DEBORAH LEFF: Good evening, and welcome. I’m Deborah Leff; I’m Director of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. And on behalf of the Library and John Shattuck, the CEO of the Library Foundation, it’s a pleasure to welcome you this evening. I want to thank our sponsors -- Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, FleetBoston, WBUR, Boston.com, and the Boston Globe.
You are about to see a remarkable film made by the founder of cinema verité, a man who reshaped the film documentary, Robert Drew. The time was June 1963, when two black students -- one of whom, Vivian Jones, we are privileged to have here with us this evening -- tried to gain admission to the University of Alabama.
The film, entitled Crisis, looked at the White House handling of the event and simultaneously traced the actions of Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who also is here this evening.
The film was controversial, to say the least. Although now recognized as a major piece of work, at the time, The New York Times editorialized against it. I want to read a moment from that editorial. “Under the circumstances in which this film was taken, the use of cameras could only denigrate the Office of the President. To eavesdrop on executive decisions of serious government matters while they are in progress is highly inappropriate. The White House isn’t Macy’s window.”
Of course, today, because of this film, we have a remarkable historical record of what led to the integration of the University of Alabama. Let’s watch.
MS. LEFF: It’s kind of nice to get to introduce some heroes. Robert Drew, who made this remarkable documentary, was supposed to be here this evening, but, as some of you know, he fell this weekend and is recovering well from two broken ribs. We have called him and wished him a speedy recovery.
Here today for conversation are people who I don’t believe look that much older than 40 years ago, Vivian Malone Jones and Nicholas Katzenbach.
Vivian Malone Jones is, of course, the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Alabama. She got a degree in business management; Governor George Wallace was not going to stop her. She worked for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and retired in 1996 as Director of Civil Rights in her home district.
MS. LEFF: Nicholas Katzenbach had all the right credentials -- Princeton, Yale Law School, a Rhodes Scholar. He taught at Yale Law School and the University of Chicago Law School. And he used those credentials and those skills towards shaping a better world when he became Deputy Attorney General under President Kennedy. Mr. Katzenbach was Attorney General of the United States in 1965, and later, Under Secretary of State. In 1969, he joined IBM as Vice President and General Counsel.
And it is a really special pleasure for me to welcome back NPR’s Senior Correspondent Juan Williams. You hear him just about every morning -- I heard him this morning on Morning Edition -- with some of the best reporting and interviewing around. Mr. Williams is the former host of NPR’s national call-in show, “Talk of the Nation.” He is the author of Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, and the non-fiction bestseller Eyes on the Prize. He is also a contributing political analyst for Fox News Channel.
Juan, it’s all yours.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Thank you, Deborah.
Good evening to all of you. It’s a pleasure to be here, and so, I thought that we would start by asking Nick, “What about those cigarettes?” [laughter]
NICHOLAS KATZENBACH: I did smoke quite a bit, didn’t I?
MR. WILLIAMS: You’ve lived a long time. I guess the Surgeon General would not be pleased to see you here now.
MR. KATZENBACH: No, but he would be pleased that I quit over 20 years ago.
MR. WILLIAMS: Wow. And Vivian, you were the star. I asked you, before you came, I said, “Vivian, were you the star of that movie?” You said, “No, Nick was the star.” But in fact, I thought you were the star, and quite beautiful -- stunning, in fact. You were on two covers?
MS. JONES: Yes, thank you. Yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: You were on Newsweek and Times’ covers?
MS. JONES: And Jet.
MR. WILLIAMS: And Jet. Wow. Well, was Jimmy jealous?
MS. JONES: I don’t know. I hope not, because we both had the same purpose. As a matter of fact, I really didn’t want the press. If you notice, I kept saying, “Do I have to talk to them?” So, it wasn’t something that I looked forward to at all. I really wanted to go to school, to get my degree, and get out of there. But it didn’t quite happen that way, and I had to be prepared for whatever was required of me.
They wanted to take my picture, so I posed.
MR. WILLIAMS: By the way, what happened to him?
A: James left -- withdrew -- during that first summer, amidst some controversies that occurred relating to comments that were made, some of which were about the Governor. He also had some personal pressures relating to his family, so he withdrew. But I am proud to say that he went back and earned a doctorate in the ‘90s, so he did complete the task.
MR. WILLIAMS: And we saw, also, a young man who came two days later, Dave McGlathery. What happened to him?
MS. JONES: He earned a doctorate also within that time period. I’m not sure what his doctorate was in, right now, but he did actually complete his studies there.
And I think he worked over at the Space Center.
MR. WILLIAMS: Now the cameras couldn’t follow you into that building as you went in, so we don’t know what happened as you went to the classroom. Were you greeted in a civil manner? Was it a happy occasion? Or was there tension inside the classroom?
MS. JONES: Well, that first day in class, I kind of sat by myself. A few people got up and moved over; some left. But I do have to say that the professor there did ask anyone who felt uncomfortable in that situation, he said they could leave. So he did give them that opportunity, and a few students did leave. But I sat there. It was a math class, and I happen to like math.
It wasn’t uncomfortable for me, but, you know, in the back of your mind, you’re wondering, “Why is this really happening?” And this is the honest-to-god’s truth. I expected to kind of walk in like McGlathery, because, after all, University of Alabama was the only state institution at that time of higher education that had not been desegregated. So I figured no one’s going … Who’s going to care at this point in time? And little did I know that George Wallace became governor and made that pledge, and, of course, you saw the rest.
MR. WILLIAMS: And what about life in the dormitory?
MS. JONES: Well, actually, the day that I went into the dormitory -- when I was escorted by Nicholas Katzenbach, of course -- I was actually greeted. They had a little committee of about four, five students, who came over and welcomed me to the dorm. And, of course, I was absolutely shocked, because I did not expect that. But once I got there, I went up to my dorm and they placed me in a private suite. I had my own bath facilities; I had a private telephone.
