Special Collections Blog of the Bounds Law Library

Ephemera from an 1898 Congressional Campaign

Editors’ Note

This post represents the second installment in a new category that we hope will be an occasional feature of our blog. Posts in this category will feature materials that are unique in some way, perhaps through ownership, creative attachment or insertion of documents, or other unusual items. Our previous post, “Next to His Bible”: John Randolph Griffin’s copy of the Louisiana Civil Code was the inspiration for this category that we have titled, Preserved in Amber. Our current post features an interesting small collection that is described by Hudson Cheshire, a 2017 J.D. candidate at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Ephemera from an 1898 Congressional Campaign

The topic of this post is a recently acquired collection that offers a glimpse into the life of a small town politician in early 20th century Alabama. The collection includes a copy of Alabama Reports Volume XXVII (the Alabama Supreme Court cases argued in the June term of 1855), and three documents that were laid within its pages. Two of the documents are laundry receipts for one Samuel Blackwell. The third is a notice for a series of events where Blackwell would be speaking in his 1898 campaign for Congress.Blackwell 01

Samuel Blackwell, the subject of the laundry receipts and political flyer, lived from 1848 to 1918 and is buried in the Decatur City Cemetery. While history has relegated Blackwell to obscurity, the sparse documents that remain suggest a man of relative political success in his place and time.Blackwell 02

Blackwell began his career in public service early, enlisting in the Confederate Army at fourteen years old. By his fifteenth birthday, he was a prisoner of war in Camp Douglass, a large Union prisoner camp in Chicago. Years later, as the Morgan County delegate for the Constitutional Convention of 1901, Blackwell recounted a comrade’s sardonic description of the conditions at Camp Douglass: “We slept until after breakfast, skipped dinner, and went to bed before supper.” [Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Alabama, 1901, 3025].

A document from 1903 indicates that Blackwell served at least one term as mayor of New Decatur in the early twentieth century and in the 1910-1912 Biennial Report of the Attorney General of Alabama, Samuel Blackwell is listed as the Blackwell 03Solicitor for the Morgan County Law and Equity Court. Perhaps the only lasting glimpse into Blackwell’s perspective comes from his words at the 1901 Constitutional Convention, preserved in the Official Proceedings. Describing the Convention’s atmosphere of pessimism regarding the voting capacity of the general population, historian Sheldon Hackney quotes Blackwell saying, “nature has marked the weak and incompetent to be protected by Government, rather than to be the directors of the Government.” [Populism to Progressivism in Alabama, 196].

Had Blackwell been successful in his 1898 campaign for Congress, he would have been better remembered in Alabama history. Nevertheless, available records merit the assumption that Blackwell was an influential political figure at the turn of the century, if only in his own small corner of the world.

Hudson Cheshire, Research Assistant, Bounds Law Library

 

Book Note: Billy Boll Weevil: A Pest Becomes a Hero, by Justice Hugh Maddox

Born in Andalusia, Alabama, in 1930, Justice Hugh Maddox has enjoyed a remarkable career. He graduated in Journalism from the University of Alabama in 1952, having been a writer, columnist, and an associate editor of the Crimson White, after which he served two years in the Air Force before coming here to Law School. Having graduated from law school in 1957, he began a legal career which included clerkships for Judge Aubrey Cates of the Alabama Court of Appeals and Judge Frank M. Johnson of the United States Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Interestingly, he later (1964-1969) served as an advisor to Governors George C. Wallace, Lurleen B. Wallace, and Albert P. Brewer. Subsequently he served (1969-2001) as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama.

Billy Boll Weevil: A Pest Becomes a Hero, coverIn the early 1970s, Maddox read books and told stories to his little daughter Jane. She liked his stories, so he decided to write and illustrate one for her. The subject that he chose, “crop diversification,” may not be an obvious choice for a child’s book. But Maddox was trying to dramatize a turning point of twentieth-century Alabama history, and he would do so by following the path blazed by Aesop’s talking animals. The artwork was no problem for Maddox, who had long enjoyed drawing and painting, and was known to keep India ink, a pen, and clean paper in his office.

