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

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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.

Please Excuse My Poor Manners

I know I should have registered a post by now. The Daily Post has warned us about the use of widgets to alert readers when post scheduling is erratic. I have not learned the sercet of widgets. I promise to make an effort.

The long interval between post is caused by a convergence of many events:

  • Extended visits while in Louisiana to a longtime friend and my dear uncle .
  • Taking extra time to see parts of this beautuful country along Interstate 40.
  • Resting from the long drive. I was alone.
  • Presently satisfying scheduled appointment with doctors.

Within a week I will post thoughts about this past GPchallenge picture.

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Please remain patient and excuse my poor manners.

Lloyd

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:

http://www.ldswomenofgod.com/blog/?p=1327

http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org/jane_ensign.html

http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org/archivenews/morrison.html

http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aaw/james-jane-elizabeth-manning-1813-1908

http://www.hds.harvard.edu/news/bulletin_mag/articles/39-12/mueller.html