JUNE 11, 2003

JOHN SHATTUCK:  Good evening and welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library.  I’m John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation.  And on behalf of myself and Deborah Leff, our Library Director, who is right here tonight, and Paul Kirk, chairman of the Foundation’s board, I want to thank the sponsors of this series of forums: Fleet Boston Financial, the Lowell Institute, Boston Globe, Boston Capital, WBUR and boston.com.  

And I want to give special thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation who have made possible a wonderful series of forums: Seeking Common Ground: Civil Rights and Human Rights, of which tonight’s forum is a gem.

Let me also urge those of you who have not recently been to our museum downstairs, to please do so.  You will see an exhibit featuring President Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  And you can pick up coupons on your way out that will allow you to go into the museum at a special rate for our forum goers.

Tonight we are here to explore the complicated and very productive relationship between two of the most powerful men of their time.  John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King were drawn together by the moral crisis of racism that ripped America in the early 1960s as it had for so long before and in many ways as it has continued to do.  

In some ways, they were partners and their relationship set the stage for the greatest achievements of the civil rights movement.  To help us understand that complex relationship between Dr. King and President Kennedy and what it should mean to us today, we are very fortunate to have with us three extraordinary writers and historians, whose lives have been spent interpreting the civil rights movement and living in some instances within it.  

Before introducing them, I want to take just a moment to set the stage for our discussion tonight by quoting the words of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy about the aspirations of the civil rights movement during the time Kennedy was president.  In the fall of 1962, after a number of complicated encounters, as we will hear more tonight, with the Kennedy administration, Dr. King visited the president in the White House and he issued a challenge.  

And as they passed through the Lincoln Room and its framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. King said to President Kennedy, “Mr. President, I’d like to see you stand in this room and sign a second Emancipation Proclamation, outlawing segregation 100 years after Lincoln’s.  You could base it on the 14th amendment to the Constitution.”

Now, 40 years ago today, tonight, in fact, just hours from now, on June 11, 1963, President Kennedy responded to King’s great challenge in a televised address to the nation on civil rights.  Let’s listen to King’s challenge to Kennedy’s response and to the end of King’s famous speech two months later at the march on Washington.


SHATTUCK:  The story behind these historic statements is dramatic, complex, and often painful.  It is impossible for us here at the Kennedy Library to imagine three more thoughtful interpreters of that story than Taylor Branch, Roger Wilkins, and Tom Wicker.  Taylor Branch is one of our nation’s foremost authorities on the civil rights movement and biographer of the man who stood at the center of the movement, Martin Luther King.  

Taylor’s monumental volume, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989.  And nine years later in 1998, he published his second volume, Pillar of Fire, America in the King Years, 1963-1965, to critical acclaim.  Now he is working to finish the third and final installment of his extraordinary King trilogy.  

Taylor became fascinated with Martin Luther King while he was a student in the mid-1960s in the University of North Carolina.  He is the author of two novels and several other books about the struggle for civil rights and human rights.  He’s been a friend and advisor to President Clinton and was the author of Clinton’s first inaugural address.  And I’m very proud to say that Taylor and I have also been friends for over 30 years.  And one of the fruits of our friendship is the inspiration that he has given to his goddaughter, my daughter, in all the work that he has done.

Roger Wilkins has had a long and distinguished career in public affairs and journalism.  He worked in the civil rights movement and later served as assistant attorney general in the Johnson administration, and is a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.  Roger, in 1972, shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Post’s Watergate coverage and later wrote editorials for The New York Times.  His most recent book, Jefferson’s Pillow:  America and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism, won great acclaim and the 2002 NAIBA Book Award for nonfiction.  

And his highly acclaimed autobiography A Man’s Life, published in 1982, was re-issued in 1991. Roger has chaired the Pulitzer Prize Board, the Board of Trustees of the African American Institute, and served on the board of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in addition to many other commitments to public service.  

Tom Wicker, who will moderate this afternoon’s discussion, is one of our nation’s foremost journalists.  He began covering American politics during the Kennedy administration when he was in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, where he became bureau chief in 1964.  And for 25 years, from 1966 until his retirement in 1991, Tom wrote one of America’s most widely read and favorite political columns, “In the Nation,” which appeared twice a week in The New York Times.  His latest book, Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America, was published in 1996.  

So please join me in welcoming to the stage of the Kennedy Library, Taylor Branch, Roger Wilkins, and Tom Wicker.


TOM WICKER:  Taylor, I believe you are going to start off today.

TAYLOR BRANCH:  I’m very grateful to John Shattuck and the Library for having us.  This is a great topic to talk about, 40 years ago today, what it meant.  I can’t imagine two better people to be sitting here.  So I’m looking forward to the exchange.  I rarely …  This is about a transition.  John talked about a partnership.  But the partnership was an enormous transition over time.  I rarely read things that I write when books come out.  But I want to read just one story.

Kennedy came into office in 1961, in the spring.  It was the centennial anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, and also in the spring.  Kennedy’s only early involvement directly in the racial crisis occurred over the centennial commemoration of the attack on Fort Sumner.  I’m going to read you just … This shows where the partnership started, from Kennedy’s point of view.  

“Trouble stirred in Charleston, South Carolina, where reporters learned that a Negro delegate to the National Civil War Commission would not be permitted to stay in the hotel hosting the commemoration of the battle of Fort Sumner.  When the legislature of New Jersey, home state of the delegate, passed a resolution urging all states to boycott the opening ceremonies, President Kennedy bowed to pressure and wrote a letter to General Ulysses S. Grant, III, chairman of the Commission, stating that all delegates deserved equal treatment as officials of a government body.  

“This earned him only scorching rejoinders from the Southern delegates who maintained that the President had no authority over the private affairs of South Carolina hotels.  This controversy escalated rapidly. General Grant supported the South against Kennedy, declaring that the Commission’s business was to commemorate the war and not to interfere in racial matters.  

“New York, California, and Illinois joined New Jersey in calling for a boycott.  Administration officials scrambling now that the authority of the President had been publicly invoked, eventually conceded that they could not force any suitable Charleston hotel to integrate for the occasion.  To save face, they did muster the votes to move the centennial banquet out of the segregated hotel to a US naval base, three miles outside Charleston, only to have the Southerners gleefully notify reporters that the Navy still segregated its own personnel at that base.