The result, first published in 1976, was Billy Boll Weevil: A Pest Becomes a Hero. The text and drawings follow Billy in his quest to make friends with a farm family. We meet Billy’s grandfather and other creatures, including a kindly bee who tells Billy to “Do something good” for the farmer. Of course Billy and his kindred can’t very well stop feeding on cotton plants—a collective appetite which had brought the south’s economy to the verge of collapse in the early twentieth century. So instead Billy follows the bee’s suggestion and tells the farmer to start planting peanuts. The farmer takes the hint. Before long Billy is a hero, and the local people have put up a monument to him (as indeed happened in 1919 in Enterprise, Alabama).

Not many writers have made use of talking insects—apart from Lewis Carroll, who employed an articulate caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a melancholy gnat in Through the Looking Glass. Maddox pulls it off by keeping his dialogue simple, almost formulaic. “When you write children’s books,” he once said, “you’ve got to put yourself back in a child’s position.” Thus, as Montgomery Advertiser reporter Kelly Dowe observed of Billy: “He cries when he is sad. He runs when he is afraid.”Billy Boll Weevil illustrated page

Justice Maddox has reissued Billy Boll Weevil twice (1994 and 2013), recently including information on the National Peanut Festival and on the life and work of Dr. George Washington Carver, the brilliant Tuskegee University researcher who persuasively argued for crop diversification (especially peanut cultivation) in the south.

Finally, it may not be amiss to note that the Boll Weevil is portrayed in regional folk culture in a way that echoes some of Billy’s concerns. One version of “The Boll Weevil Song” has the singer state that “The first time I saw the boll weevil/He was sitting on a square./The next time I saw the boll weevil/He had all his family there./ They were lookin’ for a home,/Just lookin’ for a home.”

 

“Next to His Bible”: John Randolph Griffin’s copy of the Louisiana Civil Code

Starting with this post, Litera Scripta will occasionally display images of some of the Bounds Law Library’s more unusual books. Several of these will be chosen for the revealing or insightful inscriptions they bear. These inscriptions may have been written to increase the book’s usefulness, or to complete some thought called forth, or in one case, to predict the inscriber’s future while playing a joke on future readers. Other posts will feature notable bindings, illustrations, interleavings, or insertions.

Title Page, Civil Code of the State of Louisiana, 1857

Title Page

Certainly this post displays unusual elements of binding. The book is Thomas Gibbes Morgan, editor and compiler, Civil Code of the State of Louisiana: With the Statutory Amendments, from 1825 to 1853, Inclusive. . . (New Orleans: J.B. Steel, 1857). Bounds’ copy contains many annotations, some in pencil and some in an ink that has turned brown and in some instances has deteriorated on the page. The rear pastedown contains the following inscription: “John Randolph Griffin-Esq. Bellevue, La. He carried this through the war with him. Claimed this to be next to his Bible.”

Rear pastedown inscription, Civil Code of the State of Louisiana, 1857

Rear Pastedown Inscription

According to one source, Griffin was born in Georgia in 1835, graduated from the University of Alabama in 1858 (second in his class), and moved to Bossier Parish, Louisiana, in 1859. He was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature in time to serve as chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs during the war. He died in San Antonio, Texas, in 1873. See  Joiner, No Pardons to Ask, No Apologies to Make: The Journal of William Henry King, Gray’s 28th Louisiana Infantry Regiment (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 262 n. 5.

Annotated page, Civil Code of the State of Louisiana, 1857

Annotated Page

Interesting as these features are, this book’s obvious point of interest is the slip cover that has been fashioned to cover the original calf boards and spine. At some point, the front board became detached, and some innovative person made a slip cover from bed ticking material, complete with ties that very much appear to have been intended as mattress straps.

