Production Team: B
Interview Date: February 17, 1986
Interview Place: Montgomery, Alabama
Camera Rolls: 387-390
Sound Rolls: 1338-1341
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Gov. John Patterson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 17, 1986, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Sound Roll 1338 Camera Roll 387
YOUR VERY FIRST FEELINGS ABOUT WHEN YOU HEARD THAT FREEDOM MARCHERS WERE COMING INTO THE STATE NOW, THIS IS BACK IN MAY OF ‘61, WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL REACTION?
Well, when we first heard about the Freedom Riders, I believe they had just left Washington DC and were headed south. And ahead of them was a constant stream of publicity, newspaper articles, ah, radio, television that they were coming. And there were statements about what they were going to do, that is they were going to integrate facilities that had either predominantly or traditionally been segregated facilities. Lunch counters, waiting rooms in bus stations, things of that kind, or in some cases facilities that actually were at that time were required to be segregated by law. And we heard they were coming and ah, began to get concerned about it.
DID YOU MAKE ANY PREPARATIONS OF ANY KIND, AS A…
Yes, Floyd Mann who was my director of public safety at that time, and I got together and talked about it and Floyd sent in plain clothes a investigator from the Department of Public Safety of Alabama, Mr. E.L. Cowling was his name. Sent him to Atlanta and he caught the bus out of Atlanta with the Freedom Riders. And he was on the bus when the bus got to Anaston. And he was on the bus when the bus was stopped just outside of Anaston on the way to Birmingham, where it was ah, set afire. And Mr. Cowling drew his pistol and made the crowd back away from the bus and made them let the passengers off of the bus. And no one was injured, but the bus was burned just outside of Anaston. But we had and investigator on the bus, his name was E.L. Cowling.
WHAT, WERE YOU ANTICIPATING THIS LEVEL OF VIOLENCE, WHAT DID YOU, WHAT DID THE PEOPLE MOST WORRIED ABOUT WHEN THEY HEARD ABOUT THE FREEDOM RIDES?
Well, I don't think at first anybody paid much attention to it, after all, I mean, we, we really didn't think it was a very serious matter and I believe there was something like ten or twelve, or maybe fifteen of them.
I'M SORRY, LET'S START AGAIN, MENTION FREEDOM RIDERS, I CAN'T USE PRONOUNS. SO IF YOU CAN JUST SAY, JUST START AGAIN, WHERE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT WHAT THE PEOPLE OF ALABAMA WERE…
Well, I don't believe that the people of Alabama at first really paid much attention to this, and we certainly didn't consider it a very serious matter or didn't figure that it would cause a great deal of difficulty. But just as a precaution Floyd Mann and I agreed that we ought to send somebody over there to take a look just in case. We had no earthly idea that there would be any trouble in Anaston. Anaston was a very quiet peaceful place. And there was a demonstration of some type there at the bus station, when the bus got to Anaston. And then when it left, this crowd apparently followed the bus, stopped it outside of town and somebody set it on fire. We would never have dreamed that anybody would stop a bus and set it on fire like that. And so we just didn't anticipate really, that this type of thing was going to happen.
CUT RIGHT THERE. [unintelligible] THIS IS TAKE 2. OKAY, WHY DON'T YOU JUST START RIGHT WHERE YOU WERE.
The Freedom Riders was a group of about I guess 15 people. They were, they were mixed, there was boys and girls, of course some of them were much older, some of them were in their 30's or maybe early 40's and they were mixed racially. And of course at this particular time in Alabama due to the various things that had been going on in the civil rights fight, the, there was a polarization of this racial feeling between the races in Alabama. And there was a great deal of public interest in everything going on in regard to efforts to integrate public facilities and particularly schools. So the publicity that preceded the Freedom Riders, I think had a considerable effect upon the thinking of the average Alabamian.
WHAT WAS THAT, PUBLIC INTEREST IS SORT OF A MILD DESCRIPTION…
Well, I think that actually they, they saw these people being sent into Alabama for the purpose of stirring up difficulty and trouble for the people of Alabama, who were trying to solve their problems themselves. And they saw this as outside interference and planned agitation simply to embarrass the people of Alabama.
IS THAT HOW YOU SAW IT AS GOVERNOR?
Well, I didn't perceive that at first, but a little later on when the justice department got involved in it, I came to that conclusion myself.
OKAY, WHAT DID YOU THINK AT THAT TIME OF THE WHOLE METHODS OF THE FREEDOM RIDERS, THEY SAID THEY WERE JUST TESTING THE LAW, BUT THEY KNEW THEY'D BE CREATING A CRISIS…
[Cameraman interjects and asks ‘I would like to remind you to try to keep your eyes not on the camera. Avoid looking at the camera.']
