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Mike Wallace interviews Thurgood Marshall in 1957…

John Q. Barrett, law professor at St. John’s University and biographer of Justice Jackson, writes on the Jackson email list about Mike Wallace interviewing Thurgood Marshall in 1957:

On Tuesday, April 16, 1957, …. Mike Wallace had a televised conversation with Thurgood Marshall, Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc.  The interview aired in New York City on Wallace’s interview show, “Night Beat,” broadcast at 11:00 p.m. on the DuMont Network’s channel 5 (WABD).

In May 1954, Marshall and his colleagues had won in Brown v. Board of Education a unanimous United States Supreme Court decision holding racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.

Three years later, Wallace was interviewing Marshall, age 49, about resistance to Brown, and about what Marshall saw as insufficient resistance to that resistance.

In the interview, Marshall criticized the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, for not having done enough since Brown to get all of the American people to support the decision.  Marshall also stated, with force, charm and humor, his opposition to anti-integration Southern Democrats, his belief in the secret ballot and thus his unwillingness to reveal whether he had voted for or against Eisenhower, and Marshall’s willingness to work with white Southerners coming to terms with Brown.

To watch the interview, click here.  (Hat tips:  Tomiko Brown-Nagin on Legal History Blog (click here), linking to Gilbert King’s website for his book Devil in the Grove (click here).

The rest of that April 1957 week illustrated some of what Marshall discussed with Wallace that Tuesday night.  Just two days later, the Florida Senate passed a resolution—which the Florida House had passed earlier—stating that Florida considered the Brown decision “null and void” and would not abide by it.  The Florida Attorney General stated that most Floridians thought Brown was wrong, did not want integration and would not integrate their schools.  (The Governor, by contrast, criticized the resolution—he said it “stultifies our state.”)

Two days after that, on Saturday April 22nd, Marshall spoke at Rutgers University’s annual academic weekend, during a day-long program devoted to “America’s Race Relations.”  Marshall said there that one difficult task ahead was to repeal state racial segregation laws, which he described as “prevent[ing] people from exercising their God-given right to associate” with others.  His fellow speakers that day included Southern newspaper publishers Hodding Carter and A. Reed Sarratt, New Jersey labor leader Arthur Chapin, Georgia civil rights leader Harold Fleming, and New York lawyer Telford Taylor.

Taylor had succeeded Jackson as the prosecutor at Nuremberg.  That Wallace interview is a startling reminder of just how extraordinary and long Wallace’s career and interviews went.  I’ve watched memorable stories involving him (a 50s story about the Black Muslims through an interview about his career in the 2000′s) in each of six decades, all at the national level.  Has any journalist had a remotely comparable record?

I previously posted about John Barrett with regard to the article about Jackson, Brown, and the views of Jackson law clerk William Rehnquist. 

10 comments to Mike Wallace interviews Thurgood Marshall in 1957…

  • Dura

    Audible has a 2-3 hour interview Tony Lewis did with Bobby Kennedy in Dec 1964 about his civil rights work as AG. He says Jim Eastland was the Senator he trusted most. Something like “When he gave his word, he always kept it.”. Also talks about Harold Cox, though not favorably. It’s a free download if you are a member.

  • Anderson

    Ah, Eastland. Caro’s Master of the Senate has a quote from him:

    “In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking n—–s … African flesh-eaters. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives…. All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead n—–s.”

    Bears comparison with the Male Fantasies of proto-Nazis in Weimar Germany.

  • NMC

    Anderson, do you know the story about Eastland, Robert Kennedy, and Harold Cox?

    Kennedy wanted Thurgood Marshall to have a court of appeals seat, looking toward an eventual Supreme Court possibility. He knew that Eastland was going to stand in the way of that, which meant it wasn’t going to happen. He went to see Eastland personally.

    Harold Cox had been a college room mate of Eastlands, and Eastland wanted him on the federal bench. Kennedy did not. Robert Kennedy quotes Eastland as saying “You give me Cox, and I’ll give you the n—–.” A deal was struck.

  • NMC

    The connections between members of the Eastland family and members of the Kennedy family have persisted over the years, and it’s my understanding that those connections are at least in part why Robert Kennedy spoke on campus in the 60s and Teddy Kennedy much later as a commencement speaker.

  • Anderson

    Yah, I was hoping to see a cite for that in the Caro, but not. Must be in the new book!

  • NMC

    Robert Kennedy and His Times cites that Anthony Lewis interview noted above but says the story is “possibly apocryphal.” I thought it originally came out of Navasky’s Kennedy Justice, but not enough of it is available online and my copy isn’t near to hand.

  • Dura

    I’ve heard that story all my life, so I expected to hear about it in the interview. Cox is mentioned, but someone edited the tape and it’s not in there. The thing is fascinating becacause it was made so soon after the events in question.

  • Mike

    When I was about 15, my sister, one brother and I went to Washington with my father. Teddy was in the senate and President Kennedy’s and Bobby’s death still loomed large, especially in our youthful  hearts. So when my father asked us who we would like to meet, we were unamious: Senator Kennedy.

    How that happened was interesting. We went to see Senator Eastland and spent a long time visiting, with the adults sharing stories and talking politics. I’m not sure Dad  knew how the Senator would take it, but finally he told Senator Eastland of our request. The Senator picked up the phone and minutes later we were ushered by Senator Kennedy into his office. 

    He spent at least 30 minutes with us, answering all the usual questions about his brothers and showing us pictures of them and the family. He had someone take our pictures with him. He could not have been nicer.  It was obvious Senator Kennedy showed us such hospitality out of his respect for Eastland. 

    A postnote to this story for me is that Sen Kennedy gave me an inscribed 8×10 photograph of himself, which last hung on my home office wall until Katrina took it. A few months before he died I wrote Senator Kennedy, thanked him for his kindness years ago and asked if he would replace the photograph that I had lost. It arrived with a nice note just weeks before he died. Because of his kindness to a father and three children from Mississippi four decades ago, he and the photograph hold special meaning for me. 

  • Dura

    Your story elevates my opion of both Eastland and Kennedy.

  • NMC, I have heard many times the story that Harold Cox was Jim Eastland’s roommate. I am not sure but that they weren’t just good friends but not roommates.

    After my parents separated my mother went back to school to get her master’s in biology. Teddy Kennedy was her commencement speaker. Said Kennedy: “Senator Eastland and I have a great working relationship. I just call him sir and he just calls me boy.”

    According to my fraternity brothers from the Cleveland area, Eastland struck a deal with the justice department that allowed Cleveland to have two public schools, one all black and the other roughly 50-50. This resulted in successful integration in Cleveland. Unfortunately the federal government is now suing to force them to merge the schools, which will result in a 75 percent black school. It will maintain that ratio for about 30 minutes, and then will become 90 to 99 percent black like all of the other public schools of the Delta. It might be a good time to open a plywood shop in Cleveland, because soon they will start boarding up store windows, as they have everywhere else.

    In 1972 my brother was a page in Washington for the summer for Rep. Whitten. Whitten put him on loan to Gerald Ford, who was minority leader at the time. We spent a week in Washington and of course paid a courtesy call on Sen. Eastland. After hearing from the senate visitor’s gallery that he was out of town, we stopped by his office to learn that he was actually in. My dad was a very low functionary in the re-election campaign, perhaps the North Mississippi something or another. I remember the senator showing him a letter being circulated linking him to George McGovern. He said he wanted my dad’s “advice.” I thought at the time, “He doesn’t need my dad’s advice!” Nor did he need any lessons in politics!

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