Bernette Johnson sworn in as Louisiana Supreme Court’s first black chief justice (Reprint from


By The Associated Press 

on February 01, 2013 at 12:25 PM, updated February 01, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Bernette Johnson was sworn in Friday as the first black chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, less than four months after her colleagues resolved a dispute over whether she was entitled to the position.

Johnson took the oath of office during a brief ceremony a day after her predecessor, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, formally retired. A public ceremony marking her investiture is scheduled for Feb. 28 on the courthouse steps in the French Quarter.

“After serving for 10 years as a district trial judge, and then as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, I feel well-prepared for the tasks ahead as the chief administrative officer of the judicial system of the state,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am ready to serve, and excited about the challenges of this new position.”

Johnson filed a federal lawsuit in July 2012 after her colleagues said they would debate whether she or Justice Jeffrey Victory, who is white, had the seniority that entitled them to succeed Kimball.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled in September that Johnson had more seniority, but stopped short of ordering the state’s highest court to name Johnson as Kimball’s successor.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ended the racially tinged power struggle in October, ruling that Johnson’s years of appointed service count when deciding which justice is “oldest in point of service” under the state constitution.

Voters elected Johnson in 1994 to the state appeals court, and she was assigned to the Supreme Court as part of settlement of an earlier lawsuit that claimed the system for electing justices diluted black voting strength and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She served an eighth Supreme Court district centered in New Orleans until the court reverted back to seven districts in 2000, when she was elected to the high court.

Victory joined the court in 1995, a year after Johnson, but said her years of appointed service shouldn’t count.

Johnson, Victory and a third judge who stood to be second-in-line if Victory’s argument prevailed were recused from debating the matter.

A New Order

This photo ushers forth three significant themes from my memory. The streetcar ascending the hill (I choose to interpret it to be ascending), the embracing couple, the passengers departing the streetcar and those allowing them to depart before boarding: each is a chapter in a dream-come-true story.

Let’s focus on the streetcar. It represents the train of life that slowly advances humanity to a higher awakening. The departing passengers are the old guard. They are at the end of their life journey. The passengers waiting to board represent the new order that is to be tried.

This scene symbolizes my patience to board the life train and ride it into a long awaited new order.

Soon I will depart for my home state to attend the investiture of a high school classmate to be Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  This is a historic event.  It begins a new order.

My classmate is not the first female to lead this court but she will be  the court’s first African-American Chief Justice. How can I describe the significance of this uphill trek?

When we graduated high school, Louisiana was among the segregated states in the South.  Its legislation and culture prohibited African-Americans from attending LSU and Tulane, the premier educational centers of the state. Education in Louisiana was separate but  seldom equal. Although Louisiana segregation laws have long been set aside, this investiture makes her one of the sworn to guard exclusion based on racial designations in Louisiana.

The streetcar is advancing  up the hill.

I see myself as a passenger patiently waiting to board the streetcar to this historic investiture.

My great grandparents were Louisiana residents. They dreamed of this day. They died hoping for a new order, but they never saw it. They died in hope. With my weaken but proud eyes, on February 28, I board the life train to witness what they hoped for.

The embracing couple symbolizes a new responsible humanity. It is educated. It knows humanity’s past fears. Education is its only defense against the  pitfalls and lies that ruled previous generations. More importantly, the couple’s education is its only protection against threatening things yet unseen. But they embrace. Their greeting is warm and they whisper into  each other’s ear a vow to never let the sun set without throughly addressing a division between them. They know, all too well, an untreated wound in their relationship is the beginning of a slow death to society.

Their embrace shouts the arrival of the new order, a dream come true – at last!

A Contribution for Women History: Pioneer, Saint, and Example

The life of Jane Elizabeth Manning James abounded in gender, racial and religious struggles. Most would have become cynical, whereas Jane lived her life obedient to the dictates of her spirit; always eschewing the pressures to embrace acceptance, of the status quo. She viewed her life  struggles as tests of worthiness for her life goal. Such a matured outlook must be trumpeted during Women History Month.

Jane Elizabeth Manning was born free into a poor family in Wilton Connecticut on May 11, 1819. When her father died while she was at an early age, Jane lived with a prosperous white couple and serve as their domestic. In that household she was Christianized, impregnated by a visiting Presbyterian minister and gave birth to her first born, a son.