Civil Code of the State of Louisiana (New Orleans: J.B. Steel, 1857)

Civil Code of the State of Louisiana (New Orleans: J.B. Steel, 1857)

The covering fabric is faded and dirty, and the stitching is crude but effective. The quality of the work may indicate some facility with sewing or upholstering, but it is impossible to say when the work was done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Knights Templar: an Exhibit from our Collections

Who were they?

The Knights Templar was a secret religious order established in 1119-1120 in the aftermath of the First Crusade and officially acknowledged by the Roman Catholic Church in 1129. The order was established to ensure the safety of Western pilgrims to the Holy Land; but its military successes, the prowess of its warriors, and eventually, the banking services it provided made it influential in Western Europe and within the Church. Over the centuries, rumors have swirled about the Templars and the great wealth that they acquired. In particular, they were thought to have discovered and protected the legendary treasures of Christianity: the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, pieces of the True Cross, and other relics. Such tales have inspired many conspiracy theories about the Order, including Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and Dan Brown’s cult phenomenon The Da Vinci Code.

A Seal of the Knights Templar

A Seal of the Knights Templar

 

What happened to the Order?

Once the Holy Land finally fell to the Muslims in the late 13th century, Papal and royal support for the Order declined. The Templars had become increasingly powerful as property owners and bankers to the kings and nobility of Europe. Likewise, rumors about the secret and possibly heretical rituals of the Order circulated throughout Europe until Pope Clement V ordered all European monarchs to arrest the Knights and seize Templar assets in 1307. Scores of Templar knights were tortured, forcing them to admit, often falsely, to heretical behavior. Pressured by King Philip of France, who was heavily in debt to the Templars, Pope Clement dissolved the Order in 1312.

How is it perceived now?

Although the Order was dissolved by the Church and vilified by all Western monarchies in the 14th century, the Knights Templar has survived to this day in other forms. Most notably, the York Rite of the Order of the Knights Templar remains an important adjunct of Freemasonry in both America and Western Europe. In the nineteenth century the Masons established Templar orders in almost every American state and held both national and local conventions. The rituals of the medieval Knights Templar are preserved as Masonic rituals and are described with great detail in Freemason ritual books. The Order continues to be a great philanthropic society in the United States.

In Great Britain, the Templar aura lives in the education of lawyers. Two of the four Inns of Court in England are the Inner Temple and Middle Temple—named for the Templar buildings in which these Inns are housed. Scores of students have and continue to study in these Inns and remain members—Templars—as they begin their law careers. Even some of the authors of the U.S. Constitution were educated in these Inns, inspiring them to form American counterparts to the British Inns of Court.

Internationally, the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (not affiliated with Masonic Templars) has recently achieved NGO status from the United Nations as a charitable organization.

New Developments
In 2001, a document was found in the Vatican Secret Archives; incorrectly filed, it had lain undiscovered for centuries. It provided evidence that Pope Clement had absolved the Templars of heresy in 1308—four years before excommunicating them under French pressure. The Vatican published this discovery—known as the Chinon document—in October 2007. Thus the Church now maintains that the 14th century persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust. The Order was not heretical in any way, but was dissolved for political reasons.

This Exhibit
The Knights Templar is represented in the Bounds Law Library’s collections mostly in the form of nineteenth and early twentieth century Masonic materials. Many rituals of the medieval order are depicted—often in great detail—in these works. Selections from our collection include manuals, bylaws, rituals, an “Authentic Account of the Imprisonment, Torture, and Martyrdom of Free Masons and Knights Templars…,” as well as an 1861 Alabama legislative act incorporating the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar. The exhibit also features an original document; a 1911 certificate of knighthood from the Grand Commandery of the state of Tennessee.

The Bounds Law Library’s Templar exhibit is located in the John C. Payne Special Collections Reading Room and we welcome visitors during regular Special Collections hours. Chainmail coif, swords, and shields must be checked at the circulation desk!

 

Book Note: An Appreciation of Deborah Johnson’s novel, The Secret of Magic, by Philip D. Beidler

Our readers may be aware that the University of Alabama School of Law is co-sponsor, with the American Bar Association, of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. The winner for 2015 is Deborah Johnson’s powerful and evocative novel The Secret of Magic, set in post-World War II Mississippi. The following is an appreciation of The Secret of Magic, contributed by essayist and literary critic Philip D. Beidler, who is the Margaret and William Going Professor of English at the University of Alabama.

