Paul Burney Johnson, Jr.: Fifty-fourth Governor of Mississippi: 1964-1968
When Paul B. Johnson, Jr. was inaugurated as Mississippi’s fifty-fourth governor on January 21, 1964, he became the only son of a Mississippi governor to follow his father to the state’s highest office.
“Little Paul,” as he was fondly known among his supporters, was born at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on January 23, 1916. He received an undergraduate degree and, in 1939, a law degree from the University of Mississippi. During his father’s term in office, he was married in the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion.
Shortly after his discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps, Johnson first
ran for public office in 1947. Actually, he ran for two different offices.
Johnson was defeated in the August Democratic primary election in his
first bid for the governorship. In a November special election to fill
the unexpired term of the recently deceased Senator Theodore Bilbo, Johnson
was defeated by John C. Stennis. He served as assistant U. S. attorney
for the Southern District of Mississippi from 1948 to 1951. He again ran
unsuccessfully for governor in 1951 and in 1955. In 1959, Johnson was
elected lieutenant governor in the first primary.
A practical politician, Johnson delivered on his inaugural promises. Black voting rights had long been trampled under Mississippi’s discriminatory voter registration laws. Within a year of his inauguration and encouraged by Governor Johnson, some county election officials began to register black voters. And, during a special session of the Mississippi Legislature in June-July 1965, the legislature repealed the state’s discriminatory voting laws. After this act, plus the August passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, registration of black voters soared.
During Governor Johnson’s administration, Mississippi reached a milestone in its economic development. In May 1965, the number of Mississippians employed in industry exceeded the number of agricultural workers for the first time in the state’s history. The balance between agriculture and industry had been achieved.
In 1967, while he held the office of governor, Paul Johnson conducted an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor. After that defeat, he returned to his law practice in Hattiesburg and eventually assumed the role of elder statesman of Mississippi politics. Governor Johnson died at his home in Hattiesburg on October 14, 1985.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Posted January 2004
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1964-1968), 26.
Paul B. Johnson Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
McLemore, Richard Aubrey. A History of Mississippi, Vol. II. Jackson 1973
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