tv [untitled] May 31, 2012 12:30am-1:00am EDT
to reading this weekly newspaper in little rock, this backdrop of soldiers being maimed and killed and other incidents was part of your political consciousness. and that was, you know, that was in the back of my head, emmet till, and you read all of this and something is wrong. i didn't know -- i was a kid like many of these young people. i didn't know how i was going to change, it by knew it was wrong, and that if i had a chance to be a part of this change agent, i wanted to be there. i mean, it -- and i thought everybody else was with me on that plane. the great lesson of life i learned when i signed up to transfer school and all my buddies said they were going to be with me and the moment of truth came, i'm standing there by myself. what's wrong with this picture?
>> yes, exactly. >> but it was all of this that we were looking at. it just didn't -- i mean, part of the problem today is that everybody thinks that dr. king made the speech on the steps. >> and that was it? >> that was it. >> everybody held hands. >> and my hope is that events like this get people to bore down deeper to understand what else was going on and why, you know, we felt we could step forward, and we had the support of family, that we could do something different. >> well, we're going to get to your moment -- big moment in the sunshine in just a minute, ernie green, but did i want to highlight something for people who don't know, because i don't assume everybody knows. emmett till was 14 years old. he's part of the whole lynching thing that was going on. he was lynched in mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. those people that lynched him
later said that they did it, but it was, of course, after the trial, and it was a rigged trial, but this was a signifying moment in the lives of so many young men like ernie green to know that if the country is going to change, this has got to stop. so that's an important, very important, significant moment in the long spectrum of the civil rights movement. so now on to you. if i could get a sense from you, because what we've heard now is what truman did, and i come over to what eisenhower, how he was working, and eisenhower has a bad rap. in your book you try to change the rap on him, and the rap was all he did was sit there and when little rock came, he did one big thing and that's it. that's the whole civil rights history. you have a whole book that says otherwise. but one of the points i wanted to do that i think is maybe connecting is i'm not certain that either man thought social equality was something to be achieved. so they were not about the
business of trying to have social equality between black and whites, and yet, their actions moved them in a direction that had to sustain or support a burgeoning movement, a civil rights movement. so if you could speak to that. and show us what eisenhower was doing behind the scenes. >> it wasn't behind the scenes. that's part of the mythology. let's take the transition from truman to eisenhower quickly. is truman provided for the black community some rhetoric that was important to them. they had so little to count on through all the violence and economic problems that african-americans came the hang on presidential statements as being important. that's something eisenhower didn't give them much. eisenhower had not won the war in europe by making speeches. rhetoric was not his things. he was a man of action, not a man of words.
and too much superficial scholarship done on eisenhower looking what the he said instead of what he did. you know, this is a man who appointed five anti-segregation justices to the supreme court, five, not just earl warren, all of them, anti-segregation. and he -- eisenhower's criticism of eisenhower when he came into office, excuse me, eisenhower's criticism of truman when he came into office was that the federal government hadn't even used the authority it had. and his pet example was the district of columbia, and eisenhower pledged on october 8th, 1952, that he would eliminate every vestige of segregation in the district of columbia. and within his first year in office much of that happened. truman didn't do that. eisenhower did. truman didn't do -- truman deserves credit for the executive order on desegregating the armed forceses, but eisenhower in fact imp 789ed
most of it and had the prestige in the armed forces to make it happen. and he did make it happen in a variety of ways. he desegregated bases in the south. he desegregated federally controlled schools for military dependants in the south before the brown decision, and everybody who thinks that eisenhower was anti-brown really haven't done their homework, and you mentioned about my book. my book is not an opinion piece. there's not a phrase in it that's not rooted in a document or in compelling circumstantial evidence. that doesn't mean there isn't argument that can be had about motivation, but there's some things facts that aren't hidden hand facts as the phrase has become, supreme court appointments. eisenhower refused to appoint judges to federal courts who were known segregationists, refused to do that. john f. kennedy when he came in appointed those right and left, and i have to say to you, folks, i have a son named for jfk, if you want to know where i come from, okay? and, you know, it's going -- i have fun handing in the program,
but, you know, facts are facts, so eisenhower did a lot. he didn't do some things that people would have liked to have seen him do, but we'll get back to little rock, because i don't want to preempt ernie talking about that, but little rock is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what eisenhower was doing. >> could he have -- you know, later on we'll be discussing jfk and lyndon johnson, but -- and so the conversation is that had not kennedy laid out what could happen, that johnson could not have picked it up if truman had not begun the process of desegregating the military, even though you say eisenhower was critical of him not taking it far enough, could he have done what he did? >> no. i think he stood on truman's shoulders. eisenhower introduced legislation, particularly introduced it first in 1956, didn't go anywhere. he reintroduced it in 1957, legislation that in the history books gets credit for passing.