“An Appreciation of The Secret of Magic”

Secret of Magic book cover imageAs someone whose favorite twentieth century American novelists are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zora Neale Hurston—and who themselves, to my thinking,  in The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God, came close to stylistic perfection—I was gripped from the first sentences onward by Deborah Johnson’s The Secret  of Magic. It was a text possessing from the outset that rare thing writers talk about—voice;  an author in command of a style; in this case not  first-person witness, as in Fitzgerald, free indirect speech, as in Hurston, or childhood  reminiscence, as in Harper Lee. Here in The Secret of Magic, we encounter the familiar omniscience of traditional realism, but with a stunning versatility—narration, description, dialogue, interior monologue, along with flashback, jump cut, interweavings of parallel texts. Altogether it makes for a completeness of what Henry James called “density of detail, solidity of specification, the air of reality”—or, to cite his fellow combatant in the realism wars, W.D. Howells, the world brought back to us “in faithful effigy.”

One more invocation, perhaps the most relevant here, might be Conrad. The task of fiction, he famously once said, was “to make you see.” Accordingly, from the beginning, for all its commingled sadness and horror, Johnson’s narrative makes a claim that the reader must not be allowed to look away.  A black, highly decorated World War II lieutenant returning in uniform to his home in the fictional town of Revere, Mississippi, is dragged off a bus at the Alabama Mississippi state line, for refusing to give up his seat to a while German prisoner from a nearby internment camp, and savagely beaten to death. A young, black, female civil rights lawyer from New York is summoned to investigate the circumstances of the crime and its quick dismissal in the local courts. The author of the invitation is an aging, eccentric, white aristocrat famous for a best-seller about the childhood adventures of white and black playmates that has made her a cult author in literary circles and a political pariah banned in her own state.

Johnson’s book, meanwhile, reveals its own literary ambitions as a classic of current stylistics and textual practice. In an old phrase from high-school English, one might begin by calling it a roman a clef—a novel with a key. Thurgood Marshall is a major character. Mary Pickett Calhoun, private, reclusive author of the original Secret of Magic, bears more than an occasional resemblance to Nelle Harper Lee. The young female attorney is modeled on the pioneering Civil Rights figure Constance Baker Motley. The murder of a decorated black veteran is based on an actual incident. As to technical sophistication, this adds up to something more like what we would now call a nonfiction novel. There are imaginary conversations, out-of-life adventures, a complex dramatic structure. Meanwhile this is all combined with what is frequently called magical realism or literary metafiction. Most important is the plot whereby the titular book The Secret of Magic, by Mary Pickett Calhoun, has set the larger novel we are reading, Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, in motion. The two books then weave in and out of each other until seamlessly converging at the conclusion.

Further, this is no trick of postmodern grandstanding. This is the work of an author of intense literary authority, and of intense moral authority. I could not help thinking, as I read of Peach, Willie Willie, Mr. Lemon, and the children of the Magnolia Forest, of Toni Morison in Song of Solomon. with Milkman, Guitar, Pilate, Hagar, and the old legends of the flying Africans. On a more direct note, I thought of the blood-chilling bus trip with which the novel opens: Tuscaloosa, Gordo, Ethelsville, westward into the Tombigbee towns of Mississippi. I have traveled that road all my adult life. But I never managed to realize as a white person from outside the South  just how god forsaken it could be for a black person in the pre-Civil Rights era—or the standard post World War II southern town, the white gentry, the ancient black retainers, the sheriff, the judge, the lawyers, the feral, knuckle-dragging courthouse idlers. I had suspicioned what it was like from Harper Lee, Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, Atticus, Tom Robinson, and the Ewells and the Cunninghams. I had tried to imagine it on many trips to Maycomb/Monroeville. I had wondered. Now I felt it. Deborah Johnson had made palpable the hatred and the silent terror—the dread undertone of what Houston Baker has called the Long Black Song.

