tv [untitled] February 4, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm EST
recordings acquired by the rapp collection. they donated one to the archives and put the other up for sale. visit our website at cspan.o cspan.org/history for a link to the national archives website where you can hear the full 2:22 recording. this is "american history tv" on c-span3. each week at this time "american history tv" features an hourlong conversation from c-span's a sunday night interview series "q and a," here is this week's encore "q and a" on "american history tv." this week on "q and a," our guest done doar talks about his
experiences serving as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the kennedy and johnson administrations. >> john doar, when you think back about your life and your involvement in public service, what's the first memory that comes to mind? >> the time i worked in the civil rights division. >> in the justice department. >> in the justice department. >> and why? >> well, because i had the opportunity, it was a great chance to work on a very important problem in american government. we had a situation in the '60s where really we didn't have an honest system of self-government. and through the efforts of the -- everybody in the country, including the civil rights division, the voting rights act, came in 1965, and the power of that act has been established
last november 4th when for the first time really every citizen in the united states voted or had the opportunity to vote freely. that was a great thing. >> what was your reaction when barack obama was elected president? >> well, i was -- it was just so rewarding because i think back what the situation was when i arrived in washington in 1960. countless black citizens in the south couldn't vote. they were second-class citizens from cradle to grave. the discrimination was terrible, brutal, and to think that that's over. it's done. that period of american history is over, finished. >> i want to show some still photographs from your past and get you to give us a synopsis of what do we see in this picture right there? >> okay. that picture there is the
justice department. there's the attorney general, robert kennedy, and assistant attorney general for civil rights brook marshall and i'm standing. >> and what was your role at that time? >> i was the first assistant to burke in the civil rights division. >> what's your memory of burt marshall? >> my memory of burt he was a terrific lawyer, the best i've never known. a person like burt marshall comes around once every 6en600 years. >> how about bobby kennedy? >> he was terrific. the first day that bobby kennedy came into office, he was committed to doing something about the discrimination in voting. >> am i guessing right that you were about 40 years old in that picture? >> that's right. >> let's go to the next still shot, and you're there on the right. who's on the right and who's in the middle in? >> the chief u.s. marshal is on the left, and james meredith is
in the middle. it's a shot sometime when meredith entered the university of mississippi in 1962. >> and what's your role? >> i was the first assistant in the civil rights division at that time. i was asked to accompany james meredith when he entered the university. >> what was the significance of him entering the university of mississippi? >> well, no black student had ever gone to the university of mississippi. this was the first time. this was the first time any integration of schools in mississippi occurred. >> this was 1962. >> this was 1962. >> and what's the first memory that comes to mind about what happened in and around this episode? >> well, the trouble that occurred sunday night after meredith finally got on the campus. there was a bad situation. it got to a point where there was rioting, and it was
fortunate that as few people got hurt as they did. >> two people were killed. >> two people were killed. >> and your role at that time was to do what around james meredith and how well did you know him? >> well, i'd met him a week or so before and i accompanied him to jackson, mississippi, a week before, to try to register at the state office building. that was not successful. the governor had rejected him, had turned him back. we then went to memphis and waited for the opportunity to enter the university. we went down on one morning, and we were turned back at the -- one of the entrances to the university. the second time we went down was two or three days later. we got about halfway from memphis to oxford -- or to the university, and we were told to
go back because it wasn't safe enough for him to enter. and finally we went back on a sunday afternoon and came in on a quiet sunday afternoon, and we went to a dormitory there about 100 or 200 behind the main office building called the liceum building and got james meredith settled in his room, an inside room. it really would have been impossible for anybody to harm him there. and then from that time on, i moved from his quarters to the liceum building through the evening. >> another still photo from your past. >> well, that's -- that's me. that's the situation that occurred at jackson, mississippi, after medgar evers
funeral. the black friends of medgar evers wanted to have a march down through the city of jackson, peaceful, quiet, dignified, and the police chief it was all right for them to march from the church to downtown, but they couldn't go on the main street in jackson. so, they crossed the main street and went into the black areas where the black shops and black stores are. and then some of the kids decided that they wanted to march up to -- up the main street, and they went back to the intersection, and when the police saw that, they cordoned off the intersection with a row of police, and then there started to be some rock throwing, and i happened to be there, so i walked out, and i made everybody stop. >> medgar evers had been shot