“Then on the eve of the Fort Sumner ceremony, a Southern delegate made a speech to the Commission, containing what Northern delegates called slurs on the ancestry of President Abraham Lincoln, racial and otherwise.  After an escalating exchange of insults, the Commission delegation acted out an upside down parody of Civil War politics.  Northerners called on President Kennedy to relieve General Grant from the commemoration for failing to preserve the honor of the federal government, while southerners rallied to support the grandson of the man whose troops had mowed down their forebears from Shiloh to Appomattox.”

This is the atmosphere in which King first tried to appeal to President Kennedy.  He couldn’t get in the door.  John talked about making this proposal a year and a half later for the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1963.  They appealed.  The whole movement was an appeal to the nation to rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed through the federal government.  And he appealed to every component branch of it: the judges, the executive branch, and the Congress.

Nothing worked until Birmingham in the spring of ’63 when demonstrations broke all across the country, the dogs and the fire hoses.  There were 758 demonstrations in April and May of 1963.  By the end of May 1963, President Kennedy inched toward an awkward and, through intermediaries, first cooperation with King to support an agreement down there in Birmingham to end the demonstration.  

And King said that he didn’t want federal troops to come in.  And President Kennedy’s man, Burke Marshall, kind of sounded him out as to whether he was going to do that but didn’t have the nerve to ask him directly for fear that King would call for troops.  But King said if the President sends troops, the businessmen in Birmingham that had made the agreement to end segregation would not be able to live politically in Birmingham, if they took the side of both the local blacks, who they were being attacked by the segregationists, and the federal government.  So he didn’t call for troops.

That’s the first tentative signs of cooperation.  And only a few days later when the demonstrations keep spreading all across the country, President Kennedy said he is going to have to introduce the Civil Rights Bill, which is what he announced in that speech you saw, where he said for the first time, “This is a moral issue.”  What happened just before that, Roger’s uncle, Roy, went to Mississippi, because there were demonstrations everywhere, even in Mississippi.  

Medgar Evers, who had opposed demonstrations, because that was not the NAACP style, went to jail in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 31st.  There were 600 people in jail.  And Roy Wilkins flew down and went to jail with them, the first time he’d been to jail since the 1930s.  And that night Martin Luther King said on a conference call, “We’ve baptized brother Wilkins.  This is time for a national breakthrough.”  And he proposed the March on Washington.

President Kennedy had this speech just a few days later, tied to what happened in Alabama but mostly to announce the fact that he was going to try to end the demonstrations once and for all by proposing legislation that would end segregation nationwide.  And that’s what he did in this speech.  

But what to me is most significant about this speech, beyond the movement toward and active cooperation for the first time in what had begun so awkwardly only two years earlier, was that he changed the vocabulary that the White House was using about civil rights, which previously had been …  He criticized segregation as irrational, said it was irrational.  

Here he said, “It’s a moral issue.”  And the signature line in this speech is, “It is as clear as the Constitution and as old as the Scriptures,” which are the same two feet that King used in his rhetoric and the movement used throughout history, to put one foot in the Scriptures and the other in our founding patriotic documents of the quality for the sturdiness of a movement that came to change the world.  

But the partnership was just beginning.  And you need to remember the Centennial Commission and how awkward it was in the beginning to realize what it meant for President Kennedy to put the partisan structure of American politics on the line. Democrats couldn’t win and still can’t without the South.  And the South was segregated.  And that’s why it was so difficult.  And, therefore, for him to make this speech where he shifts the vocabulary from evasive -- let’s let this thing go away, it is irrational to be segregated -- to this is a moral issue for this country.  

It was a milestone 40 years ago.  We should also remember that that same night, in part because he was swept up in these demonstrations, Medgar Evers listened to this speech, drove home in Mississippi, and was assassinated as he got out of his car to go into his house to celebrate the fact that the President of the United States had made this signal shift.  So in many respects for Medgar, for the NAACP, but most of all for the country, 40 years ago tonight was a major milestone in the cooperation between the civil rights movement and the component branches of the US government. 

Thank you.

WICKER:  Roger, you were a part of all these events.

ROGER WILKINS:  Well, I can’t talk with the kind of authority about the relationship between King and Kennedy that Taylor brings to it.  So I thought that I would talk about how it felt to be a black person who was around and near the Kennedys and around and near the civil rights movement at that time.  

I was a 28-year-old, New York lawyer when John Kennedy was elected president in the fall of 1960.  He would not have been my choice.  Hubert Humphrey, the liberal Democrat from Minnesota, who had been a great champion of civil rights, was far and away my favorite.  And I remember sitting with my mother watching the convention when young Edward Moore Kennedy stood up and announced the votes from Wyoming that would put John Kennedy over the top of the convention.

And I took a pillow and I threw it at the TV set and said words in front of my mother that I had never said before.  And never said them after, either.  And I was not one of those people, those young Democrats who flocked to Washington.  One of my reluctances was Thurgood Marshall had been a friend of mine, of course, my family from the time I was a child.  And I had worked for him in the summer of 1955, right after the second Brown decision.  

And he was a good friend and mentor.  And Thurgood was not a mean guy.  He didn’t get mad at Southerners who were recalcitrant.  But there was an attorney general in Alabama named Patterson who Thurgood said, “That’s a mean guy.  That’s really a mean guy.”  Well during the campaign, Kennedy went to Alabama, talked to Patterson and came back and said, for obviously the benefit of the whole South, “That’s a man I could work with.”  That’s all it took for me.

Some time later, my first wife who was quite a beautiful woman, and still is at the age of almost 70, she and I were walking through La Guardia airport and we were in a passageway.  And who should come through the other end of the passageway but young, slim, beautiful Senator Kennedy, whom neither of us had ever met.  But we knew something of his reputation as a charmer of the ladies.  And this was in the early spring and my wife was looking just fabulous.  

As we approached him, I don’t think Kennedy saw me at all.  He was just looking at her.  And this will tell you what our political attitude was.  We got right up near him and she just looked at me and said, “Well, look what the cat dragged in.”  And this smile and this hand that was just half up to shake her hand just froze and we passed.  Well, my Uncle Roy’s wife, when we related that story, said, “You were so foolish.  If you had just told him who you are.”

I said, “Who am I?  I’m a young lawyer.”  “You’re Roy’s nephew.  If you had just told him, just think.”  Well, if I had told him, just think, I might be sitting here telling you a different story today.  But, anyway, I did go to work for the Kennedy administration in January or February of 1962.  But I was interested in international law and so I went to the Agency for International Development.  

And during my years there, I was engaged in a very losing battle to convince my superiors that our venture into Vietnam was a mistake.  And that was all consuming and certainly I lost big.  But I was black.  I had been born in the South, in segregation.  I had gone to segregated schools.  I was still young and uninformed enough so that inside a six foot tall body there was a little black soul that was in a defensive crouch about what the white culture would do to me.

