KC Johnson

YWLS Presentation

President Kennedy, Attorney General Kennedy, and Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, 29 Sept. 1962, re: James Meredith and Ole Miss

Robert Kennedy: I think, Governor, that the President had some questions that he wanted answers to—

Ross Barnett: Well—

Robert Kennedy: —to make his own determination.

Barnett: That’s right. He wanted to know if I would obey the orders of the court, and I told him I’d have to do some . . . study that over. That’s a serious thing.

I’ve taken an oath to abide by the laws of this state and our state constitution and the constitution of the United States. And, General, how can I violate my oath of office? How can I do that, and live with the people of Mississippi? You know, they’re expecting me to keep my word. That’s what I’m up against—

President Kennedy: Oh Governor—

Barnett: —and I don’t understand why the court wouldn’t understand that—

President Kennedy: Governor, this is the President speaking.

Barnett: Yes, sir, Mr. President.

President Kennedy: Now it’s—I know that your feeling about the law of Mississippi and the fact that you don’t want to carry out that court order.

What we really want to have from you, though, is some understanding about whether the state police will maintain law and order. We understand your feeling about the court order—

Barnett: Yes.

President Kennedy: —and your disagreement with it. But what we’re concerned about is how much violence there’s going to be and what kind of action we’ll have to take to prevent it. And I’d like to get assurances from you that the state police down there will take positive action to maintain law and order. Then we know what we have to do.

Barnett: They’ll take positive action, Mr. President, to maintain law and order as best we can.

President Kennedy: And, now, how good is—

Barnett: We’ll have 220 highway patrolmen—

President Kennedy: Right.

Barnett: And they’ll be absolutely unarmed.

President Kennedy: Right—

Barnett: Not a one of them will be armed.

President Kennedy: Well, no—but the problem is—well, what can they do to maintain law and order and prevent the gathering of a mob and action taken by the mob? What can they do? Can they stop that?

Barnett: Well, they’ll do their best to. They’ll do everything in their power to stop it.

President Kennedy: Now, what about the suggestions made by the Attorney General in regard to not permitting people to congregate and start a mob?

Barnett: Well, we’ll do our best to keep them from congregating, but that’s hard to do, you know.

President Kennedy: Well, just tell them to move along.

Barnett: When they start moving up on the sidewalks and different sides of the streets, what are you going to do about it?

President Kennedy: Well, now, as I understand it, Governor, you would do everything you can to maintain law and order.

Barnett: I’ll do everything in my power to maintain order—

President Kennedy: Right. Now—

Barnett: —and peace. We don’t want any shooting down here.

President Kennedy: I understand. Now, Governor, what about—can you maintain this order?

Barnett: Well, I don’t know.

President Kennedy: Yes.

Barnett: That’s what I’m worried about.

President Kennedy: I see.

Barnett: I don’t know whether I can or not.

President Kennedy: Right.

Barnett: I couldn’t have the other afternoon. [27/9, when 2000 people, including students, farmers, and self-styled vigilantes, converged on Oxford intent on stopping Meredith from registering.]

President Kennedy: You couldn’t have?

Barnett: There was such a mob there, it would have been impossible.

President Kennedy: I see.

Barnett: There were men in there with trucks and shotguns, and all such as that. Not a lot of them, but some, we saw, and certain people were just—they were just enraged.

President Kennedy: Well, now, will you talk—

Barnett: You just don’t understand the situation down here.

President Kennedy: Well, the only thing is I got my responsibility.

Barnett: I know you do.

President Kennedy: This is not my order; I just have to carry it out. So I want to get together and try to do it with you in a way which is the most satisfactory and causes the least chance of damage to people in Mississippi. That’s my interest.

Barnett: All right. Would you be willing to wait awhile and let the people cool off on the whole thing?

President Kennedy: ‘Till how long?

Barnett: Couldn’t you make a statement to the effect, Mr. President, Mr. [Attorney] General, that under the circumstances existing in Mississippi, that there’ll be bloodshed; you want to protect the life of, of James Meredith and all other people? And under the circumstances at this time, it just wouldn’t be fair to him and others to try to register him—

President Kennedy: Well, then at what time would it be fair?

