LBJ and civil rights

Robert Kennedy, 12:43 PM

Operator: The Attorney General on line 0.

President Johnson: All right. Stay on [the line].

Operator: All right.

Kennedy comes to the line.

Kennedy: Mr. President?

President Johnson: Yes, sir.

Kennedy: We are apt to have some problems in Alabama, based on the actions of the governor over the last few days and particularly today. Going back to September, there was an integration ordered of a high school in Tuskegee, and it was all proceeding satisfactorily. They have a good, had a Bureau of Education in that county, fellow by the name of Pruitt, who used to play football at the University of Alabama. It was all proceeding satisfactorily, and all the kids were going to school, and then, as you remember, the governor raised such a fuss and sent the troopers in and scared everybody off, so that all the white children pulled out of the school, and so the school has been operating for the last four or five months just with Negro children.

A couple of days ago, three or four days ago, he ordered the school closed. Then the attorney for the black children, 12 of them--let me take you back a minute. The white children left that school and then all went to two other schools, one in Notsega [sic] and the other in Shorter, both in neighboring towns. Notasulga is a particularly difficult place, but I’ll come to that.

The white children came out of Tuskegee and they all went to these other two schools, so then the governor, as I said, four or five days ago ordered the school in Tuskegee, which by this time only had Negro children, to be closed. So then the attorney for the Negro children went to the judge—Judge Johnson—and asked to either have the school reopened or for permission to attend the other schools where the white children are now attending. Judge Johnson ordered yesterday that they should be permitted six to go to one school and six to go to the other school.

[George] Wallace put out a statement today saying Judge Frank Johnson’s order to admit six of the twelve students—that they closed Tuskegee High to Shorter and Notasulga is an order of spite—"the action of this federal judge is rash, headstrong, and vindictive. This action is unstable and erratic. The procedure was disorderly. The deal becomes the tradition of the American judicial system. This order was based on no evidence, only a sworn affidavit of a Negro attorney, which is the same as the NAACP. We’re going to stand up for the people of Macon County in Alabama. We plan to resist, and we will do so in a manner that will impress all of them. So we’re not going to take all this lying down. We are forced to take many things, but they can’t make us like it."

So, this is all to take place tomorrow. I sent some marshals in there just to look the situation over, as we did in some of these other areas—not to give protection, because they can’t really do that—but to make some plans to, if violence occurs, to see if we can get the children out of there. I can’t send many marshals in there, because that would cause such a fuss, but just to try to at least see whether we could be of some help. He’s ringed the schools with troopers at the moment, and I just don’t know yet what he’s going to do tomorrow. The other thing is that we’ve alerted the Army for 600 men for action in either one of those areas.

But that’s the situation at the present time. We just have to wait and see what he’s going to do.

President Johnson: Fine. Let me know, and we’ll go all the way.

Kennedy: Yes.

President Johnson: And just tell me what you think we ought to do.

Kennedy: [with Johnson assenting] Yes. It might be that you—I’d send an executive order over tonight which would nationalize the Guard, which if we have problems there, you could sign at the appropriate time. It wouldn’t need to be signed tonight. In any case, we’ve kept it confidential of course, about the Army being alerted.

President Johnson: All right.

Kennedy: I thought I’d bring you up to date.

President Johnson: OK, we’ll do it. You just tell us what ought to do, and we’ll follow through, General.

Kennedy: Fine, Mr. President.

President Johnson: Thank you.

Kennedy: Goodbye.


4:32 PM

Carl Sanders, later including John Connally

President Johnson: Hi, Carl, how are you?

Sanders: Fine. How are you doing?

President Johnson: Oh, I’m kind of beat up, but I’m doing all right, I guess.

Sanders: What I wanted to call you about, I’ve been talking to John Connally and Farris Bryant. [unclear] I’ve come over here to John’s office because he asked me to come by here.

President Johnson: Good.

Sanders: We’re running into a situation now which could create complete havoc, and that’s this: As you know, as far as I’m concerned, we’re in great shape now. You’ve solidified everybody. You’ve even got Alabama folks jumping up and down saying we’ve got a great platform. I honestly believe that we’re in better shape than we’ve ever been.