Now you have to bear in mind that while I understood why this was happening … Now I understood it was for security reasons, was one. And then, secondarily, I think it was because some of the white students did not want me to go in and take a bath in the same showers with them. But the way I looked at it, it was a welcome relief from Alabama A&M when five of us lived in one room. So you have to kind of take things and use what you can to your best advantage. And so, for me, even though regardless of what the intent was, I had to use it in a way that I could survive those surroundings. And that’s what I did. I mean, it was comfortable for me to have my own room. And, besides, I came from a large family. There were eight of us, as you heard. My father was a maintenance man at the Air Force base, so I’d never had a room by myself. So I kind of welcomed that. It was with some mixed emotions, but it was okay.
MR. WILLIAMS: Nick, in watching you on a screen … Really, you’re larger than life, a hero. And clearly, the Kennedys were very dependent on your judgment, your ability to handle intense situations. Were you surprised when the Governor, on the second occasion, simply walked away?
MR. KATZENBACH: Not really -- it’s what I thought he was going to do. I thought, always, that what Governor Wallace wanted was just to get the troops federalized, so he could yield to the superior power of the United States. I thought he sincerely did not want to have violence, and I say that because, having gone through the riot down at Mississippi -- which he did -- that did not …
MR. WILLIAMS: Hang on, people might forget -- James Meredith, in ’62.
MR. KATZENBACH: James Meredith, admitted then to the University … There was a big riot. People were killed; several were hurt. And that did the University of
Mississippi no good; it did the state of Mississippi no good. And I think that Wallace was quite conscious of that and did not want that same thing that happened. But he did want to yield to superior force. He’s sort of saying, “The federal government’s got the atomic bomb. What can I do?”
MR. WILLIAMS: But we saw no indication of that in the film. How did you have some indication that he appreciated the negative impact of the Meredith situation on the state of Mississippi and its citizens?
MR. KATZENBACH: Well, some of it … None of it came from him. We got some of it from the retired head of the Alabama highway patrol, who was very helpful to us in giving us a lot of information that he was getting from former colleagues. We had a fair amount from Frank Rose, who was the president of the university. A big difference between the University of Mississippi and University of Alabama is that Frank Rose wanted the university integrated. They did not want that at the University of Mississippi.
MR. WILLIAMS: The general, you said, in charge -- I think the film said in charge of seventeen thousand, a hundred of whom were on campus. What was his name?
MR. KATZENBACH: General Abrams. He was later a commander in Vietnam, a four-star general, and a really wonderful man. I think it’s helpful to understand that the University of Mississippi, President Kennedy, and Bobby in particular, had given him absolute hell for the failure of the troops to get there and so forth. And it really was not his fault. He was being quite unfairly accused of this stuff. He was quite determined on this occasion there wasn’t going to be anything to go wrong, and nothing did.
MR. WILLIAMS: And you never had any doubts, because in the film, it’s described as a man, who a moment ago was reporting to Governor Wallace, is now reporting to the federal government.
MR. KATZENBACH: That’s right, General Graham, and he was highly respected. I remember when we had the proclamation issued, Abrams had taken only two other officers with him, so it was just three military there. One of them was a Lieutenant Colonel, and he said, “Well, General, I assume you’ll inform General Graham that he’s now been federalized, so that I assume this’ll be uniform.” And Abes says, “Aw, no.” He said, “He knows who I am.” [laughter] He came back and told me that Graham said that we’d be no problem.
MR. WILLIAMS: “No problem whatsoever.” And the same is true for those hundred men that we saw march onto the campus with rifles held high?
MR. KATZENBACH: Yes. There were six hundred Alabama police and guards there, only one hundred federal soldiers. That was what had President Kennedy and Bobby so concerned. If there was an incident, we didn’t have the force. And so we were just taking that risk.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, right from the start of the film, in terms of the music that Mr. Drew selected, you had the sense of “Dixie” versus “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the potential for another civil war. I guess that’s the primary consideration as we watch the President, the Attorney General, and you wanting to avoid a situation that would incite passions throughout the South and possibly start another civil war.
MR. KATZENBACH: In a sense, I don’t know that we took it that extremely to war, but we did not want violence on that campus. And we did not think Wallace wanted any. What we were terribly concerned with is, when he made his fiery speeches and said this, that, and the other thing, was he really going to be able to control it? That was what we were concerned about, I guess. And he did, in the sense, by leaving at the end. That was very useful, and I think, politically, from every point of view, it was very useful that we stayed on the campus. You went to your dormitory, and we just indicated we weren’t going to leave. It was a big problem with the Guard, because of the fact you couldn’t get that many troops there. And you really had no reason to nationalize the guard, unless he refused to obey the court order.
MR. WILLIAMS: Now did you have your speech planned out when you went? Because Wallace has a statement that he reads, but he accuses you of begging to make a statement. But I didn’t see that you had a statement in your hand.
MR. KATZENBACH: I didn’t have a statement in my hand. The speech … That just shows Bobby, it doesn’t show me. He had wanted me to stop, remember? On the way back, going there. And I stopped at a supermarket -- Summer’s, or shopping center, I guess -- went to a pay phone, called Bobby. He said, “The President wants you to make him look foolish.” And I said, “You got any idea how to do that?” [laughter] And that was what he was talking about with me, when he said, “You’ll do fine,” and so forth.
He asked me what I was going to say, and I said I didn’t really know. But I knew one of the things I had to do was to make sure he refused -- that’s from a technical, legal point of view. I don’t suppose anybody would notice it, but it was kind of funny they wanted to wire me at all; the press did not refuse to have any mikes. And if you look at the picture, Wallace-- he’s got cords coming out of every pocket he has! [laughter] There was no danger that I was not going to be heard.
MR. WILLIAMS: No, in fact, he has one around his neck, and then he holds it up, I noticed.
