Camera Rolls: 317:16-19
Sound Rolls: 317:09-11
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Robert Weaver , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 15, 1992, for The Great Depression . 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 The Great Depression.*
Take one with Weaver.
Roll 317:09 on the 15th of February, The Great Depression, Blackside Productions. Miscellaneous. Take one, miscellaneous. Take one with Weaver, Camera Roll 317:16, Sound Roll 317:09
You came into government in September of 1933, as you just told me. What was it like, not just at that time, but what was it like in general to be a black man in the government, involved with the government in the New Deal at that time?
Well there were no precedents. The closest thing to it was what happened in World War I when Emmett Scott and George Haynes were involved in war production at that time. However, their functions were quite different from the functions that were outlined in the New Deal. One of the things that interested me in the New Deal, and interested John Davis, who was a person that worked with me and got me at least identified somewhat with the movement, was the fact that here you had the federal government assuming responsibilities that it had never assumed before in peacetime. This meant that the economic structure of the country would be impacted to a degree that it had never been impacted before by the federal government, and by the legislation and administrative action in the federal government. Well as an economist, and one who was interested primarily in employment as far as Negro Americans were concerned, and we were Negroes at that time, I was intrigued by this. First, I was intrigued by its potentialities and secondly I was frightened by the dangers of this coming and not coming with a philosophy and a policy of the involvement and somewhat equitable activity for the minority group of which I was a member.
You said there were dangers. What were those dangers?
The dangers were these. If you had, for example, one of the issues that came up was whether or not blacks should fight for equal pay for equal work, and this was not a theoretical problem. There were many parts of the country, many individuals, and many blacks in America who felt that if there was equal wages then they would be displaced in toto. By this fear they found themselves being lined up with the reactionary whites who wanted it because that would mean they would be able to get Negroes cheaper than before. That was not the totality of it, however, because if there were a wage differential based upon race then the hostility that had existed, and continues to exist to some degree between white and black labor would be accentuated, and you would never have any hope of having any labor movement which would include blacks, and you would never have any rapport between labor organizers and labor officials and black organizers and black officials.
I want to move on now to talk about Walter White. You know him pretty well, can you tell me about Walter White, and tell me what kind of man Walter White was?
Walter White was a very complex person, as I think all people are who are doing things. He was primarily a public relations man. He was primarily a man who used his personality, his industry, and his unflappability to be able to project what he was trying to get done. In this he was sort of a—once he set out on a project he had the tenacity of a bulldog on him, and he also had a great deal of personal charm when that was necessary, and he knew how to handle people with a degree of flattery which was not insincere but was very effective. He was a great proponent for the programs and the policies that he espoused. He also collected around himself a group of quite competent people, and they had by and large great loyalty for him. Obviously...
You know we talked about, in the Depression he was very single-minded about the anti-lynching law. Why, of all the things that were affecting black people at that time, why do you suppose it was the anti-lynching law that it was his obsession?
I think that Walter White believed, and I think justifiably, that lynching was not only a horrible, beastly thing for people to be doing, but that it had a tremendous symbolism and a tremendous impact upon the black population because if lynching could occur it meant that Negro Americans would not have the protection, granted in theory by the Constitution, supposedly supported by the courts of a trial and presumption of innocence until proved to be guilty. In addition, it was a tremendous instrument for getting people to feel insecure, to getting blacks to feel frightened, and getting them to feel that they were in danger constantly so that they could be further penalized by discrimination, and by fear and by innuation [sic] and all those activities. The interesting thing about this was that many white Americans who were favorably involved and favorably inclined towards blacks seemed to minimize the impact of lynching. Not the act of lynching but the impact of lynching occurring, because
there was a feeling that there was progress being made and that there were not as many lynchings as before. But from Walter's point of view it wasn't the number of lynchings that he was concerned with, it was the fact that you did have lynchings, and if you had only ten it would have been a great deterrent to the black population,
** and I think he was right.
Take two. Camera roll 317:16.
In the early '30s—actually the number of lynchings did jump up in 1933. What relation do you think the economics of the Depression had to do with the recurring prevalence of the issue?
Well as I said before the very impact of lynching could not be separated from the deterrent that it was, economically, to black Americans. The fact that there was always the possibility of there being a trumped-up charge, maybe a misidentification or something of that sort, penalizing with the supreme penalty a Negro who was either too aggressive or was too pushy or was too prosperous. This put a pale over the economic possibilities of getting a job, affording a job, of getting a promotion, of asking for a promotion and of really asserting any of the basic principles of citizenship which we were led to believe were universal in this country.
Was this exacerbated by the Depression do you think?
