Those of us who are Baby Boomers remember the tumultuous times of the 1960’s. We lived through the Civil Rights revolution. Those of us who grew up here in the Heart of Dixie witnessed the transpiring of racial integration first hand. Most of the crusades and struggles occurred here in Alabama, especially Montgomery.
A good many of the landmark Civil Rights court decisions were handed down in the Federal Court in Montgomery. The author and renderer of these epic rulings was one, Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Johnson served as Federal Judge in the Middle District of Alabama for 24 years from 1955 through 1979.
Johnson’s judicial decisions brought death threats to him and his family from whites opposed to integration. He was vilified by most white Alabamians at that time and became George Wallace’s favorite whipping boy. Wallace referred to him as a “lying, scalawagging, carpetbagging integrationist.”
Frank Johnson, Jr. was born in Winston County in October, 1918. Winston County attempted to stay neutral during the Civil War. It was a Republican stronghold in an overwhelmingly Democratic Alabama.
In contrast to the Black Belt planters in South Alabama, the people who settled North Alabama were small farmers. The land they settled on was hilly and not as conducive to growing cotton. Rather than large plantations and slaves, the fiercely independent hill country farmers had 40 acres and a mule.
Therefore, when the winds of division between North and South began to blow in the 1850’s, an obvious political difference between North and South Alabamians arose. In 1860 there were only 14 slave owners in Winston County. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, the crucial decision of secession arose. Contrary to what most present-day Alabamians think, it was not an easy unified decision that we should leave the Union.
A secession convention was held in January, 1861, in Montgomery. The vote was extremely close. The delegates split 54-46 for secession. The Black Belters from South Alabama were for creating a confederacy of southern states to protect their slave ownership and way of life. The hill farmers from North Alabama preferred to not secede. These North Alabamians voted against secession from the Union at that time.
Shortly after the secession convention, citizens of Winston County met at a local establishment, Looney’s Tavern. These yeoman farmers of the hills were obviously reluctant to leave the Union for the cause of the planter and his slaves.
Legend has it that on July 4, 1861, the good people of Winston County decided to secede from Alabama and remain in the Union. That is why they are known in Alabama political history and folklore as, “The Free State of Winston.”
That same sort of independent streak was a hallmark of the Johnson family who were some of the earliest settlers of Winston County. Judge Johnson’s father served as one of the few Republicans in the Alabama Legislature in the first half of the 20th century.
Frank Johnson, Jr studied law at the University of Alabama and graduated at the top of his law school class in 1943. He then distinguished himself as a U.S. Army officer in World War II. He was wounded at Normandy and received the Purple Heart. After the war, he settled in Winston County and began practicing law in Jasper.
Although the Democratic Party dominated southern politics, Johnson was a lifelong, Winston County Republican. Therefore, he led the 1952 Dwight Eisenhower campaign for President in the state. After Eisenhower became president, he rewarded Johnson with a federal judgeship.
In 1955-1956, shortly after taking his seat on the bench, Johnson became involved in a formative event of the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks was arrested for violating a Montgomery ordinance requiring racial segregation on the city buses. In response, the African American community organized a boycott of the bus system and nominated Reverend Martin Luther King as its leader. Johnson ruled that the Montgomery ordinance violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
The ruling was the first of many by Johnson which eliminated racial segregation in public accommodations such as parks, libraries, bus stations, and airports during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Johnson’s decisions were legendary and groundbreaking. He became the central defender of Civil Rights in America from his Federal Bench in Montgomery. The Federal Courthouse in Montgomery is now named in his honor. Judge Johnson died in 1999.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16-years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
Opinion | No peace, no calm, but that’s “normal”
“My students and I are on a first-name basis. But when I can’t call their names, it leaves me confused and frustrated. Like the world we live in today.”
I have more than 100 students in my classes at UAB, and I can call only a few by name. Masks are important, but I haven’t yet learned to memorize foreheads, and that’s really all I see when I look at a student’s face. A few, with either a distinctive hair cut or color, or who have other identifying features in the upper half of their faces, I can name. Not many, though.
My students and I are on a first-name basis. But when I can’t call their names, it leaves me confused and frustrated.
Like the world we live in today. Like these United States. Like Alabama.
A worsening pandemic, unrest across the country, a chaotic election a few days away, an economy in the tank, it is difficult for me to feel settled. Grounded. Peaceful. Calm.
The 300th or so hurricane just zipped through Alabama this week. The storm was named Zeta because we’re out of names for hurricanes. And there’s still fully a month remaining in the hurricane season. Eta is next.
