Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and the South's Fight over Civil Rights

Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and the South's Fight over Civil Rights

by Jack Bass
     
 

In 1955, the same year Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white man, President Eisenhower brought down from the hills of northwest Alabama a young U.S. attorney to sit as a federal District Court judge in Montgomery. His name was Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and at thirty-seven he was the youngest federal judge in the country.… See more details below

Overview

In 1955, the same year Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white man, President Eisenhower brought down from the hills of northwest Alabama a young U.S. attorney to sit as a federal District Court judge in Montgomery. His name was Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and at thirty-seven he was the youngest federal judge in the country. Thrust by fate into the center of a raging storm of controversy, this quietly determined judge would turn the tide of white resistance to integration with a stream of decisions that upheld the claims of black Southerners to their civil rights. In his twenty-four years on the District Court, Judge Johnson declared segregated public transportation unconstitutional, ordered the integration of public facilities, and required that blacks be registered to vote. He ordered Governor George Wallace, his former law school classmate, to allow the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery and brought about comprehensive statewide school desegregation. His precedent-setting decisions extended to discrimination against women, rights of prison inmates, and the right of patients in mental institutions to treatment. Judge Johnson paid heavily for his judicial vision. Ostracized from his community, subjected to death threats by the Ku Klux Klan, and labeled by George Wallace as "an integrating, scalawagging, carpet bagging, race mixing, bald faced liar who should be given "a barbed-wire enema," he was called by some "the most hated man in the South." In 1967 his mother's house was bombed in the belief that it was his. Despite it all, he did not waver in administering justice by applying his concept of the Constitution as a charter of liberty. Martin Luther King, Jr., called him a man who "gave true meaning to the word justice." Judge Frank Johnson endured the outrage of a society that felt itself and its values under siege, and he prevailed, eventually winning honor even in his home state. Taming the Storm is the sto

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The unelected federal judge who, in Bill Moyers's words, ``altered forever the face of the South,'' comes alive in this substantial biography. Bass, author of a previous book on Southern judges ( Unlikely Heroes ), first depicts Johnson as a product of the fiercely independent hills of northwest Alabama and the son of a mother with strong convictions. Drawing on extensive interviews with Johnson and his associates, Bass describes Johnson's early years, including his influential experiences in law school, before he became a judge and intersected with the civil rights movement: ruling on bus segregation, voting rights and school desegregation, and suffering the bombing of his mother's house and vitriol from his law school chum, Alabama governor George Wallace. Not just a moral beacon, Johnson, who recently retired, was a legal innovator, developing new judicial doctrines regarding state prisons and mental health institutions. Johnson claims his judicial approach is strictly legal with ``no interest in social change'' and the book's account makes that claim plausible. In a few chapters, such as one on the suicide of the judge's adopted son, Bass could have used less detail, but this book is a valuable piece of history. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Jay Freeman
As federal district court judge in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1955, Frank M. Johnson, Jr., was at the heart of the firestorm that swept the South as the civil rights struggle began. Johnson was certainly no flaming liberal; he was a staunch Republican who had opposed the New Deal in his youth. Yet, he was also a deeply principled man with a devotion to both the law and to dignity. Johnson, raised in a northern Alabama region that had been pro-Union during the Civil War, had always found Jim Crow laws absurd and odious, and he was to play a fundamental role in destroying many of them. Bass' chronicle of Johnson's life is occasionally ponderous; his prose is stilted, and he allows his story to become bogged down in trivia. Nevertheless, the power of the events and the figures who shaped them--Dr. King, Rosa Parks, George Wallace, and Johnson himself--give this narrative great power and great value; for those who wish to understand the times, this is essential reading.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385413480
Publisher:
The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/21/1992
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
528
Product dimensions:
6.55(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.66(d)

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