Well it was exacerbated in the Depression because in the Depression there was even more competition for jobs because there were less jobs, so that when you had a black in a position or in a job which a lot of whites wanted there would be a direct reaction, negative reaction towards that black by certain whites in certain areas. And lynching was the extreme expression of that hostility.
Take three on Weaver.
So in that time when you were twenty-seven years old, in '30, twenty-six years old—
Well of course remember I had grown up in Washington, and my father was in government. He was a postal clerk, civil service postal clerk, and my grandfather, step-grandfather was in government, and I had known a large number of people, many, not a large number, but a reasonable number of black Americans who were in government. They recorded deeds and this and that and the other, with a few traditional jobs. So that the idea of being in government per se did not have much impact on me one way or the other. I had all of the enthusiasm of youth and I had all of the self-confidence that youth sometimes has, or at least it affects having if it doesn't have. I was very, very much involved in the job, in the potential of it, and in the hopes of it, so I felt that this was a real opportunity and I must say that I did not feel frightened in the least. I felt I had about as much chance as anybody else of doing the job, and I had had success in the Negro Industrial League in appearing before the NRA and testifying and got very good publicity in the Times and even the Wall Street Journal; so that I felt really that it was an opportunity but I did not feel any great fear about it.
Walter White carried on an extensive correspondence with Mrs. Roosevelt, and they had an extensive relationship. What kind of a friendship was that? How would you characterize it?
Well it was an on-going friendship—
I'm sorry. Could you start by saying "Walter White?"
Walter White had cultivated Mrs. Roosevelt, and it was a mutual sort of an exchange, and he would, without hesitancy, write anybody, anytime, anywhere if he thought anything would come out of that as far as the work of the NAACP was concerned. In Mrs. Roosevelt he found something of a responsive ear. She certainly did not tear up his letters as far as I know anything about it and anybody knows anything about it, and she did respond, sometimes in writing, sometimes through a third party, and she was interested. This was very rewarding to him. This I can attest to from my own experience. But he reached her by letter. He also reached her by third parties. Mrs. Bethune, for example, who had access to Mrs. Roosevelt would often go and present the issue or issues that Walter was interested in and there was no, apparently, resentment on Mrs. Roosevelt's part about being inundated by this and there was response in so far as she felt that she could do so with impunity.
So she didn't feel beleaguered by him? She was happy to respond? I know they exchanged a lot of letters. She was active in this issue in regard to her husband. Why was she so ready to respond?
Well I think she was ready to respond, and I'm sure she didn't respond positively to the all of the matters that Walter brought to her attention because she was concerned about these issues herself. She was distraught at times whenever instances of discrimination, gross discrimination, would be brought to her attention from any source, and she would attempt to do whatever she could. She was a very adroit person and she used various and sundry methods. I remember one in which I was involved when there was a luncheon at the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt had been working, this was in war production period, about the fact that blacks were not being given equal opportunity, or hardly any opportunity, in war production. And she wrote a very disarming note to Mr. Hillman saying this had happened and would he mind telling her what was going on? [wild audio] And so he wrote back rather feebly, and to make a long story short she set up a luncheon in which she, Sidney Hillman, Will Alexander and I, and Aubrey Williams were present. She then asked Mr. Hillman again what was happening in these situations, and he opened up by saying "Dr. Will Alexander and I wouldn't agree with him" that progress was being made. She then called on Dr. Alexander and myself to say what we thought, and we disagreed strongly with him as he knew we were going to do, and at the end of the meeting she said that she thought there was some validity in this and she was sure the President didn't know anything about it but she would call it to his attention. I must say that we got a lot done the next week. This was the way in which she moved.
Unfortunately our lights were just causing you to sweat here a little bit.
Have I got a red nose?
No, no, no, there's just a little sweating and this will just keep your skin looking so it doesn't, what is the word, shine.
Ahem, you know about, do you know about these, this meeting that he, that Walter and Mrs. Roosevelt, miscellaneous.
On the subject of lynching, FDR never supported publicly an anti-lynching law.
Largely for political reasons.
Again, could you start by saying "The President, President Roosevelt?"
It was the fact that he was dependent upon a Southern-dominated Congress. Where you had with the continuing re-election of Democratic candidates for both the Senate and the House in the Southern districts. The chairmanships of the committees, which were very powerful, were dominated by the Southerners. If he were to go too far out, and nobody knows how far out he could have gone, but there's one thing sure, there was a point where he could have gone so far that they would have just rebelled and not supported his program for the recovery and later for defense. He was too good a politician not to recognize that. I think also the fact was that he was, and I think he was a great President, but he was no great civil rights champion. He had lived in the South. He had lived in Georgia. He had accustomed himself and accommodated himself to the Southern, I don't know, race relations. I think he felt that this was not a burning issue, and he did not have the feeling that Mrs. Roosevelt had of the fact that it was something that should be changed, or could be changed.