Vivian, I noticed that there were no black adults in any positions of authority as this was going on. Were your parents involved at all? Were they on the campus?
MS. JONES: No. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even spend the night before at my home. I spent it in Birmingham, and part of it was due to the filming. But one of the things that happened too, right before -- I guess a week or so before -- even if we had wanted to stay in the hotel, the AG Gaston was bombed. There was only one black hotel in Birmingham. As a matter of fact, I stayed at the home of one of my attorneys, Arthur Shores -- his secretary’s. I stayed at her home. And I just had to … As a matter of fact, it was such a secretive thing that I couldn’t even really call my parents because they … One of the things you have to realize is that, in Birmingham, in Alabama in 1963, there was still the threat that if someone found out where we were staying … Because many of the people who were involved in my court case -- Arthur Shores and others-- their homes have been bombed. So there was some secrecy there, so very few people knew where we were. When we got up the next morning to leave, I couldn’t even call my parents or anything for fear that someone might leak where we were or what was going on. So that was the understanding that we had with the Attorney General’s office and all of his staff -- and John Dore, and others -- that we would just remain there.
But one of the things that you have to … I’d been in preparation for this for almost three years. I applied for admission to the University of Alabama when I graduated in 1960, and they repeatedly turned me down. So that was a lot of preparation. It wasn’t as if I’d just decided on a spur of the moment that this was something I wanted to do. My parents knew about the dangers of what was going on because they had been threatened many times. My little sister, Sharon, who was only a few years old at the time, had picked up the phone on occasion and had people yelling and saying names to her, and telling her that she was going to be killed. So all these things were going on. My parents were more than happy to comply and let the Justice Department ensure my safety.
MR. WILLIAMS: I heard them offering suggestions on what you might wear, that they wanted you to dress as if you were going to church, but not too boldly.
Did they give you the clothes?
MS. JONES: No, they did not. The interesting thing is that I knew about what I was going to wear anyway, because I had already purchased the clothes that I would take to wear to school. I think they were just being cautious about everything. They didn’t want us to go in … The people at the University of Alabama were very casual, as you noticed. And I felt comfortable too, because, with all the cameras and everything on you, I felt better being well-dressed, as opposed to, you know, wearing shorts …
MR. KATZENBACH: And John Dore leaves no stone unturned.
MS. JONES: Oh yes. And also, you heard …
MR. KATZENBACH: He’s an inspiration for anybody.
MR. WILLIAMS: He’s totally prepared. And then they had you over at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, preparing what you would say as you were questioned by reporters.
MS. JONES: Yes. And I had some concern there also, because I remember …
After George Wallace made that statement during his inaugural speech, I was at Alabama A&M, which was a school that was unaccredited. And I remember trying to elude the press and I went through a back door, going through my dorm … And when I finally got in there, they were sitting there, and they interviewed me. I saw the interview and it was so disjointed; I said, “Did I really say that?” So I realized that I was not an experienced person in terms of dealing with the press. It was good for me to know some of the kinds of questions that they would ask. And so I appreciated the briefings that they gave me.
MR. KATZENBACH: But those were done by the NAACP, not by the Justice Department.
MS. JONES: Not by the Justice Department.
MR. KATZENBACH: We tried to do a hands-off on that.
MR. WILLIAMS: So while they were prepping you, they weren’t prepping Vivian, but that was left to the NAACP.
MR. KATZENBACH: That’s right. It was their case.
MR. WILLIAMS: It’s their case.
MS. JONES: Yes. And also, one thing, too, Juan, is that … Remember, they had requests from Newsweek, Time, and other magazines who wanted to talk to us. And I was not, but I think James was a lot more experienced at dealing with the press, because he had been so involved in making speeches on behalf of the NAACP; I had not. So I really welcomed getting that additional information.
MR. WILLIAMS: Nick, there was a great deal of concern on the part of both the President and the Attorney General about the idea of picking up the little Governor. [laughter]
MR. KATZENBACH: I really never did quite understand them. The problem was they wanted to go through that door. The problem was not … When we reduced it to two things, that disappeared as a problem, but the idea was, “Well, if we have the troops there, what are the troops going to do?” They’re going to move the Governor, going to move him out of the doors, so that we could go through. It was really kind of silly.
MR. WILLIAMS: You proposed pushing him?
MR. KATZENBACH: Pushing him, or do whatever. And it had me concerned. I certainly didn’t want to do it, because I thought, “Well, what are the reactions going to be, of all the people there, perhaps?” The other problem, which is a serious one, was we didn’t want to arrest the Governor. In his home state? You would need a lot of troops to do that. And that really could set off very serious violence if we had arrested the Governor. And yet, he was clearly in contempt of the court order. There wasn’t any question in our mind that the judge who had issued the court order would order him arrested and … Because the judge didn’t want to issue the order. He was really forced to issue the order, so he would’ve lost his share in the violence that might aggravate reaction to this by the white citizens.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, speaking of the white citizens, I didn’t hear a voice from any white citizen in the state raised in opposition to the Governor’s position. And I wonder if that was your experience, as a representative of the federal government and the Kennedy administration, as you were working down there.
MR. KATZENBACH: Generally, yes, but there were a few people who were really … A few whites, indeed, including the Tuscaloosa newspaper. I remember it; it was the Tuscaloosa. This was one of the newspapers that …
MR. WILLIAMS: Editorialized in favor of admission of Vivian.
MR. KATZENBACH: Yes, said, “You’ve got to comply with the court order,” which was a very courageous thing to do.
MS. JONES: Yes. Also, there were a group of business people from Tuscaloosa who met with President Rose -- Frank Rose -- and said, “We don’t want violence on the campus either.” And they said, “What can we do?” I remember it was Frank LaMader(?) and some other people who met with him -- and these were white people -- to try to ameliorate any kind of effort/situation on the campus, because they really wanted their campus. It wasn’t so much about me, as it was that they did not want any violence. I remember even sitting in a meeting when it was said, “We don’t want another Mississippi.” That was clear; they did not want another Mississippi. And I got the impression that some of the people there, at the university, or a number of them on the administration did not want George Wallace on campus that day.