UM AT THE TIME, WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THIS WHOLE METHOD FREEDOM RIDER ACTION? I MEAN THEY ARE TESTING A FEDERAL LAW, BUT THEY'RE PUSHING IT TO ITS LIMITS IN A SITUATION WHERE ITS CAUSE FOR A CRISIS.
Well, this was the beginning of demonstrations in an effort to try to change law by simply getting out in the street and deliberately violating the law. And this of course…
HOW WERE THEY VIOLATING THE LAW?
Well, if they went into public places, which were actually required to be segregated by law, and there were some at that time, that they were going into. Then they were of course deliberately violating the law to try to test it. And to dramatize this and I think thats very clear as to what they were doing, there's no question, no question about that. Now it's hard to justify going out and deliberately violating the law in such a manner, when you can take your case to court and litigate the question in a peaceful atmosphere without violence.
WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT THEY SAID THEY WERE TESTING THE DECISION THEY HAD THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL INTERSTATE BUSES.
Well, now these were not bonafide interstate travelers by any means. These people were buying tickets from town to town within states. And they were getting off the bus at term-, at various terminals and they were going into restaurants and waiting rooms and cafeterias and places at that time that had been traditionally segregated and they were deliberately going in there and rubbing up against people and pushing in, in the places and deliberately trying to create trouble and cause fights to get the publicity. And of course you can start a fight anywhere that way, New York or anywhere you want to go. If you start that kind of conduct in a public place, you're going to have a fight. And that's what these people were doing. They were deliberately doing this in order to create trouble, violence if necessary to bring publicity to what they were doing.
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION AS GOVERNOR TO ALL OF THIS?
Well, I my personal feeling was that I thought that they should stay home and mind their own business and let us try to work out our problems down here in some legal way. But, I even asked, I even asked the attorney general and the President to just simply say, in Washington, ask these people to mind their own business and obey the law. And the whole thing would have been over if they you know, would have done that. But of course they didn't want to do that.
OKAY, LET'S CUT RIGHT THERE. THAT'S GREAT.
It's been a long time since I, its hard to remember all this stuff. So they were going, they were buying tickets from town to town. I think they weren't bonafide interstate travelers. I mean they…
WELL THEY SAID IN THE BEGINNING THEY WERE TO SWING THROUGH [unintelligible] OKAY, ONE SECOND. TAKE THREE. DID YOU FEEL AT THAT TIME AS GOVERNOR THAT THE STATE HAD ANY RESPONSIBILITY TOWARD THE FREEDOM RIDES IN THE SENSE THAT THERE WAS A FEDERAL LAW DEFENDING INTERSTATE TRAVEL AND THEY WERE TESTING THAT LAW?
Well, at that particular time we were primarily concerned with the state law, and in fact no one had ever really to my knowledge at that time brought to our attention specifically the violations of any federal law. But you see our responsibility was to enforce the state law as long as it was constitution.
SO WHEN THE FREEDOM RIDERS FIRST CAME INTO ALABAMA, WHAT WERE YOU PREPARED TO DO AS GOVERNOR, IN EITHER A, HOW WERE YOU …
As far as I can remember, interstate, interstate travelers could sit on the buses anywhere they wanted to at that time, in fact even in cross state travel at that time, you could sit on the bus anywhere you wanted to. So that was not really what they were after. What they were after were waiting rooms, restaurants and lunch counters. That's what they were trying to force themselves into.
NOW ONCE THEY'VE ENTERED THE STATE, YOU'RE FACED WITH DEALING WITH A CRISIS…
Well, once they entered the state we were faced with a law enforcement problem, and basically that's what it was. We wanted to make sure that the law was enforced and nobody got hurt, or nobody's property got destroyed. That was basically our problem. And this entire Freedom Rider thing became essentially a law enforcement problem, as far as we were concerned.
OKAY, WHAT DID THE KENNEDY ADMINISTRATION, TO YOUR UNDERSTANDING, FEEL YOUR OBLIGATION WAS TO THE FREEDOM RIDERS.
I never did really understand Robert's position entirely.
OKAY, LETS START AGAIN. YOU HAVE TO MENTION ROBERT KENNEDY. SAY THAT AGAIN, JUST TO BE CLEAR.
I never did really thoroughly understand Robert's position in the matter. I know that when the [unintelligible]…
(INTERRUPTION. TAKE 4.) TELL ME A LITTLE BIT WHAT HAPPENED IN BIRMINGHAM BRIEFLY. START WITH THE OTHER BUS WENT TO BIRMINGHAM AND JUST TELL US BRIEFLY WHAT HAPPENED.
