Frank Minis Johnson

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For other people of the same name, see Frank Johnson (disambiguation).
Frank Johnson
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
In office
October 1, 1981 – October 30, 1991
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Edward Carnes
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
June 21, 1979 – October 1, 1981
Appointed by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Seat abolished
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
In office
June 29, 1966 – June 21, 1979
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Robert Varner
Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
In office
October 22, 1955 – June 21, 1979
Appointed by Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Charles Kennamer
Succeeded by Myron Thompson
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.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ruth
Alma mater University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1939–1945
Battles/wars World War II

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."


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.[1] 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 southern 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.

Nominated for FBI Director[edit]

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[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.

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.[1]

Legacy and honors[edit]

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 potential black voting strength by redrawing city boundaries so as to exclude concentrations of black voters from the city.

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.[4]

  • 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[5]

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[6]

  • 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.[7]

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."[8]

  • United States v. Alabama (1966)

Declared the Alabama poll tax unconstitutional.

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

Ordered the desegregation of the Montgomery chapter of the YMCA.

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.

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

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Judge Johnson Buried in the Alabama Hills". The New York Times. July 28, 1999. Retrieved 2008-06-24. 
  2. ^ "Frank M. Johnson", Alabama Academy of Honor, 1979
  3. ^ "Frank M. Johnson", 1993 Thurgood Marshall Award, American Bar Association, Awards
  4. ^ US v. Alabama, 362 US 602 - Supreme Court, 1960. Supreme Court sent this back to the Middle District for order.
  5. ^ United States v. City of Montgomery, 201 F. Supp. 590 - Dist. Court, MD Alabama 1962
  6. ^ Sims v. Frink, 205 F. Supp. 245 (M.D. Ala. 1962)
  7. ^ Williams v. Wallace, 240 F. Supp. 100 - Dist. Court, MD Alabama 1965
  8. ^ White v. Crook, 251 F. Supp. 401 - Dist. Court, MD Alabama 1966
  9. ^ NAACP v. Dothard


  • 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]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Charles Kennamer
Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
Succeeded by
Myron Thompson
New office Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
Succeeded by
Robert Varner
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Seat abolished
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Succeeded by
Edward Carnes