The Civil Rights Judge

As a psychiatrist, I recently felt the need to update my familiarity with several of the major legal decisions affecting mental health treatment laws of decades ago that opened the gates of reform. I reviewed the first such decision of 1956, Wyatt vs. Stickney in Alabama. In reading some historical blurbs on this decision, I noticed the names of the three-judge federal panel and was struck that one judge’s name, Frank M. Johnson was noted in many of the famous post Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1855 that started the USA’ s move into the years of desegregation. I then started researching this judge as I realized I knew nothing about him. And lo and behold I realized I needed to read more about him.

So I zipped off to Amazon and searched to see if there were any books or biographies about this man. And there were several so I ordered at cut-rate used book prices three of the ones that looked the best. And as they arrived in the mail over a period of weeks, I started to read about. One or two of them were quite good and informative as well as fascinating. I thought I would profile one of them here.

Teaming The Storm: The Life and Times Of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., And The South’s Fight Over Civil Rights

This book was a gem in that it delved into appropriate civil rights history that surprised me. Much of the background to the many cases this courageous judge handled, was entirely new to me. I was brought up short reading in every case’s deeply historical treatment as much history I never knew came alive. For instance, I learned that sixteen-year-old black teen preceded by a few months Rosa Parks in starting the original bus seating revolution by sitting in a white’s only section on a Montgomery AL bus. The book was full of these new historical events that I had never known. And I am a typical liberal who has tried to read through the years many books on this era. I have done this not only because of my political beliefs but also because I lived through desegregation in my early teens for a year when our family happened to live in a southern state that desegregated the high school I attended for a year. It was a tense time and thankfully our area did not have riots, violence, National Guard troops that made tv news the eye into history as the cable news networks have done since the founding of CNN two and a half decades ago. But I and my family knew we were in and through really important history.

Another feature made this book special. The author Jack Bass wrote extensively and authoritatively about the Judge’s family, his growing up years and very formative experiences that prepared him to be an impartial and incredibly fair and nonpartisan, i.e., not a typical Southern political segregationist racist. He even detailed this man’s college and law school relationship with the late George C. Wallace, the famous segregationist Governor of Alabama who publicly fought desegregation after the decision Brown vs. Board of Education. This accessory story, though brief, was nonetheless, fascinating beyond words.

Yet another aspect to this book was that the author interviewed many many persons who knew the Judge, covered his career, opposed and fought him, etc. In fact, the author interviewed the Judge himself for dozens of hours, covering his life, and decisions. The author dutifully recorded these interviewed manually and buttressed many issues and events with pertinent quotes from Judge Johnson throughout the book. These quotes were like a magical eye into the history and made it all come alive as few historical books I have read have done.

The level of such detail documented the supreme bravery this Judge exhibited throughout his legal career. The Judge and his family endured years of harassment, death threats, cross burnings, and disavowal by some of his friends. This book could have also been titled “Profiles in Courage.” This man was appropriately recognized and honored for his legal achievements and bravery the last years of his life as he so richly deserved. Bout outside certain circles, he was not as well known as he should have been. His story has also fallen into relative obscurity in the decades since his demise. Likely only historians, well versed legal scholars, attorneys, persons well acquainted with black and civil rights and American black history, and law students, know Judge Johnson’s story and important legacy.

So, students of history, take heed and note. Add items about Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr., to your self-education menu. His is a story worth learning about and knowing and passing to your children.

Resistant Bacterium Surfaces in Alabama

A few posts ago I wrote about the emergence at Methodist Hospital in Houston TX of the truly antibiotic treatment-resistant Klebsiella bacterial strain. The infectious disease and internal medicine clinician researchers had been following the presence and prevalence in patients in the ER and hospital wards since 2011 through 2015. They had recently published their results in the prestigious journal Nature.

Methodist Hospital had been tracking this dangerous bug since it was noticed in patients in that hospital in 2011 or slightly before. The Methodist Hospital clinical researchers had tracked large numbers of patients both at risk and not at risk for harboring “bad” germs such as the better known MRSA [methcillin resistant Staph Aureus bug] as all hospitals have done for over a decade or more as standard procedure upon any admission to a hospital. They were taken aback and I dare say, medically frightened by their findings that larger than expected numbers of patients had this resistant Klebsiella.

Well, now it turns out that an equally antibiotic-resistant bug, a variant of our old Gram-negative E. Coli bug has turned up in Alabama centers in an alarming incidence that cannot be ignored either. This I fear really fear is the start of what all of us in public health, medical epidemiology, infectious disease and internal medicine have anticipated for years, the start of the antibiotic resistant age with multiple bacteria being antibiotic resistant.

For several years, the strategy in treating moderately resistant bacteria has been to employ typically dual or triple antibiotics to treat infections and this has until recently been quite successful. But the thinkers and ponderers in medicine, even in psychiatry such as those who practice in large hospitals and see patients in growing numbers with medical conditions that predispose to resistant ‘bugs,’ such as modern immunocompromised patients engendered by our novel non-chemotherapeutic anti-cancer drug regimens that do not utilize ‘cell poisons’ as in the beginning days of oncology and HIV patients who are immunocompromised out of hand because of the way the HIV virus operates and its routine effects on suppressing the immune systems of the body. I myself am partially immunocompromised by the treatment I do daily for multiple myeloma and have had a few episodes of serious body-wide infections or sepsis and face with some degree of trepidation this new issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria. But a number of other populations fall into these vulnerable categories, such as infants, children, the elderly, persons on the new drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. These are not small elements of our populations worldwide by any means.

So without really any or too many new wonder antibiotics on the horizon to save us all, the researchers are scramblers as fast as possible in another direction that likely is better. The development of vaccines bears promise and bacteria do not change and morph and trades parts of DNA in their annual changes such as in the various flu strains and so present hopefully, slower moving targets for vaccines. It appears we will enter into a new era of vaccine research and development since the days of the polio vaccines and childhood disease vaccines.

I also would throw down the gauntlet to the anti-vaccine movement parties in this country, for whom I have a great deal of antipathy for generating in my view truly ‘fake news and information’ about the supposed harm of vaccines and causing such alarm among the relatively less educated and even well-educated parents of the last 20 years or so  to let their children go unvaccinated. Because of this, we are having more and more outbreaks among the much larger cohorts of the unvaccinated of measles, mumps, whooping cough and even diphtheria as the collective “herd Immunity” is diluted by the larger numbers of unvaccinated children at the mercy of their misinformed parents. And yes as a physician I am well aware of the tragedies caused by the RARE cases of PANDA syndrome, catastrophic CNS cases of brain damage due to encephalitis which things like measles cause in large numbers in severe cases in the unvaccinated in addition to deafness and other tragic consequences. One could hope that the anti-vaccine ill-informed and just plain dead wrong movement in this country and others would wake up when the realities of the antibiotic resistant bacteria start causing widespread deaths and the only defense against them on the horizon or on the pharmacy shelves is bacterium-specific vaccines. Then when they, their elders, and their children are threatened in very real stark life and death terms, I would hope to God that they come to their rational modern day senses.