We may not know who the next president will be even by the end of next week. Or we could know Tuesday night if it’s the blowout for Democrats that predictions say it will be. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins Florida, Michigan, or Wisconsin, it’s pretty much over for President Donald Trump.
But, then, we know how well the heavily favored candidates sometimes do, right Hillary?
Remember, if Trump does lose in Jimmy Carter proportions, he’s still going to be president for another two-and-a-half months. There’s no predicting what he’ll do during that time, but we know this for sure: No peace. No calm.
Our hope in Alabama has to be that U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is re-elected. That’s the only choice that makes sense. A washed-up, mediocre football coach who doesn’t have a clue about government and who has spent most of his time in Florida will not represent the state well, especially if the Senate goes Democratic, as expected.
Jones is no “California liberal,” as one columnist with Alabama Political Reporter described him. That’s just a plea to the uninformed voter in a typical Republican effort to falsely spin Jones as something he is not. Hell, I wish Jones was a California liberal. We could use some of that in Alabama. Instead, for the most part, all our elected officials are simply philosophical clones of each other.
There are no new ideas. No effort to take the state forward. In most every quality-of-life category, Alabama ranks at the bottom or near it. Our current leadership seems determined to keep us there.
Our elected officials don’t even learn from their mistakes. Anti-masker Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth contracted the coronavirus, and, thankfully, he recovered. Still, he remains against the mask mandate.
Trump contracted the coronavirus, too, and after being surrounded by a grumble of the best doctors at one of the best hospitals, he came back, snatched that mask off his face, and almost immediately began holding those foolish superspreader political rallies again.
The cult members attend, many without masks or social distancing, and some of the cult members die.
Meanwhile, Trump flies away in that fancy jet we taxpayers own, and, in at least one case, leaves his supporters stranded outside in the bitter cold for hours. Loyalty to the cult of Trump pays huge dividends, I write sarcastically.
There is no peace. No calm. This is not to be had in the America Trump made “great” again.
And I don’t know my students when I see them. I must memorize foreheads.
Even so, the masks are important, as is social distancing. I can ask a student what her name is, and when it’s one I have known for years, I can apologize. A small inconvenience to stay well.
The student always offers grace, always tells me it’s OK.
We both pretend that’s just normal.
Opinion | Election Day is next week
This will be a memorable and historical election year. This 2020 pandemic year is hopefully only a once in a century event.
Well, folks, it is finally here. The presidential race is next Tuesday. However, a good many Americans have already voted. True early voting is available in a half dozen states and every American can vote by absentee ballot and a good many have taken advantage of that right. A record number of Alabamians have voted absentee. However, the election for president will be decided next week when most voters go to the polls.
This will be a memorable and historical election year. This 2020 pandemic year is hopefully, only a once in a century event. 2020 is a pivotal presidential year. Never before in my lifetime have I seen our country more divided politically into extremely partisan corners. We are really two nations, and we are split almost 50-50. This is understandable because the country is truly divided philosophically.
Back in the day our own George Wallace would run around the country running for president as a third-party candidate in a Don Quixote mission espousing the rhetoric that there is not a dimes worth of difference between the national Republican and Democratic parties. Nobody could say that, even in demagogic form, today.
Folks, there is a world of difference today. The Republican Party is very conservative, and the Democratic Party is extremely liberal. This divide between the two parties is enhanced and perpetuated by the media, especially, the television networks. If you are a conservative Republican you watch Fox News. If you are a liberal Democrat, you watch CNN. It is like seeing the nation’s politics and dogma through two different prisms.
The two parties should and could more aptly change their names. Republicans should be labeled the Conservative Party and the Democrats the Liberal Party. CNN, and to a large degree ABC, NBC and CBS, should take down any pretense of being impartial and simply have their broadcast from the Democratic National Headquarters. Conversely FOX News should broadcast from the Republican National Headquarters. MSNBC should be broadcast from Moscow
We in Alabama are definitely in the conservative Republican tribe as are most of the other southern and midwestern and rural states. The left coast of California and the eastern urban coast of New York are the bastions of liberalism and the Democratic party.
We do not elect our president by direct popular vote whereby the person who gets the most votes nationwide wins the presidency. Under our Electoral College system, the person who gets 50 percent plus one vote gets all of that states’ electoral votes. The number of electoral votes is determined by the number of congressional seats plus two senators. For example, California has 53 seats in Congress plus two Senators for 55 electoral votes. We in Alabama have seven congressional seats plus two senators which gives us nine electoral votes. Therefore, it does not take a math genius to tell that the liberal Democratic states like California, have more votes than rural, conservative states like Alabama.