But I was a black person seething with the juices that the movement was creating in all of us.  And I was dismayed at the civil rights stance of the government for which I was working.  John Kennedy had not disabused me through anything he had done of the idea that he was very, very tone deaf on racial issues.  And the Justice Department …  And I have to say this because Thurgood Marshall just died.  I came to know Burke and I liked him as a human being very much.  He was a very, very decent gentle, good man.  

Nevertheless my judgment on the Justice Department run by Robert Kennedy was that it was a lily-white operation, that its approach to civil rights was paternalistic and condescending to black people, that at least the Justice Department was not interested in listening to black people or black people’s perceptions of things.  And it was bad enough, so that as a government employee, I took leave in the spring of 1963, and I believe you have this in your book, and helped organize a march in Washington, largely of black government employees, some white government employees, too, against our own Justice Department.

And we marched around the building.  We chanted and we sang and we then congregated at the Ninth and Pennsylvania entrance to the Department.  And we chanted and we yelled and we hollered.  And finally Robert Kennedy came out and he was nervous and he was defensive.  And he was in his shirtsleeves.  And he stood up on something and he said …  He defended …  He was defensive: “We are doing this,” and “We do have some black lawyers, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.”

And we hooted him and we were not polite because we were angry and we thought the Department was very slow.  And I remember talking to a great civil rights lawyer named Robert Maime(?), who was a family friend of ours, when I was passing through Chicago.  And I said, “Bob, you are one of the brilliant civil rights lawyers in this country.  Kennedys really love to have smart people around them.  Why don’t you …  We could talk to some people and maybe you could go in the Justice Department and help out.”

And Maime, reflecting what black lawyers felt about that Justice Department looked at me and said, “I don’t work for C students,” a man who taught at the University of Chicago Law School.  

It was very difficult.  It was agonizing.  I will just tell you two other things.  There came a moment.  I had a friend in the White House who listened to me and would call me over from time to time.  He was in charge of AID for the President but he kind of glommed onto me as a black friend.  His name was Ralph Duncan.  Remember Ralph?

BRANCH:  Yeah.  Sure.

WILKINS:  And Ralph would …  He talked to me about civil rights.  And I would pump him full of stuff.  New Yorker published Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.  I rushed over to the White House and gave it to Ralph and said, “Give this to the President.”  And finally Ralph said, “Look Roger.  I cannot tell the President.  I mean you know this all in your head.  But I can’t really relay this effectively.  So if you would just bring me some stuff, just write a memo.  And you tell the President what you think.  Really, I will give it to him.  Tell him what you think.”

I thought, “Well, if I tell him, I’ll certainly ruin my government career.  But if I don’t tell him, I’ll fail every moral test that my mother and father ever taught me.”  So I wrote a very tough memo and I gave it to Ralph.  And it urged broad-scale attack on segregation, much greater support for school integration, integration at the top levels of the Justice Department and a few other things.  And it was very hard on me and also was very hard on the President.  

But I said, “You go around telling the whole government to integrate and you are practicing the rankest kind of tokenism here in the White House.”  Not much happened from that except that Robert Kennedy really got mad at me.  I mean I didn’t know him, but word came back that I was brash, green, didn’t know what I was talking about and would never work in the Justice Department as long as he was Attorney General.  And that came to pass.  

The other thing was that they did integrate the White House staff a little bit.  The one major thing they did is they hired Cliff Alexander, who in the Carter administration went on to be Secretary of the Army.  That’s one thing.

The second thing I have to tell you is that Burke used to tell me …  Now this is about King.  Interesting thing is that King used to drive them nuts because they didn’t know how to talk to him, because he talked Southern preacher talk, moral stuff.  And Burke always used to whisper to me at parties-- I knew him a little bit-- he’d say, “Your uncle is really a pro.  We really …  I’d like to see him come in,” because Roy could come in and talk legislation and point by point.  You know, they could have that conversation with him.

Well, Burke came over to me one day, during Birmingham, and started the line that was Bobby’s line.  It really just drove me up the wall.  “We think Martin is making a very big mistake,” and I’m supposed to pass this on, “using children in the demonstrations.”  And this just went all over the government.  They all said it.  It came out of Hickory Hill and they all said it.  

And I said, “Burke, you go back and you tell the Attorney General for me that Martin King is teaching those kids more about what it takes to be a free citizen in this country and to take your life in your hands and shape your own destiny, then they will ever learn in two years in those rotten segregated schools that you’ve got down there in Birmingham.”  The Attorney General did not like that, either.  

But 40 years ago tonight, I watched that speech. And like lots of other black people, I was waiting for the President to bring the whole moral force and weight of the federal government and the moral force and weight of the Constitution and the Judeo-Christian ethics to play on the side of the blacks and he did it.  So I started with my throwing the pillow at the television set. This time I went over and I kissed him.  


WICKER:  Well, I have neither the vast knowledge that Taylor Branch can call upon nor the kind of direct personal experience with the Kennedys that Roger told us about.  I do remember I was a political reporter in the early 1960s in the Washington bureau of The New York Times.  And a political reporter then, and perhaps now, is kind of a different creature because he’s looking at the horse race out there and he’s not rooting for a horse.  He’s just wondering which one is going to come in first.  

And that was in many ways the way I looked at politics then.  I don’t, of course, anymore.  But when I was a practitioner -- the political reporter’s game -- that was pretty much the way I looked at it.  It enabled me to say, on this occasion tonight, that I don’t believe either of the gentlemen on my left or right had made the point, although both of them approached it very closely, made the point that in the early 1960s and up to 1963 -- across the country and not just in the Southern states, which were the worst, but across the country -- civil rights was not a winning political issue.

Now, you may recall, if anyone in the audience …  I can’t see through the lights, but if anyone out here can remember the campaign of 1960, Kennedy vs. Nixon, that Nixon ducked the opportunity, went the other way to support Martin Luther King when he was in jail in Birmingham for violating, as I recall, a driver’s license.  So it was some kind of driver’s …

BRANCH:  Not in Birmingham.  In Georgia.

WICKER:  In Georgia, a traffic law.  And Nixon also refused to see the great baseball player Jackie Robinson during the campaign because this was not popular politics.  And John F. Kennedy, in 1960 in particular …  I mean he was trying to get elected President.  And even as late as 1962, the Congressional campaign and in 1963, it was not perceived by the White House and by the Attorney General that there were a lot of votes out there about taking the side of the black people in the South.  