After the bus was burned, they sent another bus out and brought the Freedom Riders into the city of Birmingham to the bus station there, where there was ah, some type of controversy there and the city of Birmingham, of police were involved in the handling of that situation there. The police commissioner was Mr. Bull Connor at that time. We were watching the situation, but of course we felt that Birmingham was capable of handling it and indeed they had sufficient personnel to handle it. And of course you, when you're the Governor of the state you have to give the municipalities, the cities an opportunity to perform the duties and functions, and we felt like Birmingham could handle it. And they were ultimately put in jail in Birmingham. After a few days in jail there they were fasting and causing difficulties in the jail, the Freedom Riders were. And so Mr. Connor took them out of jail, carried them up to the Tennessee line and put them out over the Tennessee line, and they beat him back to Birmingham. And things started all over again. Well, ultimately they, they got on a bus and started toward Montgomery. This was several days later. And they, we got really interested in the Riders because it was obvious then that there was great trouble brewing there.
I WANT TO DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO A MEETING AT WHICH MR. SEIGENTHALER WAS PRESENT. AND I WANT TO KNOW FIRST, YOUR RELATIONSHIP [unintelligible]. THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO KNOW. I'M VERY CURIOUS ABOUT THAT. WHAT I WANT TO GET IS TWO THINGS. WE'VE GOT A SITUATION WHERE IN ANASTON, UH, PEOPLE COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED ON THAT BUS. THAT PICTURE HITS THE INTERNATIONAL PAPERS. THE BUS WOULD HAVE BASICALLY WOULD HAVE BEEN EXPLODED HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR YOUR MAN GETTING THEM OFF THE BUS AND THEN TO BIRMINGHAM THERE'S A ROIT AND PEOPLE ARE HURT AND SERIOUSLY. SO NOW WE'RE MOVING IN TO A SITUATION AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NOW IS GETTING INVOLVED, SO WHY DON'T WE START WITH THAT AND I'LL ASK A QUESTION ABOUT THE KENNEDY ADMINISTRATION. THEN WE'LL GO IN TO THAT MEETING WHERE SEIGENTHALER WAS PRESENT. UMM AS TO WHAT THE STATE'S RESPONSIBILITY . I'LL BREAK DOWN THE QUESTIONS [laughter] OKAY, THE FIRST QUESTION IS YOU WERE ONE OF THE FIRST SOUTHERN GOVERNORS TO COME OUT IN SUPPORT OF JOHN KENNEDY DURING HIS CAMPAIGN, HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, ROBERT KENNEDY, GOT INVOLVED IN THE STATES AFFAIRS THE DAY AFTER ANASTON AND BIRMINGHAM?
Well, of course, as I said, I couldn't understand Robert's position very well, but anyway he started calling me on the telephone.
TELL ME WHO'S CALLING YOU ON THE TELEPHONE.
Robert Kennedy started calling me on the telephone. Robert started calling the president of the Greyhound bus company, making demands on them. They had trouble getting drivers to drive the buses because they were concerned about their buses and themselves I guess. But finally every time I would talk to Robert I would immediately read in the paper or hear on the wire service quotes from his office and from the White House saying that I said certain things. And many times it would be things that I did not say.** And so I told Robert that I would, that I thought the best thing would be for the President to send a personal representative down to Montgomery to be on the spot here with us, so that he would know what was going on and that we could confer directly with him and there would be no more, there would be no danger of talking over the telephone and misunderstanding each other and saying that each other said things that we didn't say. What was happening, his calls down here and then him saying that I said certain things that I didn't say was hurting me tremendously down here.
I THOUGHT YOU WEREN'T TALKING TO ROBERT KENNEDY FOR A PERIOD OF TIME AT ALL DIRECTLY.
We, we talked, he called me several times during this period of time, we finally cut if off. But after the last call from him, as the bus was coming down from Birmingham, I asked them to send a personal representative down here to be here on the spot and that we would talk with him, and that we would stop this calling over the telephone and talking over the telephone. Well a day or two later, I found this out later, a day or two later, John Seigenthaler and John Door who later became head of the civil rights division and justice department came into Montgomery unannounced, we had no idea they were coming or even who was coming for that matter. Checked in a motel here in town, got up early the next morning, went downtown here and rented a U-drive-it automobile with a Montgomery county, Alabama license plate on it, an went down to the bus station and got involved in the riot. And the story I got from that was, that when the freedom riders got off the bus, some of them were being pursued by some people including some women with pocketbooks, that were beating on them with pocketbooks. And Seigenthaler was driving the car pulled next to these fleeing people on the curb and tried to get some of them into his car, ostensibly to save them I guess from the crowd. Of course, nobody knew who these people were, they were in a Montgomery Alabama car and somebody hit him in the head and left him lying in the street. They picked him up carried him to the hospital, and when he got to the hospital here, he had no identification on him. He had left his identification at the motel that morning and he had work clothes on. No tie, just work clothes. He was posing as a local person I guess and went down and got in the difficulty. And he did not identify himself at the hospital, until they let him make a phone call to the White House and that was the first time he identified who he was. And of course I was absolutely flabbergasted that the representative of the President would come down here and not come to see us as we had requested, but would disguise himself and then go down and get into the riot himself. And I just could not understand them doing that.