Justice Hugo Black Study Reopens

Following significant renovations this summer, the Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library has reopened to visitors.Hugo Black Study The exhibit, which is a replica of Justice Black’s Alexandria Virginia study, underwent improvements including repainting, a new ceiling, and redesigned lighting. The study contains contents and furnishings donated by Mrs. Elizabeth Black and more than one thousand volumes belonging to Justice Black that were transferred to the law school by the Supreme Court Library in 1983. As United States senator and supreme court justice, Black collected the works of his favorite authors and accumulated an impressive number of volumes on law, history, philosophy, and other topics. He underlined and annotated many of his books, making them a unique source of insight into his thoughts and opinions.

The collection is located in room 211 of the Bounds Law Library and is available to scholars by appointment, and the public is invited to view the study during regular library hours.

Historic Maps of Alabama: Judge Benjamin Cohen Exhibit

The University of Alabama Law Library Special Collections recently received a collection of maps acquired by Special Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Cohen during and after litigation of the Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case [470 U.S. 93 (1985)]. Cohen Maps PleadingThis case was initiated in 1979 by Alabama Attorney General Charles Graddick, who was aided by a team that included then-Assistant Attorney General Mark Brandon, now Dean of the University of Alabama School of Law. The Alabama Attorney General’s office  joined with its counterparts in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the status of the “Mississippi Sound”—a much-navigated waterway running just off the coastline of these states. The states wanted the Sound classified as an inland waterway, thereby granting to each ownership of a share of the submerged lands. With ownership would come the right to regulate access to the petroleum and other mineral deposits under the Sound. Constitutionally, the matter fell under the original jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court, and in the printed briefs it is identified as “No. 9, Original.” The Court appointed a Special Master to hear the case; he delivered his findings in 1984. The Special Master found “that the whole of Mississippi Sound qualifies as a historic bay under the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone. . . and thus constitutes inland waters.” Both the states and the U.S. Government filed exceptions to the Special Master’s report; Benjamin Cohen argued the case for Alabama in November 1984. In February 1985 the Court ruled in favor of the Special Master’s report, overruling the federal government’s exceptions.

Guest Contributor: Professor Sally E. Hadden’s “The Many Meanings of Magna Carta”

It is with great pleasure that we post an entry from a distinguished guest contributor and a good friend of Litera Scripta, Sally E. Hadden, of Western Michigan University. Magna Carta is a foundation stone of our legal culture, and to celebrate its 800th Anniversary we are proud to include the following essay.

Magna Carta

Illluminated initial ‘H'(enricus) at the beginning of the Magna Carta confirmed by Henry III. Photo courtesy of the British Library.

Although jewelry is not something we immediately associate with law or history, the older a legal document like the Magna Carta becomes, the more it seems to resemble a pearl. Pearls begin as insignificant sand on an ocean floor, then quite by accident (or in the case of cultured pearls, quite on purpose) a grain of sand will become lodged inside a living animal—an oyster. Sand is an irritant, even for an oyster, and to rid itself of the rough edges and uneven edges found on a grain of sand, an oyster will secrete fluid that engulfs the grain of sand, gradually making it round with softened curves that the oyster then goes on living with, sometimes for decades. The pearl is an unintended by-product of what began life as an unwanted, unlooked-for irritant, thrust into the oyster, and initially, the oyster would have expelled the sand if it were at all possible. Once a fisherman finds this oyster and opens it, years or decades later, the shell and husk are no longer vital: the pearl is of greater value than the organism that once gave it birth.  Read the rest of this entry »

New Acquisitions: Judge Cecil M. Deason Collection

DeasonIn Alabama, one seldom has a chance to examine the papers of a state trial court judge. Circuit judges don’t often leave behind collections for posterity—less so, certainly, than their counterparts on the appellate bench. The Bounds Law Library recently received the papers of Judge Cecil M. Deason (1903-1994), who lived in stirring times and found himself in the middle of historic events. The following was written by Research Assistant Ethan Wilkinson (UA Law, 3L; BA, Birmingham Southern College). He also was the primary arranger of the Deason Collection.

