James P. Coleman

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James Plemon Coleman
Governor James P. Coleman, Jan. 17, 1956 to Jan. 19, 1960 (14143043313).jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
July 26, 1965 – May 31, 1981
Appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Benjamin Franklin Cameron
Succeeded by E. Grady Jolly
52nd Governor of Mississippi
In office
January 17, 1956 – January 19, 1960
Lieutenant Carroll Gartin
Preceded by Hugh L. White
Succeeded by Ross R. Barnett
33rd Attorney General of Mississippi
In office
January 22, 1952 – January 17, 1956
Preceded by Greek L. Rice
Succeeded by Joseph Turner Patterson
Member of the Mississippi House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born (1914-01-09)January 9, 1914
Ackerman, Mississippi
Died September 28, 1991(1991-09-28) (aged 77)
Ackerman, Mississippi
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Margaret Janet Dennis
Alma mater George Washington University
Profession Lawyer

James Plemon "J.P." Coleman (January 9, 1914 – September 28, 1991) was a politician from the state of Mississippi.

He was born in Ackerman, Mississippi. He obtained a law degree from The George Washington University Law School in 1939. As a young man, he served upon the staff of Mississippi Congressman Aaron L. Ford. In Washington, D.C., he made a name for himself by challenging and defeating another young southern congressional staffer and future president, Lyndon B. Johnson, for Speaker of the Little Congress, a body that Johnson had dominated before Coleman's challenge. Coleman and Johnson became lifelong friends.

Returning to Mississippi, Coleman was elected District Attorney in 1940, and served until 1946, when he became judge on the state circuit court. After a stint as a justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, Coleman was the Mississippi Attorney General from 1950 to 1956. Coleman became the Governor of Mississippi in 1956 as a moderate candidate in a campaign where he promised to uphold segregation. As governor, he befriended Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, but set up the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. When Clennon Washington King, Jr. attempted to integrate the University of Mississippi, Coleman went to Oxford to prevent Mr. King's matriculation and fulfill his promise of segregation of all schools. He objected to being called a moderate by his critics, preferring to characterize himself as a 'successful segregationist'.[1]

Coleman in 1976

In 1959, Coleman appointed the author Thomas Hal Phillips of Corinth to a vacancy on the Mississippi Public Service Commission created by the resignation of Rubel Phillips, Hal Phillips' younger brother. After his term ended in 1960, Coleman won a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives and served until 1964. He thus became the only Mississippi politician in history to serve in an elected capacity in all three branches of the state's government.

In his subsequent campaign for governor in 1963, Coleman lost the Democratic nomination to Paul B. Johnson, Jr., a son of a former governor. Segregationist Johnson painted Coleman as a racial moderate and friend of the Kennedy administration. Paul Johnson's campaign staff charged that during the 1960 presidential campaign Coleman had allowed Kennedy to sleep in the Governor's Mansion in the bed formerly used by the late Governor and U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo.[2] Johnson went on to defeat the Democrat-turned-Republican Rubel Phillips in the 1963 general election, then a new political opportunity for Mississippi voters.

President Kennedy offered Coleman various posts, including United States Secretary of the Army and United States Ambassador to Australia, but Coleman declined. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Coleman to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where he served from 1965 to 1981. He assumed senior status on May 31, 1981. Coleman finished his career in Ackerman, where he practiced law and farmed until he suffered a severe stroke on December 11, 1990.

J. P. Coleman State Park, a state park in Mississippi, is named after him.

Coleman's grandson, Josiah D. Coleman is a justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.


  1. ^ Associated Press. (30 June 1959). "Coleman Hits Critics on TV". Clarion Ledger. (Jackson).
  2. ^ Bass, Jack; Walter De Vries (1995). The Transformation of Southern Politics: Social Change and Political Consequence Since 1945. University of Georgia Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-8203-1728-1. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Hugh L. White
Governor of Mississippi
Succeeded by
Ross R. Barnett
Legal offices
Preceded by
Greek L. Rice
Attorney General of Mississippi
Succeeded by
Joseph Turner Patterson
Preceded by
Benjamin Franklin Cameron
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
E. Grady Jolly