Let me ask you another question then. A lot of blacks loved, revered President Roosevelt. Given that he wasn't such a civil rights champion why would they love him so? And again if you could start by saying, as a full statement.
Of course there's the other side of it, and that was the fact that he had this great personality. I remember before I went, even, to Washington during these Fireside Chats over the radio, and you go through a Negro district and every radio was on and practically every household was listening, and practically everyone who's listening is thinking he's talking to that person alone and personally. There was this personality that he had of enveloping people and of including them, and the optimism that he had. There was also the fact that he was very adroit in sending messages to conferences where a large number of blacks would be assembled, or finding a man who was about to lose his farm who happened to be black and saving his farm for him. And of course he had Eleanor Roosevelt. And Eleanor Roosevelt was loved by black Americans, and was revered by them, and was trusted by them, and they were really feeling as a part of government through the fact that they felt a part of the woman who was married to the president.
Take six. Camera roll seventeen.
Can you describe briefly for me what Charles Houston's, you know, Walter White was with the anti-lynching campaign, Charles Houston had a legal strategy to end segregation. Can you describe what his strategy was?
What it was? Well it was a strategy—
Can you start again? "Charles Houston's strategy..."
Charles Houston's strategy is well summarized by Genna Rae McNeil's title to his biography, "Groundwork." It was the figuring out, in a very logical, in a very careful, in a very complete program of before you attempted to break down the discrimination and segregation in the public schools in this country. The first thing that
** was that you could not do this by having a broadside federal attack and wipe out all segregation and all inequalities, that this would simply cause a backlash and it would frighten whites and anger whites, but it would frighten a lot of blacks too, because
** the schools were a very, very significant part of the economy. The black middle class was largely supported by the salaries that school teachers earned, black school teachers earned,
** despite the fact that in most places, as in the case of my mother-in-law they were paid just about half of what the whites were paid with equal qualifications. So that he recognized that it was important to get precedent after precedent and to go after the precedents that could be established more quickly and with less pain, and with less expenditure of effort and money because both were limited, and to get, as I say, gains after gains which were precedents and which could be expanded further. Now the elements that were involved in this, as I recall, was first there was an element of education. This is education of the public I'm talking about, rather than the kids in the school, to let the public know, and particularly the black public and the white public what the conditions were. So here's a man-
Charles Houston had a very well worked put program to fight education discrimination and education segregation. There were several elements in it. One of the basic elements was first to emphasize what could and had to be done to cut out discrimination: discrimination in salaries of teachers, discrimination in the length of the school term, discrimination in the facilities, in the school system, discrimination in professional education. Never did he forsake or forget that the ultimate objective was to get a breakdown of racial segregation in public education. He started out, among other things it was one of the earliest ones, was matters of education of the general public. Education of the Negro public. Education to show what the situation was. Here was a man, a talented lawyer who'd drive all over the country taking pictures of what existed in the school system, and he would then devise by using The Crisis and other media to show these to the publics that he wanted to influence on this. He then had to work with the teachers, he and his immediate colleagues, the colored teachers, to show them that they were being terribly mistreated by being equally prepared in many instances and not being paid the same amount of money. If they said that the Negro children were harder to teach then they should deserve more money, not less money, and if they were not harder to teach then they should deserve it for the same reason. He then got a—
What about the legal strategy? What was the legal strategy?
The legal strategy was how you brought the cases up before the Supreme Court, and how you got them to the Supreme Court, and what the issues that were raised in these various cases, because each time you won a victory this made a precedent which you could cite in the next case, and then the precedent could be cited in the next case and so on. You get some of the earlier cases, and these were not in any sequence as far as the game pattern was concerned, but the sequence as the cases matured because he could not decide which cases would come up. He had to find out which cases he could get people to bring. He couldn't bring the cases. He had to get this done. So that you had a case that was brought to his attention by his favorite student and later his closet associate, Thurgood Marshall in Virginia. Well a young man by the name of Gaines in Baltimore who'd graduated from Amherst attempted to get into the University of Maryland Law School.
Take eight, camera roll eighteen.
So, given that we know what happened, what is the significance of the Donald Gaines—it's Donald Gaines Murray versus University of Maryland Law School?