Barnett: Well, we, we could wait a—I don’t know.

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Barnett: It might be in two or three weeks, it might cool off a little.

President Kennedy: Well, would you undertake to register him in two weeks?

Barnett: Well, you know I can’t undertake to register him myself—

President Kennedy: I see.

Barnett: —but you all might make some progress that way, you know.

President Kennedy: [Laughs sarcastically.] Yeah. Well, we’d be faced with—unless we had your support and assurance, we’d be—

Barnett: I say I’m going to, I’m going to cooperate. I might not know when you’re going to register him, you know.

President Kennedy: I see.

President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., 19 Sept. 1963, in a meeting with other civil rights leaders, discussing the aftereffects of the Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American children

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Now, the real problem that we face is this: the Negro community is about to reach a breaking point. There is a great deal of frustration and despair and confusion in the Negro community, and there is this feeling of being alone and not protected.

If you walk the street, you aren’t safe. If you stay at home, you aren’t safe; there is the danger of a bomb. If you’re in church now, it isn’t safe. So that the Negro feels that everywhere he goes, if he remains stationary, he’s in danger of some physical violence.

Now, this presents a real problem for those of us who find ourselves in leadership positions. Because we are preaching, at every moment, the philosophy and the method of non-violence. And I think I can say, without fear of successful contradiction, that we have been consistent at standing up for nonviolence at every point, and even with Sunday’s [the church bombing] and Monday’s [allegations of police brutality against demonstrators] developments, we continue to be firm at this point.

But more and more, we are facing the problem of our people saying, “What’s the use?”


President Kennedy: Now, it’s tough for the Negro community. On the other hand, what the Negro community is trying to do is a very important effort, which has implications all over the country. And I know that this bombing is particularly difficult.

But if you look at any—as you know—any of these struggles over a period across the world, it is a very dangerous effort. So everybody just has to keep their nerve. If the Negroes should begin to respond and shoot at whites, we lose.

I think [Alabama governor George] Wallace has lost. I heard a Southern senator with regards to civil rights say to me today, this is what I hear from him—that Wallace has made a bad mistake [in endorsing the brutal police response to the protests].

Now if you get . . . Wallace is in a bad position. And because you gentlemen and the community have conducted yourselves in the way you have, it’s with you. And of course when the police starts going for guns, they’ll shoot some innocent people, and they’ll be white, and then that will just wipe away all this support that’s built up.

There will be no—in the beginning, you can’t get anything. I can’t do very much. Congress can’t do very much unless we keep the support of the white community throughout the country—as a country. Once that goes, then we’re pretty much really down to a racial struggle, so that I think we’ve just got to tell the Negro community that this is a very hard price which they have to pay to get this job done.

President Johnson and Indiana senator Vance Hartke, 9 Jan. 1964, discussing the fate of the administration’s tax bill

President Johnson: Vance?

Vance Hartke: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: Can’t you help me on this excise tax thing? You’re going to wreck this damn bill. We’re not going to have any. They’re going to get together this afternoon and try to make a motion to keep all excise taxes in there, and we need your help.

Hartke: [searching for words] Well, I mean, I suppose that way started out—

President Johnson: I know it. And [New Mexico senator] Clint Anderson, though, they all got mad yesterday because you-all screwed up that oil vote. And they’re after the oil companies, and [Delaware senator John] Williams and everything else. Those big oil companies oughtn’t to be raising hell [for] 40 million. They got off with 400 million, and they ought to let you-all off the hook.

But now we’ve got it in a big screwed-up mess, and we—all of us are going down in defeat if we can’t operate any better than that. There’s no leadership in the committee.

So for God’s sake, get in there. Clint Anderson says he’ll change, and you change, and get two or three more and let’s . . .

Hartke: The one big thing in there, the one thing I wanted, was [to cut the tax on] musical instruments.

President Johnson: Oh, well—

Hartke: This is—

President Johnson: What’s important is the big credit to the Democratic Party, and let’s go on. The goddamned band and musical instruments—they won’t be talking about it next November.

Hartke: They will in Elkhart—

President Johnson: What they’re going to be judging us by is: they’re going to be judging us whether we passed the tax bill or not and whether we’ve got prosperity.