The University of Alabama Law Library Special Collections recently acquired the papers of Cecil Deason, a long time Solicitor and Circuit Judge in Jefferson County. The collection, consisting predominantly of newspaper clippings, photographs, judicial materials, and an assortment of other items, covers most of Deason’s adult life, including his service in World War II, his time in the Solicitor’s Office in Jefferson County, and his tenure serving on the bench in Alabama’s 10th Judicial Circuit.Deason Scrapbook

Cecil Deason was born in Bessemer in 1903. He graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1929 and returned to Birmingham to begin a private practice. Two years later he was appointed Solicitor to the Jefferson County Court of Misdemeanors. It was during this time that Deason constructed his first scrapbook, revealing his fascination with both high profile crimes and the judicial system, recording any and all newspaper articles that related to highly publicized crimes, the Alabama court system, or trials that caught the newspapers’ attention. Deason enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941, serving as a staff intelligence officer in the Pacific and eventually rising to the rank of Commander by the end of World War II. During his time in the service, Deason kept a meticulously detailed photographic record of his wartime experience, in particular chronicling his stay in the Philippines. The snapshots, arranged into a large photo album, paint a vivid portrait of both the brutality of the conflict and the workaday atmosphere of camp life, each juxtaposed against the jungle background of the South Pacific islands.Deason holding Klan robe

After the War, Deason returned to the Solicitor’s office in Birmingham. During this time the future judge made a name for himself as an anti-crime force in the state. In particular, two cases propelled Deason’s name into the headlines and laid the foundation for his future rise to the judiciary: the prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members for attacking and flogging a woman in northern Jefferson County in 1949 and the prosecution of Albert Fuller for the assassination of Democratic Attorney General candidate Albert Patterson in Phenix City in 1954.The Klan case drew a national spotlight to Birmingham, where a rash of cross burnings and attacks had swept the area in the early summer of 1948. One of the victims, Edna McDana of Adamsville, identified one the masked attackers who broke into her home and flogged her. However, despite Deason’s and Chief Solicitor Emmett Perry’s best efforts and McDana’s testimony, Coleman Lollar was acquitted by an all-white jury after just an hour and a half of deliberation. But the trial broke headlines across the country and put both Deason’s and Perry’s names and faces (often holding Klan robes up for the jury to inspect) in papers from New York and Chicago. Deason would later receive hate mail from as far away as New York, some writers attacking him for prosecuting a white man and others accusing him of not doing enough to gain a conviction.Deason discussion

Deason gained further notoriety for the prosecution of Phenix City Deputy Sheriff Albert Fuller for the murder of Albert Patterson. Patterson had just received the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in a hotly contested primary, campaigning on a promise of saving Phenix City, his home town in Russell County, from the clutches of the local (and incredibly corrupt) political machine. Fuller, Circuit Solicitor Arch Ferrell, and outgoing Attorney General Si Garrett were indicted for the murder, though the latter two were ultimately acquitted. The case was moved to Birmingham to shield the proceedings from the corruption of Russell County’s judiciary, and Deason was appointed special prosecutor for the case by Attorney General John Patterson, Albert’s son. Although Fuller was defended by Roderick Beddow, then the most eminent defense attorney in the state, Deason secured a life sentence in a trial that gripped the state’s attention. Within months of the trial’s conclusion, the younger Patterson cleaned out the city’s corruption in a move that would send him to the governor’s mansion in 1959, and Deason cemented his legacy as a hard line prosecutor worthy of serious consideration for judicial office.

Deason Scrapbook Deason was appointed to the specially created 10th Judicial Circuit in 1961 after receiving votes of confidence from both the Alabama State Bar Association and the Alabama Association of Circuit Judges. He served that seat for over a decade, eventually becoming a prominent member of the Circuit Judges’ Association and a vocal leader of the judicial reform movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, vehemently defending the jury system and pressing for increased salaries and resources for Alabama’s courts. When he retired in the mid-1970s, Judge Deason left a legacy reflected in the papers and numerous newspaper clippings he saved. His advocacy of tough justice for criminals and his stands on behalf of judicial reform were each underscored by a deep sense of duty and service to both the state and country.