Well the Donald Gaines case showed that by excellent preparation and by having an excellent plaintiff that the lower court, the federal court sustained the school system, the university. However, he was able to get a superior court, the Court of Appeals, to accept the case and make a decision in favor of the plaintiff. This then set a precedent that the courts would overturn this type of professional education case if it were carefully presented, if it had a good plaintiff and if it had expert lawyers. Then the next time that this came up it came up in Missouri and here it came in front of the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court certified that this would have to be done. There were a lot of issues in this, but I won't go into them at this time.
Was there a sense at the time that the Donald Gaines Murray, when that victory happened was there a sense that this was a breakthrough? Was there a feeling, was there a feeling that this was a major—
The interesting thing about it was, in every instance where a new area was opened up, equal pay for equal training, equal school terms, equal transportation, equal facilities, equal professional education opportunities, every time that this happened there was a realization, first in the black community, that there was hope and that there was a good prospect of change. This was a metamorphosis because people - I remember when I was a kid in school, separate school in Washington. There was no hope that this was going to be broken down, although at one time you did not have separate schools in Washington for a short period in Reconstruction. So this was a terribly important thing and as each victory was won there was a much more receptive audience and a much more reception clientèle pushing, and even if he had not wanted to go further with this I think he would have been forced to, because nothing succeeds like success.
Let me ask you something, a more general question about the NAACP at that time, in the mid-'30s. You got your anti-lynching campaign, you have your Houston strategy. What at that time, it seems like it was a critical period, was the mission of the NAACP?
Well the NAACP's mission was to get equal opportunity and full rights.
Can you start again? Let's start over about the NAACP-
The NAACP's mission was to get equal opportunity and equal political participation by blacks in this country. As time went on it moved more and more into the area of economics, job opportunities, fighting discrimination in labor unions, of fighting the disfranchisement.
How did the NAACP get its message out to all across the country? Was there an attempt to expand the membership at this time?
Yes, it was a membership organization, and it was an organization made of a series of local branches. In these local branches there would usually be an individual man or woman who was outstanding in the community, sometimes a man who had a church, as Adam Clayton Powell Sr. was a leader in the NAACP in New York City. Or it would be maybe an educator, but that was more difficult because the educator was usually employed by the state or the city, and usually the problems were with the state and the city. Or it would be a doctor. It would be a lawyer. And this was DuBois' "Talented Tenth" that would take the leadership in the NAACP. In the South the same thing occurred. It was much less addressed in the South than in the North, but it was an organization that had a membership made up of people who belonged to existing organizations in the communities where they lived. And also there was The Crisis magazine which was edited by DuBois. In fact my first publicity was in The Crisis because DuBois had gotten an idea of having a picture issue of young children of Negro families, and my brother's and my picture appeared in this, and I guess I was four or five years old. This got my family to subscribe to The Crisis. The Crisis was also an outlet for people who were writing on this issues that were important to black Americans. It also had an educational section, and each year there would be a list of the graduates of outstanding universities, undergraduate and graduate and what they had done.
We just ran out of film.
an exchange of victories and defeats, so that it was an organization that kept going by the local people.
The central office had a field staff. Pickens was one of the field staff people, of Yale, an early Yale graduate. He was a great orator, and you had a lot of women as well as men. Outstanding women and men who spokesmen for the NAACP. And as it grew older it set up sections in litigation, sections in education, sections in employ—
Take nine, change to camera roll nineteen.
Briefly just tell me about it.
As time went on more people than the field staff were out in the community. The Executive Director was going to hither and yon, would have meetings in various cities, and the other people in the central office would get out into the communities, going out usually when there was a situation of local importance and taking that and analyzing that and tying that into the association and to a membership drive.
Now to switch gears a little bit, we're still rolling right, to the Marian Anderson concert. Now we're going to tell in the film all of the history, what happened with the DAR and the Constitution Hall But after that the concert was arranged at the Lincoln Memorial, and you were around then. Can you tell me how that concert got arranged?
Yes. As you know, Mrs. Roosevelt had resigned from the Daughters of the America Revolution in protest. This immediately activated two officials in the Interior Department, Oscar Chapman, who was a young, white Virginian, very liberal and assistant secretary, and Harold Ickes who was the Secretary. And it was they who made the Lincoln Memorial reflection pool area available, and it was they who were on the podium when, and I think with a degree of irony, Marian Anderson, after having gone through that dramatic experience, opened her mouth and sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, Of Thee I Sing." It was a moving experience.
Was there much outcry that government property was being used for this? Was there protesting?
There wasn't in Washington. There may have been in Waycross, Georgia, but there was not much in Washington.
Can you tell me, you were at the concert?
Can you go back a little bit, I know you just told me some of it, but again, go back. What was it like to be there? Were you among the crowd? What was the feeling at that concert at that time?