President Johnson and White House aide Bill Moyers, 5 Sept. 1964, discussing how to appeal to moderate voters

President Johnson: [The speech should stress that] we have a right to wish what we want to, think what we want to, worship where we want to, sleep where we want to. Everything like . . . the basic fundamentals that—that Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution thing, wrapped up in one paragraph.

Do you remember the paragraph I’m talking about?

Bill Moyers: Yes, sir. I sure do.

President Johnson: But I want it elaborated on a little bit—“A mind to be trained, a child’s mind to be trained. A church to pray in. A home to sleep in. A job to work in.”

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Let’s get education, religion, free speech, free press—“read what he pleases”—that will round him out as a well-balanced, tolerant, understanding individual.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Instead of one of these kooks.

Moyers: OK.

President Johnson: [chuckling] Do you follow me there, now?

Moyers: Gotcha.

President Johnson: I want that one paragraph so that I can have all the Johnson philosophy.

He [Reuther] said, “Now, you’ve got to speak some on poverty. You’ve got to speak some on education. You’ve got to speak some on Medicare.” Somebody’s told him it’s going to be a high level speech. And he wants it a party hack speech.

I said, “Well, I’m going to refer to all of them.” I want it in one paragraph—my philosophy. So that when you quote what I had in thatSouthwest Quarterly [article]—“I’m a free man, an American, and a senator, in that order, and so forth.” Do you remember?

Moyers: Right.

President Johnson: I want something that you can quote like this the rest of our lives. You can put it up in the preface of your book. “I see a . . . I have a vision . . . dash . . . a vision of a land where a child can [pauses for nine seconds] have a home to live in.”

[quickly] And then repeat what I just said to you.

Moyers: OK.

President Johnson: “Can read what he wants to, and can wishwhat he wants to, and can dream what he wants to.” Put in the words, “I have a vision.” Let’s get a little bit of this holy-rolly populist stuff. [voice rising] “I have a vision of a land where every child [pauses] can have training to fit his abilities, a home to protect him from the elements, a church to kneel in.”

Throw at least two biblical quotations in, that are very simple, that every one of them have heard—these working [men], these auto mechanics.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: It’s what you Baptists just pour to them all the time.

Moyers: [chuckling] All right.

President Johnson: Make it simple; don’t give me one of these long ones.

Moyers: Right.

President Johnson: Just go back and get me one of the commandments. These Baptists preachers—don’t get on that adultery one. Get some of these, “Thou shalt not [pauses] lie on thy brother.” [Chuckles.]

Moyers: All right. OK.

President Johnson: OK.

President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, discussing the President’s performance at a televised press conference


Lady Bird Johnson: You want to listen for about one minute to—

President Johnson: Yes, ma’am.

Lady Bird Johnson: —my critique, or would you rather wait till tonight?

President Johnson: Yes, ma’am. I’m willing now.

Lady Bird Johnson: I thought that you looked strong, firm, and like a reliable guy. Your looks were splendid. The close-ups were much better than the distance ones.

President Johnson: Well, you can’t get ‘em [the TV producers] to do it  . . . the distance ones.

Lady Bird Johnson: Well, I would say this: there were more close-ups than there were distance ones.

During the statement, you were a little breathless and there was too much looking down and I think it was a little too fast. Not enough change of pace, a drop in voice at the end of sentence.

There was a considerable pick-up in drama and interest when the questioning began. Your voice was noticeably better, and your facial expressions noticeably better.


Lady Bird Johnson: When you’re going to have a prepared text, you need to have the opportunity to study it a little bit more, and to read it with a little more conviction, and interest, and change of pace. Because—

President Johnson: Well, the trouble is they [the White House media] criticize you for taking so much time. They want to use it all for questions. Then their questions don’t produce any news, and if you don’t give ‘em news, you catch hell.

So my problem was trying to get through before 10 minutes, and I still ran 10 minutes today.


Lady Bird Johnson: I believe if I’d had that choice, I would have said use 13 minutes, or 14, for the statement.

In general, I’d say it was a good “B+.” How do you feel about it?

