In April 1962, Ford T. Johnson, Jr. appeared in a Richmond, Virginia, city traffic court and was convicted of contempt because he refused to sit in the segregated courtroom’s “Negro” section. Mr. Johnson was unaware of the segregated seating and first sat in a section reserved for whites. When ordered to move, Mr. Johnson refused the judge’s order to re-seat himself in the black section and said he would prefer to stand. He was immediately convicted of contempt and fined ten dollars.
When Mr. Johnson appealed, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled his conviction was “plainly right.” He then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. The State of Virginia admitted that the Richmond traffic court maintained a segregated seating policy but argued the policy was irrelevant and Mr. Johnson’s contempt conviction was justified because he disobeyed a judge’s order.
The Supreme Court disagreed. Reasoning that one could not be held in contempt for refusing to comply with unconstitutional segregation rules, the Court unanimously overturned Mr. Johnson’s conviction on April 29, 1963, in Johnson v. Virginia. The majority opinion declared that “such a conviction cannot stand, for it is no longer open to question that a State may not constitutionally require segregation of its public facilities.” The decision was lauded by civil rights activists nationwide. The Richmond Afro-American newspaper hailed it as a “ruling against this long injustice practiced in what are supposed to be chambers of impartial justice.”
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.