But, now, this idea that, it seems to me, has sort of come forth about the possibility of this convention creating two delegates-at-large, and seating this Negro from Mississippi and a white man from Mississippi, recognizing—I don’t care whether they pass a resolution and say that there’s no such thing as the Freedom Party. When they come along and recognize two members of this Freedom crowd and give them the status as an official delegate to the convention, on the basis that they recognize their protest, the next time, our people have already said to me, next time, they could give 22 people in Georgia or any other place—the Democratic convention could—they could create 22 delegates-at-large and give them to somebody else on some other basis.

What I’m afraid of—and this is the thing that I wanted to be sure that you understood—if they start seating two delegates, even if they start trying to disassociate them in the convention, I honestly believe you’re going to have a wholesale walkout from the South. And if it gets down to that point, of course, I don’t know what we’re going to be able to do. Because my position is I’m for Lyndon Johnson and I’m going to stay for Lyndon Johnson, and I’m for him for President. But I don’t know whether I could sit in a convention that would turn around and seat some folks and name them delegates, and give them the status of delegates in a convention, without any legal right to do so.

I don’t mind—I talked to a lot of these people, and, hell, they can rope off a blue-ribbon section for them right in the middle of the damn floor, so far as I’m concerned, and seat them all there, and give them the status as honored guests, anything they want. But, for God’s sake, if they make delegates out of them, it’s going to just tear the thing up.

We’ve got the South solid, it looks like to me. I understand George Wallace is going to get on an airplane from Atlanta to come back up here, because we ruined him in Alabama with the Alabama setup we worked out so far.

There’s no way you can pick up the telephone and talk to some of those cra—

President Johnson: [testily] Carl, I thought this was . . . I have. I thought this would be the best thing that could happen. I don’t see how it hurts anybody. It’s got no connection to Mississippi. Mississippi has got every vote they ever had. Georgia has got every vote they ever had. We’re not going to have any votes to begin with. This is a pure sop to two people to sit over there that never cast a vote, so we don’t have a brawl. I think we’re going to have it anyway, because [Joe] Rauh is just raising hell about it.

Sanders: You know what it looks like to the South. I’m telling you because you want me to tell you the truth.

President Johnson: Yes. Sure do.

Sanders: It looks like we’re turning the Democratic Party over to the Negroes, because—

President Johnson: I couldn’t—

Sanders: It’s all related right back to this damn Freedom crowd and Rauh. When you make a delegate out of them, you’ve gone out here . . .

President Johnson: Rauh and his Freedom crowd are raising hell. This just gives our leaders that got those serious problems [an] excuse of some kind to not vote with them.

Now, if we don’t do this, the alternative is, by God, getting beat.

Sanders: I’d rather get beat—

President Johnson: I—

Sanders: —[unclear] this convention on the basis of fighting for the legal principle [Johnson gives a frustrated laugh] than have the—

President Johnson: I can’t take a legal principle, though, and carry Chicago and New York and the places we’ve got to carry, you see? You get out there and get a vote now. Buford Ellington just came in and said Bobby Kennedy is going to make a speech for the Freedom Party tonight opposing this thing.

Sanders: No, that isn’t right. Bobby Kennedy called me this afternoon when I got in here. I told him that I heard this thing was going to happen. He told me that he hadn’t been consulted about it, but he agreed that law and order ought to be the thing, and they ought to stick with the principle of law and order, and that he didn’t know what was going to happen.

I said, "Hell, you ought to pitch in and try to tell that damn crowd in New York, where you having a reception, that they ought to be reasonable about it." That’s exactly what he told me.

All I’m saying, and you know this: that is we’re for you, and I’m going to stay with you as an individual, but I’m not going to sit in a convention up there, and I think the rest of them feel the same way, if they’re going to start making delegates-at-large out of this Freedom crowd over there. Because there ain’t a damn way in the world where we can justify that. All we’ve done there is put the Negro—Martin Luther King and a few of them—we’ve just given in and letting them decide who’s going to be the delegates to the Democratic convention.