MR. KATZENBACH: No, they certainly didn’t at the university.
It was the Anniston paper that I was thinking about.
MR. WILLIAMS: Why didn’t you ask the president of the university then, or administrators from the university, to join you?
MR. KATZENBACH: I think, probably, it would have put them in too difficult a position as far as the university was concerned. They did a lot of other things. They gave us the key to the dormitory rooms; they made those arrangements for us. And when I took them into the dormitory …One of the things we’d had with Meredith at Ol’ Miss was the problem of using the cafeteria. I said, “Vivian, you’ve got to use the cafeteria right now.” President Frank Rose said, “You can’t do that; there’ll be a problem.” And I said, “No, there’ll be a problem if she doesn’t.”
MR. WILLIAMS: So, Vivian, what happened?
MS. JONES: Well, I gained 13 pounds that summer. [laughter] He told me I had to go to the cafeteria; I went three times, every day, plus to the snack bar at night.
MR. KATZENBACH: … (inaudible) watched you grow.
MS. JONES: But, yes, I did go now. Most of the time, I sat by myself. A few times, people did get up and leave. And, then, on some occasions, some people came over. So it was a kind of a mixed reaction. But I would say about 80% of the time I sat by myself when I went to the cafeteria, but I did go. And I was there. I was a student, so I took advantage of whatever there was that was available to me while I was there. And the only thing … I’d already joined a sorority, so I didn’t try to pledge a sorority. I know that would not have happened either. [laughter] But fortunately, I didn’t even have to go that way.
MR. WILLIAMS: And, by the way, we keep referencing Mississippi. Had you met James Meredith?
MS. JONES: I did not; I didn’t meet James Meredith until the ‘80s. Now a lot of us that conversed back and forth with some of the other students from Georgia, from Clemson, and Mississippi … We had some conversations, but I did not get to meet him until in the ‘80s.
MR. WILLIAMS: And, Nick, were you thinking about exactly what had happened and using the Meredith situation as a template for plans here?
MR. KATZENBACH: As a template for what not to do, rather than what to do, I think. There were a lot of reasons why we didn’t do well at Mississippi and not all of them reflect badly on Bobby or President Kennedy, or anybody else. But what we did just didn’t work. And we were just determined that was not going to happen again.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, tell us a little more. Exactly what did you do there that you didn’t replicate in Alabama?
MR. KATZENBACH: Well, one of the things we did there was we had five or six hundred marshals, so called, from various law enforcement people, sworn in as marshals. And because Bobby was -- and I think the President was -- very interested in not nationalizing the Guard because he would not be using troops if he could avoid it. The theory was that it would be much better if we used civilian law enforcement officials. “Marshals normally enforce the law; let’s have them enforce the law.” And it was a perfectly good idea. It just wasn’t workable at all. They wanted the troops; politically, that’s what they wanted.
MR. WILLIAMS: When you say they, you mean ...?
MR. KATZENBACH: I mean the Southerners wanted the troops.
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s what I’m thinking.
MR. KATZENBACH: If they were going to give up, they weren’t going to give up anything civilian, anything connected with the court. Court was in bad repute in the South then, because of the Brown case. And because the courts were ordering all these things … There was no legislation. One of the interesting things was that, parenthetically, after the President’s speech and when we did get the Civil Rights Act -- was the most remarkable thing -- is that that was accepted in the South in a way that orders of the court never were.
MR. WILLIAMS: The President’s speech was accepted in the South …
MR. KATZENBACH: Not the President’s speech, but when the Congress acted.
MR. WILLIAMS: Although legislation …
MR. KATZENBACH: Legislation made a world of difference, in terms of …
Well, they didn’t like it, but they did not resist it as they resisted the court orders.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, we’re sitting here in November of 2003, and in watching the film you can’t get away from a notion of seeing President Kennedy alive, seeing him take action. This is someone you knew intimately and worked with. Nick, what do you think forty years later?
MR. KATZENBACH: I think President Kennedy had the potential to be one of the greatest presidents that we ever have had. He only served a thousand days; he did a lot in those thousand days. And if he’d had five more years, I think he would’ve been one of the great presidents in our history. I don’t think, one, people today can appreciate that speech. That was an enormously courageous speech that he made -- politically courageous, because Wallace was right. The South was going to go away from the Democratic party if that speech was made. He made that speech, and that was the first time, despite the efforts of other presidents -- Eisenhower enforced it, court order at Little Rock, assimilated the army -- but that was the first time that any president of the United States had recognized that this was a moral issue. That seems strange today, but that was something then.
MR. WILLIAMS: Vivian, did you meet the President?
MS. JONES: I did not get a chance to meet the President. I did meet the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy; he invited us out to his home. And I got a chance to meet Mrs. Kennedy and, of course, his children. But I never got a chance … As a matter of fact, I didn’t even meet George Wallace, personally, until 1995.
MR. WILLIAMS: When you received that award?
MS. JONES: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: Now, a few days there, after you began school, the assassination occurs.
MS. JONES: Yes, that was a real sad moment, because I’d only been in school-- this was in November, of course -- I was just starting my first full semester. And to get the news on the radio … As I’m listening, at that point …. I guess for a long time on campus, whenever they said, “We interrupt this broadcast,” I would literally shake, because I’d wonder, “Who have they gotten now?” That was just a sad occasion, because I felt so … He was so much a part of my life. Even though I never met him personally, he had meant so much to me and to, I think, all African Americans at that point in our lives. It was sad.