Well it was just a—the concert was a meeting and a gathering of hundreds and I guess thousands of people, all around this enormous reflection pool. It was hushed. It was almost like a tribute, as it were. Ms. Anderson was introduced by Ickes. She sang, she was applauded, and I think everyone in the audience felt a little bit better after that then they did before they heard her.
OK. Now we'll move on to Joe Louis. What did you think it was about Joe Louis that captured the imagination of so many black people? Why him?
Well let me say one word. Joe Louis had an honesty, an inherent decency, an inherent wit that won many people. He was sometimes ungrammatical, but he was not a "step and fetch it" type at all. It happened that my wife was teaching at Howard University during the time of his rise, and she had his sister in her class. She was a very able student. Joe had many witticisms which came almost spontaneously. My favorite one was the story that somebody asked Joe after the first Schmeling fight, when he'd had a great physical and psychological defeat, if he saw the movies of the fight. He said, "No. I saw the fight." [laughs]
Take ten, camera roll nineteen.
OK. So back to Joe Louis. What did he mean to you? You as a man in government and a sophisticated person what did Joe mean to you?
Joe was a very complex person to many black Americans. There are many things that came to mind. There was the Jack Johnson situation, when Johnson had been either-
We'll tell the Jack Johnson situation.
And here you had a young guy who was clean living, who was not a great complex personality, had two excellent managers, and a remarkable trainer. And really was everything that an American athlete could be honored, because he had these attributes. He had no guile. He was not conceited. He was not self-depreciating. I mean he was just a fine person who was given with a great talent, and he handled it extremely well.
How is it, that tells me about, how is it that he became a hero to the whole culture? First he started out as a hero to black Americans. He was, he was, he was their favorite son. How did the whole society embrace him?
Well I think similar in what I said, he was a man who was something like Magic Johnson is today. Here's a guy who you would think might have been chided because of his weaknesses, but because of his charm, because of his personality, because of his humanity he's become a national hero. I think Joe was the same way.
Do you think there were political overtones to his fights? Like when he fought Max Schmeling when Hitler's on his rise to his ascendancy, and Joe Louis as a black man. Do you think there were political overtones to, was there political propaganda around his—before you answer, you're gonna fix your pillow and sit back.
I think too that because he did become this symbol, which he did become, he was a very desirable commodity to the political organizations in the country and to the politicians. Here again it was just common sense that he exhibited. He never got to the point where he would pontificate beyond what he knew, and when he did speak he spoke in terms that anybody could understand, and very simple terms and terms that were heartfelt. And I think the people responded to that.
What about the press and all this about Nazism and "Black Fighter" and the racial purity? Was there much weight in that?
No. I don't think so. I think that his attacks on Hitlerism were well-received by both blacks and whites and I think they were within the temper of time, and I think too that his personal dignity was something that shone throughout that man's life. This is something I think that the American public, particularly when he won the World Championship and brought it to America, appreciated.
One more question.
We have forty feet.
Would you say that the 1930s, we have one minute to do this, was a time when America opened up for blacks and minorities? Do you feel like the '30s, society opened up a bit, whether the New Deal helped a little bit?
Well, no, I would say this. I would say that what happened in the '30s as far as blacks were concerned was that the position and condition that they had been largely during what was called the New Deal in race relations, that is, a disadvantaged people, a people that needed work, a people that needed health and so forth became a situation that affected millions of Americans. So there was little tolerance for this type of a situation, and a greater feeling, not that it might be I, but that maybe it was I who was in the situation that up till then you had considered to be something uniquely a black situation.
OK, this will be our last take. Miscellaneous.
OK, take eleven. Change to camera roll twenty, sound roll eleven.
OK, if you could just again, briefly, just tell me about, tell me about in those early days the City-wide Young People's Forum, what kind group there was.
Well, the City Wide Young People’s Forum in Baltimore was somewhat a unique organization because it was tied in directly without obvious ties with NAACP, but it was a group of young people led by young people, two in particular, Juanita and Clarence Mitchell. And they would have Sunday afternoon forums as I recall and they'd have speakers, Charlie Houston, Bill Hasting and I and others. And this would be a matter of bringing the young people up to date with what was going on in the nation at that particular time. The time when a depression, when we had the new government agencies, etc. and when there was a lot of questions about whether we should go for integration or whether we should build within the structure of segregation and so forth.
What about lynching. Was lynching initially in that time?
Yes. Clarence had even before that, I believe, he'd been working with the Baltimore Afro-American and he'd been on the eastern shore then which there is very few areas that are more racially prejudice than the eastern shore of Maryland, and there had been a lynching and he had reported it and this had really stirred him up tremendously. So that I for some reason, I made several trips over there. I just recall in general. And, it was a very live group and a very significant trip.