Joe Rauh—to hell with Joe Rauh. I don’t know Joe Rauh. I’ve sat beside him once or twice. [The President chuckles lowly.] But I’ll be damned if I believe he’s your friend, the way he’s acting.

President Johnson: [coolly] He’s opposed to this, Carl. He’s opposed to this. This is a pure Johnson move to try not to call the roll in that convention. I don’t see how it could hurt a human being. Mississippi has got every vote they’ve got. They didn’t allow anybody to go in the primary. They wouldn’t allow the Negroes to come into the convention. Nevertheless, we’re going ahead and seating them. We’re giving them every vote they’ve got. And all we’re doing is saying that the protest group—protest of education, protest of housing—which you’ve already recognized in Georgia, and sought for on it, which we’ve already recognized, and put some on it.

But they have not put anybody on it. And we’re just saying on a national basis we’re going to recognize two of them when we’re not going to vote. It’s a pure symbolic thing—

Sanders: Why don’t you make them recognize two people outside of the damn Mississippi Freedom Party?

President Johnson: If I could do that, and get my job done, it would be fine. If I were dictator, I wouldn’t even be discussing it. But I can’t. And I can’t even get them to do it this way. But I can get the bosses to go with me this way, and I may be able to get 1,100 to 900, something like that, assuming I could hold the South. If I can’t, why, it’s all off again, and we just have to go start something else.

It’s the damnedest thing I ever saw. We’ve got no votes. We’ve got no disagreements about anything. We’ve got a unanimous platform. But we’ve got this bunch over there, and I’ve got to get something that will permit a man like [Richard] Daley and [Robert] Wagner and them not to get murdered at home.

Sanders: I know it’s important—

President Johnson: They can say, "God damn it, we recognized this as a symbolic protest, not with Mississippi, but as inadequate education, inadequate housing, inadequate transportation, discrimination through the years. So we said we’ll recognize two of them."

Nobody’s ever going to call the roll. All it does is just keep from calling that damn roll and dividing it up. Last night we figured that we might get 900 and they might get 1,100. And I think we did too much. Massachusetts, now you’re talking about Bobby, the vote up there was about 48 to 10, against us. New England was 3-to-1 against us. We’ve just got to find some way to keep them from calling the roll.

Now, Rauh won’t go with us. Rauh’s down there fighting it. But this fellow Ullmann, who makes up one of their 13. We figure we can knock off him, and knock off three or four more, and it wouldn’t cost us a thing. Didn’t hurt Mississippi—Mississippi’s fight is won. She comes there with the legal delegates. They’re recognized—

Sanders: I’ll bet you they’ll turn right around and walk out—the whole delegation.

President Johnson: I think probably—who?

Sanders: Mississippi.

President Johnson: They may do it. May do it. If the South’s that way, why, they’ve won. They’ve got seated. They’ve caused more goddamned trouble and done less for it than any two states I ever heard of in my life to the party that they’re supposed to like.

Sanders: You know damn well that I care less what happens in Mississippi.

President Johnson: Yes.

Sanders: Of course, frankly, being perfectly candid about it, I realize that you’ve got to look after Mayor Wagner and some of those big boys, but it’s going to cut our throats from ear to ear.

President Johnson: [frustrated] Carl, I don’t see . . . What do we lose? What does Georgia and Texas lose?

Sanders: Georgia and Texas. Georgia loses this, and Texas. We’re going to lose this, Mr. President. We lose. All we do then is we turn around and [unclear]. You’ve got a platform there where the liberals say you’ve got the strongest damn civil rights plank you’ve ever had and we say you’ve got the most moderate. It’s working it both ends of the line—

President Johnson: I don’t agree that they say that, because they say it’s a pallid platform.

Sanders: I read in the paper where this fellow Celler said it was the most strongest platform they ever had.

President Johnson: Celler may do it, but you see the New York Times. They’ve got an editorial this morning [called] "pallid platform," and said we don’t . . .

Sanders: I think it’s a damn good one.

President Johnson: I do, too.