And then, the other part of it was, I realized at that point too, that a President had been assassinated, and here I was on a campus, surrounded by people who could very easily have taken my life. So I had to muster up a lot of strength to go on, realizing that it could happen any day. Every day that I walked out on that campus, I had to realize that my life could be taken. It had been threatened, many times, but I had to just muster up that strength, every day, and go to campus, go to my classes. And then, not only go to classes … You had to try to make good grades.
But it was one of the saddest moments of my life when that happened.
MR. WILLIAMS: You weren’t wearing a bulletproof vest or anything when you walked up there?
MS. JONES: No.
MR. WILLIAMS: Nick, were you?
MR. KATZENBACH: No. It would’ve been too hot. [laughter]
MR. WILLIAMS: I heard about you complaining about that heat to Kerry there.
MS. JONES: Yes, it was hot.
MR. WILLIAMS: But, you know, in fact, violence touches not only the President, but then the Attorney General and George Wallace, the three principles there. I don’t know exactly what that says about us or the moment as Americans, but all three.
Well, let’s stop there, and turn to the audience and ask people to come to the two microphones that are set up in the aisles, and ask you to identify yourself and keep your questions brief, if possible.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is James; thank you very much. I wanted to touch on something that Mr. Katzenbach eluded to, that in a way …. And I only saw the second half of the film. The most striking moment was when Wallace talks about the South and sort of that the South is going to take it out on in the national political arena. And, indeed, they did, as did the Republican party. There has been, what everybody knows of now as the big realignment … Right now, it’s the Republican Party.
It’s a two-part question. Did the Democratic party make a mistake, in the judgment of either of you, in not embracing the challenge of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party the following year? Could that have made a difference? Could there have been a different … Could history have played out differently, perhaps, if that had happened -- even in terms of the war in Vietnam, some argue.
The second part of the question is, now we have Howard Dean, in his awkward way, talking about the Confederate flag as an, I think, attempt to reach out to the white working class voters in the South. This has been challenged in some ways, rightly so, perhaps because of the misunderstanding of the symbolism, but nonetheless, the issue still remains. What needs to be done now? There’s even a debate whether the Democratic party even needs to win the South. Some people think, “Forget it; just focus on battleground states in the Midwest.” So I just would like to hear some comments on these issues.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, sure. Nick, I’m going to ask you to go first on what you think of the possibility of the administration having supported the Mississippi Freedom Democrats in ’64.
MR. KATZENBACH: I don’t really think it would’ve made any difference, quite frankly, if they had. I think they probably should have. I don’t think that would have changed anything very much, as far as the South was concerned. I think what you have to remember, unhappy as it is, is that there is a great deal of racial prejudice that still exists in the United States, and it’s not confined to the southern states at all. It exists everywhere. And that has been played on … And George Wallace led the way. He showed people, in 1968, “You can’t run as a racist, but you sure can be a racist and not call yourself one, and use race as a weapon.” And he did, and people have learned from that. And it continues to be used.
I think Howard Dean is right. I would like others to do the same thing. I think there’s room in the South, because the Republican party is not really the party that those people ought to be supporting. It’s just racial prejudice, and that’s played on by Southern politicians, as it’s played on by Northern politicians, still. We haven’t conquered that problem yet; we’ve made an awful lot of progress perhaps, but boy, there’s a lot of it that remains.
MR. WILLIAMS: Vivian, how do you view the politics of that era?
MS. JONES: Well, see, for me, I agreed so whole-heartedly with President Kennedy when he said it was a moral issue. It’s difficult for me, even when people said, “You know, George Wallace really didn’t mean it; it was merely political.” But for someone to take a stand -- I know it didn’t show up in the film -- but I remember what he said, and he said that he drew a line, and that no black person should ever cross that line. And he spoke very much about why he felt that the races should be separated -- even took it to a point of a spiritual level.
And that, to me, was … I just couldn’t imagine that anyone could say that, if you are a Christian -- as he purported to be -- that he could say that I was less than he! That any black person, no matter who they were, no matter where they came from, no matter what they had, that they had no right to go to that university, or do anything that was available or participate in anything that was available to white people. So for me, it was … Yes, a party had to give up the South to take a moral stand. I felt that it was an appropriate thing to do.
You don’t know … When I went in to do a mock vote at the University of Alabama, and my choice was not the Democratic Party; it was Dixiecrats. I had to vote Republican, if I were to vote. I just couldn’t vote in the mock thing because I had a choice of Goldwater or the Dixiecrats. And to me, that just wasn’t a choice. That was not a choice that any African American in the South just could truly make and feel good about it. And I know, ultimately, black people did vote for George Wallace; I know he made some amends, he made some apologies, and some things did change. But I don’t think that, in terms of that -- this is my personal opinion -- is that I felt that the moral issue was more important to this nation than even the election of the President, first of all.
MR. WILLIAMS: Now you later met with the Governor when you were given this award. By that time, he’s in a wheelchair, an elderly man. What did he say to you? What was the response?
MS. JONES: Well, he basically said that he wanted forgiveness. And when I talked with his daughter Peggy, when they agreed to give me the award -- which was named after his wife, who had also been a governor of the state of Alabama -- and what she said was that he wanted to, before he died, to make amends. We had never had the opportunity to meet. He had never been able to personally apologize or ask for forgiveness, and that was basically what that meeting was about. I was presented that award during that same occasion, and I really told him that I’d forgiven him so many years prior to that, that it wasn’t necessary for me to meet with him. But he felt that it was necessary, so I did it more for him than for myself.
MR. WILLIAMS: You said you’d forgiven him many years earlier?
MS. JONES: Oh yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: And why did you do that?
MS. JONES: This may sound really weird. I’m a Christian, and I grew up in the church. And I was taught that no other person was better than I, that we were all equal in the eyes of God. I was also taught that you forgive people, no matter what. And that was why I had to do it. I didn’t feel as if I had a choice.
MR. WILLIAMS: Did you have any kind of a personal relationship with Wallace?