OKAY. LETS CUT RIGHT THERE. NOW THIS IS REALY IMPORTANT. I'M TRYING TO FIGURE OUT NOW MR. SEIGENTHALER SAYS HE SAT DOWN WITH YOU AND THE CABINET IN A MEETING. NOW, DO YOU REMEMBER THIS MEETING? THIS IS AFTER BIRMINGHAM AND PRIOR TO MONTGOMERY. PRIOR TO HIM GOING TO MONTGOMERY, HE CLAIMS HE WAS AT A MEETING AND HE WAS UMMMM, HE WAS THERE AS ROBERT KENNEDY'S … OKAY, SO I'LL JUST ASK YOU, JUST REMIND YOU SOMETHING YOU SAID AT THE TIME, NOW YOU WERE DESCRIBED IN AN INTERVIEW AS SAYING YOU WANTED QUOTE THOSE OUTSIDE AGITATORS TO GET OUT OF THE STATE AND THAT YOU THOUGHT IF FEDERAL POWER WERE USED AGAINST STATE POWER, THAT BLOOD WOULD FLOW IN THE STREETS, IN OTHER WORDS IF TROOPS WERE BROUGHT FROM THE GOVERNMENT, THAT THERE WOULD BE A DISASTER. CAN YOU REMEMBER THAT AND CAN YOU REACT TO THAT? [unintelligible]
Well, I think that if I said something like that and I possibly could have something like that at the time, it must have come after the riot at the bus station here in Montgomery. When it was a very touch and go situation down there as to whether somebody would be seriously hurt or not. And I think we were very fortunate to have come out of that bus station riot without more people being hurt than were. Now at that time, I think it was obviously a serious situation. And people were gathering in here from all over the United States. There were people we didn't even know who they were coming in here from everywhere, all over Montgomery, obviously looking to get into some type of difficulty. Rockwell's Nazi's from New Jersey, came down several van loads of them. And they were here and spoiling for trouble. And it was quite obvious that we were faced with a very volatile situation and a potential riot on our hands. And it was a time in my judgment when the justice department and the White House ought to have taken a stand to support our efforts to maintain law and order rather than to encourage the thing like they were doing.
DESCRIBE THAT FOR ME HOW DO YOU MEAN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WAS ENCOURAGING THE WHOLE THING.
Well, they were insisting of course, that these people be permitted to go anywhere they wanted to and do anything they wanted to do without being bothered, and they were insisting, Robert was insisting on a guarantee from us that none of them would be bothered or none of them would be injured. And of course you couldn't give a guarantee like that for people who are not going to do what you say, are not going to obey the police, who are out looking for difficulty and trouble.**
WHAT ABOUT PREPARATIONS YOU COULD HAVE MADE AFTER THE ANASTON AND BIRMINGHAM INCIDENT AND PRIOR TO GOING INTO MONTGOMERY. WHAT WAS THE SPECIFIC AGREEMENT YOU HAD IN RELATION TO THE FREEDOM RIDERS, BEFORE THEY WENT INTO MONTGOMERY, I'M BACKTRACKING A LITTLE BIT NOW. WHAT WAS YOUR…
What we were doing, was doing everything that we could to see that nothing happened to these people, short of just taking charge of them and escorting them where they wanted to go. I mean nobody really wanted to do that.
…GOT THE ESCORTED THE BUSES FROM, TO THE MONTGOMERY CITY LINE AND THEM, CAN YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED AT THAT POINT ON FROM COLONEL MANN'S ESCORT…
When the buses left Birmingham, we had helicopters overhead, we had state troopers behind and in front of the bus we had people, posted on all overpasses and bridges to see that no side roads, to see that nobody bothered the bus. We had an assurance from the city of Montgomery that they could handle the situation in Montgomery and that they would do so and that they didn't need our help. And indeed they had the forces to do it. Now we didn't depend entirely on that. Mann had brought in quite a number of our state people and had them placed around the town, just in case the city of Montgomery couldn't do it. And fortunately for us that we did that. When the bus arrived in Montgomery, just out of nowhere a tremendous mob materialized at the bus station. Thousands of people. After the Freedom Riders, and low and behold, no Montgomery city police, and it was obvious there for a little bit, that they weren't protected. Now when they got off the bus the crowd descended on the Freedom Riders and they got some of them down and started beating on them. And Floyd Mann, my director of public safety, Bill Jones, his assistant, and several others were there. And they waded into the crowd and straddled these people, one of them was Mr. Peck…
(SOUND TAKE 7.) OKAY. WHY DON'T YOU BEGIN WITH COLONEL MANN AND ALL THIS MELEE…
Colonel Mann the director of public safety and his assistant Bill Jones, waded into the crowd and straddled these people and pulled their pistols, and I think Floyd might have fired into the air one time, and told them to get back or he'd shoot them. And the crowd got back and he saved these people. And it was a very courageous, courageous act. Of course by this time, our people were coming in, they'd got the word and they were coming in and the city began to come in then, and the mob broke up very quickly.