but eisenhower and his attorney general brown proposed it. that legislation was built essentially on the foundation that truman had laid with his commission to declare these rights presented by the civil rights commission, the civil rights division and the justice department. those kind of reforms. eisenhower picked those up, and those were essentially truman proposals initially. he could never get through the congress, and truman deserves credit for proposing it, but i would like to point out to everybody eisenhower is the one that got the first legislation in 82 years, civil rights legislation in 82 years. it was a weak bill. it was insipid in many respects because lyndon johnson and the southern democrats took the heart out of it, particularly the power of the attorney general to sue in federal court for school desegregation. they took that out. but it still laid the foundation for what happened in 1964 and
'6. >> when i said hidden hand, that's often the terminology with president eisenhower the way he operated, hidden hand, not out front, behind closed doors, not in front, and i want to go back and underscore the federal judge appointments because he was very thoughtful as you point out in very clear terms in thinking about those judges that he wanted to appoint. and i don't think we always in terms of thinking about civil rights movement understand the power of those federal judges. so this was in fact quite significant, the placing of those judges, the appointing of those judges. >> yeah. i think it's the most important thing. little rock is the most dramatic, but the most important thing that eisenhower did was to appoint federal judges committed to defending brown, and he appointed them particularly in the fourth and fifth circuits in the south, and he appointed men like frank johnson who was the federal judge in alabama who in 1965 cleared the way for martin luther king's "entourage" to go from selma to montgomery. frank johnson has spent 44 years
on the federal bench, so he would appoint those kind of judges. he appointed ronald davies who is the presiding federal judge in little rock. we'll get back to that, and he appointed, of course, five men to the supreme court, earl warren, john marshall harlan, william brennan, potter stewart, charles evans whittaker is probably his weakest appointment. all five of them committed to the enforcement of brown. and william brennan, any of you know your supreme court history, was not a far right conservative in any way, shape or form. eisenhower actually nominated him when he was in the midst of an election campaign in the fall of '56, and he did that partly for political reasons, too. he wanted a catholic, so a catholic democrat, but eisenhower's judicial appointments lasted decades
later, and felix frankfurter said that the supreme court during this era was the eisenhower court. we all know it as the warren court, but it was the eisenhower court, and i'll tell you one of the great myths was that eisenhower didn't know what earl warren stood for. that is factually incorrect. he knew him well. his attorney general brownell socialized with warren and had run two presidential campaigns for him. he knew exactly who he was. and these books that float around and say that eisenhower didn't know who warren was or how he stood on race is ridiculous. there was a tension between these two guys, and we can talk about that if you want to, but it was not race. it was presidential politics. >> we can come back to that. i want to now get to eisenhower's some say finest moment with regards to civil rights and that's, of course, what happened at little rock. now, gang, remember, we've said that neither truman nor eisenhower looking for social equality. yet we now as you have articulated very well understand
what eisenhower was doing, that he had the power to do. so here he is at a situation at little rock, and his hand is forced. but before we get to what he did, ernie green, tell us the story of little rock, so there you were standing alone. your buddies abandoned you. >> well, i -- everybody's got a favorite teacher story. one of those magic moments. we had a the -- at the black high school that i attended before going to central, my 11th grade history teacher, whose name was gwendolyn scott, she taught black history. i'm sure if the little rock school board knew what she was doing they would have arrested her, because we studied, you know, rebellions, the protest movement, the beginning of the naacp, all of this, and it just seemed to me, that again, going
back, till was in my consciousness. montgomery bus boycott began around december '55. i remember that when the brown decision was handed down. i didn't, you know, i didn't know the nuances of the decision. i only knew the next morning in our local newspaper. it said that this court decision was going to change the face of the south, and i said good. because i wanted to change the face of the south. the south that i saw at that time as a 13, 12, 13-year-old it was something, segregated fountains, buses, limited jobs, all of that. we didn't get our street paved until i think -- until the supreme court decision was handed down. there were no more new school buildings built for black folks after may 17th, 1954 than any time in the history of the country.
all of that, you know, is what you're processing, so the way that little rock was a series, was a challenge from the state naacp daisy bates, and there's a documentary that i think public television has been doing on mrs. bates, but the moment came that i had a chance to say that i wanted to transfer. i wanted to transfer because you saw this huge building. you passed it every day. you knew that i came out of a family of teachers, and they always complained about the resources that central had as compared to what we had, the hand-me-down books, so -- and i figured i wanted to get the best college education i could, so if i want to central, and they had more of what we wanted to have, that this was going to be a good thing.