MR. KATZENBACH: No, and I don’t think I really ever forgave him. [laughter]
MR. WILLIAMS: I think you’re better than I am.
MR. KATZENBACH: Maybe.
MR. WILLIAMS: He didn’t call you down there to give you an award, Nick?
MR. KATZENBACH: No. I don’t think he gave me an award, I don’t think. [laughter]
MR. WILLIAMS: Another question, please.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, my name is Pat, and I was very interested in the film and the way it showed the conflict between state and federal rights. In fact, it’s probably the clearest example I’ve ever seen of that kind of conflict that occurs. And I’m curious to know -- I know there was a lot of discussion prior to sending in the troops when you were arranging the schedule and the dynamics -- was there any discussion of not calling in the troops? I mean, I understand that Wallace apparently needed this showdown and the troops to save face, but what if the troops had not been called in? And, instead, would he have responded to somebody like JFK or Bobby, if, let’s say, they were put on the phone? Or if they were present?
MR. KATZENBACH: No, I don’t think so at all. First, I don’t think Bobby could have been … Would’ve been a real risk, real danger, if Bobby had been there. And I think that probably would have caused a riot, because of the attitude that so many white Southerners had about the Kennedys. After all, both the President and Bobby had attempted to deal, time and time again, with Ross Barnett and the University of Mississippi unsuccessfully. And the fact that that was one of the reasons that there was a riot there -- was they had delayed and delayed and talked and tried to find a compromise and so forth, and it didn’t work. So we had no communication, really, with -- no direct communication with -- Wallace and all. I don’t think it would’ve made any difference either. He wanted to stand in the school house door; that was a popular thing to do. And I think if you look at this, the South had the support of the Supreme Court for sixty years. They’d done it under a law that said that they were perfectly able to discriminate in the way in which they were discriminating. It wasn’t until 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision and said, “No, you can’t discriminate; that’s against the 14th Amendment and Equal Protection of the Laws.” That was hugely resented in the South. And we had the obligation to enforce any order that the courts made, and that was a hugely unpopular thing. When I say unpopular, I don’t mean it wasn’t right. I just mean that the South … They had lived with segregation. It had had the blessing of the Supreme Court, and they resented the Supreme Court changing its mind.
MR. WILLIAMS: But, clearly, one of the points that the questioner asked was central to the film in terms of Wallace’s thinking, time and again [and] represents that he is for the powers of the sovereign state of Alabama as opposed to having rules imposed by the “central government,” as he called it. But that argument had not carried the day in the courts, and he didn’t …
MR. KATZENBACH: That argument didn’t carry the day in 1961, either -- exactly the same argument -- that in a sovereign state, the federal government could not impose its will on them, unless they agreed to it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Could I just add to that, too? Because the problem with the flag on the South Carolina statehouse-- if Wallace had a pattern -- that we will always have to call out the militia because the South will never surrender unless “we are overcome,” basically, which is what he was saying -- and that pattern has extended until now, I mean it just seems kind of odd that we can’t come up with an alternative, that, through communication, is somehow a little less hard on everyone.
MR. KATZENBACH: Well, in a way, I would submit that we have. I mean, certainly the business community in the South wants the same rules as the business community at any other place. They don’t want anything separate. They don’t want to be separated from the rest of the country. And I think that’s generally true. But, as I say, there’s still a lot of racial prejudice, but in my view, the South has handled the question of race better than it has been handled in large cities in the North.
MR. WILLIAMS: Another question, please.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I was wondering if you could tell us what the circumstances were under which you first saw the film, and what your initial impressions of it were. And, also, what the President and the Attorney General thought?
MR. WILLIAMS: Clearly, The New York Times didn’t like it, according to Deborah’s reading of that editorial. [laughter]
MR. KATZENBACH: I didn’t hear the …
MR. WILLIAMS: What was the President’s reaction? What was the Attorney General’s reaction? What was your reaction when you saw the film, and when did you see it the first time?
MR. KATZENBACH: In the South?
MR. WILLIAMS: No, when did you see this film at all, the first time?
MR. KATZENBACH: Oh, I saw it when it was on television. And I don’t know what year that was, but it was ’66, maybe ’65? I don’t know.
MR. WILLIAMS: Oh, it was soon … Within a matter of a few years, it was on television?
MR. KATZENBACH: Oh, yes; it was on then, yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: Vivian, what was your reaction when you first saw it?
MS. JONES: I liked it, as a matter of fact. What I thought about was … I was kind of in awe, when you really look at it, even though I had personally been involved in it. Somehow, to see it, and to see the presidential involvement and the extent of everybody … I was just awestruck by it, realizing that, even though I felt that I was just trying to go to school -- and that was my position, and that was the way I really felt about it -- but then to realize that I had the full impact of the federal government, and then to watch it … It really gave me a whole different feel for it, to see I had not really been privy to all of the negotiations. I got a piecemeal from Katzenbach, some from John Dore, and some from my lawyers. But I had never really seen that, and it was … I thought, “Oh my god, does it take this for a person to go to school?”
And I want to comment on the young lady’s question there, where she talks about, “Does it take all of that?” And sometimes it does, because while Governor Wallace couched everything in terms of states’ rights versus federal government, it was clear -- he didn’t mention it as much in that film -- but he was clearly talking about not letting us go to those schools, not letting us get into any of these facilities. It became an issue, which I thought he brought to the forefront, making it states’ versus federal. But it was really about plain, outright racism. It was just as overt as anything you ever want to see in your life, and he’s telling us, “You can’t go to school.”
Now, if it has to be states’ rights versus federal government intervention, then it had to be that way. He couldn’t sit there any longer and tell me I couldn’t go to a school when they had two state schools in Alabama -- Alabama State and A&M, both of which became unaccredited in December of 1961. There were no other schools available for us, so we had to go to the university. We had no choice. So however you want to call it, whether you call it states’ rights or whatever, it was just racism. That’s all it was.