It was not perceived as a moral issue.  It was perceived as a political issue.  My recollection is that President Kennedy, or Senator Kennedy as he was then in 1960, promised, I think the phrase was, “With the stroke of a pen, to put an end to segregated housing.”  Well, I recall two or three years later, that pen had not stroked.  And the President was under considerable pressure about that.  

BRANCH:  Black people started sending him pens.

WICKER:  I’m trying to make the point of the political atmosphere in which the partnership that John spoke of-- the beginnings of which Taylor spoke of, that Roger lived through-- the political atmosphere at that time was very different from now.  I had occasionally to write about President Eisenhower’s response to the Brown decision and it was not fully realized then historically; it happens to be true that he opposed the Brown decision.

The President of the United States who preceded Kennedy opposed the desegregation of schools, not on some kind of technical grounding.  He thought it was wrong.  He said that he thought that decision was wrong.  So he came a long way in 1963.  It had only been a few years there.  But then I’m going to turn the program back over to our distinguished speakers but I would like tell one story, quite briefly, because it’s something that meant something in my life.

On the day of the great March on Washington in August of 1963, I was on vacation.  But like the other members of the Washington bureau, I got called back because they realized there was going to be a big event.  And then as now The Times likes to have 10 or 15 stories about a big event rather than one.  So I was called back and assigned to do something, I’ve forgotten what.  

I was the White House correspondent.  So I believe I was covering John Lewis, who was sort of off the reservation at that time.  He wanted to make a more militant speech than the White House wanted him to.  And they talked him out of it.  And so I went tearing back to the office to write my story.  And in those days, in the Washington bureau of The Times, we had a TV set in a little room in the back.  

So I can’t remember whether I wrote my story or whether I stopped writing in order to do it.  But I rushed back to the TV set to watch Martin Luther King speak from the Lincoln Memorial, which we just saw the climax of in the film clip.  And I sat there listening to what Roger has just described as this Southern-preacher talk.  I sat there listening to it and I thought to myself, I had what I believe …  If I were a better writer I might know this.  I believe it is called an epiphany.

I looked there and I thought …  I said, “Why that man, Martin Luther King, that man is a Southerner, like me.”  And I had been sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement.  That wasn’t the point.  It was just the very first time in my life that I realized that a Southern black man was a Southerner, just like me.  And it is a very important matter to me.  It may seem strange to this audience today.  It was important to me at the time.

And now I’d like to ask, since Taylor went first before, to continue if you can, if you would like to.

BRANCH:  Well, I think there’s so many things that we can remember.  And maybe you have memories or questions on the same issue of how far a journey that was for the nation to go from where Roger was personally, from the civil rights centennial to the beginnings of a partnership for the country. 

And I’d like to focus on those little children, the children in Birmingham.  

I did believe, as a matter of history, and I had some personal involvement in that, because that was my first political memory.  I was 16 years old.  And I asked my …  In Atlanta …  Not interested in politics.  My father raised us on the dictum that people who were interested in politics couldn’t find honest work.  

WICKER:  Much true.

BRANCH:  So I was not interested in politics but I did ask them how can this be that they are turning these dogs and the fire hoses loose on these children?  One thing you’ve got to remember or make sure you understand -- these children were mostly girls and they were as young as six, who went to jail, two thousand, on May 2, 1963.  The significant point here is that they worked something, those kids, on the popular will of the country that had an effect in politics that changed this issue from something that was losing politics to something where politicians had to make a leap on one side or another. 

They changed the language of that.  And that, to me, is a resonant historical fact that’s quite interesting to me, that the impact of those children is not studied in Political Science classes or Civics classes about the nature of democracy.  In many respects, I think that’s because it’s embarrassing.  I mean, if a new campaign technique comes out that helps shift an election by a point or two, people will write about it endlessly.  

And they study, we study politics.  But the notion that children …  I wrote in the second book that I don’t think there is any precedent short of Passover, the literature of Passover from the Bible, that ascribes to young school children the power to turn the politics of a great nation.  But certainly that was the seminal event that changed this awkward …  You know, King asked President Kennedy to do it by -- an issue in segregation -- by the Emancipation Proclamation. 

He didn’t do it.  It was losing politics.  He couldn’t do it.  But he didn’t even go to the Emancipation Day jubilee celebration on January 1, 1963.  He didn’t go.  That was bad politics.  Not only not to respond to King’s … But in a way, maybe it was better because then it would have been all on the President.  He would have lost …   What happened here is that once the kids turned, affected the people, and the people started affecting their government, it affected all three branches of the government, to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64.  It affected the election of ’64.

So it’s a great mystery how people live in the context of their times and yet at the same time try to change the context of their times.  And that’s the great challenge of citizenship and patriotism always.  And I want to second one other thing that Roger said.  John Patterson was mean.  He was a very mean man.  

WILKINS:  He was, indeed.

BRANCH:  But what’s interesting is he was Attorney General.  But by the time President Kennedy was going to see him, he was mean, and that meant he got elected Governor.  He was Governor of Alabama in 1960.  He’s the famous one that beat George Wallace because George Wallace said he couldn’t compete with his racism, in famous words.  

WICKER:  That’s true, Roger.  Without trying to limit at all what you are saying, one question.  Why do you think the Civil Rights Bill that President Kennedy announced in the clip we saw, why do you think that he could not achieve that and get it passed and it finally passed under President Johnson?  Was there some difference between the two, other than Johnson’s so-called expertise on legislation?

WILKINS:  Well, I think that …  Well, first of all I would like to go back to buttress your point.  One of the reasons that I did not talk about the politics that Kennedy faced was that when he was elected, I was 28.  And I had basically two issues.  One was McCarthyism and civil liberties.  The other was civil rights.  If I had a third it was the emerging nations of the southern hemisphere.  And I knew about the “Solid South,” of course.  

But what I really didn’t fully understand was what a weak office the Presidency is and how limited the President’s scope of power is, particularly when he has won by an eyelash.  And I’m glad I was young then.  I’m glad I didn’t make those political calculations because I thought that the job of the President was to do the right thing for the country and to follow the Constitution and the highest principles of the land.  

And so those were the ideals of a young guy, not a political sharper.  And that’s where I was.  Now, Kennedy didn’t really propose legislation that night, in that clip that we saw.  I don’t believe ... Taylor would know this.  But I don’t believe that they produced legislation until the fall of ’63, a real bill that they sent up.

BRANCH:  No, they sent up the bill.  But they had the first hearings…. weren’t until September and October, because that’s when they were watering it down.  