After hearing a Mormon missionary preach, Jane Manning renounced her previous faith and chose baptism into a Mormon covenant. Desiring to live among members of her new faith, she led her family on an eventful 800 miles journey from Wilton to the Mormon community at Nauvoo IL.

On arrival, Jane Manning was directed to the home of Joseph Smith. The events of this family’s 800-mile journey and  Manning’s determination to live in the Illinois Mormon community impressed him. He employed her as his domestic and offered to adopt her into his family. Ignorant of the spiritual benefits of adoption, Jane declined.

Life in Illinois was a mixed blessing. Jane Manning married Isaac James, another Mormon; grieved the murder of Joseph Smith and experienced the expulsion of the Mormon community from the Illinois. Determined to be a part of the rebuilding of her faith community, the James’ family and expelled Mormons journeyed westward. They were to be among the first Mormon immigrants to enter the Salt Lake Valley.

After many years in the marriage, Jane’s husband left the marriage. As a single mother, life was very difficult. But Jane demanded of her family a strong work ethic. She became a washerwoman to supplement the family income. Many trials befell her family but  they persevered. Through the trying times, she never wavered in her faith. Jane wrote in her autobiography, ” I “[paid my] tithes . .. [kept] the word of wisdom and … set a good example to all.”

At age 72 James became concerned about the status of her afterlife. She began to write to the Presidency of the Church to grant her and her family adoption and sealing into the faith; – at first to an African American Mormon priest then to Joseph Smith. Neither request was granted.

After many denials, the Church approved Jane James to be baptized for her kindred family, and by proxy she was sealed and adopted  into eternal servitude to the Joseph Smith Family. Joseph Smith’s son stood proxy for his father. James was not allowed to attend the proceedings.

Not pleased, Jane James again followed the counsel of her spirit and continued to seek adoption and sealing for herself and her family.

She wrote to the Mormon Church leader, John Taylor:

I realize my race and color and can’t expect my endowments as . . . white[s] . . . [but] God promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blest… as this is the fullness of all dispensations is there no blessing for me?

After an extended period, Isaac James returned to the family ill. She accepted him, nursed him until he died – one year later, and buried him from her house.

The year prior to Jane’s death, the Church proscribed that none with African blood in their veins could to be elevated to gain adoption or sealing in the faith.

On April 16, 1908, Jane died. The Desert News , the local Mormon paper, printed:

Few persons were more noted for faith and faithfulness than was Jane Manning James, and though of the humble of the earth she numbered friends and acquaintances by the hundreds. Many persons will regret to learn that the kind and generous soul has passed from the earth.

This eulogy summarizes the accounts of Jane’s generosity and support of the Mormon Church, its community, and to her faith brothers and sisters.

In 1979, the Mormon Church reversed its proscription against African Americans. In this new Church, Jane Manning and her family were sealed and adopted to ordination.

Documents attest to Jane’s unswerving faith, to her moral life and to her diligent commitment to the Mormon community. These are noble reasons to remember Jane James.  But the reason she deserves to be remembered in history is far more profound.

Jane James made her critical life decisions subject only to her spiritual counsel. In particular, her decisions to embrace the Mormon faith and to travel 800 miles to live in a Mormon community, both required great courage and indescribable faith, considering the attitude on gender and race.

Abandoned in marriage, Jane’s  courage and faith became her refuge.  Never did she waiver from her covenants nor did she become bitter towards the servings of life. Her ongoing battle for spiritual adoption and sealing of herself and her family shows the measure of this courage and faith. This petite black woman stood against the giant structure of her church with perseverance,  her sling; and stones from the Word to eventually  find a soft spot that slew the giant of her church’s resistance – a true reenactment of the David / Goliath story.

Jane Manning James’s life path is an instructive guide from which to gain wisdom. It is an example of obedience to self-counsel. As this is the only path on which one never compromises self, it is a superior course over conformity or acceptance. Further on this path, the spirit is always available to counsel and it never counsels beyond one’s capabilities.  More importantly, when followed, the soul rests in peace.

Notes were taken from:

Karen A. Johnson, Undaunted Courage and Faith: The Lives of Three Black Women in the West and Hawaii in the Early 19th Century, The Journal of African American History, Vol. 91, No. 1. 2006.

