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Collection Title: Johnson (Paul B.) Family Papers

Collection Number: M191

Dates: ca. 1910-1973

Volume: ca. 90 cu. ft.

Provenance: Materials in this collection were donated by Mr. Paul B. Johnson, Jr., Mrs. Dorothy Johnson, Mr. Pete Johnson, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 1981, with additions in 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1994.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

Paul Burney Johnson, Sr.:

Paul Burney Johnson, Sr., was governor of Mississippi from 1940 to 1943. He was born on March 23, 1880, on a small farm at Hillsboro, Scott County, Mississippi, one of ten children born to Thomas Benton Johnson and Jane McClanahan Johnson.

As a young boy, Paul worked on the family farm, in saw mills, and in a blacksmith shop to help support the family. He was educated in the rural schools of Scott County, and at Harpersville College. When Paul was about nineteen years of age, his family moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he worked for the J. J. Newman Lumber Company. Later, he taught school, while working toward a law degree at Millsaps College. Paul was admitted to the Mississippi State Bar in 1903, and established a law practice in Hattiesburg soon after.

After opening his law office, Paul ran for, and was elected to, the office of Hattiesburg City Judge. While serving in that capacity, he married Corinne Venable, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. T. L. Venable of Pike County, Mississippi. Paul and Corinne became the parents of three children -- Paul Burney Johnson, Jr., Patrick Hayes Johnson, and Mildred Jane Johnson (who died as a child). The couple later adopted a daughter, Peggy Johnson.

In 1910 Paul was appointed Circuit Judge of the Twelfth Judicial District by Governor Edmond F. Noel. During his four-year term, the state constitution was altered to make the office elective. Paul subsequently ran for a second term as Circuit Judge, and was elected in the first primary.

Johnson defeated Governor Theodore G. Bilbo in the 1918 race for Unite States Congressman from the Sixth District. Two years later, he was reelected to Congress without opposition. He declined to run for a third term in 1923, and returned to Hattiesburg to pursue his law practice full time.

During his legal career, Paul Johnson, Sr. served as counsel for the Tatum Lumber Company, the Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railroad, and other large south Mississippi companies. However, his political ambition resurfaced in 1931, when he made his first bid for governor of the state of Mississippi. Defeated in that effort, he ran again in 1935 against Hugh White and was defeated a second time. A final bid for the state's highest office proved successful, when on August 29, 1939, he was elected Mississippi's forty-sixth governor.

During Mr. Johnson's term of office, social and welfare legislation were enacted; the exempted values for homesteads were raised from $3500 to $5000; and the trustees of the state's institutions of higher learning were in effect removed from politics when the board's number was increased and staggered terms provided. His greatest personal achievement, however, was the free textbooks bill which had been one of his primary campaign objectives. The bill provided free textbooks for every school child in Mississippi.

Governor Johnson was in poor health throughout his term of office, and on December 26, 1943, he died at his farm home, "Tall Pines", in Hattiesburg, less than a month before his term expired. He is interred in Oaklawn Cemetery in Hattiesburg.

Paul Burney Johnson, Jr.:

Paul Burney Johnson, Jr. served as lieutenant governor of Mississippi from 1960-1964, and as governor from 1964 to 1968. He was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on January 23, 1916, the eldest child of Paul B. Johnson, Sr. and Corinne Venable Johnson.

He received his early education in the public schools of Forrest County, Mississippi, and in 1943, he completed a preparatory course of study at Columbia Military Academy in Columbia, Tennessee. He received a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1940. Also in 1940, he was admitted to the Mississippi State Bar, and established his first law practice, in Jackson.

While at Ole Miss, Johnson compiled an outstanding academic record, and held the distinction of being the first sophomore ever elected president of the Ole Miss student body. He was later awarded the highest student honor, when he was selected for membership in the Ole Miss Hall of Fame.

On February 8, 1941, Paul Johnson, Jr. married Dorothy E. Power, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby R. Power of Red Banks, Mississippi. Paul and Dorothy (better known as "Dot") met during the 1930s, while students at Ole Miss. Since Paul's father had been inaugurated as governor the previous year, the couple were married in the west parlor of the governor's mansion.

Four children were born to Paul and Dot Johnson -- Patricia Power Johnson, Rebecca Reynolds Johnson (who died as a child), Paul B. Johnson III, and Shelby Venable Johnson.

Paul joined the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after the December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor. He trained at Quantico, Virginia; was later assigned to a west coast base; and served in combat in the South Pacific, where he rose through the ranks from Private to Captain. After the war, he achieved the rank of Major in the Marine Corps Inactive Reserve. He was a member of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and in 1949 he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award from the American Veterans of World War II, by National Commander Harold Russell.