DID YOU FEEL BETRAYED OF THE FACT THAT THERE WERE NOT CITY POLICE REALLY IN MONTGOMERY, DEALING WITH THESE, AT THE BUS STATION.
Well, feeling betrayed, I felt like at the time that there was something wrong. And of course later on I found out that possibly there was.
CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT?
Well, later on I found out there was possibly an understanding by the director of public safety at that time, by the police commissioner or the director of public safety of the city of Montgomery Mr. Silverman. That there was possibly some understanding that they be slow getting there.
AND HOW DID YOU FIND THAT OUT?
Well, I found that out years later, but at that particular time I, I had, I suspected that there might be some problem here as to why more policemen weren't down there because obviously there was a need for them. And, but I didn't say anything about it. I just at that particular time we went ahead and did what we had to do, and we just didn't get involved with incriminations with the city.
NOW GOING BACK TO WHAT YOU WERE SAYING EARLIER, ABOUT MR. SEIGENTHALER, HE'S BEING SENT DOWN, ACCORDING TO HIS ACCOUNT AND ACCORDING TO ATTORNEY GENERALS ACCOUNT, HE'S SENT DOWN AS AN EMMISSARY AND HE IS AT A MEETING OSTENSIBLY WITH YOU AND YOUR CABINET AS TO WHAT THIS TO DETERMINE HOW THIS RIDE COULD CONTINUE, AND HOW IT WOULD CONTINUE WITHOUT VIOLENCE, AND HE CLAIMS THEN HE, TWELVE HOURS LATER HE'S LYING IN THE STREET IN A SITUATION WHERE HE WENT IN BECAUSE HE HAD HEARD THAT YOU HAD GUARANTEED LAW AND ORDER OR THAT COLONEL MANN HAD GUARANTEED LAW AND ORDER.
Well, I don't remember that meeting with Mr. Seigenthaler. However it could have happened. And if it did happen, it must have happened the day before the bus arrived at the Montgomery bus station. If a meeting like that did take place, and later on one did take place with Mr. White, who was my, state supreme court, we, every time we met with anybody, connected with the federal people, we assured them that we believed in law and order, that we had ample forces to maintain law and order, that we intended to do so, and that they didn't have to be down here with their forces or be interfering with what we were doing down here. Never at any time did we ever get to the position where we were the least bit concerned that we were not able to maintain law and order. We had ample forces, we had the will to do it and we intended to do it.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO THEN CAME BACK AND SAID, LOOK AT ANASTON, LOOK AT BIRMINGHAM. ISN'T THAT WHAT ROBERT KENNEDY SAID AT THAT POINT, TWO INCIDENTS HAD ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.
Well, when somebody suddenly stops a bus out on a isolated highway between Anaston and Birmingham, and sets it on fire, just suddenly like that, you're not prepared for anything like that. And of course in Birmingham, the city of Birmingham, was well able to handle the situation in Birmingham. And of course we got in there till the bus left Birmingham. And of course we relied on the city of Montgomery, and it didn't quite turn out like we hoped it would. But after we arrived at the bus station, we brought in sufficient forces in Montgomery of state people, and even national guardsmen, placed them around town and got ready for whatever might occur.
WHAT DID OCCUR THAT NIGHT AND THE FOLLOWING DAY..
Well, I think that, I'm not sure of that night, but shortly there after, Reverend Martin Luther King decided to come to town and get involved in it, and of course that increased the tempo of it when he came.
STOP. VERY BRIEFLY IN YOUR OWN WORDS, HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT ROBERT KENNEDY'S INTERVENTION IN THIS WHOLE FREEDOM RIDE INCIDENT?