Sanders: And I think the people in this state think it’s a damn good one.

President Johnson: I do, too. And I think that if you go in there tonight and adopt this resolution . . . If they can’t get a minority report where we can kill it, without a minority report in that committee, where they can’t get a roll call, then we’ll sail through there like nobody’s business.

[Regarding] Mississippi, we can say we seated every damn one of them. We didn’t touch their state. We recognized them. We voted to take very vote they had. We didn’t take anything away from them.

We’ve had a couple of honorary sergeant-at-arms all of our life. We’ve had a couple of honorary vice presidents.

Sanders: These folks aren’t honorary. You’re making them delegates!

President Johnson: [ignoring Sanders] We’ve had a couple of Kentucky colonels all of our life. We, as a symbolic gesture, are going to say, "Here’s two people, now, and you can go and say that by God, your protest was heard, and your protest was recognized." They ought be members of the Mississippi delegation.

Sanders: Can you call them something but delegates? Can you can call them honorary?

President Johnson: If I could do it and get by with them, Carl, I would. But what they ought to be, now, honestly, between you and me, with their population 50 percent [of the state], they ought to be delegates to the Mississippi group.

Sanders: Not unless they’re Democrats, Mr. President.

President Johnson: [forcefully] They’re Democrats! By God, they attempted to attend the convention, and pistols kept them out! These people went in and begged to go and participate in the conventions. They’ve got half the population. They won’t let them. They lock them out.

Sanders: They aren’t registered. They’ve got half the population—

President Johnson: Well, some of them are registered.

Sanders: Some of them.

President Johnson: That’s enough to get two delegates on here. I mean, you recognize them. John Connally recognizes them.

Sanders: You don’t suppose this would have happened—

President Johnson: [passionately] I think you’ve got a good, legitimate case to say that the state of Mississippi wouldn’t let a Negro come into their damn convention, and therefore they violated the law and wouldn’t let them vote. Wouldn’t let them register. Intimidated them. And, by God, they ought to be seated. I think there’s a legitimate case to be made there, but I don’t want to make it.

But I don’t see how they can raise hell—have their cake and eat it too—and just say, "By God, I’m going to be a dog in the manger. I’m going to have all I got, every vote that the state of Mississippi has got, and then, by God, I’m going to bark if somebody across the hall get a couple."

Sanders: Frankly, I ain’t interested in Mississippi—

President Johnson: That ain’t going to take a vote away from a human. All it does is just stop the agony and the pain and the bad publicity of three damn days here on television, and gets us out of there with a unanimous vote. I can’t see that it costs a man a dime.

Sanders: It’s going to cost a hell of a lot down there publicity-wise. They’re going to say that the Negroes just took over the damn convention—

President Johnson: Two Negroes can’t take over anything, Carl.

Sanders: I know they can’t take it over, but the fact that they—

President Johnson: They can say you’ve got four. I’ve been hearing that on the television. But that don’t—

Sanders: I appointed them. And they’re good, loyal Democrats. They come within the damn rules. They don’t belong to some damn rump crowd in Georgia that came up here and said, "Let me in the convention."

President Johnson: Carl, we’ve been doing that for a good many years, recognizing peculiar problems in the state. I went to Chicago in 1944 with a rump crowd myself, and the delegation—

Sanders: Name them anything but delegates, and say they’re going to—

President Johnson: If I could, my friend, I would. I would do anything I could to even get their support. I haven’t got their support. But I’ve got a man that’s supporting them that’s coming off of their list and coming on to ours. I can’t satisfy them. The last people that I thought that this would object to is the South, because we’re seating Mississippi. We’re giving them every vote they’ve got.

Sanders: If Mississippi—

President Johnson: She wins.

Sanders: I’ll tell you this, though. I would do this before I’d make that trade with Mississippi. The only thing that worries me, and that’s what I’m saying now. If this Mississippi delegation is going to stay, then that may hold the rest of us—

President Johnson: Well, you and John get over there and say what else? Why is it going to hurt anybody if you’re seated, and you got every vote in your delegation seated? Every man that you’ve got there that will take the vote, he’s seated. Mississippi has got her full number. What damn difference does it make to them if we don’t take away from any other state, but we allot two seats and two badges to two fellows that are a symbol of discrimination in housing and education not connected with Mississippi. They say that in the presentation.