by? >> james beckwith. a racist fellow from mississippi. medgar evers was the naacp leader in mississippi and a very excellent, wonderful man. and i knew him. had gone to get information on him beginning early in '61. seen him many times between '61 and '63, and i considered him a friend and i went to his funeral. >> and he was 37 years old. >> i think so, yeah. >> and what happened when you went in the middle of the street? did it actually stop the -- >> it stopped. >> and then what happened? >> nothing happened. it dispersed. people circulated around. nobody -- before it stopped, there was a line of black kids, black students, that were up kind of nose to nose to the
police and were wanting to know why this -- they couldn't march on the main street in jackson peacefully. and, of course, the police were not responding at all, but they had this cordon of police across with a paddy wagon behind them. and then this may be my speculation. i suspect that one of the black kids may have got too close to the police line and bumped one of the policemen and that resulted in the police beginning to grab the kids and put them through the line and into the back of the paddy wagon. at the same time the county sheriff's people, the deputy sheriffs, had pulled up and reinforced the line on the side -- each side of the sidewalks, not in the street. the police were in the street, and they were on the sidewalks, so it was store to store so to speak, the line.
and i was nervous about the sheriff's deputies. i didn't think that they had the same discipline that the city police did. they had shotguns. and i was afraid somebody was going to get hurt. and so i don't know what i really thought except i thought that it should be stopped. >> why haven't you ever written a book about this time in your life? >> i don't write. >> you can talk it. >> i know, i tell you, brian, i think memories are awfully fallible, and to me the history of that period is going to be -- come from some historian that really digs into the records and gets the documents and tests the documents against people's memory. >> you really haven't done much
in the way of appearing on television. have you talked much about this at all to any historians on the record on an oral history or anything like that? >> well, there's one group, one person who asked me to do that some years ago, and i was interviewed on tape for some time. i find it was somewhat unsatisfying because when i'm asked a question about something that happened down in mississippi or louisiana, i like to be accurate. and i often afterwards was frustrated that i hadn't done enough work in preparation for that interview to be satisfied about it. so wr s so, i agreed to do this today for you because i followed your
program, and i've got respect for it. and -- but otherwise i don't -- i don't do this. >> well, actually, we're delighted to have you here, and you came to town, and the reason why we asked you and we didn't know whether you said yes or not, you came to town to get a humanitarian award given by the coral society of washington at the kennedy center. did you have to speak? >> well, that was -- did i what? >> did you have to speak at the awards ceremony? >> i had to speak, yes. but when i was asked to accept that award, i said i would do it knowing that the award really was for the work of burt marshall and the civil rights division during the time he served the government under robert kennedy. and i don't have any hesitancy about speaking about burt marshall or about the whole -- all the lawyers in the civil rights division and everybody there. there was a wonderful, wonderful experience in my life to be part
of that. >> let me put that book ends here. born in 1921 in new richmond, wisconsin. >> well, born 1921 in minneapolis, minnesota, which is just f40 miles away from new richmond, wisconsin. >> we'll come back to more of this, but we move ahead to in 1960, you were a republican and went to work in the eisenhower administration and stayed for seven. >> i think that's right. >> how long did you stay a republican? >> still a republican. >> after all these years, you went through all the work with the democratic administration and you stayed republican? >> that's right. i'm a lincoln republican. >> what does that mean? >> well, that means that we believe in an honest system of self-government. in 1960 for the last -- for 75, almost 100 years before that, we had a dishonest system of self-government. 110% of the people couldn't vote. >> and you went to princeton. >> right. >> where did you get your law degree?
>> university of california at berkeley. >> after the 1967 -- we got another photo i want to show that people might recognize some of the players in this book. >> that's in 1974, when i was the special counsel for the house judiciary committee investigating the conduct of president nixon. hillary clinton is standing next to me, and then -- as is next to her is joseph woods from oakland, california, who was my associate as counsel of the committee, counsel to the committee. we were law school classmates. >> now, you served in that position as counsel to peter rodino and the committee for how long? >> well, i was probably from the 30th of december, 1st of january, 2000 -- no, 19 -- >> '73?