MR. WILLIAMS: We have another question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Vivian, on behalf of the human race, I want to thank you for your courage. I’m sure you’ve heard this many times -- and if you haven’t, and if you have, one more time won’t hurt -- what a wonderful thing you have done, to provide courage, to provide a model for our kids today, to know what it means to step forward and realize what you want to do, and to do it. So, thank you, for the human race.
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s very nice.
We have another question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, Vivian, thinking back to your age at the time -- I’ve got a son who’s nineteen and in college right now, second year -- and you spoke about being at the university, being by yourself in the cafeteria. I’m sure that was something you knew ahead of time, that you knew you would be alone, that you knew you wouldn’t have any support. And unlike some of the sit-ins and some of the bus trips they took, where you could get support in a group, you were going to be all alone. And you knew that in advance. Aside from what you just said about you had no choice, did you really have no choice at other schools? I mean, what were the opportunities for you to go to other black schools and get an education? Or did you have those opportunities? Did you have those choices? Because, to me, to go out and do what you did takes an awful lot of courage. I cannot imagine my children being able to do that, as isolated as you were, and I just can’t imagine somebody at nineteen -- or at eighteen, as you said you had started that thought process when you got out of high school -- I just can’t imagine anybody thinking that much and having that much courage at that age to be able to put themselves in that position. Would you address that, please?
MS. JONES: There were several reasons, and I’ll just lead up to what happened initially. I did not expect a Governor to stand in the door; I really didn’t. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, which had been a relatively quiet town in terms of race relations. So we didn’t really have a lot of demonstrations and marches in Mobile. They’d been negotiated out pretty much by the leaders. When I was approached by some of our civil rights leaders in Mobile, along with about five other students, to go and register -- apply, rather -- for admission to the University of Alabama
Extension Center in Mobile -- which was almost walking distance from my house. I lived in downtown Mobile -- it just seemed like the perfect thing to do. So I applied for admission. And there were five of us that went down.
But by the time they finished threatening us, our families … We received visits from representatives of the Governor’s office -- it was not even Wallace at that time; it was Governor Patterson -- and by the time all of this happened, everybody dropped out.
So I was the only one that was left at that point that wrote Thurgood Marshall and asked him to accept my application -- not my application, but my case -- with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He agreed to do it, and assigned Constance Baker Motley to be the lead attorney in my case. So I pursued mine always … I didn’t even know James Hood was going to be a part of it, until, really, the very last minute. I was happy to see him, but I didn’t expect … I just knew I had to do this by myself. My parents supported me. Now, while I had two brothers that went to Tuskegee, there were a lot of us in our family, and I just didn’t have a lot of money to go to out of state schools. I really did not. And the more I thought about it … “Why should I go to another school when there’s a school within walking from my home? I could stay at home.” The few scholarships I had would have lasted me for two years, and then I’ve got to go somewhere else and I would’ve spent up all my scholarship money on out of state fees.
So it was practical for me, but it also meant that I had a right to do this. I’d seen them cement the playground in our neighborhood that was white with these white people … It was in our neighborhood, but when they saw we were coming, they just poured cement in it. They closed down the school that was directly -- it was a Catholic school -- but it was right in front of our home, that my sisters … I mean, they just closed everything down to us.
And I just felt like, “You just have to do what you have to do. You just can’t sit back and let people tell you, over and over again, ‘You’re not good enough.’ ” I scored in the 99th percentile; I had a 3.8 average. So why shouldn’t I have gone? I just wasn’t ready to back down. And I said, “If George Wallace is going to stand there, I’m going to find me some help.” And, fortunately, the NAACP filed a motion, and I was able to make it through. But you just have to get that commitment, that, you know, no one has the right to tell you you can’t go to your state school.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, it’s a marvel though, at nineteen, that you had such composure. It really is admirable.
MS. JONES: Yes, but, you know, there were a lot of things going on now. Bear in mind now that -- if you think about it -- most of the movements down in the South were headed by a lot of students. You had the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee … A lot of the young people were involved. So it seemed like the normal thing to do, to be involved. It didn’t seem so radical at the time.
You can say it’s radical now, but back then, it didn’t.
MR. WILLIAMS: All right, we have another question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good evening. I, too, was struck by the immense amount of maturity and poise you showed throughout those hours. Growing up as a young boy in the North -- as a white boy -- you were a hero to me then, and you’re a hero to me now, as I’m sure you are to many people here in the room.
But following up on the Attorney General’s observation earlier, that the sort of movement went down a little bit more gently in the South -- maybe there’s more resistance in the North -- I’m wondering, as one of the early leaders and heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, how far have we really come as a country in the last four decades from your standpoint?
MS. JONES: I think we have made a lot of progress. There’s no sense in my being … I’m not naïve to that. I looked at the University of Alabama statistics -- 14% of their population is African American. Now that’s high by most standards. I don’t know where you go to school, but I would imagine that there probably are not too many universities anywhere in the nation that would have much higher … And I don’t mean predominantly; I’m talking about your traditional universities. I know we don’t have any in Georgia with that level.
So I think we have made a lot of progress. I think there is still racism out there. I think we still have a lot to overcome. We haven’t gotten to that point where I can just truly say to my children that “everything is open to you.” My daughter went to dental school and she encountered it there. I mean, this is in the ‘90s. My sister went to school at -- I hate to call the name -- but even there, and even in some of the northern schools … I can remember when she was doing her residency, that she didn’t get selected, even though she was the top person in the class and she was a black woman. They said, “You know, it could’ve been political.” I don’t know, but I know she didn’t get selected. So there are things that are still happening out there that I’m appalled at so many things, with our system -- the justice system -- that we have right now -- needs a lot of improvement. It’s just a lot, and it’s even hard … Like I know in terms of black elected officials; they’ve done very well in the South.
