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Champion of Civil Rights

Judge John Minor Wisdom

Southern Biography

416 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / None

ebook available

American History | Civil Rights Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807133842 / January 2009
  Paperback / 9780807154465 / August 2013

One of the least publicly recognized heroes of the civil rights movement in the United States, John Minor Wisdom served as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1957 until his death in 1999. During his time on the bench, he wrote many of the landmark decisions instrumental in desegregating the American South. In this revealing biography, law professor Joel William Friedman explores the substantial legal and political contributions Judge Wisdom made during a critical period in the history of the South. The Fifth Circuit, which included some of the most deeply segregated southern states, was transformed by many of the decisions authored by Judge Wisdom. In preparing this first full-length biography, Friedman had unrestricted access to Wisdom’s voluminous repository of personal and professional papers. Friedman’s use of firsthand interviews with law clerks who served under Judge Wisdom also provides a unique, behind-the-scenes account of some of the nation’s most important legal decisions.

Champion of Civil Rights serves as a compelling account of how a child of privilege from New Orleans—one of America’s most socially and racially stratified cities—came to act as the driving force behind the legal effort to end segregation. 

Joel William Friedman is the Jack M. Gordon Professor of Procedural Law and Jurisdiction at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans.

Praise for Champion of Civil Rights

“Joel William Friedman’s biography of federal judge John Minor Wisdom (1905–1999) fills an important gap in civil rights historiography.”—Journal of Southern History

“Champion of Civil Rights . . . is required reading for anyone interested in the legal and cultural history of the South during the last fifty years of the twentieth century.”—Georgia Historical Quarterly

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