the summer occurs, and it's kind of bumping along, and i get an invitation, my mother and i, to go down to the superintendent's office to indicate that i've been accepted as one of the students to transfer to central that fall. i thought it was going to be a fairly quiet day. and up until -- and so did most people in little rock, and the night before school was to open, the good governor orville faubus comes on television and says that he's calling out the national guard to keep us out of school. and i'm thinking oh, my goodness, you know, i'm a senior. i want to graduate, and i'm walking into this huge unknown. and that first day the pictures on the brochure of elizabeth and the mob behind her, it dawned on me that maybe this was something other than my going to school, that there's some other issues
going on here, and that i said i wanted to be a part of the change in the south. well, my moment came. and for three weeks, in fact, most people didn't think eisenhower was going to step forward and do anything. i don't think up until the last minute -- we were talking earlier. i had an opportunity to sit with herbert brownell back in the '80s. we were at the eisenhower -- eisenhower library. and i said, you know, eisenhower really didn't need to send 1,000 paratroopers with the 101st airborne. he could have sent 50, 100 or 200, that they would have done the job, but he said that eisenhower, he had just won world war ii, he was the president of a major university without a phd.
he was the darling of both political parties to be the standard bearer for president and he wanted to show faubus who was in charge, that he was tired of having this second-rate governor, as he saw him, push him around. and so on the 25th of september, when they finally sent the troops and we went to school with, you know, a convoy of jeeps and army station wagons and helicopters flying over, you got the feeling you were going to get into school that day. but -- but -- but i -- i -- i think, again, unintended consequences that that was really, at left in my mind, the first time that the federal government had really stepped forward to support that decision and to show african-american communities that they were
uphold their rights, so when i bump into people like john lewis and others, you know, they said little rock was an important part of their consciousness, so each of these steps and places became, you know, kind of stepping stones. one led to the other, and we never expected, any of us, the nine of us, that what we were doing was -- was going to be earth-shattering and that 56 years later i'm still talking about getting to high school. but the -- the interest of all nine of us was really to pursue the best education, public education we thought that was our right, and we had came from families that education was important and that they thought we had the right to be there. >> right. >> and that that was really what
i think eisenhower -- i never had a chance to meet him, never, you know, looked beyond that year of the presidential politics, but one important thing was at my graduation, there was a young minister from montgomery, alabama, speaking in pine bluff, arkansas, and the night that i graduated, dr. king came up, sat with my family and was in the audience, so, you know, this -- all of this connection -- connectivity of how the charlayne story and others, and we all, you know, were doing our individual thing, trying to improve what we thought was the best options for us. >> now understanding it's 56 years later and you have the benefit of hindsight, let's go back to your young self and for
history sake in this conference you have to answer the question of were you frightened? i mean, it's a situation where now we have all the troops showing up to protect you. >> sure, i was frighten -- well, we weren't frightened. we were frightened on the side of the unknown. when the governor called out the national guard to keep us out, yeah, we were frightened, and -- and the unknown was, you know, will i complete school that year? i didn't know whether it was going to collapse on me, but when president eisenhower sent the troops, i mean, that sent one hell of a message. the most difficult times for us is when we withdrew the troops from his side, and then we had to deal with students and harassment and the throwing of food and cursing and locker room being steamed up and glass being broken, and, you know, i mean,
but, again, it came -- something in the back of my head said, you know, if they want to fight this hard to keep you out, something else is going on here. >> yes. >> and -- and giving up on it at this point is not -- not an option, and that i think is really the nine of us, we worked with each other. we became a close-knit unit, a family, and that was really what helped us get through that year. >> little rock nine, ernie green, thank you so much. [ applause ] i'm going to move over -- >> thank you. >> i will add one other thing, that during that period one of -- louis armstrong spoke out strongly.
>> the singer. >> the singer. >> the musician. >> the trumpet player, the musician, and he spoke out and admonished eisenhower to send some protection in to help us. >> he did indeed. >> there weren't a lot of people standing up at that point, and i really think the image that we have of somebody like armstrong, that he would step out of character and stand up. >> david nichols, i want you to pick up the thread. ernie talked to herbert brownell who worked with president eisenhower quite closely so many years later and said why so many. why did he decide to intervene the way he did and why so many troops? >> permit me a personal privilege for a second. mr. green, have you my enormous respect, and your story is the real story about this. i've written about president eisenhower and i'll talk about that, but yours is the great
story that my book doesn't pretend to address, and it's the story of great courage and great importance. >> thank you. >> and i have an african-american daughter who is better off because of what you did, and i appreciate that. [ applause ] >> so if i may, for people who need resources on this, pbs has just aired "daisy bates." it's an hour or a 90-minute documentary produced by sharon le cruz who was once an employee of black side incorporated where i once worked on "with eyes on the prize" which is a very fine resource for this story as well. so there's a couple of -- there's many, many books on the subject so people can follow up. david nichols. >> the intervention. >> yes. >> you want me to talk about eisenhower's troop decision. >> yes. >> i talk about little rock as the tip of the iceberg and we already talked about the judicial appointments. eisenhower and his attorney
general herbert brownell anticipated violence from almost the moment the brown decision was made. and they early on, the 101st airborne division that was sent into little rock in 1957 was trained in riot control. this was not for riots in europe. they anticipated there it might be an alternative to using the one legal out that he had which was to use the troops, hoping not to do it. but he did. but little rock is the defense of the brown iceburg. and i would point out to you that eisenhower could have chosen not to send troops. people assumed he was forced to. he chose to. he chose to very quickly. he didn't quaver around about much of the commentaries say.
