As a federal judge in Alabama during the tumultuous CIVIL RIGHTS era, Frank Minis Johnson Jr. earned an outstanding reputation. Serving on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama (1955?79) and the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits (1979?91), Johnson was a strong, if sometimes cautious, defender of constitutional liberties for all U.S. citizens, regardless of race or social status.
Johnson was one of only a few judges to apply vigorously the U.S. Supreme Court's SCHOOL DESEGREGATION decision in BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). He made history in 1956 when he and another judge overturned a Montgomery, Alabama, ordinance requiring SEGREGATION on city buses (Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 [M.D. Ala.]). That decision gave the nascent CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT an encouraging victory and helped catapult MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., who had led a boycott of Montgomery buses, to the forefront as a civil rights leader. During the 1970s, Johnson issued court orders requiring sweeping changes in Alabama's mental health institutions and prisons. Although his judicial decisions brought death threats to himself and his family from whites who opposed INTEGRATION, Johnson remained faithful to his convictions regarding individual rights.
Johnson was born October 30, 1918, in Delmar, a town in northern Alabama's Winston County. The county, in which Johnson spent his youth, was a Republican stronghold in an overwhelmingly Democratic state; in fact, it had attempted to remain neutral during the Civil War. Johnson's father, Frank Minis Johnson Sr. served as one of the few Republicans in the Alabama state legislature. Johnson studied law at the University of Alabama and graduated in the top of his class in 1943 with a bachelor of laws degree. He gained admission to the Alabama bar the following year.
Johnson distinguished himself during WORLD WAR II while serving as an officer in the U.S. Army. Wounded in the Normandy Invasion, he received numerous decorations, including the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Bronze Star. He left the military in 1946 and returned to Alabama. Settling in Jasper, he cofounded a law firm and quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding defense lawyer.
In 1952, Johnson worked as a state manager for the presidential campaign of Republican DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER. After Eisenhower became president the following year, he rewarded Johnson with the post of U.S. attorney for Alabama's...