Learn More about Jane Manning James:

An Inspiring Nugget from American History: Black Migration to Kansas

After Reconstruction drew to a close, Southern white citizens moved to retake the economic, political and social reins of the region. Intent to this end, no method was rejected. And none was more effective than the use of fear. Thus the Ku Klux Klan, The White Citizen Council and other groups that used fear to wrestle control of the South were thrust to leading positions in American’s post-Civil war apartheid.

Without education, in a complex society, in a land foreign to him and with little experience of travel, the newly emancipated slave would have been hopeless. But seeds to help the newly emancipated regain his dignity had been broadcasted by Benjamin “Pap” Singleton.

Pap Singleton had been a slave in Kentucky. Like many slaves, white blood flowed in his veins. He learned the skills of a cabinet making in slavery and he also learned from his experience in  slavery to detest his master’s treatment of slaves. After many trials Singleton escaped to Canada.

After Emancipation, Singleton returned to Tennessee to help newly freed slaves gain economic and political power. A noble dream indeed! but Tennessee proved resistant of this dream. So Pap sought to realize the dream elsewhere.

Eventually Congress declared the lands of Kansas and Nebraska to be free. Using his personal resources, Singleton disseminated flyers by mail and personal travel to lure newly freed slaves to settle in one of eleven colonies he planted in the State of Kansas. So powerful was black immigration at this time, the United States Senate conducted hearings to uncover the source of the mass movement.

Singleton never lived in any of his colonies. But he earned the moniker “Black Moses”. The blacks who responded to his call and left Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Carolinas were called the Exodusters. These brave people ventured from the lands of their comfort to build a life of dignity for themselves and their children. None of Singleton’s colonies exist today. But they were the promised lands to many. For others they were way stations for their children to a better life.

There were many western colonies to which the Exoduster flew. Only one is in existence today, Nicodemus, Kansas.

Nicodemus is another testimony of a people who traveled an unknown world in search of a better life. Today, it is a tiny uncorporated town. Descendants of the original arrivals continue to honor the town’s celebration of Emancipation. The celebration began in 1878; the year after the town was founded and it has never missed a year. Today it is called Homecoming. From all parts of the country, descendants of the original of Nicodemus pioneers return to refuel their spirit, to remember the struggle of their ancestors, to celebrate the town’s victory over adversity, and to keep alive their heritage.

The Nicodemus colony was born in the minds of newly freed blacks when W. R. Hill, a white land developer, spoke to the black Georgetown Kentucky church and told them about government land available for homesteading. He told about of  acres of land  free for the claiming and  he painted a picture of a settlement with soil ready to yield anything planted, a picture of wild animals available for food, a picture of herds of wild horses waiting to be caught, tamed and ready for work. Finally he painted them a picture of an established town with streets, a church and a general store.

W. R. Hill and the first settlers arrived in Nicodemus (July 30, 1877). There was no town. The pioneers wanted to hang Hill. He hid. Tempers abated and the Kansas winds destroyed the pioneer’s first attempt at shelter. With winter approaching, the Nicodemus pioneers burrowed in the ground for protection against the harsh winter environment, the hot Kansas summer and the Kansas wind storms. The Dust Storms hit. Neighbors and the Osage Indians helped the Nicodemus pioneers through the early trials. The townspeople kept the faith and Nicodemus survived.

Nicodemus is now a part of the National Park Service It is perpetuated as a part of our heritage. It is the story that survival trumps cultural differences.


Daniel Chu & Bill Shaw, Going Home to Nicodemus, Silver Burdett Press, Morristown New Jersey.

Lisa Scheller, Returning to hallowed grounds, KU GIVING, Volume 41 Number 2.

Roy Garvin, Benjamin, or “Pap,” Singleton and His Followers,

The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Jan., 1948).

A Black History Commemoration

(The polite terms of the period are used in this article.)

Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Madame C. J. Walker, W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Benjamin Bannecker, George Liele are all noteworthy selections that should be cited during Black History Month. Their accomplishments were stellar in the History of Americans of African descent. Their stories are inspiring. Their commitment and fortitude are noteworthy models to be used in future struggles against injustice.