Sanders: They’re connected with Mississippi, though.

President Johnson: What?

Sanders: And they’re part of the Freedom crowd. They’ve been up here fighting—Isaiah [sic: Aaron] Henry, I’ve heard his name all over the damn news, and everything else. When they seat him, they’re going to say . . . What I’m concerned about, and maybe we can settle this—is the whole damn Mississippi regular delegation then saying, "Well, the hell with that," and you’ve gone ahead, then, and turned the damn party over to the Negroes. Then, the next thing, another Southern state gets up and says the same thing. Then we’ve got the whole damn crowd—

President Johnson: If we seat two of them there, and you did have a roll call—which we hope you don’t have, and we don’t believe you will—you’ll outvote them two to one in Georgia, with your four Negroes. We’ll outvote them a good many in Texas. And Mississippi will be there to vote them down 40 to 1.

They’re not going to have a vote. It’s just a pure, symbolic, pussyfooting thing to try to keep from splitting the party like Goldwater would like to see it split.

Sanders: You know I don’t want to split it.

President Johnson: It’s just like the word "enforcement." It don’t make a damn whether it’s administration or enforcement. But they made a big symbol of it, and if I hadn’t taken enforcement, they’d have run me across the damn water. It’s not going to make . . . I’m going to handle that myself. If I’m here elected . . .

These delegates are not going to hurt us, or hurt me, or hurt Georgia, or hurt Mississippi. The Freedom Party is not being seated. What’s happening is we’re doing four or five things. Number one: we’re coming in there and seating the state of Mississippi. Every damn one of them. Now, they oughtn’t to be, Carl. They oughtn’t . . .

Sanders: I don’t—

President Johnson: You and I just can’t survive our political modern life with these goddamned fellows down there that are eating them for breakfast every morning. They’ve got to quit that. They’ve got to let them vote. And they’ve got to let them shave. And they’ve got to let them eat, and things like that. And they don’t do it.

However much we love Jim Eastland and John Stennis, they get a governor like Ross Barnett, and he’s messing around there with [George] Wallace, and they won’t let one man go in a precinct convention. We’ve got to put a stop to that, because that’s just like the old days, by God, when they wouldn’t let them go in and cast a vote of any kind.

You’ve put a stop to it in your state. But we’re going to ignore that. We’re going to say, "Hell, yes, you did it. You’re wrong. You violated the ’57 law, and you violated the ’60 law, and you violated the ’64 law, but we’re going to seat you—every damn one of you. [dripping with sarcasm] You lily white babies, we’re going to salute you."

Sanders: My suggestion would be—don’t seat Mississippi or the two delegates that are there, either one of them, unless the Mississippi regular delegation will give you assurance that if they’re seated with these other two, they won’t walk out.

President Johnson: You go over . . . They think . . . We think—I don’t know; I’m not there. And I haven’t taken anybody else’s calls. I don’t want you to let anybody know that I even talked to you. Because I’m doing my best to avoid it. I’m turning them down. I don’t want them to say that I’m calling in there.

But they tell me that these folks that will take the oath, come in there, that there will be over half of them from Mississippi that will do it. I don’t know whether they will or not. I haven’t talked to them. But I thought that maybe you and John could sit down and talk to them and say to them that they’re going to. . .

They win their fight. Number one—they’ve been challenged. They’ve got no credentials. They haven’t been seated. The Credentials Committee comes out there tonight and says, "Number one, we seat the state of Mississippi," and everybody takes the oath. That’s number one.

Number two. We’re going to pass a resolution to take care of this thing in the future.

Number three. We’re going to say that two people, symbolic here, can be taken as general delegates, having nothing to do with Mississippi, depriving Mississippi of nothing, and try to put an end to this thing. Now—

Sanders: Why don’t you do this if you’re going to do that? You’ve still got a little problem with that oath down in Alabama. Everybody has been now saying, "Hell, you’re making me sign one, and you ain’t making nobody else . . ."

