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Ben Johnson Jr.

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BEN F. JOHNSON, JR. Ben F. Johnson, Jr. was born on September 30, 1914, in Carroll County, Georgia, but his family moved to Atlanta and he grew up in Atlanta, his family living at various times on Adair Avenue, Ponce de Leon Avenue and Fairview Road. He went to public school, graduated from Atlanta's Boys High School in 1932 and completed his undergraduate education at the University of Georgia in 1937 after working his way through Emory and what is now Georgia State University during the depression. He attended and graduated from the Emory University Law School in 1939 where he finished first in his class and began his legal career at the Atlanta law firm then known as Sutherland, Tuttle & Brennan where his mentor was Elbert P. Tuttle, later to become one of the giants of the federal judiciary. In 1943 with the outbreak of World War II, Johnson began three years of duty as a naval intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. After the War, Johnson determined to begin a career as a legal educator and returned to Duke University to complete a Master of Law degree. He returned to Emory in 1949 as a faculty member in the Law School and began a tenure of over thirty years as a law professor and dean. From 1955 until 1961, while teaching tax law at Emory, he became a Deputy Attorney General for the State of Georgia, specializing in state tax litigatiion. He argued over thirty cases in the Georgia Supreme Court and won important landmark state taxation victories before the Supreme Court of the United States. He became a recognized expert on state/federal tax matters and served on a congressional advisory committee established by the House Judiciary Committee of Congress tostudy state taxation of interstate commerce. When the landmark decision of Baker v. Carr was handed down in 1962 and the federal courts ordered the reapportionment of the Georgia General Assembly resulting in additional urban representation, Dean Johnson was electedto the Georgia State Senate as a representative from a new DeKalb County senatorial district. He served in the Georgia Senate through 1969 where he served as Chair of the Banking and Finance Committee, Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Secretary of the Committee on Reorganization and Efficiency in Governement and a Member of the Appropriations Committee. He served on the Georgia Constitutional Revision Commission in 1963-64. His most significant achievement as a member of the Georgia General Assembly was probably as the principal author of legislation which resulted in the creation of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). From 1961 until 1973 Ben Johnson served as dean of Emory University Law School. This was a period of significant growth for the Law School. Under his Deanship the student body grew from 100 to 561 full time students, the budget grew five fold and the Law School moved into its present home at Gambrell Hall at the corner of Clifton and North Deactur Roads. More important than the physical growth was the racial integration of Emory in the early 1960's which required a successful litigation effort led by Dean Johnson and Emory Board Chair Henry Bowden. Emory became a national leader in the recruiting of minority and women law students. Notable graduates arising from these efforts during the 1960's include Marvin Arrington, Fulton Superior Court Judge and former President of the Atlanta City Council, and United States District Court Judge Clarence Cooper and Orinda Evans. At Emory he was also a leader in promoting community legal services through the Emory Community Legal Services Center which was opened in 1967 to provide a neighborhood law office staffed by supervised law students and to draft legislation, carry out test cases and recruit students interested in careers in legal services for the poor. One of the original staff attorneys hired by Dean Johnson at the Emory Community Legal Services Center was former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. In 1990 The Georgia State Bar Journal in a history of the Emory University Law School wrote: "Ben Johnson is a soft-spoken man who lets his actions tell their own story. He was at the heart of every innovative step taken at the law school in the 1960's. His vision for the law school remains evident today... Dean Johnson ended his deanship with the completion of the new law school building. But the foundation he laid was least of all in cement: it was a groundwork of ideas, spurred by the active pursuit of justice, and held together through faith in the possibility of making a difference in the world. "With his resignation as Emory Dean, Dean Johnson returned to the classroom, but not for long. In 1981 Dean Johnson was asked to become the founding dean at the College of Law at Georgia State University. From its inception in 1981 until his retirement in 1985 Dean Johnson took the Law School from its inception as an idea to the point where it had graduated its first class and received provisional accrediation from the American Bar Association. In 1985, upon his retirement from the Georgia State Deanship the Georgia State University Law Review wrote: "With his assumption of the mantle of the G.S.U. deanship, Ben Johnson began the process of creating a law school from scratch. Reaffirming past beliefs which had governed him while serving as Emory Dean, he created a curriculum, hired a faculty and recruited a student body for the day and evening divisions commencing with entering classes in the fall of 1982. Experienced teachers with tenure at other law schools voluntarily relocated to Atlanta and its fledgling law school because Ben Johnson successfully enticed them into sharing in his dream: a viable, exciting and vibrant opportunity to be involved in the creation of an American law school... These three years, which we as a faculty have spent with Ben Johnson as law school dean, have been eye-opening for all of us and a challenge to us- just to keep up with someone who chronologically is a senior citizen but in every other way is still in his early maturity. He worked as hard or harder than any of us. He helped to insure that faculty goverance became a reality. He demanded the best of each of us and refused to accept less." Dean Johnson was married for nearly 60 years to his wife Stella Darnell who passed away in 1998. He is survived by two sons who are attorneys in Atlanta, Ben F. Johnson, III and Sherman D. Johnson; five grandsons Ben F. Johnson IV, J.L. Armistead Johnson, Sherman D. Johnson, Jr., Richard B. Johnson and Matthew S. Johnson; and one great grandson, Marcus Armistead Johnson. Ben Johnson has been active in many fields of endeavour including being an active layman at Druid Hills Baptist Church for some seventy-five years, a Sunday School teacher for almost 50 years, an active Rotarian and one of the founders of the Young Singers of Callanwolde. Funeral arrangements are being handled by H.M. Patterson and Sons at Spring Hill. The Memorial Service will be held at 11;00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 5th, at the Glenn Memorial Methodist Church on the Emory University Campus. Following the service the family will receive friends at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, also on the Emory Campus. Burial will be later in the afternoon at the cemetery in Talking Rock, Georgia, in Pickens County. In lieu of flowers, the family would suggest contributions either to the Emory University School of Law, 1301 Clifton Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30322-2770, or the Georgia State Law School. P.O. Box 4037, Atlanta, Georgia 30302-4037. H.M. Patterson Spring Hill Chapel 1020 Spring Street Atlanta, Georgia 30309 404-876-1022.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from July 2 to July 4, 2006
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