Notwithstanding their noble accomplishments, this writing focuses on a sisterhood that spanned more than 90 years of American history. Its members are linked by their common choice to relinquish what little joy life may have offered, in order to enhance the lives of family members and friends. They were the washwomen of the Negro race in America. The times were the early days of the Negro’s struggle for dignity and freedom in the United States of America.

Carter G. Woodson first called attention to them in The Negro Washwoman, a Vanishing Figure. Venerable saints – he called them. Saints they were; seldom venerated; more often forgotten. This note retells their story and calls for an annual remembrance of their life-struggles – especially their progenies and disciples of compassion.

Their Story: Pre-Emancipation
Their story began in the South during the ante bellum era. They were in service to an often-truculent plantation mistress. Their jobs were to keep their mistresses’ lives free of drudgery. At dawn, they left their hut to prepare their mistress’ meals, to toil with their mistress’ children, to wash and iron their mistress’ household clothes and to clean their mistress’ houses, while their home went unattended until they returned at dusk.

Upon their return, they found their children craving  mother’s love and attention; and their tired husbands resting from the drudgeries of fieldwork and the indignities of their life-status. Without regard for self, these ladies launched into the second half of their day’s toil. But this time, they were cooking and caring for their loved ones, thereby, stoking the flame that fueled their raison d’etre.

The final task of her day our saint devoted to her home enterprise; washing clothes for pay. From whence springs the term, washwoman. With this income, she purchased presents and clothes for her family, and sometimes, household items that turned her hut into a home. Amidst servitude, to become a washwoman was to surrender self for the good of others. It was a life commitment to elevate her family from mere existing, to a life with occasional joy. Our saint ended her day with less than a six-hours rest, ever knowing, the next weekday promised a rerun of the same.

The ante bellum system was taxing to the slaves, but to the female slave it was most agonizing. Slave marriages were prohibited by law, so masters encouraged their female slaves “to take up” with a man. Absent love, she refused, but the master’s will prevailed. Some of these “unions” were lasting. But their purposes were to enlarge the master’s slave inventory for auction and maintenance of his slave force for service. This made birthing a child into slavery tortuous, but it made separating from that child to support such an economic system an agonizing abomination.

In the North the freed colored woman fared better. She did not have to contend with the problems of slavery. But her economic plight was no different. If her husband had no trade, he worked menial jobs for low pay. Many able wives without artistic talent opted to supplement their husband’s low wages by “taking in wash” for pay.

Their Story: Post-Emancipation
Emancipation changed everything. Black men withdrew their wives and daughters from the fields to work at home. Many former slaves migrated to the North to seek a better life. The defeated South was in economic disarray. Returning soldiers were granted the skilled jobs, leaving the menial jobs with less-than subsistence pay to the emancipated. This prevalent scenario forced emancipated females to supplement their family income. Without education or artistic skills, washing clothes in her home was the choice of many: the washwoman.

To many of the emancipated, the North promised more than it delivered. Recently freed males were highly skilled from their trade experience on plantations. Unions closed their rolls to the emancipated to protect their members from these highly skilled competitors, leaving for them menial jobs with very low pay. Freedom in the North had changed the slaves’ social status, but it failed to impact their economic viability.

In the North, the emancipated female did not have to contend with the command  “take up with a man” nor did she have to see her child on an auction block. But her family experienced economic hardship equal to that of her Southern counterpart.  For her life’s trials merely changed its face from the demanding mistress or the dictating master, to that of economic reality in a cruel world: a nonworking husband or one with low pay.

After emancipation, the washwomen continued their sacrifices over 90 years. Then demand for their services gave way to modern wash machinery, modern laundries, and a more educated black people. Their sacrifices and courage during times of stress provided the foundation for the descendants of slaves to build a life position that was more stable than one built on only financial injections to the family. From this foundation, the family was fortified spiritually, civically and educationally. For from the experiences of her home business, the washwoman learned the know-how that ushered the Negro people into forming business enterprises to serve their communities. From the wisdom she gained from observing the American society, she supported building and maintaining organizations through which many emerged into the mainstream. From her zeal to overcome societies’ inequities, she embraced education as the optimal delivery system to a better life for succeeding generations. To that end, she funded causes that fostered education and societies that fought for her community. But equally important, she upheld the primacy of male leadership within the family as a cornerstone of a strong family unit. Upon that rock, the Black family met and fought the war for civil rights in the ’60s.

To read more click the link. Call to Remember