WILKINS:   So the answer would be that Kennedy didn’t really have time to pass it before Dallas, before he was killed.  I think he would have had a heck of a fight.  Johnson, being the great political manipulator he was, you remember what he did.  He drew on the country’s grief and love for the President and said, “Let’s make this bill a memorial for President Kennedy.” 

And I really think that that bill could not have gone through in that form had it not had that emotional push, plus Johnson’s ability to …

BRANCH:  I agree wholeheartedly.  I think the Kennedy assassination was an essential ingredient.  I mean you can never say for sure, but the bill was … The political prospects for the bill in the fall of ’63 were receding.  It was getting watered down and it was almost to the point that, because it was getting watered down, people who had been for it were turning against it.  And then it’s the point of no return.  It is just getting eaten alive.

And all of that changed.  The whole dynamic changed because somehow people knew that the Kennedy assassination was about hatred and it was about violence and so were civil rights.  And Johnson played on that very skillfully.  

WICKER:  Yes, and we ought to remind you, because I’m sure many of you remember, that the Congress in Kennedy’s day was really a very ...  It was dominated by the Southern Republican coalition.  And the single major figure in Congress in the Senate in those days was Richard Russell of Georgia.  And I don’t believe there is a senator today who wields anything like the power that Russell did in that time.

And so, if Kennedy had lived, I think it is a very dubious proposition whether the Civil Rights Bill that actually did pass, would have passed.  It would no doubt be a watered down version of it of some kind.  Anybody who knew Richard Russell would agree with me, I think.  And that is probably another factor in that Johnson and Richard Russell had a kind of a … Hard to know how to describe the relationship.  It is often described as father-son.   But it would be very difficult to imagine Lyndon Johnson being anybody’s son. [Laughter]

BRANCH:  But they certainly had a relationship that was richer and easier to work with than any relationship that Kennedy might have had.

WICKER:  True. Absolutely. Yeah.  Well, the political atmosphere of that time changed, as has been pointed out here, I think quite accurately with the assassination of President Kennedy, among other things.  Of course, Johnson scored a tremendous landslide over Goldwater, which is not least I think because the country in some subliminal way didn’t want to have a third president within one year.  

So the political atmosphere changed greatly.  But I think, would you say Roger, that the change, which was symbolized by the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and other bills that supported it ...  It seemed to me that that atmosphere only lasted about two years, maybe three at the outside.

WILKINS:  Well, I think that is right.  But I think that we ought to make …  I ought to make one observation about the Kennedys.  Of course, I didn’t really understand it in the early ’60s, and that was, these are rich kids from Massachusetts.  I mean they were rich, white guys.  And they didn’t know black people.  And John Kennedy is alleged to have said once about blacks, “Oh, poor devils.”  But it was not …  There was nothing …  There was nothing in his background that would have given him empathy.  

Raised rich. Harvard. Naval officer. Wouldn’t have encountered many blacks in that milieu.  Then, as we know, an awful lot more of his psychic energy was taken up dealing with his illnesses.  So there wasn’t knowledge and there wasn’t room for real understanding of blacks in his psyche.  And that is something that I did not comprehend when I was young.

Now, when you talk about Johnson, Tom, it’s very interesting.  My uncle said to me …  If you are ultimately raised in the North, as I was, Southern accents coming out of white faces really put you off, because you just assumed that was going to be somebody who was going to be hostile to you.  So I did not want …  I was very unhappy when Lyndon Johnson became President.  

And my uncle said to me, “You’ve got him wrong.  I have worked with him.  And he knows poverty.  And he knows black people.  And he knows Hispanics.  And he’s campaigned on them.  And he cares about them.  And it was only then that I began to understand more about the Kennedys.  And I think Johnson really, in that first couple of years, brought extraordinary passion to this issue.  And it was genuine passion.

That didn’t mean he didn’t use the racial slur when he was talking to his Southern buddies in order to let them know he hadn’t gone totally soft.  But it did mean that he really did care about poor people.  And his aspiration …  There was nothing that Johnson did that was very far away from his ambition to be the greatest president that there had ever been.  

But then, how do you get there?  Well, his aspiration was to heal the sick and the poor and make the country just.  That is how he was going to get up on Mount Rushmore.  And he really went after it with a real passion, I thought.  But then what happened was that blacks in the North watched all this stuff that was going on in the South and this progress.  They saw on their television all this stuff.  They got roiled up.

And they were still poor.  And they were still largely out of jobs.  And more than that, in the hot summers, the cops in their cities were still hitting them on the heads with billy clubs and treating them badly and, occasionally, there would be killings.  And so they started rebelling.  Ironically, the first black rebellion started in the summer of 1964-- just weeks after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act-- in Brooklyn and Harlem and Patterson, New Jersey, Rochester, Philadelphia.  

And then there took the turn.  Young radical blacks became more and more radical. And then in the summer of ’65 was Watts and the burning, and I think that it turned at that moment, really turned.  And we haven’t seen the end of the turn that it took then.  We are still on that road.

BRANCH:  I’d like to jump in just off that point, if you don’t mind, Tom.  Because I think that’s absolutely right.  And I’d like to throw out one or two ideas on how that happened and how it affected our politics even today.  Because one of the things that turned, and it turned very rapidly, is the national attitude about the capacity of the nation, and particularly of the national government, to address any of these issues. 

It atrophied very, very rapidly from the summer of ’63, ’64, ’65.  The whole movement was an appeal.  As King said, “I have a dream that one day the nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”  It was an appeal to the government.  It was painstakingly and not without a lot of ridicule and failure, built this relationship.  It only lasted a very, very short time.

And in the South, the political reaction to losing the struggle was …  As soon as it was no longer respectable to advocate segregation, it did become respectable to cuss the federal government.  And George Wallace invented a whole language and vocabulary to do that: tax-and-spend liberals and pointy headed bureaucrats telling us what to do.  That was a genius language that was more or less part and parcel adopted by the nascent and newborn southern Republican Party and has come to dominate our politics ever since.

At the same time, people in the movement, first in the Civil Rights Movement but even more rapidly in the white, largely, anti-war movement, came to cuss the federal government, too, because of Vietnam and because of failures in civil rights and of how long it took.  You’ve got to remember, in the March on Washington, the federal …  They canceled elective surgery. 

They had the 82nd Airborne mobilized.  They told federal employees to stay home.  They canceled liquor sales.