President Donald Trump, who has been a proven conservative Republican, has been behind the eight-ball having to fight through the coronavirus disaster. It is not his fault that the Chinese sent this pandemic to the world and the United States, but voters will want to blame someone and he is the one in the Whitehouse and the one on the ballot.
In mid-September Trump’s reelection numbers and chances were dismal. However, in late September the much-discussed October surprise occurred. The death of liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave the conservative President the opportunity to appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court. Trump is blessed to have a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.
This opportunity for President Trump to place a third conservative Justice to the nine-member Tribunal could be a game changer. This will energize evangelical voters throughout the country as well as devout, mainstream, Catholic voters in the crucial battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. The election will be decided in these six key battleground states.
The hay is in the barn in most other states. California will vote Democratic and we in Alabama will vote overwhelmingly Republican. President Trump will carry Alabama in a landslide. This third conservative appointment to the Supreme Court is like manna from Heaven and icing on the cake for Trump in the Heart of Dixie.
The Trump train will provide some long and heavy coattails, which will prove disastrous for our anomaly, liberal, national Democratic senator, Doug Jones. The crescendo Republican wave in Alabama will drown Democrat Jones into a watery grave. It has not helped Jones’s cause that during his short tenure he has voted right down the line with the left-wing Democratic leadership.
We will see next week.
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Opinion | Counting on good Neighbors
Even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of District 4 need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
There’s a lot of reasons we know it’s an election year — political ads on television, presidential debates, Donald Trump super-spreader campaign rallies.
Oh, and Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt is back in his congressional district. Every couple years, Aderholt shows up. So he can “appear” connected to Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.
The 4th Congressional District starts just north of Birmingham and stretches horizontally across the state. The district includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Walker and Winston counties as well as parts of Blount, Cherokee, Jackson and Tuscaloosa counties.
Aderholt pops in for a few campaign events, and then pops out to his real residence in suburban Washington D.C. He’s no more an Alabamian than Florida’s Tommy Tuberville.
Aderholt does have opposition this year in Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors, a Vietnam veteran who truly helps his neighbors. Early in the pandemic, Neighbors was passing out masks door-to-door in the district. He’s continued to help his neighbors throughout the pandemic with anything he can do.
“Being in Congress means being here and working with the people,” Neighbors says on his website. “In 24 years, Rob Aderholt has left us behind to focus on his radical agenda and gotten rich in Congress.”
That’s from a campaign website, but it’s absolutely true. Aderholt is still talking about expanding broadband access in his rural district. It’s one of the few issues he talks about every two years, for 24 years, without ever getting anything done.
Seriously. Name something Aderholt has done for his district or Alabama in the more than two decades he’s been in Congress. I won’t hold my breath.
And if you don’t think Neighbors’s campaign isn’t a little worrisome for Aderholt supporters, why are all the Neighbors signs disappearing from his district?
Adults, acting like sixth-graders, love to pull up political signs. Even in my comfortably Democratic neighborhood, some Doug Jones for Senate signs disappear. And, oddly in my neighborhood, I saw an actual Tommy Tuberville sign that had been pulled down in front of some misplaced person’s yard. It happens on both sides.
But in the 4th Congressional District, and especially in the Cullman County area, it’s hard for Neighbors and his staff to keep signs in place.
“Cullman has come down, and we have had to replace almost all our signs in Winston County,” said Neighbors’s campaign manager Lisa Ward. As for Winston County, Ward said, “we were told those are gone again.”
Can anybody be more junior high?
“We’ve seen places where our sign was, and it’s been replaced by Aderholt signs,” Ward said. “When we put signs out, we leave his and put ours next to his. We joke and say everyone needs friendly neighbors around.”
The Neighbors campaign does have the right spirit. They just work to replace the signs that disappear. But it is aggravating, to say the least.
“Someone told us that Aderholt is really worried if people find out he has an opponent or doesn’t live here he could struggle,” said Ward. “That’s why he’s not mentioning (Neighbors’s) campaign. And why we think they’re taking his signs down. So people don’t know. It’s really about people not getting a chance to know they have a choice. And there is no time to hear who he is.”
Well, here’s who he is: Neighbors served three tours in Vietnam during that war, enlisting when he was 17 years old. After the service, he got a college degree, then spent 35 years in the apparel business in North Alabama.
Neighbors and his wife, Judy, have three children, and Neighbors recently earned an MBA from the University of North Alabama.
Neighbors would be a breath of fresh air for Alabama in Washington. He won’t live there. He’ll be grounded in the 4th Congressional District.
If Aderholt wins, we won’t see him again until 2022. Twenty-four years in Congress is plenty of time to get something done. But with Aderholt, there’s not much to show for all that time.
And even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of the 4th District need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.