>> 1973 and then for the 8 or 9 months in '74. >> and the conclusion of that committee, the three articles that were passed by the committee, when you read about your role in that, some say that you were the one that convinced some of the republicans to come over and vote with the democrats against president nixon. >> well, i don't think that's -- i don't think that's accurate. i think that the ways of the evidence as it was presented by the lawyers that worked for me persuaded the republicans, persuaded all the committee members that voted yes on the impeachment articles to vote yes. we set for ourselves a standard when we started to conduct the investigation. that standard was that we weren't going to be satisfied unless we got a two-thirds vote. peter rodino did not want to
just get a bare majority with democrats voting one way and republicans the other. we wanted to persuade two-thirds of that committee of 37 people that there was grounds for recommending that the president be impeached. >> and that first vote was 27-10? >> i can't remember what it was, but it was a two-thirds -- it was two-thirds. >> and required a number of republicans to vote. >> yes. yes, it did. >> what was the impact of that vote on the presidency? >> i can't tell you what the impact was. >> i mean, did that move -- that vote came in, what, july of 1974? >> july of 1974. >> and he quit august the 8th. >> right. right. >> do you remember that moment as being the thing that tipped the scales for him? >> no, no. i don't -- i don't know what tipped the scales for him. >> and that experience for you, have you done any work, written
anything about that experience? >> no, no, i have not. >> have you done any oral histories about that time? >> no, i don't think so. i can't say because i -- when you use the word oral histories, does it mean every interview, have i ever talked to anybody about it? i'm sure i have, but i haven't sat down and said this is going to be your history of that period. >> how many lawyers worked for you? >> 35. >> i know this is another time, but do you remember how much money you spent? >> how much money we spent? >> i mean, how much money was devoted to the investigation? >> well, not a heck of a lot. we didn't -- we decided early on that it didn't make very good sense for us to go out and a further, a new investigation of the president's conduct. we saw our job as to pull together all of the investigations that occurred
that day and try to bring them together and sharpen them in the way that was as persuasive as possible if we thought the facts warranted. >> back in 1987 this network covered a three-day conference in oxford, mississippi. journalists got together to talk about civil rights. and i want to run some video from that point a gentleman by the name of charles dunigan, he was a former publisher of mccomb, mississippi, "enterprises journal" talking about your work in regard to james meredith. >> after governor ross barnett had had himself appointed registrar of the university, john and federal marshal were taking meredith to barnett. i was supposed to get him registered. it was sometime during the proceedings that was going on. there stood john over six feet tall, this big federal marshal,
both white and this 135 black man in between them who had received all this -- all this national publicity. governor barnett's remarks were, which one of you is james meredith? >> what do you remember about ross barnett, the governor of mississippi? >> well, he was a show man, and he was really very unhelpful to us in carrying out the responsibilities that the justice department had. the attorney general and burt made every effort to persuade the people of the state of mississippi, the leaders of the state of mississippi, that it was in their interest to cooperate and to comply with the federal order of the court.