They canceled in advance not one but two Washington Senators games in advance.  They didn’t do that in World War II.  All because it was accepted that if you brought a mass of black people in, there was going to be insurrection …  The judges were ready to try people.  People stayed home.  And the only four people who were arrested were all white that day.  One of them was a computer because in those days the computer was a person who made computation, a government computer who came to work anyway.

The world was so different then.  It was illegal in three states for women to serve on any jury.  And in 30 states, women’s rights to serve on juries was severely restricted.  The world changed like night and day because of the agreement between Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson where they agreed on the substance of the issues and on the traditional American idea that if America really cares about something, the government can solve this issue. 

A non-cynical attitude toward the government …  

Now we are in the stage where even liberals and supporters of either Kennedy or Johnson … When you hear Kennedy or Johnson the immediate thought is personal animus, how they disliked one another and not on the broad areas of agreement on politics, which you can even hear in the telephone conversations between Bobby Kennedy and President Johnson if you care to listen to them.  

That’s lost because it is a victim of the cynicism, which I define as an appetite that has eaten up not only the substance of politics but the national vocabulary in which we talk about the capacities of the federal government.  

Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both …  Bobby was a critic of Vietnam, but he never said we should withdraw from Vietnam, not once.  And people forget that, how broad …  They were wrestling with these issues but wrestling with it in the context of the aftermath of this extraordinary flowering of belief in the movement about what democracy could accomplish and the relations between the races.  And the women’s movement was born and even the gay rights movement and all kinds of liberation movements were born …

There was not even a single basketball player, black basketball player on a southern college team in this period.  Every major private university in the country was single sex.

WILKINS:  Well, they couldn’t have black basketball players because they didn’t have black students.  

BRANCH:  That’s right. They didn’t have any black students and they didn’t have that many in northern universities, which is not widely …  So the country changed enormously as a positive result.  It was hard to end segregation, and yet we’ve forgotten how hard it was to end segregation. 

And therefore we don’t honor the politics that brought it about, which in large degree is the small area of agreement, the area of agreement between Bobby and Johnson and Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King and those areas where they agreed.

And those are suppressed in our memory.  And until we can recover that, it seems to me, we are going to have a hard time recovering the vocabulary of hope that they all shared.  

WILKINS:  I would add another thing to that on a different level.  It’s back to your question, Tom, about when it ended and why.  I certainly agree with all of what you said, Taylor.  All of it, especially the evil genius of George Wallace’s politics and how it stuck, and we are stuck with it still.  

But I think there is another thing about why it turned.  The genius of the Southern movement was not only the children.  But this country is still deeply racist.  Racism is very …  It is at the core of our culture.  It was there before we were a country and it is going to be there for a long time to come.  And one of the aspects of racism is that you can make up fantasies about these other people and you can just make it up in your own head and that’s who they are.

And shiftless and useless was the idea about working class black people, particularly those in the South.  And then came the Montgomery bus boycott.  And what was presented to the nation in their newspapers and on their television sets was the nobility of these working class people who were prepared to walk rather than to be humiliated any more, walk to work, not just to demonstrate, but walk to work and put together car pools and things.  

And throughout the movement, the image of black people was changed by the constant television coverage.  People wanted to desegregate schools.  They would dress the children up and the kids would be bright and shiny in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.  And there would be just these beautiful little black kids all dressed up.  And then there would be these old, mean white people yelling at them. 

And the March on Washington also contributed.  We weren’t used to giant marches in Washington at that time.  And people looked and they saw all of these really nice, middle class people … It felt like a church picnic, I can tell you.  It was an amazing, amazing feeling to be there.  And people saw those things.  So the national picture of black people changed and there was sympathy.  

Well then stodgy, middle-class America got two jolts.  It got the white kids acting out in the anti-war movement and putting American flags on their bottoms and stuff.  And it got black people rebelling and burning cities down.  And that helped it turn, too.  Both of those things helped it turn a lot.  

WICKER:  Yes, I recall …  To the point you are making there, I recall at the time of the Watts explosion …  It was ’65, was it not?

WILKINS:  August ’65.

WICKER: Reporters marked that occasion.  Of course, it was a terrible thing for everybody.  But reporters marked it as being the first time, the first time in all the various upheavals, marches, demonstrations …  It was the first time that white reporters had to go to white people to take care of them, to get them out of the violence, because they thought, and they saw on certain occasions that the blacks were fermenting some of the violence.  At least that is the way the reporters saw it.

And I believe it was Pat Moynihan, senator from New York … Well, I guess before he was a senator.  I believe it was Moynihan who saw, perceived that the Watts riot was going to change the public perception.  All of a sudden it wasn’t what you were saying, these poor, put-upon, mistreated black people.  It was all of a sudden these rioting, tough, mean black people.  I think that happened in the summer of ’65.  

WILKINS: Right.  And then it was reinforced in ’66, ’67.

WICKER:  Yes.  

BRANCH: Well, Moynihan had written this report that got used in Johnson’s speech at Howard University in June of ’65, which would have been, had there not been a Vietnam War and had there not been a Watts, it would have been where he was going to go, essentially, talking about how equality of rights is not enough and we have disadvantaged people, and we’ve got to address all these issues of inequality.  Moynihan had written this report, which essentially, when it was written, was to try to get the Labor Department part of the poverty program and a jobs program.  That’s what it was written for.

It was a bureaucratic document.  But what he found out was he marshaled all the social science statistics about the weakness of the black family.  And it percolated around in the government in secret.  And then when the Watts riot occurred, it was seized upon as an explanation for the Watts riot.  It is not too much of an oversimplification to say that Evans & Novak uncovered what they called a suppressed government report that proved that the reason for the Watts riot was because black people were having too many illegitimate children and because women were heads of the households.

And this was a fantastically divisive thing within the black civil rights community, between black men and black women, within the movement.  But it was seized upon in the media as the explanation for this report, for this phenomenon.  And it became the gospel.  The Moynihan report to this day, it was seized upon as the explanation for that, which turned the whole focus of what happened in politics …  And I’m not saying that Moynihan intended this.

But it turned it back from how have we contributed to this degradation to how have they contributed to this degradation?  And they need to fix their families first.  And this was the beginning of things turning around in a negative way.  I think it’s no disrespect to Pat Moynihan’s career or his motivation as a social scientist.  It has the imprimatur of science.  And science and religion in matters of race have always had a yin-yang relationship with promoting the most evil and promoting the best.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that discovered DNA 40 years earlier was promoting eugenics to essentially try to have a Hitlerite immigration policy in the United States, as a matter of science.  It was very popular.  But Moynihan’s report was seized upon to change the image of science and race in a very insidious way.  I don’t think that it was his intention.  But it certainly is interesting, in retrospect, how many other sociology professors specializing in urban affairs and race relations have bright careers.