Why don’t you let John Bailey or somebody, if you get an agreement with the Mississippi regulars that they’ll stick, then let Bailey or somebody just let the whole goddamned convention rise at one time and say, "I want everybody to repeat after me: I’m a Democrat. I’m going to support the nominees and work for the Democratic Party in November." Everybody stand and repeat it in unison, and have the whole damn hall do it. Everybody does it, and that’s the damn—

President Johnson: That would suit me fine. I would love to do it. Anything that I can do to get harmony, my friend, I sure do want to do it, because I—

Sanders: It would take the pressure off the whole thing, and that would wind up the oath business.

President Johnson: You and John—you get with John and you all suggest that. Both of you are young and modern and effective, and I’m a poor old man here that’s got a government falling on me. In Vietnam today, I just walked out of the [National] Security Council. I’ve got McNamara coming in here at 6:00 tonight. I’m bringing General [Maxwell] Taylor back. I’ve got Cyprus in a hell of a war. I can’t go up there and tell those damn fellows, and argue with Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King and the fellow from Alabama—Bull Connor. They ought to try to make it as easy on me as they can, because they’ve all been in these things in their own state conventions. They’ve got problems, and they’re going to have them.

Now, this doesn’t hurt anybody. I’m for everybody taking the oath. Nobody claims they won’t do it except Mississippi and Alabama.

Sanders: That’s right, and now they say they’ll do it. They just don’t want to be singled out.

President Johnson: Just tell them that every national committeeman has taken it, from every state, speaking for his state.

Sanders: I agree with you—

President Johnson: Every one of them have already done it. But I don’t object. I’d come up there myself, walk out naked and take it, if it would ease Bull Connor’s pressure any.

You and John get together and try to talk to this group, and . . .

Sanders: All right.

President Johnson: It’s just going to take us 10 minutes to get this thing through. These men never participate in anything. Never vote in anything. Never have any voice. Hell, I’d give them 20 votes rather than cost me 2,000,000 on this television, like they’ve done the last two days.

Sanders: I’d give them anything, just like you say. I don’t think they’re doing any—

President Johnson: But you see what they’re doing tonight. I’ve got a list of his [Rauh’s] calls. He’s going to speak at the California delegation. He’s going to speak at the Washington delegation. He’s trying to speak at the Kentucky delegation.

Each day, he’s just adding to it, and causing us trouble. He’s getting on television that he’s threatening us, that he’s not going to stand up and vote for us.

Now, we’ve got a poll coming out tomorrow. What does that poll show? Just can get out of that convention and hold it. [reading] "Johnson’s political stock up since stand on Vietnam. For release not earlier than Wednesday, August 26th.

"Public support for the way [the] U.S. is handling the situation has shot up. One important reason for Johnson’s improved position in the political race is his stand on Vietnam." Then he goes ahead and writes about it, and quotes everybody, and so forth.

NBC is releasing a poll tonight, Roper’s new figures, [on] minorities. Negro 97 percent, Jewish 86 percent—

Sanders: It’s going to stay there, though, Mr. President.

President Johnson: —Catholic 73, union people 76, women 68. These figures beat anything ever in the history—including FDR.

Sanders: The Negro ain’t going to leave.

President Johnson: Well, if they don’t have a bunch of these leaders going on television who are his heroes telling him that he can sit it out, and that’s what he was telling them yesterday.

Sanders: That’s what they said down there, too, when I ran [in 1962], that some of them might sit it out, but they didn’t. They’re going to vote 100 percent. Martin Luther King—as you well know, he’ll be with you today and somebody else tomorrow, if it comes down to it.

President Johnson: I know that. I know that.

Sanders: I—I—

President Johnson: I’m not throwing Mississippi out. I’m giving theme very damn vote they’ve got—every single one.

Sanders: John wants to talk to you for one minute. Mr. President, John wants to speak to you. Thank you for letting me talk to you.

President Johnson: All right. Thank you, Carl. You help John, won’t you?

Sanders: I will.