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For two white fellas who were buddies at the University of Alabama Law School, George Wallace and Frank Johnson Jr. took ideological paths that were as divergent as possible upon graduation. Wallace, of course, became a segregationist governor of Alabama, famous for his dramatic attempts to thwart integration. Johnson, who died last week at the age of 80, became a federal judge, and issued a series of rulings integrating the south. His legacy is a litany of decisions that caused him to be despised by segregationists and lionized by civil rights advocates everywhere. One of Johnson’s most significant rulings, which cleared the way for Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, put him directly at loggerheads with Wallace. In 1956, he handed down a decision outlawing segregation in a variety of public arenas, including transportation, which for all intents and purposes brought the goals of the Montgomery bus boycotts to fruition. Because of Johnson’s judicial progressiveness, Wallace called him an “integrating, carpetbagging, scalawagging, race-mixing, bald-faced liar.” More appropriate was another title, given to Johnson by those who recognized what his courage had made him: “The real governor of Alabama.”

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