Book Note: Jack Bass’ Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and the South’s Fight Over Civil Rights

Bass Book Note resizeJudge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., is rightly one of the most celebrated Federal District and U.S. Court of Appeals judges in American history. As a member of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama from 1955-1979, Johnson shaped the legal trajectory of several key Civil Rights Movement cases, including Browder v. Gayle (1956), which challenged the segregation of Montgomery’s bus system in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1961), which challenged the city of Tuskegee’s systemic plan to exclude black voters. In these and numerous other cases, Judge Johnson pioneered judicial methods to address discrimination against African-Americans in education, voting, public transportation, and jury representation. He also ruled in Wyatt v. Stickney (1971), a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case originating in a dispute over Alabama’s Bryce Hospital, which created the basis for minimum standards of care for patients residing in mental health facilities. Judge Johnson was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1979, and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit after the Fifth Circuit split in 1981, where he served until his retirement in 1999.

Recently, Judge Johnson was portrayed in the 2014 film Selma, in which he is played by Martin Sheen. The film briefly dramatizes a few scenes in Judge Johnson’s Montgomery courtroom in which he approved a petition from various civil rights groups including the SCLC and SNCC, to let the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March go forward.

Jack Bass’ Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and the South’s Fight over Civil Rights traces Judge Johnson’s life from his birthplace in Haleyville, Alabama, through his years as a law student at the University of Alabama, his early law practice, and his monumental achievements as a federal judge. Bass illuminates how Johnson’s approach to legal struggles over African-American civil rights came to be so innovative, particularly in his use of judicial powers to fashion equitable relief for racial discrimination. Bass also explores Johnson’s family history and upbringing in Winston County, Alabama, in order to show how and why Johnson came to defy the white South’s commitment to racial segregation.

Before the Civil War, Winston County’s predominately white population mostly worked on small family farms without slaves. The county’s residents had little interest in going to war to preserve slavery, and their representatives in Montgomery voted against secession. Many from the county, including some of Johnson’s ancestors, served in the Union Army. Partly due to this legacy, Johnson’s father belonged to the Republican Party, which in the early twentieth century was still the “party of Lincoln” to the rest of Alabama and the solidly Democratic South. Johnson’s father held a longtime patronage post as postmaster in Haleyville, and later became a probate judge, one of the few Republicans to hold office in Alabama at the time. Johnson’s political background and early life experiences led him to develop the courage, moral fortitude, and convictions that led to his dedication to upholding the law despite threats of violence and the social and political opposition of his peers.

Bass relies heavily on a wealth of primary material, including several years’ worth of interviews with the judge himself, as well as extensive interviews with Judge Johnson’s wife, Ruth, and many of his friends, colleagues, and law clerks. While this approach provides an excellent depiction of Johnson’s immediate personal and professional life, its focus limits the book to the perspective of privileged white professionals. Considering the direct impact that Johnson’s work had on the South’s African-American communities in their fight for civil rights, including voices beyond those that knew Johnson personally might have broadened the book’s depiction of his legacy and provided a more critical perspective on his work.

Bass’ work should be of use to those interested in learning more about Johnson’s life and his significant influence on legal history in both Alabama and also the United States as a whole. Scholars should also seek out Volume 109 of the Yale Law Journal, which was dedicated to celebrating Johnson’s legacy and published shortly after his death. It includes encomiums from John Lewis, a civil rights leader and longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives; Judge Myron Thompson, Johnson’s replacement in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama; and Ronald Krotoszynski, professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Law and one of Judge Johnson’s former law clerks. Additionally, the Alabama Law Review recently hosted a symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, including an address from Jack Bass. A forthcoming issue of the review will print some of the papers given at the symposium.