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James D. Johnson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Douglas Johnson
Associate Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court
In office
Member of the Arkansas Senate
In office
Personal details
Born(1924-08-20)August 20, 1924
Crossett, Ashley County
DiedFebruary 13, 2010(2010-02-13) (aged 85)
Conway, Faulkner County Arkansas
Political partyDemocratic (1950–80)
Independent (1980–83)
Republican (1983–2010)
Spouse(s)Virginia Lillian Morris Johnson (married 1947–2007, her death)
ChildrenMark Johnson
John David Johnson
Joseph Daniel Johnson

James Douglas Johnson (August 20, 1924 – February 13, 2010), known as "Justice Jim" Johnson, was an Arkansas legislator; a losing candidate for governor of Arkansas in 1956; an associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court; the unsuccessful Democratic Party nominee for governor in 1966; and again a losing candidate for the United States Senate in 1968.[1] A segregationist, Johnson was frequently compared to George Wallace of Alabama.[2] He joined the Republican Party in 1983.

Early years

Johnson was a native of Crossett in Ashley County in southern Arkansas near the Louisiana line. Johnson was said to have admired the political style of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., but was to Long's political right.[citation needed] In 1950, Johnson was elected to the Arkansas State Senate and served until January 1957. In 1956, he did not run again for the legislature because he challenged Governor Orval Faubus in the Democratic Party primary. Johnson accused the segregationist Faubus of working behind the scenes for racial integration. Johnson finished second in the pivotal Democratic primary with 83,856 votes (26.9%). Faubus then defeated the Republican Roy Mitchell to win a second consecutive two-year term as governor.

Being a staunch and lifelong segregationist, Johnson in 1955, in response to school integration occurring in Hoxie, Johnson proposed an amendment to the Arkansas constitution that would prohibit integration.[3] Johnson also played a role in the Little Rock Nine crisis. He claimed to have hoaxed Governor Faubus into calling out the National Guard, supposedly to prevent a white mob from stopping the integration of Little Rock Central High School: "There wasn't any caravan. But we made Orval believe it. We said. 'They're lining up. They're coming in droves.' ... The only weapon we had was to leave the impression that the sky was going to fall." He later claimed that Faubus asked him to raise a mob to justify his actions.[2] He was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1958 and served until 1966, when he resigned to run again for governor. During his legal career, his wife, Virginia Lillian Morris Johnson,[4] a Conway native whom he married in 1947, served as his legal secretary.

Campaigns of 1966 and 1968

In 1966, Johnson entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary and led the six-candidate field with 105,607 votes (25.1%). He went into a runoff election with fellow former Justice Frank Holt (1911–1983), who polled 92,711 votes (22.1%). liberal former U.S. Representative Brooks Hays of Little Rock, finished third with 64,814 (15.4%). Another former U.S. representative, Dale Alford, who had unseated Hays as a write-in candidate in 1958, ran fourth with 53,531 votes (12.7%). Prosecuting attorney Sam Boyce of Newport ran fifth with 49,744 (11.8%), and Raymond Rebasen finished last with 35,607 votes (8.5%).[5] In the runoff primary, Johnson prevailed with 210,543 ballots (51.9%) to Holt's 195,442 votes (48.1%).

However, Johnson then lost the general election, 257,203 votes (45.6 percent) to the moderate Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, who polled 306,324 ballots (54.4%).[6] Rockefeller was a younger brother of Nelson A. Rockefeller, who was then the Governor of New York and later Vice President of the United States under Gerald Ford. Jim Johnson won majorities in forty counties to Rockefeller's thirty-five counties. Every major population center, however, supported Winthrop Rockefeller, who prevailed in the northwestern counties, in Little Rock, and in many eastern counties with large African-American populations. Black voters provided Rockefeller's margin of victory. With this historic loss, Johnson became the first Southern Democrat since Reconstruction to be defeated by a Republican.[7]

Johnson then ran against incumbent J. William Fulbright in the 1968 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate but was again defeated, 132,038 (31.7%) to 220,684 (52.5%); a third candidate, Bobby K. Hayes, received the remaining 12.7%.[8] Fulbright then defeated the Republican nominee, Charles T. Bernard, a farmer and businessman from Earle in Crittenden County in eastern Arkansas, who is believed[citation needed] to have drawn considerable support from Johnson's former primary voters.

Johnson's then 40-year-old wife, Virginia, meanwhile, ran for the governorship in the same Democratic primary election, making her the first woman in Arkansas to run for governor. She lost the primary by a wide margin in a runoff with State Representative Marion H. Crank of rural Foreman in Little River County, who was in turn was narrowly defeated by Rockefeller in the general election. (Another candidate in the primary was former Arkansas Attorney General Bruce Bennett of El Dorado, who was first elected in 1956, the year that Johnson challenged Faubus. Bennett, at the time a segregationist, himself unsuccessfully opposed Faubus in the 1960 gubernatorial primary.)