the time line was very short. as you mentioned, ernie, faubus announced the national guard to patrol the school on the night of september 2nd. they there there in the morning of september 3rd. on september 4th herbert brownell held a news conference and indicated specifically with the president's approval that one of the options the president could use was to use troops to enforce the supreme court decision. faubus sent a hot wire to eisenhower who was on vacation in newport, rhode island. eisenhower sent a telegram right back which was made public and said i will do whatever is necessary to uphold the constitution. very clear. now, they did meet and try to negotiate an arrangement on september 14th in newport, and that did not work out. and faubus did not keep his word. so eisenhower eventually on
september 24th, when violence erupted again, mobilized the 101st airborne division, and he did -- he said to herbert brownell at that time. he believed in overwhelming the force. you don't do these kinds of things halfway. you send the message, and i think what you said was appropriate. it was several kinds of messages, but i would point out it's the tip of the iceberg because remember about these federal judicial appointments, the judge, the federal judge who issued the court order to faubus to cease and desist was ronald davies, an eisenhower appointee, who opened the door for the justice department to intervene, which opened the door for sending troops to enforce the federal court order. eisenhower was a typical politician. in some ways he could be very cute about this and he would say later oh, i didn't send the troops to enforce desegregation. i sent them to uphold a federal court order. well, a federal court order about what? brown!
that's what. and so ike would sometimes be cute -- too cute by half which was one reason why people looked at what he said publicly. sometimes they don't know where he's coming from because he'd be very politically cute about it. >> it is the first time that the troops were called in in this way. >> this was the first time -- first time that the federal troops were sent in to particularly a former confederate state since reconstruction after the civil war so this is not small potatoes. it's a big deal. but more important -- more important than the judicial appointments that lasted after little rock. >> all right. we've got some questions from the audience. these are good ones. i'm dr. carol anderson. i once heard you say when you visited simmons college when you spoke of president truman and the conflict underscored when the naacp leaders such as a. philip randolph wanted to go to the u.n. and file human rights violations against the u.s. and mrs. roosevelt, and mrs.
roosevelt force them not to, asked by truman. you said your friends can only go so far. can you say more about this? >> yes. and what i'm talking about there is as allida black has so wonderfully laid out, eleanor was an ally, but one of the things about these alliances, and that is absolutely essential in understanding movement, and understanding these -- these freedom strategies, is that your allies can take you so far, they can only go so far, and if you're relying upon your ally to go this far, because what the naacp was counting on, because she was a member of the naacp board of directors, and w.e.b. dubois had pulled together a fabulous petition to the u.n. called an appeal to the world, where he pulled together top scholars, legal scholars, socialists, historians to document the systematic violation of human rights for african-americans since the founding of this nation, and
because no government entity within the u.s. was willing to fully address these issues, the naacp took it to the u.n. this is 1947. this would be the beginning of the cold war, and in that cold war frame, eleanor roosevelt was not about to allow this dirty laundry to be aired before the soviet union because the soviets are sitting there on the commission of human rights seeing this powerful document from the naacp, a legitimate organization, right? and this carefully documented going sweet, i mean, just tears of joy. granted, these are soviets but they are like thank you, god, and -- and eleanor is like, no, we must defend the united states. we cannot have our dirty laundry aired, and so part of that was the pushback in terms of burying this petition deep within the bowels of the u.n., but it was also then sending the signal to the naacp that all of this
international stuff about human rights was not going to be tolerated, particularly in terms of human rights in the united states. we can talk about human rights that the poles aren't able to have democracy. we can talk about human rights that the east germans don't have freedom of speech, but we cannot talk about human rights in terms of what's happening in the united states, and so she resigned from the board of directors of the naacp, and it took all of walter white's efforts. i liken it to almost doing a james brown please, please, please. >> don't go. >> don't go. >> eleanor, please, don't go. >> yeah. that's what i mean about your allies can only take you so far. there are things that she could do. there were things she could not do and would not do and the naacp needed to understand that as it was crafting its strategy. >> all right. are there any examples or any documentation of truman experiencing personal turmoil, threats to his personal safety because of his participation in matters of civil rights?