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Former Mississippi Gov. J.P. Coleman Dies

September 29, 1991

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ J.P. Coleman, Mississippi’s governor during the infancy of the civil rights movement and later chief judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, died Saturday. He was 77.

Coleman was governor from 1956 to 1960. It was during his administration that the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission was created by the Legislature as a propaganda machine to counter anticipated federal action to expand integration in the South.

The commission’s work branched out with Coleman’s successor Ross Barnett, who focused its work as a segregation watchdog agency that spied on civil rights workers and tried to undermine integration in Mississippi. It was disbanded in 1973.

In 1965, then U.S. Sen. James Eastland, powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pressured President Johnson to appoint Coleman to the federal appeals court in New Orleans. He served as chief judge from 1979-81.

In an unsuccessful campaign for a second term as governor in 1963, Coleman had tried to run as a moderate on the issue of race.

″Gov. Coleman was one of Mississippi’s greatest public servants of the 20th century,″ said current Gov. Ray Mabus. ″He was both a visionary and a practical leader during a very difficult time in Mississippi’s history.″

Coleman, who suffered a stroke Dec. 13, 1990, died Saturday morning at a nursing home in Ackerman, about 90 miles northeast of Jackson.

Born on a farm near Ackerman, James Plemon Coleman began his public career when he was elected circuit judge in 1946. He was appointed to the newly created post of Commissioner on the state Supreme Court in 1950, but resigned the same year to become state attorney general.

Coleman was elected to the state Legislature as a representative in 1960 and served for four years. ″Mississippi lost one of the most distinguished statesmen of my lifetime,″ said William Winter, who served as governor from 1980 to 1984. ″He’s a man I have admired since I was a high school student and I remain a great admirer of him.″

Coleman’s son, Thomas Coleman, said he remembered his father as a lifelong farmer who first worked the cotton fields when he was 10 years old. Until his stroke, the former governor spent much time at his farm near Ackerman.

″I think the greatest thing was the example he set for me in his own life,″ Thomas Coleman said. ″He was always caring and compassionate about people. He always concerned himself with their needs.″

Coleman is survived by his wife, Margaret, and son, and five grandchildren. A funeral service was scheduled for Monday at the Fentress Baptist Church in Fentress with burial following in Ackerman.

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