Johnson made three more bids for office, all unsuccessful.[7] In 1976, he unsuccessfully challenged the re-election bid of Chief Justice Carleton Harris of the Arkansas Supreme Court, but lost with 44% of the vote. In 1980, expressing alarm that Pulaski County Circuit Judge Richard Adkisson, who Johnson considered too liberal, would succeed Harris as Chief Justice, Johnson mounted a petition drive to get on the ballot as an Independent, but fell short of the required signatures. Adkisson won the Democratic primary and was unopposed in the general election. After his son, Mark, was appointed to the cabinet of Governor Frank White (a Republican), Johnson hinted he would switch parties. In 1983 he did so and ran as the GOP nominee for Chief Justice in 1984, but lost by a 58-42% margin to Jack Holt, Jr., a nephew of Frank Holt, whom Johnson had defeated for the gubernatorial nomination in 1966.

Later years

The Johnsons resided in Conway until their deaths, three years apart. Virginia was Jim Johnson's legal secretary for his entire law career. She died of cancer in 2007, and Johnson himself was stricken with the same disease. (Their old intraparty rival, Faubus, also spent his last years in Conway.)

In the 1980s, Jim and Virginia Johnson supported the re-election of Governor Frank D. White, Arkansas' second Republican governor since Reconstruction. White, however, was unseated after one two-year term by Bill Clinton, with whom Johnson had a long-standing enmity. While he had been a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Clinton was a campaign aide for Johnson's 1966 runoff opponent, Judge Frank Holt. Twelve years later, Clinton would win the governorship. In reference to Johnson's overtly racist views and dirty campaign tactics, Clinton once told Johnson, "You make me ashamed to be from Arkansas."[9] Years later, Johnson replied that he was ashamed Arkansas had produced "a president of the United States who is a queer-mongering, whore-hopping adulterer; a baby-killing, draft-dodging, dope-tolerating, lying, two-faced, treasonous activist."[2] He also appeared in Jerry Falwell’s The Clinton Chronicles and was a paid consultant for the Arkansas Project.[2]

During the Whitewater controversy, Johnson made accusations against Clinton based on a continuing opposition research campaign conducted by Republican political consultants, Floyd Brown and David Bossie. A client of Johnson's, David Hale, a former municipal court judge, was the special prosecutor's chief witness attempting to link Clinton to the Whitewater scandal. Hale's testimony was deemed to have been of no import, as he had agreed to testify under plea bargaining to secure a better deal on his own indictment for fraud.[10]

Unlike George Wallace, who repented of his segregationist past, Johnson — who sometimes refused to shake hands with black voters, was once endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, and campaigned against "mongrelization" — never apologized. In 1996, he said: "I have to admit that I have not grown to the point where I am not uncomfortable when I see a mixed couple. It causes me discomfort. But I say in the same breath that when I see a drunk it causes me discomfort."[2]


The Faulkner County Sheriff's Office reported that Johnson was found dead about 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 13, 2010, at his home off Beaverfork Lake with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Rice said a rifle was found, and authorities had no reason to suspect foul play. He had been suffering from cancer.[2][11] The Johnsons had three sons, Mark of Little Rock, who was elected to the Arkansas State Senate in 2018, John David of Fayetteville, and Joseph Daniel of Conway.

Johnson's life story and death were remarkably similar to that of an unrepentant segregationist leader in Louisiana, William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish, a state legislator and an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in his state's 1959 primary election.


  1. ^ "Former Justice Jim Johnson dies". Log Cabin Democrat. February 14, 2010. Archived from the original on December 18, 2018. Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Racist "Justice" is dead, but not gone". Salon. February 18, 2010. Retrieved October 5, 2014.[better source needed]
  3. ^ Appleby, David. "Hoxie - The First Stand". Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  4. ^ "Social Security Death Index". Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  5. ^ Congressional Quarterly Press's Guide to U.S. Elections, Vol. 2, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 1548.
  6. ^ CQ, p. 1548
  7. ^ a b Williams, Marie. "James Douglas 'Justice Jim' Johnson (Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture)". Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  8. ^ CQ, p. 1366
  9. ^ "Will McCain denounce Floyd Brown?". Salon. April 25, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2018.[better source needed]
  10. ^ Ronald Smothers, "Witness in Fraud Trial Denies Personal Motive for Implicating Clinton," The New York Times, April 6, 1996.
  11. ^ Garrick Feldman (February 16, 2010). "Justice Jim fought tough final battle". The Arkansas Leader. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2010.

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Orval Faubus
Democratic nominee for Governor of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Marion H. Crank
This page was last edited on 13 May 2020, at 00:32
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