Do you know much about the eastern shore economically and racially. What kind of a place was the eastern shore like?
Well, it's Mississippi on the, on the—
Can you start by saying the eastern shore?
On the eastern shore of Maryland. The eastern shore is a disadvantaged, economic, group, and it's been an economy which is not flourished as other parts of Maryland have. It's really tied around the lobster, I mean crabs, and fish and that type of thing. And the racial lines are very strongly drawn and the schools were very unequal, the political identity was practically nil. There was a black woman in the leading city there, I've forgotten the name of it now, who was a [sic] outspoken person, but the leadership was very, very light in the eastern shore and it was rare.
Was it a place that was rife for lynching, do you think this place was?
And why so?
Why do you think it was a place that would have a potential for this lynching activity?
Well, because there you had complete economic exploitation of the black community. Low wages, horrible working conditions and insecurity. And whenever anything looked as though you were gonna try to change that, then the forces of oppression, the forces of keeping the blacks in their place, and the threat of lynch, became an obvious one. It had its counterparts in Mississippi and Alabama. But, that far north it was somewhat of a unique situation.
Great, thank you. OK, we can cut.
OK, take twelve, camera roll twenty, sound eleven.
OK, so can you briefly tell me about Clarence Mitchell as a young man?
Clarence was a very interesting young man. Like Lincoln he had been a [sic] outstanding debater, good student, and he had shown qualities there a personal integrity which were characteristic of him all of his life. He was much more religiously inclined than I was and, but he was not a person who would criticize others as long as they did not violate the rules of decency.
Was he very affected by this lynching business that he saw?
I think he was. If you read the articles that he wrote on this you could see this indignation that he had and it was, it was only backed by a lot of courage that he showed too. And if this carried through his life, Clarence was a man of principle, he was a man of integrity and he was a man of a great capacity for getting things done and for hard work. And he had a great opinion of himself and not an inflated one but he had self-confidence and he had the integrity to apply that and to make his own appraisals real in, in life. I have great high regard for Clarence.
Great, thank you. Cut please.
And, oh, he also had great loyalties.
Great, people following him.
James, take thirteen, camera roll twenty.
And a black migrant from rural Mississippi was [coughs] in the North and somebody asked him about the South and mules. He said, "The next time I say get after a mule he'll be sitting on my lap."
Now, when FDR first took office, it was, he seemed to have a tremendous impression on people, with his inauguration address and his fireside chats, how did he make you feel?
Well, I think that I felt like most people. There is some magnetism about Franklin Roosevelt, particularly when he opened his mouth and when he was on the radio.
He made listeners feel as though he were talking to them and to them individually, and alone. And, this was a remarkable technique that he had
** and a remarkably effective means of communication. I remember in those days if you went through any area,
** where a large number of blacks lived, during the fireside chats you could hear them walking down the street, you didn't have to worry about getting home in order to hear it, because it would be turned on all the way home
** and this was a unique experie—a unique talent that he had and he also had a way of making an individual story sort of be a collective individual story and make each individual almost be able to feel that he was on the other side of the table or a participant in what he was speaking about. I think it was a remarkable ability to keep the country hopeful. You know what he said, "there's no fear but fear itself" and "the only thing you have to fear is fear itself." These phrases, whether they were written by speech writers or whether they were, came out of his head, I don't know, a little bit of both, I imagine, but they did a lot to maintain the morale and the hope in this country in those hard days. And the other thing that you have to remember is that he came after Mr. Hoover who was one of the least effective speakers in that, in such situations as they've had for a long time so the contrast was so striking.
How much of this did you think was for real and how much of it was FDR the conman?
Well, I, I don't think it makes much difference because I think you have to judge this not by the guy who from whence it emanated, but the guy to whom it was aimed and what it did to him. And, when you're down in the dumps, if something pulls you up, that's important whether the guy whose pulling you up had his heart in a string or not isn't important.
Now, you said down in the dumps. What was it like in 1933 when you came to Washington to work in the New Deal?
Well, I was from Washington so it wasn't a new experience, but—
—you had people selling apples on the streets, you had people hungry, you had people losing their homes, by the thousands. And—
OK, now we want to pick up where—slate, we need the slate.
What was it like in people's conference in government?
Well, it, the confidence of American people in the government was that the nadir and the election of ‘28 occurred. Mr. Hoover had said that prosperity was just around the corner. Well, first place people couldn't see around the corner, and the second place if they had seen they wouldn't have seen prosperity and they knew it.
