Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the black drive for civil rights, but the changes he sought came largely in legal opinions issued by federal judges. Foremost of these was Frank Minis Johnson, Jr., of Montgomery, Alabama, who presided over some of the most emotional hearings and trials of the rights movement—hearings brimming with dramatic and poignant testimony from the black people who cried out for the freedoms that are the legacy of all Americans. Beginning with Judge Johnson’s coming-of-age in the hill country of Winston County, Alabama, this book covers many of his notable cases: the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, school desegregation, the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and the night-rider slaying of Viola Liuzzo, as well as Johnson’s work for prisoners, women, and the mentally ill. Much of the book is comprised of interviews and direct quotes from Johnson himself, making this recounting of Judge Johnson’s life dynamically autobiographical. Includes a new introduction and afterword by the author, Frank Sikora.
gives an inside look that blends court transcripts, reporting, and exhaustive oral history interviews with Judge Johnson, originally conducted over the course of years from 1976 to 1989. A no-nonsense look behind the scenes of the courtroom, and a welcome contribution to biography as well as American History shelves.
—Midwest Book Review
[Judge Johnson’s] first ten years in the Montgomery courtroom coincided with the most tumultuous period of Southern history since the Civil War. This tense and emotional time—the civil rights decade, 1955–65—is the primary focus of Frank Sikora's book. Drawing extensively from interviews with the judge and from court transcripts, he recounts and dramatizes the cases that challenged and finally overturned the segregation laws. Sikora, an Alabama journalist since the mid-1960s, interviewed Judge Johnson on numerous occasions over a thirteen-year period. Roughly one-third of The Judge
is in Johnson's own words.
—John Egerton, Southern Changes Magazine
While more limited as a character study and legal/historical analysis than Jack Bass's Taming the Storm
(reviewed above), this book is a useful complement. Using long stretches of court transcripts and equally long quotes from Johnson, Sikora, a staffer on the Birmingham (Ala.) News, dramatically reconstructs several major cases handled by the Federal Judge, whom former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brennan considers "a remarkable man and a remarkable judge.'' Sikora describes courtroom arguments regarding the Montgomery bus boycott, Freedom Riders in Montgomery, and, notably, the march Martin Luther King Jr. led in Selma. Sikora presents Johnson as a serious man with a sense of humor and of spirituality, but should have further explored Johnson's distance from standard liberalism: Johnson maintains that Northern liberal whites in the civil rights movement were "sorely misguided,'' personally opposed interracial marriages and by 1984 believed that blacks should compete equally with whites in education.