MR. WILLIAMS: Nick, I was going to ask you to jump in, because we see so many of the arguments continue to be legal arguments, such as the University of Michigan case just recently. How would you, from the perspective of both the former Deputy Attorney General, former Attorney General, view that question?
MR. KATZENBACH: Well, I think we have made a good deal of progress, because I think that, between Affirmative Action and the Civil Rights Act, we have got an increasing black middle class, which I think is extremely important. But there’s an awful lot of people who have been left behind in this. And, unhappily, in major cities of this country in particular, we live in a very highly segregated society. It’s not segregated by law, but segregated in fact. Indeed, today, the schools of this country are more segregated than they were at the time that Brown v. Board of Education was decided. That’s an appalling statistic, but it is because … What has happened, as you start to desegregate the cities, people moved to the suburbs; business moved to the suburbs. And so we continue to have a segregated society here. And it’s true in Boston, it’s true in Philadelphia and New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, wherever you want.
MR. WILLIAMS: We have two last questions. Please, go right ahead.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. My name is Mike Bailey. I’m from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we’ve just elected our first female governor the other night. She happens to be Democrat, by the way.
But several questioners eluded to the Confederate flag, and, Mr. Nick, you said that the North was more segregated than the South. I was wondering … About two weeks ago, Mississippi elected a Republican governor, Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the National Republican Party. His platform was, “Vote for Barbour and save the Confederate flag.” Two years ago, in the federal election, one of the techniques that was used to seal the election in Florida for Bush was the intimidation of African American students. So I was wondering if you could really say that the South has improved and the North is worse than the South.
MR. KATZENBACH: I didn’t mean to hold up the South as perfection. [laughter] I was thinking, as much as anything, about school desegregation, which I think has, in fact, been much better in the South than it has been in the North. And I think that, now, at least they got rid of the Confederate flag, if I understand correctly, at the University of Mississippi.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You know, the other day, I was watching the Ol’ Miss game, and they were running up and down the field, waving the flag that your leaders were …
MR. KATZENBACH: Yup. I talked to the chancellor there, just recently, and I know where his heart is on it, and he wants to get rid of that. He wants to get rid of that rather silly mascot, that they have there …
MR. WILLIAMS: Johnny Rebel.
MR. KATZENBACH: And I believe that the football coach is saying, “We can’t recruit players if we have this mascot.”
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s true. Now, we have one last …
AUDIENCE MEMBER: They play Dixie after each touchdown over there.
MR. WILLIAMS: We have one last question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, I’m wondering what did General Graham say to Mr. Wallace, and how long, between the two confrontations on the steps? Thank you.
MR. KATZENBACH: How long was it?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, first, what did General Graham say to Governor Wallace?
MR. KATZENBACH: Well, what General Graham said to Governor Wallace was that he was asking him to remove himself. But he said it with, in my view, much too much deference to the Governor. He had asked me beforehand if the
Governor could make a speech, and I said no. Then I said, “Well, if he keeps it to 30 seconds, he can make a speech.” [laughter] And I think he did. He just said(?), and went out. But Graham was a Southerner, and he referred to him as “his Governor.” He obviously didn’t like his duty, but he did it.
MS. JONES: I can remember what he said. He said, “It is my sad duty” -- that’s what he said -- “to ask you to step aside.” It was a sad day for him.
MR. WILLIAMS: And how much time elapsed between the first and the second attempts?
MR. KATZENBACH: About 11 o’clock until about 4 o’clock, 3:30 maybe-- ran after four hours, I think.
MR. WILLIAMS: After four hours. And, in that time, you were in the dorm and nervous?
MR. KATZENBACH: Yes.
MS. JONES: I sat there in the car until the initial confrontation. We were in that hot car in 98 degrees. And then, of course …
MR. KATZENBACH: I think you had air conditioning; I didn’t. [laughter]
MS. JONES: We had our windows down, because we wanted to see what was going on. But I did leave, and some people asked me, “Well, how many dresses did you have to change in to that day?” because, if you noticed, I had on black. I said, “Well, just in case this is time for mourning, I’m going to put my black on.” [laughter] But when I found out we could go, I changed into a pink outfit. But it had been hot out there, so we really didn’t have any choice but to change clothes.
MR. WILLIAMS: Nick, one final question for you. Did you really think that the microphone couldn’t hear you on that private conversation you were having with the Attorney General?
MR. KATZENBACH: No, but what happened … You mean the one from the car?
MR. WILLIAMS: Yes, when you told him that car ...
MR. KATZENBACH: I feel unhappy about The New York Times being so criticized, but the next day The New York Times had a story and said how ridiculous this was for me to shoo away all the reporters because I was talking, and had television people who were hearing it. Of course, the television people who were hearing it was Bob Drew’s people, who weren’t doing anything about it.
MR. WILLIAMS: Oh, so it didn’t go on the air or on the wire services for them to pick it up?
MR. KATZENBACH: No, it didn’t go on the air. No, not at all. They didn’t hear it. But The New York Times thought somebody had, and they hadn’t, and they thought that was unfair. [laughter]
MR. WILLIAMS: I can see their position.
I just wanted to, first, thank you, Nick Katzenbach. It’s so intriguing and such a rich experience to see someone who played such a central role in history, who stood up at a key moment in American history and, I think, did the American people and the American republic proud. So, Nick Katzenbach -- I hope everyone here joins me in just congratulating you.
And, Vivian Malone, I just can’t add much to what an earlier questioner said by way of saluting your courage and determination -- especially at the rather young age of nineteen -- in doing what you did. It was extraordinary, and today you stand here -- sit here, I should say -- as a true American hero. And thank you very much for what you did.
MR. KATZENBACH: I do resent a little that she looks almost the same now as she looked then. [laughter]
MS. JONES: I wish that were so.
MR. WILLIAMS: It’s a gift of God, Nick.
And we want to thank all of you for coming out tonight, and joining us for this event. Thank you very much.