>> well, had there ever been a black person admitted to any mississippi state university? >> no. this was the first one. >> and why was james meredith the first one? >> well, because he decided he was going to be given an education at the university of mississippi. he was a very stubborn man, and i say stubborn in a good word, determined. >> and he had been going to dillard in new orleans, which is a historically black college. >> right. >> and had done, what, a couple years and went on to mississippi and done a couple years and graduated. he's still alive. >> yes. >> are you in touch with him at all? did you ever talk to him? >> i was on a -- the last time i think i saw him, i was on a panel i think at the kennedy center in boston several years ago. he's -- he's -- james meredith is his own man, and he's quiet,
determined, not a whiner, completely convinced of what he's doing is the right thing. he follows his own course. doesn't -- he doesn't try to march with what anybody else thinks. he's really an individual. >> i assume you're talking about him, he went on to go to law school and ended up being an aide to senator jesse helms of north carolina. >> that's right. that's right. >> so, go back to the time -- what was the attitude on the part of the administration, the kennedy administration, about getting involved in mississippi early in their term? >> the attitude of the kennedy administration was that james meredith was going to go to the university of mississippi that fall, that there wasn't going to
be any waffling about that whatsoever. and it was -- it was clear to me six months before september, 1972, that the administration was determined to do everything that it could do to see that james meredith entered the university. >> did you have conversation in mississippi or in other places in the south with white people about why they felt so strongly about keeping the blacks down? >> well, not really. because i can honestly say, no, i don't think i ever have, because i don't think anybody thought that they would make any head way with me if they gave me that garbage. >> so, a fella who was born in
minneapolis but grew up in new richmond, wisconsin, any black folks live there? >> no. but let me tell you something, when i got to the justice department, i'm a small town lawyer. small town lawyers investigate their own cases. there was a matter that came up in haywood county, tennessee, in the fall of 1960. and i came into the department of justice one saturday, and two of the young lawyers were reviewing a lot of fbi reports about the efforts of a black local organization to get people in haywood county, tennessee, to register to vote. and that as a result of that, the whole white community, the power structure of that county, lawyers, bankers, merchants, farmers, had taken collective
steps to evict black sharecroppers from their farms. and i decided that the thing to do was to go down there and see what was it about. so, i went with another lawyer down to haywood county, tennessee, and i talked to a young man there who was part of the civic league, black man, and i said, i believe i'd like to talk some of the black sharecroppers who had been evicted. and he said he could arrange that, so that night or the next night he took us out to a little black church on the gravel road. the church was on four corners on cement blocks. i went into that church and there were maybe 100 men and women, husband and wife, sitting in the pews, in the little church, in rural haywood county,
1960. and i walked to the front of the church and i explained i was from the department of justice in washington and i was there to try to help them, and i asked how many of you have you been evicted from your farms. and every single person in the room raised their hand. now, here they were, poor people, good people, honest people, some of them had lived on the farms for two, three generations. they had families, sometimes they'd have two kids, sometimes they'd have six kids, seven kids. and to think that these people were being ordered off their land, off -- in the middle of winter 1960-'61, i just thought this is cruel and savage. and if i can do anything about it, i'm going to try. >> do you have any idea where you got this kind of an attitude?
>> well -- >> your father? >> my mother was a very broad minded person. but it wasn't because that she thought anything about black people. it was -- she was -- she was very liberal, moderate, fair with respect to religion, but i think when i was at princeton, princeton was really quite a southern school, i had a number of black friends -- not black friends. i had a number of friends from the south. there were no blacks at princeton. and from time to time i seem to recall we'd get into discussions about the race problem in the south, and the message always was from the southerner
classmates, we know we have a problem, but the worst thing that could happen is some yankee comes down there to do something about it. we've got to solve it for ourselves, that was in 1941, '42, '46. well, then i go up to california to law school. and then i go back to new richmond, wisconsin, to practice law. and in the spring of 1960, i read in the papers about the sit-ins by the kids in north carolina, and i realized that, you know, nothing had happened. nothing really had happened. sure, the brown decision had happened, but as far as solving the problem, nothing had happened. and the second thing about it was that i always felt that wisconsin was really a second-class state because it had an honest system of self-government.
we had a two-party system. functioned reasonably well. but we were competing with the one-party system in the south, and if you looked at that period of history, it didn't really ever happen that there was a senator from wisconsin who was a powerful committee chairman of one of the powerful committees in the senate. they were always from the south. and that seemed to be, if you -- that didn't comport with my sense of fairness. and so, there was a regional attitude came out of a regional attitude, at least for me, that it would be good for the country, good for wisconsin, if we could eliminate the solid south. >> so, recapping st. paul's
academy high school in minneapolis, the twin cities. then to princeton. >> right. >> studying what? >> well, just politics. >> from princeton to the university of california. >> yes. >> and then to new richmond to practice law. >> yes. >> harold tyler calls on the phone, what was his job at the time? >> he was with the department of justice. he couldn't get anybody to take the job of his first assistant. >> he had only six months left in the eisenhower administration. >> right. that's not a very attractive time to come to washington at the tag end of an administration. and he contacted his friends in the law schools and called harvard and yale and lawyers he knew, and they gave him a list of people that he ought to contact, and