Well, I think that Robert Kennedy was interested in assisting the Freedom Riders in their efforts to create difficulty and trouble down here, for whatever their motives might have been. And he didn't cooperate with us really in any way, and he made it very difficult and its remarkable that more people, its remarkable that somebody; didn't get killed in the thing. Twenty years later we find out that Robert Kennedy had actually sent a person in here who worked with this group of Klansmen and he had specific instructions from the Justice Department to knock heads together and beat up Freedom Riders and create trouble. Gary Thomas Rowe, who later on was involved in the Liuso killing in 1963. So we know today that Robert's intentions were to cause us difficulty and trouble and to create violence in Alabama to embarrass us.
DID YOU FEEL EMBARASSED AS THE GOVERNOR IN THAT POSITION THAT YOU WERE, AFTER MONTGOMERY…
Well, naturally we were embarrassed that this happened to us down here. And it was a situation that could have been avoided, and to have the justice department of the United States doing what they did, sending in 600 federal marshals, flying in a company of infantry from Fort Benning, and hiding them in a hanger out here at Maxwell Field near Montgomery, all of this was designed to embarrass us and we were embarrassed by it.
WHAT WAS THE SITUATION IN THE CHURCH THOUGH, THAT APPARENTLY THERE WERE SOME THOUSAND, FIFTEEN HUNDRED PEOPLE…
Well, I think it was either a couple nights later, or I think it could have been the next night, Mr. King came to town, he was met out at the airport, by the marshals, federal marshals, and was escorted to the church, and of course we were concerned about this situation because people had begun to gather from all over the country into town here, and it was a very volatile thing. And so the marshals, about 5 or 6 hundred of them, and these were process servers, these were not trained people in riot control, like the justice department tried to make out, but anyway they showed up at the church and they ring the church, apparently intending to protect the church. And of course no legal authority for marshals to do that kind of thing, you know, under the constitution, but anyway they were doing it and the city had sort of backed off and let them do it. And we brought in our people and watched it from 2 or 3 hundred yards away. And when darkness came a tremendous mob gathered down there, about 10 thousand people. And they got their courage up when night came and began to cat-call the marshals, and throw bottles, and when they started to throw bottles, the marshals began to cover up and when they took their eyes off the mob the crowd ran over them, just ran over the marshals and burned the car, and it took about 10 or 15 minutes for us to free our people in there real quick and restore order. And then we protected the people all night in the church and then next morning escorted them home. Now the thing appeared to be very bad there that night and almost got out of hand. And that's the night I was up in the governor's office, about 3 or 4 blocks away, staying in touch with Mr. Mann, as to what was going on, and we decided to declare martial law. So that evening as this riot began to get started, I issued a decree of marshal law, and we called out a regiment of national guardsman, who were trained in riot control, and we already had a good many of them here anyway, and we immediately just clamped the whole city here under martial law, and just broke up anything and just stopped it and we never had any more difficulty or trouble after that. And the marshals just disappeared that night.
WHAT WAS THE ONE THING THAT MADE YOU, JUST IN A COUPLE OF SENTENCES, THAT MADE YOU MAKE THAT DECISION TO CALL MARTIAL LAW. SOME PEOPLE SAID IT WAS THE PRESSURE OF THE KENNEDY ADMINISTRATION THAT LED YOU TO MAKE THAT DECISION.
No, no, I had sent Mr. Tom Posey, who was my aid, he was a state trooper and he was my aid in the governor's office and I couldn't get information back fast enough from down at the church, so I sent Tom Posey down there and I told him go down there and find out what's going on and get to a telephone booth and get to a telephone booth and call me and tell me what the situation is, and he called me back in a little bit and he said this thing is fixing to get out of hand and you ought to do something about it. And at that moment, I had the national guard liaison officer sitting in my office just in case, and at that moment I said all right, its martial law, issue the order. And the orders went out and it was just all over in a matter of 15, 20 minutes.
WHAT DID PEOPLE OF ALABAMA THINK ABOUT THE FREEDOM RIDERS?
Well, I think the general feeling in Alabama at that time of the Freedom Riders was that these were people who were sent down here to create difficulty and trouble for us and they were not welcome.
WHY DON'T YOU JUST START WITH WHEN PRESIDENT KENNEDY CALLED YOU. WHY YOU DIDN'T TAKE THE CALL.
When President Kennedy called me during this time, and I didn't take the call, and it was a very bad mistake on my part. And I'm very sorry I didn't do it and in retrospect if I had to do it over again, I'd take the call. What I was concerned because I figured he would ask me can you guarantee the safety of these people, can you guarantee that nothing is going to happen to them. And that had been a pretty hard thing to do because they wouldn't obey what we wanted them to do. They wouldn't go where we said go, or they wouldn't stay put. And if I'd have said no I can't, he'd have said the governor of Alabama has admitted to me he can't maintain order in his own state, and he'd have sent the federal troops in here, which would have been a terrible thing for us. On the other hand if I'd have said well, Yes I can guarantee it, then I probably could not have lived up to it, possibly, or he, would then say that the governor has capitulated and has agreed to go along with what these people are trying to do down here to test the Alabama laws, and so politically that would have been a very bad thing for me to do there, see. So I was put in that dilemma, and I had already thought this out, and I figured I might get this call and I didn't take it. And it was a mistake, and if I had it to do over again, I'd most certainly take it.