Excuse me, I have to interrupt, but not in '28 but what it was like in '33, OK, when Roosevelt you know takes office and things are still difficult?
Well, but by ‘33 they had at least first a program. Something was being done. Secondly, something was being done in tangible fashion. For example, people who were about to lose their homes, had their Homeowners Loan Corporation and they were refinanced, and so forth. And then, you've got the relief agencies were being set up and work relief and the CWA and PWA. All these programs were helping some and with that help, since people would like to look on the bright side of things, there seemed to be a silver lining in this cloud. And, I think that Roosevelt's image of assurance and his optimism was easily transferred to people who wanted to have it transferred to them because they wanted to be optimistic, they wanted to have hope and he gave it to them.
Now you voted for Harold Ickes, what kind of a man was he?
Well, he was supposed to be a tough man to get along with, an old curmudgeon—
Can you tell me his name?
Now, I want you to say Harold Ickes.
Oh, Harold Ickes. He was supposed to be a tough man to work with, an old curmudgeon—
Wait a minute, now, tell me again but include his name, let me stop talking first. I'll have to give you a little room, now.
Harold Ickes was supposed to be an old curmudgeon, he was supposed to be a hard man to work with and he was supposed to be something of a seeker of power but he was, in fact, several things other than that. He was, in the first place, a very, very great admirer of and a very close to the President of the United States. He had access to the President, he didn't hesitate to use it, and he also had two jobs: Secretary of Interior and Administrator of the Public Works Administration. The Public Works Administration was an agency which was largely involved in building, public buildings, and public infrastructure all throughout the country.
OK, we're getting, we'll get to more of that in a, in a little while. Did you witness any competition and any rivalry between Ickes and Harry Hopkins for the President's attentions and for dollars for their programs?
Well, I, I think that both of them were devoted to the—
You have to tell me who they are.
Both Ickes and Hopkins were devoted to the President, and when you have devotion of that type rivalries are almost inevitable. That happens even in the best families with, with the siblings, who will be rivals for their parents affection. If they are both interested in security with their parents. The two men were entirely a different sort. Ickes was a person who was very much concerned with public honesty, with public accountability and with spending the public money so as to get a hundred cents to the dollar. Hopkins was more of politically oriented in the sense that well let's get the money out because that's what we need to do. And, of course, it was that which was the popular thing as compared to the Ickes' high ideals as to what should be the results. Over the long run, the PWA left a history and an achievement of some outstanding buildings, structures, and institutions. The Work Progress Administration did less of long time significance. However, it gave a lot more employment immediately and it kept a lot of people going who would not have been going.
Tell me a little bit more about this rivalry between Hopkins and Ickes. Now, our research has indicated there was a situation where FDR took money from Ickes and gave it to Hopkins for his program. Can you tell me about that and what was Ickes' reaction?
Oh, I thought you were fooling me.
No, no, no, I was, I was trying to make—
The appeal that Hopkins had to the President and to the country was an appeal of immediate relief, immediate employment and immediate hope to thousands of people who were without jobs. Ickes on the other hand, insisted that projects be carefully planned, that they be carefully carried out, and that they be carefully supervised, and that they have some permanent value to the community. Obviously, the two things were in conflict, one with the other. The needs at the time were in favor of Hopkins and for that reason Hopkins, I think, got the better of the conflict.
Now, you refer to PWA process before. Tell me about discrimination in PWA process?
The PWA program was a vast program and it's hard to say that you can describe in, any short span of time, what happened throughout the program because, various things happen in various segments of the program. It happened that I was interested primarily in the PWA housing division which was the first public housing done by the federal government. Now—
Just stop for a minute, OK, let's stop.
Well, of course, PWA discrimination was not something that was the result of the PWA program. It was the result of years of practice of various types of situations involving employment, involving training, which had grown up in this country from almost the beginning. And,
there was discrimination in some of the PWA projects, some discrimination possibly, probably in all of them.
** But there was more discrimination in other than existed in some. This was the holdover from what occurred in the post-reconstruction era.
That's good. Now how much control did the Department of Interior have over these projects, these construction projects. Did unions really control and, and, and subcontractors really have the control after the money left Washington?
Not, not to the degree that in many other projects but you did have the fact that the employers were tied up with the unions. The unions were tied up with the employers.
The unions had a union shop which meant that they would supply the labor and that they would restrict the employment to the members of the union.
** Some of the unions, many of the unions discriminated against blacks.
** Some had in their constitutions at from, times back to the turn of the nineteenth century and the railroad unions it went right even further than that to discriminate against membership on the part of blacks. And with that the problems of scrutiny was to plan out who was doing what to whom. The union said that the employers would not hire blacks. The employers said the unions would not work with blacks. And it took a lot of doing which we were able to accomplish in one or two programs to set that straight and this was what happened in the case of the public works, of the public housing program when we had the first affirmative action program.