How many professors?  Very few professors, but even fewer urbanologists specializing …  And it was the charge.  Pat was a professor at Wesleyan University, having left the Labor Department.  And this report was seized and brought up out of the press as an explanation for these riots.  And it is amazing, as Roger says, about the depth of racism, how quickly something like that can change the whole litmus-feel of this country.

Within six months, the whole image of a city in the United States was profoundly transformed from sophistication to a more mixed image of what cities are.  And we live with that still.

WICKER:  Yes we do.  And right to the point, we are going to go to audience questions in a moment.  But there was a point that I was looking for an opportunity to make.  And Taylor has just given it to me.  And that is that it’s been commented on in here by all of us, the difference in our society before and after the Civil Rights Movement, the difference.  

But I’m interested today, in particular, because of the anti …  I would say the anti-diversity movement.  Many people don’t agree that it’s antidiversity.  They won’t admit it.  And I’m not sure if my colleagues here agree with me, but the battle cry today in many ways is for a colorblind society.  We must have a colorblind society.  We cannot permit any kind of a preference for anybody, particularly any color of our citizens.  

Well, when you go back to pre-1963, when you think, as Roger said, you didn’t have any black basketball players in the South because you didn’t have any black students.  And you didn’t have very many at Princeton or Harvard or Yale.  And you didn’t have any black baseball players because they were not permitted to play in the major leagues.  

Well, using the major league thing as an example, what on earth …  When you are not permitted to play for the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Mets, what on earth is that but a preference for white people?  So we have all kinds of preferences for white people.  We have all kinds …  And now, today, I hear with the greatest scorn and cynicism people say, “Oh, we can’t have any preferences.  We must have a colorblind society.”

The Supreme Court is wrestling with this issue now.  I’m not optimistic as to how it will come out.  But if the battle cry today is being for a colorblind society, who can be opposed to that, except for most of our history, we were violently opposed to it.  Well, having taken over and made that point, I want to turn now to the audience.  Any questions that anyone would like to address to either of our speakers?  And bear in mind that I can’t see very well with the lights.  Go ahead.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yes, this is my question.  You talked about President Kennedy going from viewing segregation as an irrational issue to a moral issue.  How did that change and who is it that wrote the speech that we saw him give, citing it as a moral issue?

BRANCH:  One of the really interesting things about this speech is that it was unlike practically any other speech that was ever given in the White House.  Normally, speeches percolate for a long time.  They come up through the bureaucracy with ideas and it goes through the speechwriting office.  This speech was given on a Tuesday.  He presented it as an idea in the afternoon that he was going to go on TV to explain why he was going to…

Because Wallace had had a big national moment of defiance against the federal government and cussing the federal government -- that we will never give in to the centralized tyranny, which was that theory.  And he said that he wanted to go on TV to counter that and to announce that he was going to introduce legislation.  And they said, “When?”  And he said, “Tonight.”  The sum total of notice on this speech was less than four hours.  

Burke Marshall wrote some of it.  Burke said he couldn’t believe this.  They are sitting in there and the President insisted.  Everybody was against doing this.  Even apart from the substance, this is a crazy way to do business in the government.  Nobody recommends that you conceive of and deliver a speech like this within a matter of hours.  

And Burke said that President Kennedy was sitting there, “Come on Burke, you must have some better ideas than this.”  And he went to Louie Martin who….  I know Roger knows Louie Martin, the savvy, black political advisor within the White House.  And Louie Martin came up with this whole notion about statistics of a child.  You take a white baby and a black baby born at the same time and what is their life expectancy, what’s their expected income, what’s their expected education.  And it was a way of personalizing this.  

And I don’t have a definitive answer to what you are saying, but I think, basically, that the fact that they are scrambling to do this is because they felt a need to respond.  Feeling came out rather than things that would be suppressed into rationality.  He had always said segregation was irrational before.  And, of course, that only encouraged the Southerners because they knew that politics is about a lot more than cerebral, Harvard rationality.  If you want to win in politics, you’ve got to go for the heart, too.  You’ve got to show something that’s smart but also something that has heart.

And this speech, because it was spontaneous and it was spontaneous from the heart, it was written that way because it didn’t have time to get massaged down into government-speak.  So I think it was precisely the spontaneity of it that allowed this transformation in vocabulary and target to take place.

WICKER:  Well, just elaborate a little bit further.  Do you think the phrase “moral crisis” …  It struck me as we watched the clip here, he passed over that rather quickly.  Do you think that that was …  Of course, it was spontaneous, as you say.  But do you suppose that even he realized the significance of using that phrase at that time?

BRANCH:  I don't know.  Now, another possible answer is that on the front page of The New York Times, your newspaper that very morning, on

Tuesday, because of other things that were going on in demonstrations, The Times quoted Martin Luther King as saying, “We long for the President to speak of this, not just as something that needs to be done but as a moral issue.”  Now I tried to downplay that because I don’t think that President Kennedy would automatically say, “Well, gee.  Martin Luther King says I should do something.  Therefore, I should do it and this is the big leap.”

On the other hand, it was not because King was in command or he perceived King as being in command of so much of the pressure that was coming …  The idea of doing something that would meet what King wanted politically, might have made some sense.  But he had to know when he …  The line, “It is as clear as the Constitution …  As old as the Scriptures and as clear as the Constitution,” sounds to me like Ted Sorensen.  


BRANCH:  Doesn’t it to you?

WICKER:  I think so.

BRANCH:  I don’t think Bruce Marshall came up with it.


BRANCH:  We know Louie Martin came up with the families, which is emotional.  So I think that it was a hodge-podge of people in triage.  You know, we are doing this important thing.  Why is it important to you and what you got is the best and most personal of lots of people, including the President, because he’s sitting there at his desk editing and putting together this thing until almost the moment the lights went on.

He did two speeches like that, by the way, that I know of.  Both of them involve race relations.  This one, which is one of his greatest speeches and the one almost a year earlier about Ol’ Miss and James Meredith …  Also, where he went on the air, writing the speech almost when he went on.  And it is one of his worst speeches because for one thing he proclaimed the crisis successfully over and Meredith had integrated the university almost at the moment the riot broke out.  

And he had to send in 25,000 troops by morning to put this thing down.  But also, just because the language was so defensive …  He said, “The order of the courts are being carried out.” And he distanced himself, as though he didn’t have anything to do with that.  It was the court.  And he emphasized that the court had a lot of Southerners on it.  And he said, “I hope you Southerners down there in Mississippi will continue to honor this.  You have a tremendous tradition on the gridiron.”  He started talking about football.  

