Integrity – II

Frank Johnson was born in a section of Alabama that opposed secession from the United States.  He went to college at the University of Alabama for both his undergraduate and law degrees.  He was a classmate of George Wallace, a future governor of Alabama and an opponent of civil rights reforms.

Johnson served in the Army during World War II.  When he returned to the United States, he became active in politics as a Republican and a strong supporter of President Eisenhower.  At the time, Alabama was run by segregationist Democrats.

Johnson was appointed by President Eisenhower to be a U.S. District Court judge.  This was one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against school desegregation in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.  Three weeks after his appointment, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a city bus.  Judge Johnson joined with the majority in deciding that bus segregation was unconstitutional.  The ruling also concluded that separate but equal were violations of the 14th Amendment.

In his judicial career, Judge Johnson made rulings that effectively desegregated the south.  In 1965, he issued a permit that allowed Dr. Martin Luther King to lead a 52-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  He saw that civil rights cases would be heard in federal courts rather than state courts.  Other pioneering decisions opened up voting rights to those who had been denied them.  He mandated that mental hospitals become less crowded and understaffed.  He issued a similar ruling on prisons.

For his courageous opinions, Judge Johnson received voluminous hate mail and phone calls.  Crosses were burned in his yard.  His mother’s home was firebombed.  Governor Wallace called him an “integratin, carpetbaggin, scalawaggin, bald-faced liar.”  But in spite of the hatred and vitriol, Judge Johnson would not let words and actions interfere with his integrity.

Integrity is being honest and having strong moral principles.  People with integrity are honest and true to their values, even when they may be putting themselves at risk.  They show respect for others and try to give everyone a benefit of doubt.  They are comfortable in their own skins and not afraid to admit when they are wrong.  Their kindness is unrelenting, and they are careful with their words and actions to reflect their values.

Our nation needs leaders with integrity who are “teachers” of what is fundamentally right even when our society may not be as accepting of their teaching.  Imagine how our society would have evolved without the integrity of Judge Johnson.

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“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

– President Dwight Eisenhower

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