.
Prior to the organization of her successful Bernice Insurance Agency near Ruston, she had worked at radio stations KDTL and KWFM in Farmerville, the seat of Union Parish. She was also an award-winning flower arranger.
Avowed opponent of the ERA
While in office, Representative Johnson moderated a Hemispheric Conference in Miami on the "Status of Women in the Western Hemisphere." She was among the more conservative speakers at the gathering, many of whom looked to government action to address gender inequities in society. Johnson took the view that government could do relatively little to ease inequities and might in fact make the situation worse. Such thinking led her to fight ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, much to the consternation of many Democratic women.
On June 30, 1982, Mrs. Johnson addressed a luncheon in the Royale Rouge Hotel in Baton Rouge to mark the defeat of the ERA, which fell three states short of ratification. Present and past House members who were instrumental in the defeat of the amendment were presented with certificates. Joining Mrs. Johnson in addressing the conference was the then Speaker of the Louisiana House, Democrat (later Republican) John J. Hainkel, Jr., of New Orleans.
Mrs. Johnson said that history must remember the persecution that opponents of ERA, such as herself, endured. She recalled "personal vendettas; some of our leaders suffered for the cause. Our lives were threatened more times than you've got fingers and toes." She expressed her belief that God placed her in the legislature specifically to fight ratification of the ERA. Mrs. Johnson contended that the ERA would have federalized state laws in regard to the family and would have empowered federal judges to "legislative" their personal views through means of a generally-worded amendment.
Long after she had left public office, Mrs. Johnson wrote a 50th anniversary tribute to the women who had served in the Louisiana legislature. Her papers are in the archives of her alma mater, Louisiana Tech. Tech honors Johnson through the "Louise B. Johnson Graduate Scholarship", which is awarded to a female graduate student in the field of history who, for her master's thesis, is researching the role of women in Louisiana. A similar scholarship in history is named for the late Tech professor Morgan D. Peoples.
Historic Union Parish monument
In 1975, an employee of the Louisiana Department of Transportation came across an abandoned nomument separating Union Parish and Union County, Arkansas, and related his discovery to Representative Johnson. In an article for the North Louisiana Historical Association Journal (since North Louisiana History), Johnson explained that she asked the Olinkraft Timber Company of West Monroe to cease cutting trees on the property and to help with the restoration of the monument. Still a legislator, she introduced a bill to cede the state's part of the property to the state parks system. Governor Edwin Washington Edwards signed what became Act 734 of 1975, and a rededication ceremony was held in which he and Johnson planted a tree. Months later, Arkansas sold its part of the land to the Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. Since that time, chunks of the monument were lost or spray-painted by vandals.
The monument was established in 1931 by former Arkansas Governor George Washington Donaghey (1856–1937), who was born in Union Parish and grew up in the border area before he moved as a teenager to Conway, Arkansas. As governor, he oversaw the construction of the state capitol building in Little Rock and brought about the establishment of agricultural colleges. After his gubernatorial tenure, Donaghey, who felt a kinship to both states, commissioned a park on the land about the monument, having invested his own money in the project. Known for its intricate carvings and Art Deco style, the monument includes references to different modes of transportation in 1831 and 1931 and mentions Huey P. Long, Jr., whose educational program Donaghey admired. The land was not registered with state parks offices in either state, timber companies cut trees thereabouts, and the monument was forgotten until 2009, when restoration efforts were unveiled.
- Annabelle Armstrong, "ERA foes celebrate, challenge," Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, July 1, 1982
John Sidney Garrett
|Louisiana State Representative from District 11 (Claiborne and Union parishes)
Loy F. Weaver