In the 1950s and 1960s, passionate arguments and opinions were being heard in Southern courtrooms that would bring about desperately needed social change. On July 20, 2015, courthouses of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans; and Atlanta were designated National Historic Landmarks in recognition of the pivotal decisions made within their walls that strengthened the Civil Rights Movement.
In the Montgomery courthouse, District Judge Frank M. Johnson authored an opinion that mandated statewide school desegregation in 1967. This capped more than 10 years of rulings and opinions that had begun to chip away at the racial discrimination rampant at the time.
Between 1960 and 1967, Chief Justice Elbert Parr Tuttle and the Fifth Circuit in Atlanta overcame massive resistance in multiple school desegregation and voting rights cases and more fairly applied and enforced the right to trial by jury of one’s peers.
In New Orleans, Appellate Judge John Minor Wisdom’s doctrinal defense in a 1963 voting rights case would later be applied to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
For more information on the National Historic Landmarks program, visit nps.gov/nhl.
Built in 1915, the John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building in New Orleans was the site of precedent-setting rulings that pioneered judicial reform, defined civil rights law, and formed the basis of Congressional civil rights legislation. (Photo: GSA)