NAACP BANQUET Participants at the third annual Charter Night dinner of Bethlehem branch, National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Friday night in Hotel Bethlehem, are, from left: E. J. Prime, chairman; Dr. George M. Johnson, professor of law and dean of the school of law at Howard university, speaker, and Booker Francis, president of the Bethlehem chapter. The Morning Call
Allentown, Pennsylvania

13 Nov 1948, Sat  •  Page 4

George Marion Johnson 1 (May 22, 1900 – August 11, 1987) was a tax attorney, Dean of Howard University Law School, member of the Civil Rights Commission. He received an A. B. in anthropology and L. L. D. in Law from the University of California, BerkeleyHe was a founding member of the Alpha Pi Alpha fraternity, and a member of the Epsilon chapter3 He was born in New Mexico, raised in San Bernardino, CA and lived in Berkeley, CA for extended periods of time while pursuing two degrees from UC Berkeley. "He is a native son, his grandparents having crossed the plains into California during pioneer days, locating In San Bernardino, where his parents still live." 4

In 1932 he gave a lecture on "The Cultural Advancement of the American Negro." He was described as a "Negro attorney of Berkeley." 5

In a 1935 edition of The Sphinx, official publication of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity:

Brother George M. Johnson, as a member of the Bureau of Tax Research of the State Board of Equalization, is demonstrating his capacities for constructive jurisprudence, helping to draft the State's tax measures. With offices in Boalt Hall, University of California Law School, he is at the same time preparing a doctor's thesis on a phase of Federal Taxation, that most promising of fields of potential pecuniary reward. 6

In the March 1, 1936, edition of Activities Among Negroes, he is mentioned in this piece:

Attorney George M. Johnson, graduate of the University of California Law School, and in 1930, recipient of the Sheffield-Sanborn scholarship for post graduate study in jurisprudence, has published an article which appears in the California Law Review, "State Sales Taxes and the Commerce Clause." ... Attorney Johnson is Assistant Tax Counsel to the California State Board of Equalization. 7

In the 1940 census he is reported to live at 1379 Berkeley Way, Berkeley and his occupation was "Legal Counselor" for the State Board of Equalization. He was married to Kathryn Johnson, born about 1915 in Kentucky. He later married Evelyn, and became stepfather to Rick Shamwell. 9

In 1943 he was appointed Assistant Committee Chairman of a new, regional office of the Fair Employment Practices Committee, in San Francisco. The committee held hearings to '...investigate charges of employment discrimination against Negroes by railroad companies and unions.' 10

In 1946 he becomes dean of Howard University Law School. 11

In 1959 he was nominated to the Civil Rights Commission: 12

WASHINGTON (UPI) - The Senate constitutional rights subcommittee today approved the nomination of George M Johnson, 58, San Bernardino Negro attorney, to be a member of the Civil Rights Commission.

Johnson was named to fill a vacancy created by the death of J. Ernest Wilkins Jan. 19.

Five of the nine subcommittee members voted, all casting their ballots for Johnson. The other four were not present.

The nominations still must be approved by the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

Chairman Thomas C. Hennings (D Mo.) said he will ask the full committee for early action on the nomination so Johnson can participate in commission hearings in Chicago set for early May.

The subcommittee vote came at a closed meeting following a brief public hearing.

Sens, Thomas H. Kuchel (R. Calif.) and Clair Engle (D Calif.) submitted statements in support of the former dean of the Howard University Law School at the open session.

Gordon M. Tiffany, staff director of the Civil Rights Commission, said Johnson's "rare" talent would be "particularly helpful in the "explosive field in which we work daily."

There was no opposition witnesses.

Johnson, a member of the California Bar and the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, has served in several state and federal capacities. He was deputy chairman of the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practices in 1943-45 and was senior assistant tax counsel of the California Board of Equalization from 1933-40.

The commission post pays $50 a day for active service.

His nomination was approved by the Senate: 13

The Senate Judiciary Committee Monday tentatively approved the nomination of George M. Johnson, Negro lawyer and educator, to serve on the Civil Rights Commission.

Johnson, a Berkeley, Calif., attorney and former dean of the Howard University law school here, was nominated by President Eisenhower to succeed the late J. Ernest Wilkins. Wilkins was the first Negro to serve as an assistant secretary of labor, a post be held from 1954 to 1958.

The committee's chairman, Sen. James O. Eastland (D-Miss), announced the vote at a closed-door meeting of the committee was 5-3 in favor of the nomination. He said the roll was left open to permit other members of the 15 member committee to record their votes. Eastland said the roll call would be announced.

Johnson, a Republican, has been chief of the Civil Rights Commission's division laws, plans and research.