(THIS IS FILM ROLL 390, SOUND ROLL 1340, THIS IS FILM ROLL 1390, SOUND TAKE 10, GOV. JOHN PATTERSON.)
IN A COUPLE SENTENCES, IF YOU CAN TELL ME WHAT SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES OR EVENTS CAUSED YOU TO MAKE THE DECISION TO CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD THERE IN MONTGOMERY, WHAT MADE YOU CALL OUT THE GUARD?
I had sent an aid, Mr. Tom Posey, down to the church where the mob was gathered, because I was having difficulty getting information back from Floyd Mann about what was going on down there. I guess Floyd was mighty busy. And I told Tom to go down there, get to a phone booth and call me and tell me what the situation was. And so he called me in a little bit and told me, says this thing is getting out of hand. And it looks like somebody's going to get hurt unless something's done about it. So at that time I made the decision to declare martial law and call out the national guard. I'd already made plans and had one of the Colonel's there with me in the office, and I told him, all right, lets go.
IF YOU CAN COVER THAT BRIEFLY, WHAT AFFECT DID YOU THINK THEY HAD, THAT WHOLE EPISODE HAD ON THE STATE OF ALABMA?
Well, I think the Freedom Riders did accomplish what they probably set out to do, and that was to bring attention to the segregated policies and segregated laws dealing with waiting rooms and bus stations and restaurants and things of that kind, public accommodations. And I think it had a tremendous affect, and I think it set in motion nationally efforts to, to end that. And so I think that probably the end result of the freedom ride, was the ending of segregation in public accommodations.
WHAT WERE THE NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS OF THE FREEDOM RIDERS?
I think the negative effects was the hostility that was generated and created between the justice department particularly and the United States government and the people of Alabama and particularly the state government of Alabama. I think it demonstrated at that time that we couldn't necessarily trust these people and I guess they probably felt like they couldn't trust us.
WHAT DID YOU THINK PERSONALLY OF THE RIGHT THAT THESE PEOPLE HAVE TO RIDE THE BUS?
Well, I think they had, I think that they had the right to ride the bus of course, anywhere they wanted to go, but as far as getting off the bus at any particular location, and going and deliberately trying to create some type of public controversy, in order to dramatize their situation, I think that's wrong. I think that people should take their grievance to the courts and not to the streets.
(HEAD OF SOUND ROLL 1341, CAMERA ROLL 3903 SOUND TAKE 12) TWO QUESTIONS. WHAT WAS THE RANGE OF OPINION IN THE WHITE COMMUNITY OF MONTGOMERY ABOUT THE BOYCOTT?
Well, the white community was not particularly involved in the Montgomery bus boycott. Of course the black community was wholly involved in it. The bus boycott was a tremendous success as far as the black community was concerned. Of course very shortly after the boycott commenced, the United States Supreme court came down with a decision that ended segregation on intrastate and interstate transportation. And you could sit anywhere on the bus you wanted to after that. But what the bus boycott did do, it created a tremendous interest in the black community to improve its position and it brought about voter registration drives and tremendous efforts to organize and to pursue other goals. And I think you can truthfully say, that the Montgomery bus boycott was the thing that started the modern civil rights movement in the South.
HOW MUCH DID THAT BOYCOTT IMPACT THE CITY FINANCIALLY? WERE THE DOWNTOWN MERCHANTS AFFECTED?
I just don't know. Not a great deal I don't think. I think of course it hurt the city bus line. And a lot of people didn't ever, didn't go back to the bus after the boycott was over.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE'S HELP NOT BEING ABLE TO COME IN…
Well, of course when the boycott started, a lot of the blacks rode the bus and the majority of people who rode the bus were blacks, they worked at, for white people in various parts of town, and of course the white businessman and the white housewife would go get their employee and bring them to work in their car and take them home at night. And of course this helped the boycott tremendously and there wasn't anything the city could do about it.
HOW CONCERNED WERE YOU AS ATTORNEY GENERAL ABOUT THE BAD PUBLICITY THAT WAS GENERATED BY THE BOYCOTT ABOUT MONTGOMERY?
Well, of course the boycott in Montgomery did not effect, at least I don't remember it affecting my job as Attorney General. I was not directly involved in the boycott.
DID YOU THINK IT HAD A BAD AFFECT ON MONTGOMERY?
