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James P. Coleman


Speeches, public statements, newspaper clippings, campaign advertisements, government documents, scrapbooks, oral history interviews, M.A. thesis and seminar paper concerning the public career of J.P. Coleman, Mississippi governor (1956-1960) and judge of U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. This collection consists of gifts and copies from the following collections: Allen Eugene Cox, Wilson Minor, John C. Stennis, Kenneth Toler, and Mississippiana Vertical file.

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James Plemon Coleman was born in Ackerman, Mississippi on January 9, 1914. He attended the University of Mississippi and joined the staff of U.S. Representative Aaron Ford from Mississippi. While working for Ford, Coleman attended the George Washington University School of Law, graduating in 1939. After returning to Ackerman to practice law, Coleman was elected district attorney and in 1946 he won a race for circuit judge. Four years later, Coleman became the youngest member of the Mississippi Supreme Court, but less than a year later, he accepted a job as the state attorney general. Coleman’s firm stance on narrow interpretation of the law helped him in his campaign for Democratic nomination for governor in 1955.

Coleman was sworn in as Governor of Mississippi on January 17, 1956. Perceived to be a “moderate” segregationist, Coleman supported legal means of resisting desegregation while disavowing extremist rhetoric or tactics by white supremacists. While Coleman was governor, the legislature fought back against integration by creating the State Sovereignty Commission and installing a law legalizing interposition, allowing for the state to challenge Brown v. Board of Ed. Coleman attempted to convene a state constitutional convention in 1957 to reframe the Mississippi constitution in light of recent federal laws regarding racial issues, but the legislature defeated his efforts.

Due to a clause preventing consecutive terms, after his four year term as governor was over, Coleman ran and was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served from 1960 to 1964. Coleman ran for governor again, but his connections with President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson helped lead to his defeat in the Democratic primary.

In 1965, President Johnson nominated Coleman as judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District. The Senate approved Coleman’s nomination on July 26, 1965. Coleman ascribed to a narrow constitutionalist interpretation of federal law during his time on the bench. In 1984, Coleman retired from the bench to practice law with his son. Coleman died on September 28, 1991 and is buried in Ackerman, MS.