He was the only African-American member of the Civil Rights Commission. "Spurred by its findings particularly in Alabama that many Negroes are being denied the right to vote, the U. S. Civil Rights Commission today urged sweeping new federal action aimed at the South." The commission made five recommendations, quoted below: 14

  1. That the president be given authority to appoint federal registrars to qualify voters in localities in which the Civil Rights Commission (if extended) finds that nine or more persons have been denied the right to register due to race. Commissioner John S. Rattle, former governor of Virginia, dissented on grounds that this would be an invasion of states rights. 
  2. THAT CONGRESS pass a law requiring all states and localities to preserve registration and voting records for five years as "public records." This one is aimed especially at Alabama and Louisiana, which denied the commission access to such records; and at Alabama's law permitting destruction after 30 days of application forms of persons denied registration as voters.
  3. That the Constitution be amended to limit state power over voter qualifications to age,residence and freedom from legal confinement (jail, mental institutions, etc.). Three of the six commissioners objected to this recommendation; calling it unnecessary and unsupported by the scant study given the subject by the staff.
  4. THAT CONGRESS give the commission the right to go directly to the federal court to seek orders enforcing the commission's subpoena powers. Under present law. the commission has to get the Justice Department to apply for such court orders. The report said this "divided authority" prevented rapid, coordinated action in Alabama when its subpoenas were defied.
  5. That the Bureau of the Census be directed to gather and compile data on voting registration and use of the voting right - and that this study include a count of voters by race, color and national origin in the various states and localities. IT IS WORTH noting that the most drastic proposal - for a constitutional amendment that would, in effect, repeal the historic power of the states to determine voter qualifications - is backed only by Northern Republican members of the commission, Chairman John A. Hannah, George M. Johnson, the only Negro member, and the Rev T. M. Hesburgh, who was named as a GOP member although he is listed as an Independent. 

THE SIX MEMBERS of the Civil Rights Comission are shown here...
George M. Johnson

THE SIX MEMBERS of the Civil Rights Comission are shown here... George M. Johnson Tue, Jul 14, 1959 – Page 7 · The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana) ·

He went Brazil under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation to research 'the role of law in race relations in western civilization.' 15

Civil rights attorney Len Holt credited Howard University Law School, and George M. Johnson personally with giving him his opportunity: 16

He later went to the Howard University Law School, arriving on the campus with 68 cents in his pockets, wearing a $1.15 suit given him by the Union Mission, in Parkersburg, W. Va. He had been arrested there while hoboing a train to get to Howard. HIS FIRST TUITION to Howard - a fine investment - was paid by Howard Finkelstein, a white Arizona lawyer. As Mr. Holt puts it: "For three years, Howard University clothed, fed and educated me." He tells how former Dean George M. Johnson - now on the Civil Rights Commission - gave him a suit of clothes. He wound up with a fellowship scholarship and was graduated in the class of 1956. He calls the Howard University law school "the greatest law school In the world," with Its entire faculty and student body mobilized to one thing, winning civil rights cases. He Is trying now to carry on that tradition and doing a fine Job of it.

He died in 1987, after retiring to Hawaii. 17

Links and References

  1. GEORGE MARION JOHNSON (1900-1989) at
  2. George Marion Johnson on Wikipedia
  3. Activities Among Negroes/Sun, Jan 27, 1924
  4. Activities Among Negroes/Sun, May 18, 1924
  5. Oakland Tribune, 17 Jan 1932, Sun, Page 20
  6. The SPHINX | Winter December 1935 | Volume 21 | Number 1 193502101  
  7. Oakland Tribune, 01 Mar 1936, Sun, Page 28
  8. Year: 1940; Census Place: Berkeley, Alameda, California; Roll: m-t0627-00189; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 1-131
  9. George Johnson, noted attorney, teacher, dies Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, 14 Aug 1987, Fri, Page 35
  10. Oakland Tribune, 10 Aug 1943, Tue, Page 25
  11. HIGHLIGHTS OF '46, The Pittsburgh Courier, 04 Jan 1947, Sat, Page 3
  12. San Bernardino Lawyer Wins Civil Rights Job, Progress-Bulletin, 21 Apr 1959, Tue, Page 16
  13. NEGRO GETS APPROVAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS POST, Chattanooga Daily Times (Chattanooga, Tennessee) 19 May 1959, Tue, Page 2
  14. Civil rights group urges sweeping action aimed at South, The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama) 08 Sep 1959, Tue, Page 21
  15. Johnsons Look Into Brazil's Race Relations, Alabama Tribune (Montgomery, Alabama) 31 Jul 1959, Fri, Page 8
  16. Young Va. Lawyer Fires Legal Blasts, The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) 05 Nov 1960, Sat, Page 32
  17. George Johnson, noted attorney, teacher, dies, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, 14 Aug 1987, Fri  Page 35