So that’s October 1, 1962.  And this, “Old as the Scriptures and clear as the Constitution,” is June of 1963.  It’s a pretty radical difference.  

WICKER:  I just want to point out that we would be very fortunate indeed-- I’ll come back to Roger in a minute-- if we ever have Burke Marshall and Ted Sorensen and Louie Martin write a speech for another president.

WILKINS:  I think it is entirely probable that Kennedy changed the way lots of white people changed in the early ’60s.  He was a human being and a very smart one.  And what the Civil Rights Movement was, among other things, was a great civics lesson to white Americans about what was going on.  And Kennedy in the years of his Presidency began to see individual black people, who worked for him and who were civil rights leaders, as individuals in a way that he probably had never before in his life.  So I think that undoubtedly changed the way he felt and understood.

WICKER:  Yes, we have another question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you all for these great insights.  I wonder if you could comment or would be willing to comment and evaluate on J. Edgar Hoover’s impact or role in these events, during these years especially.  [Laughter]

WILKINS:  Let me start.  It is difficult for me to describe the disdain for that man.  I think he was probably the worst public servant in America in the 20th century.  And I’ll just tell you, again, a story of my innocence.  My uncle often came to Washington to do lobbying with the government.  And occasionally he and I would … After work, we would have dinner together in Washington and I would drive him to the airport.  

And one night we were in Hoover’s favorite restaurant.  I can’t remember what it was now.  And we are sitting there.  And Hoover came in and he bowed very elaborately to my uncle, “Mr. Wilkins.”  My uncle introduced me to him.  And he walked away.  And I said, “Why don’t the Kennedys fire that so-and-so?”  I mean that’s my naiveté about presidential power, right?

And my uncle looked at me with this condescending look that he often had for younger people and said, “Blackmail.”

WICKER:  We have time for only one more question.  So I see you are at the microphone already.

AUDIENCE:  I just want to say ... (inaudible) and I live in New York City.  And I thought of John Kennedy in those years a little bit differently from what I think Roger referred to.  He was a smart guy, rich, had a beautiful wife, and had the glamour that went with all of that.  But in those early days I used to think of him as a deeper man than maybe you give him to be or some people think he was.  I used to say some of the things he says.  

For example, “I dislike bubble popularity,” that kind of clip.  But the thing I wanted to ask about … When I read his Profiles in Courage, it was a thin book with anecdotes or biographies about people that he profiled as courageous people.  I thought that John F. Kennedy shared some of that courageous center core.  

And one of the things I wanted to ask you … When he was President and some of the things that he saw, like in the military, couldn’t he have used, for example, the executive order that Truman had used to desegregate the military, to put in place, enforce some of those segregation situations?  And what did … For example, that executive order that segregated the military, was it still active or had it died by that time?

BRANCH:  Well, I think that now that we know about John Kennedy’s health, that you have to say that he was one of the most courageous men that we’ve ever encountered.  I mean I don’t think that I would be able to deal with that kind of pain every day of my life and not be consumed by it.  I mean, obviously, we didn’t know that then.  But we know it now.  

The executive order on the military was enforced, but the military was moving very slowly and it was only after Vietnam that they really got rolling on it.  I think that Truman was in a different position politically on race.  When he desegregated the armed forces and did some other really good things, the political winds were really kind of on his back at the time because the country was feeling an upsurge of democracy as a result of our winning World War II.  And somewhat abashed that we had won it with a segregated army and had treated people so badly. 

We were in competition with the Soviet Union.  And we had to show …  And the Soviets were whipping our heads with the racism in the country as competition for the good will of the emerging new countries.  So Truman had that in his back.  Also, he was a guy of the Senate but he was a border state guy.  He was not a guy from Massachusetts.  He was a border state guy and had a lot of friends in the South.  

So I think that it took less courage for him to do that than it would have taken for Kennedy to do a very powerful order on housing desegregation. I mean those guys were terrified. They had only beaten Nixon by this much. And there are some people who say they didn’t really beat Nixon, that Mayor Daley fixed it for him.  But in any event, yeah, he could have done it.  I wanted him to do it, one of the things that I wanted.

But I think, in retrospect, that it would have been a gigantic political risk.  And I think they looked at it and saw political suicide, doing a sweeping executive order on housing.  They couldn’t do private housing but they could sure have done all public housing and publicly financed housing.  But that would have been a huge, huge risk for them.

WICKER:  It would have been a tremendous risk.

WILKINS:  It sounds like we are at the end here.  I would like to jump in on just that.  It would have been a huge risk.  But, to me, it connects to the Hoover issue.  The reason it would have been a big risk is because it took all of the political responsibility and put it on the Presidency.  And naturally they were frightened of that.  The movement was trying to get the whole country to assume the responsibility and not just the President, but the Supreme Court and the Congress.

But, ultimately, what they had to do was move the whole people first.  And to me, the great lesson of all of this is that the people have to take the responsibility.  And I have a very heretical view on that.  I hold us responsible for J. Edgar Hoover.  We allowed him to hold secret power for 44 years.  And we got just what James Madison and Benjamin Franklin and everybody else said we should have gotten.  

We got somebody who’s major-- and you can read it in the documents-- his major order was, “Do this if you don’t embarrass the Bureau.”  And that means if nobody finds out about it, against all of this stuff.  He came to be completely obsessed with being utterly unaccountable, being royal.  And that is just …  We got what we should, what we bargained for.  

And I blame us, the citizens.  And the lessons out of this period is when the citizens get aroused, they can work miracles.  And when they are complacent, they can allow great evil to take place.  And we can’t spend all of our time blaming the people that we empower one way or another.

WICKER:  I think that’s an appropriate note to close on.  


WICKER:  I will pose the last question, not to either of our distinguished speakers, but to the audience itself.  And the question, highlighted by the last comments, do we have today a complacent public or an aroused public?

Thank you all.


SHATTUCK:  I want to thank the panel and Tom Wicker and sorry for the intrusion of not only another speaker but a strange microphone.  But I think I can say on behalf of all of us who have been here, rarely does a combination of wisdom and knowledge and personal experience get brought to bear on a subject as vast and powerful as the one that we’ve talked about tonight.  And I think the difficulty and pain of the period and also the heroism and hope of the period and, sadly, the contrast between today and that period has been brought out by all of you.  So thank you.  I speak on behalf of all of us. 

Thank you.