Yes, I think probably it did. Nationwide, that it probably had a bad affect on the image of Montgomery and the state.
(CUT. TAKE 13.) OKAY. ONE QUESTION. WAS THERE ANY KIND OF PRESSURE FROM THE STATE LEVEL TO THE CITY IN MONTGOMERY TO GET THIS WHOLE BUS BOYCOTT RESOLVED BEFORE IT DID ANY FURTHER DAMAGE TO THE CITY?
Not that I know of. Of course I speak only from the Attorney General's office. Governor Fulsom was Governor at that time, and whether or not he was involved in any matter in the boycott I do not know.
OKAY. WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN THE SUPREME COURT RULED THE BUSES HAD TO BE DESEGREGATED IN MONTGOMERY, THE DECISION THAT CAME OUT OF THE BUS BOYCOTT ITSELF.
My best recollection is that we had no real reaction at all except one of being glad that the thing was over. This brought an end to the matter and the people of Alabama adjusted to it very quickly without any difficulty.
WE DON'T KNOW WHY IT WAS, BUT IT WAS ONLY A FEW WEEKS AFTER THE BOYCOTT STARTED, THIS CASE CAME DOWN FROM THE US SUPREME COURT, IT WAS A SOUTH CAROLINA CASE AND IT AH, HELL…
(CUT. 14.) GOING BACK TO MONTGOMERY. PRIOR TO MONTGOMERY. YOU HAD MADE A STATEMENT THAT, AND THIS IS A QUOTE NOW, THAT THE STATE OF ALABAMA HAD THE MEANS, ABILITY AND THE WILL TO KEEP PEACE WITHOUT OUTSIDE HELP. AND YET, AND WE HAD THE EXPERIENCE IN BIRMINGHAM AND ANASTON. HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HEARD THAT A FEDERAL MAN, SEIGENTHALER WAS YOU KNOW, UNCONCIOUS IN THE STREET AND YET YOU HAD MADE THAT CLAIM.
Well, now nobody got hurt in the Anaston incident. The bus got burned. Nobody got hurt at the station in Birmingham, that I recall, somebody did get beat up here, 2 or 3 of them got roughed up here in Montgomery, but our people saved them from further harm. So I, I think that we were, we demonstrated that we were perfectly capable of maintaining order. We had unlimited forces to do so and I would have filled the jails full of people if it became necessary to do so to maintain order. No question about it. Now, I can't explain Mr. Seigenthaler, but if he came down here to represent the attorney general of the United States, he was forced to be with us as a liaison person, he shouldn't have gone down and got in the mob himself, you need experienced people to send into mobs and things like that. And he had no experience at all, other than possibly a newspaper man. And he just should not have gone down there. And when he went down there, he made it possible for this incident to happen, which was not a good thing for any of us, and it reflected on all of us, him included.
[unintelligible] 15. OKAY, JUST GIVE ME A GENERAL FEELING IN A FEW SENTENCES OF WHY ALABAMANS, I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT HE EXTREME ELEMENTS ON BOTH SIDES, WHY THE AVERAGE ALABAMAN IN 1961 GOT LIVID AT THE THOUGHT OF THE FREEDOM RIDERS COMING IN THIS STATE. BECAUSE I THINK IT WAS JUST THE AVERAGE PERSON, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY WERE…
Well, again, I think the polarization of the races, due to what was going on in the civil rights movement at that time, beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott, had created a feeling in which the white community was incensed at people like the Freedom Riders who were coming into the state to intentionally violate our customs and in some cases violate local law. And they were just incensed at this, as far as getting out and getting in a riot or beating up Freedom Riders, the average Alabaman would not do that. The people who were actually doing this were very small group of people, some of them were known members of the Ku Klux Klan and then were not representative of the average Alabama person.
BUT SOME PEOPLE THOUGH THAT YOU OPENED THE DOOR TO THIS KIND OF, THIS ELEMENT IN THE POPULATION BY ALLOWING BULL CONNOR TO TAKE THESE PEOPLE OUT AND DROP THEM AT THE STATE LINE AND NOT CLAMPING DOWN ON THE SITUATION EARLIER. HOW WOULD YOU…
Of course, you see, the governor of the state, would feel very reluctant to interfere with the city officials of Birmingham in their way of handling the situation. Now of course, I thought when he, I think when he carried them to the Missi, to the Tennessee line, he made a very bad mistake. [unintelligible]  And I never would have done anything like that. The polarization of the races made it impossible for the political leaders to bring about change. It was just political suicide to undertake change at that time because of the situation. The federal court became the valve by which change could be brought about without violence. And then the political leader could survive. He could blame the federal courts for the problems and he could survive politically. That's exactly the situation. We were very…