Following his military service, Johnson moved his law practice to Hattiesburg, and from 1948-1951, he served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. Besides his law practice, he established several other businesses in the Forrest County, Mississippi area, including Gulfway Construction Corporation and Gulfway Truck Stop. In addition, he and Dot were active in the civic affairs of Hattiesburg, and were members of Parkway Heights Methodist Church. Mr. Johnson was a member of the Loyal Order of the Moose, a Thirty-Second Degree Mason, and a Shriner.

Mr. Johnson made his first race for governor in 1947. Defeated in this campaign, as well as campaigns in 1951 and 1955, he decided to run for lieutenant governor in 1959, and was elected in the first primary. As lieutenant governor, he helped develop and execute plans for industrial progress in the state through his leadership on the Agricultural and Industrial Board and in the Senate. He also oversaw an active building program at the state's educational institutions. Lieutenant Governor Johnson filled in for Governor Ross Barnett at Ole Miss, when in 1962, federal marshals escorted James Meredith, an African American, to insure his safety as he enrolled at the historically white institution. On that occasion, Johnson physically blocked federal authorities who were attempting to get Meredith through the cordon of men resisting his entrance. Meredith was ultimately enrolled at the school, but this act of resistance generated the campaign slogan "Stand Tall With Paul", and helped to secure the governorship for Johnson in the 1963 election.

Paul B. Johnson, Jr. was inaugurated as the fifty-fourth governor of Mississippi on January 21, 1964, and his term marked a period of transition for Mississippi -- a time when the separation of the races began diminishing under the impact of civil rights legislation; a time when the state experienced significant economic growth; a time when Mississippi began accepting federal aid on a large scale; a time when industry expanded; and a time when education was becoming a greater priority than in previous years.

Significant accomplishments of the Johnson administration were creation of the Educational Research and Development Center; the floating of $130 million worth of "full faith and credit" state bonds for building a super port; and entering into a lease agreement with Litton Industries in order to build large seagoing vessels in the shipyards at Pascagoula. Litton Industries subsequently became the state's largest employer, and the Standard Oil Company built a large refinery on the Gulf Coast. At the end of his administration, Governor Johnson announced that during his term of office, 549 industrial plants had been built or expanded, offering 38,631 jobs, and that for the first time, more Mississippians were employed in industry than in agriculture.

An interesting footnote to the Paul Johnson, Jr. political story is that since the state Constitution prevented him from succeeding himself as governor, he ran for lieutenant governor in 1967. He was eliminated in the first primary, and Charles L. Sullivan went on to win the office.

After leaving the governor's office in 1968, Johnson returned to the practice of law, with offices in both Hattiesburg and Jackson.

Toward the end of his life, Mr. Johnson suffered a series of strokes, and on October 14, 1985, he died of cardiac arrest. He is interred in Oaklawn Cemetery in Hattiesburg.

The Paul B. Johnson, Jr. Chancery Court Building in Hattiesburg, Johnson State Park (south of Hattiesburg), and the Johnson Science Tower on The University of Southern Mississippi campus are named in honor of Governor Johnson.

Scope and Content:

The Johnson Family Papers span the political careers and personal lives of Mississippi's only father and son governors -- Paul Burney Johnson, Sr. (1940-1943) and Paul Burney Johnson, Jr. (1960-1964). The collection is divided into two major series:

Series I: Personal and Family Papers

Series II: Political Papers

Series I is comprised of three sub-series:

Materials in Sub-Series 1 document the life and career of Paul B. Johnson, Sr., and include personal records, correspondence, campaign materials, records of official activities, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

Sub-Series 2 contains materials pertaining to Paul B. Johnson, Jr., including biographical and genealogical information, business and financial information, correspondence, estate matters, farm and property information, legal practice documents, professional and civic activities, religious materials, and miscellaneous items.

Sub-Series 3 consists of materials that document the personal, social, civic, and political activities of Dorothy Power Johnson, and also contains items pertaining to the Power Family. Included are biographical information, personal and family records, Johnson Family materials, recipes and homemaking materials, financial records, campaign activities, official activities, official travel, newspaper clippings, and publications.

Series II is composed of materials that document the political activities of Paul B. Johnson, Jr. from 1947-1967. For the convenience of the researcher, this large series is divided into 16 sub-series:

Miscellaneous Small Series contains the following sub-headings:

  • Lieutenant Governor
  • USA vs. Barnett
  • Legislation
  • Publications
  • Photographs, Negatives, and Postcards
  • Sound Recordings and Films
  • Certificates and Plaques
  • Scrapbook
  • Visitors Register, Governor's Mansion
  • Colonels Registration Cards
  • Memorabilia
  • Miscellaneous Oversize Materials
This collection has immense research value. In its coverage of Paul B. Johnson's terms as lieutenant governor and governor of Mississippi, it documents one of the most critical periods in the state's history -- the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The State Sovereignty Commission records, along with the Highway Patrol records paint a graphic portrait of efforts to thwart civil rights activities in the state, and to preserve the separation of the races. Additionally, it documents (through written records and photographs) the economic climate, the culture of the 1960s, and other important issues of the era.

Photograph Log: Available.


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