President Johnson: [quickly] I thought it was much better than last week.

Lady Bird Johnson: [unconvinced] Well, I heard last week, [you] see, and didn’t see it. And didn’t hear all of it.

President Nixon and Alexander Haig, 13 June 1971, discussing the leak of the Pentagon Papers


President Nixon: Nothing else of interest in the world today?

Alexander Haig: Yes, sir, very significant, this goddamn New York Times exposé of the most highly classified documents of the [Vietnam] war.

President Nixon: Oh, that. I see.

Haig: That, that—

President Nixon: I didn’t read the story, but you mean that was leaked out of the Pentagon?

Haig: Sir, the whole study that was done for [former Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara and then carried on after McNamara left by [former Defense Secretary Clark] Clifford and the peaceniks over there. This is a devastating security breach of the greatest magnitude of anything I’ve ever seen.

President Nixon: Well, what’s being done about it, then? I mean, I didn’t—

Haig: Well, I called—

President Nixon: Did we know this was coming out?

Haig: No, we did not, sir.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: There are just a few copies of this—

President Nixon: Well, what about the—

Haig: —12-volume report.

President Nixon: Well, what about the—Let me ask you this, though, what about the—what about [Defense Secretary Melvin] Laird? What’s he going to do about it? Is—

Haig: Well, I [unclear]—

President Nixon: Now, I’d just start right at the top and fire some people. I mean, whoever—whatever department it came out of, I’d fire the top guy.

Haig: Yes, sir. Well, I’m sure it came from Defense, and I’m sure it was stolen at the time of the turnover of the administration.

President Nixon: Oh, it’s two years old, then.

Haig: I’m sure it is, and they’ve been holding it for a juicy time, and I think they’ve thrown it out to affect Hatfield-McGovern [a Senate amendment to end funding for the Vietnam War]. That’s my own estimate. But it’s something that is a mixed bag. It’s a tough attack on [President John] Kennedy. It shows that the genesis of the war really occurred during the ‘61 period.

President Nixon: [laughing] Yeah. Yeah. That’s Clifford. I see.

Haig: And it’s brutal on President [Lyndon] Johnson. They’re going to end up in a massive gut fight in the Democratic Party on this thing.

President Nixon: Are they?

Haig: It’s a—there’s some very—

President Nixon: But also, massive against the war.

Haig: Against the war.

President Nixon: But it’s a Pentagon study, huh?

September 22, 1971: Nixon and White House aide (and future commentator and GOP presidential candidate) Pat Buchanan discuss how they can use the busing issue to create political difficulties for the probative frontrunner for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, Maine senator Edmund Muskie.

President Nixon: Well, I’ve basically—we’ve got to say that it’s only the extent that it is required by law—

Pat Buchanan: Right.

President Nixon: By a court order, do I think busing should be used.

Buchanan: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Don’t you think that’s really what you get down to?

Buchanan: Right. Right.

President Nixon: Because the line, actually, between my line and Muskie’s, is not as clear as—I mean, it’s just the way he said it. He starts at the other end. He says, “Well, I think busing is a legitimate tool—

Buchanan: Yeah.

President Nixon: And then, “but I’m against it.” I start at the other end. I said, “I’m against busing, but, if the law requires it, to the minimum extent necessary, I, of course, will not resist it.”

Buchanan: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Right?

Buchanan: Right.

President Nixon: It’s purely a question of tone.

Buchanan: Well, we’ve got to push Muskie’s emphasis up in the headlines; that’s the problem.

President Nixon: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. It’s got to be—well, I think it probably is going to get some play in the South now—

Buchanan: I think, well, that’s something you could really move by various statements exaggerating his position, and then Muskie would come back sort of drawing it back and it raises—it identifies him with it.

President Nixon: Yeah, the thing to do really is to praise him—have some civil rights people praise him for his defense of busing.

Buchanan: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: That’s the way to really get that, you know. That’s much the better way than to have people attack him for it—

Buchanan: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: —is to praise him for his defense of busing, see?

Buchanan: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: And I don’t know if you’ve got any people that can do that or not. But I would think that would be very clever.

Buchanan: Mm-hmm. OK.

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