Champion of Civil Rights
Judge John Minor Wisdom
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Southern Biography Series
Cover, Title Page, Copyright
This is a book about Wisdom. And about wisdom. And also about courage, intellectual rigor, and honesty, and about one man’s lifelong commitment to fairness. The chronicle of the civil rights movement in the United States...
1. A Privileged Son of the South
Wisdom. Could any judge hope for a more felicitous patronymic? Even more than Learned Hand, this name appears to predestine its owner for the contemplative, justice-dispensing life of a jurist. Yet aside from his surname, little in John Minor Wisdom’s background...
2. From Birth to Bonnie to the Branch, 1905–1946
For the first fourteen years of his life, John Minor Wisdom lived in a roomy, three-story wood-frame house on Calhoun Street. Only a block and a half off one of New Orleans’ most fashionable arteries, mansion-lined St. Charles Avenue, the Wisdom home...
3. At the Bar, 1948–1953
After nearly two decades of representing a variety of business and other clients, the firm of Wisdom & Stone was retained by a local super market owner whose fight against the price-fixing practices employed by national liquor distributors would...
4. Battling the Bosses: Creating a Two-Party System in Louisiana
The decision to join or otherwise identify with a political party can be influenced by any of a multitude of factors. Some individuals become Democrats or Republicans simply because their parents are members of that party, or because they grew up in an environment...
5. The 1952 Convention: Victories for Eisenhower and a Two-Party System in Louisiana
At the same time that John Minor Wisdom was struggling to unseat John E. Jackson and rebuild Louisiana’s Republican Party, another southern attorney, Elbert Parr Tuttle of Atlanta, was spearheading a movement to reform and broaden the base of the Republican...
6. Assuming the Bench: Nomination and Confirmation
With an incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower appreciative of the role John Minor Wisdom had played in helping secure both his presidential nomination and, to a lesser degree, his election victory in 1952, and with friends and close working associates...
7. The Fifth Circuit’s Emerging Intellectual Leader, 1957–1966
In 1950, two African Americans, Clifton Alton Poret and Edgar Labat, the latter a hospital orderly with no prior arrest record, were apprehended and charged with rape. Nearly two years after the incident, these two defendants asked the trial judge to dismiss the...
8. Showdown in Mississippi: Standing Up for James Meredith and to Ross Barnett
Located at mile marker 160 on the Natchez Trace amid central Mississippi farmlands, the city of Kosciusko is best known for its pure drinking water. It also, however, is the birthplace of the son of a cotton and corn farmer and grandson of a slave whose persistent...
9. The First Step in Desegregating the South: Enforcing Brown’s Mandate in Louisiana
On a warm, late spring evening, John and Bonnie Wisdom celebrated his forty-ninth birthday with a dinner party at their Garden District home. Along with their guests, the Wisdoms could not have imagined the greater significance of this day in reshaping...
10. Implementing Brown throughout the Nation
If John Minor Wisdom’s opinion in Bush constituted the initial blueprint for the demolition of racially segregated public education in Louisiana, his pair of opinions in...
11. Internal Discord Threatens the Court
Not every member of the Fifth Circuit shared the zeal with which John Minor Wisdom and some of his colleagues strove to combat and overcome the unwavering obstructionist tactics employed by state officials and federal trial judges hell-bent on thwarting the...
12. Honoring the Promise of the Fifteenth Amendment: The Voting Rights Cases
On March 30, 1870, nearly five years after the conclusion of the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was declared to be ratified by the legislatures of twenty-nine of the thirty-seven states.1 For the first time in American history, the federal...
13. A Vigilant Steward of Fairness
John Minor Wisdom’s reputation as a resolute defender and protector of civil rights is most commonly, and justifiably, linked to his decisions in school desegregation and voting rights cases. But his civil rights legacy manifestly is not limited to those high-profile, and...
14. The Civil Rights Struggles of the 1970s and 1980s: Equal Opportunity in Employment
Just as school desegregation and voting rights cases became the focal point for civil rights litigation in the mid-1960s, Congress’s passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act brought employment discrimination claims to the forefront of the litigation universe in the early...
15. The Unsuccessful Campaign to Save the Fifth Circuit
In 1869, Congress enacted the first of what would become a series of laws governing the retirement of federal judges. A half-century later, it established the concept of “senior status,” which enables a federal district or circuit judge to retire from...
Epilogue: Honoring the Legacy
As testament to John Minor Wisdom’s remarkable and varied contributions to American society, those accomplished both in the political sphere and in the juridical arena, he received countless awards and honors from a wide array of admiring and grateful...