That's good. I mean this whole thing is very complex.
Change sound roll twelve, take sixteen.
Ickes was very close to President Roosevelt.
I'm sorry, could you—
Ickes was very close to President Roosevelt. He soon became one of the communications between the White House and the liberal groups of the country, and he also became one of the persons whom the President looked to to continue to maintain communications with the minority groups, Negroes in particular. Ickes at one time had been the head of the NAACP, in Chicago. He had very good liberal ties and he had a good record in being concerned with justice, for all groups. He also then of unquestioned integrity, so much so that the President had great confidence in him and also looked to him in many instances for a advice and for counsel in matters pertaining to minorities.
Good, that's fine, that's good. Let's change now to LaGuardia.
LaGuardia was really a—
Can you look at me, look this way?
Yeah, LaGuardia was really what we would call today a character. He was a short man and rather somewhat pompous at times. He was very vocal and he was excitable and he would raise his voice and cry if necessary, but he would get the attention. And he get the attention in any group in which he participated and he had the attention elsewhere. He also was backed up as far as New York City was concerned by a large number of very effective and very influential legislators in the Congress. So that he was probably the most effective minorial [sic] person to get, to get involvement in the various programs that were being established. He had the further advantage of having proposed some of the programs himself so that he was able to bring to New York City, a good proportion and, of the goodies that were available in Washington.
Tell me about the relationship between LaGuardia and Ickes.
Well this was a sort of a problem of two people being somewhat alike, and having conflicts of that nature. I remember being caught in the middle in connection with the statutory adornment of the housing project with a couple of lions or tigers or bears fighting. And, there being a difference of interpretation between the two gentlemen as to whether they were fighting or engaged in other activity.
I need for you to tell me that again, but I need for you to tell me who the two gentlemen are. Remember you, remember we have to include that.
Well between Ickes and, and, LaGuardia as to whether they were fighting or engaged in other activity.
Now when he came down to, to pitch his project.
Came down to what?
When he came to Washington D.C. to pitch his projects, he meaning LaGuardia, was he well-organized? Was he prepared? Was he, did they look forward to seeing him or was he kind of a pain?
Well I, I think he was prepared.
And I think he was a pain to some and he was a pleasure to others.
** Depending upon whether they wanted the project. If they wanted the project then he was really a pleasure to behold. If they didn't want the project, he was so insistent and persistent that they were very happy if something would cause an emergency which would require his leaving, because he didn't give up easily.
What kind of opposition did you encounter in the Department of Interior in carrying out New Deal Programs? Was there much opposition?
There was opposition in the changes, particularly in the older bureaucracy. You know the, every bureaucracy whether it's governmental or industrial or educational builds up a series of principles, and anything that goes against those principles they resist. They resist at first because it suggests that maybe they've been wronged, and they're against it secondly, because it is contrary to what they call conventional wisdom.
And did this resistance come from any particular camp or any particular, I mean was this, was there conservative resistance I guess is the question?
Well it, it varied from, from branch to branch in the department. Some of the older departments and some of the older employees, and I speak older in the sense of tenure not in the sense of how old they were by years, were very, very protective of doing things the way they had been done. All of them were defensive when they were told that they had to change something because as I said before this implied that they'd been wronged before.
Now, FDR, and Stephen asked this question earlier or something similar, FDR needed the political support of some of the Democrats, now what constraints did this place on the New Deal programs in terms of how far he was willing to place that, how liberal they could be, how progressive they could be?
Well of course it's obvious that FDR required the support from the Congress in order to get his legislation through and, it's obvious also that the Congress was largely influenced by the Southern contingents, and that there was a realization on his part and on the part of his staff that you could only go so far and maintain the support in general from the group that had the greatest influence, so that the Southern influence in the Congress certainly limited FDR as to how far he could go. Now that doesn't mean that that was the only limitation to it. There was the fact that he was not a champion of civil rights and that he did not have this high on his priority. Nor did it seem to him that it was consistent with the other thing that he wanted to do. In other words, if he could have done it without losing other things, he might have done it, but if it meant losing something that he held up as a greater importance, he would hesitate to it.
Now if you were to explain to a young person what it meant for you to be a part of the New Deal, what would you want them to understand?
Well I would think that, I would want them to understand that the New Deal represented a new situation vis-a-vis the importance of government in the lives of average citizens in this country. That the type of laissez faire which had gone on after the Civil War with the great growth of American Industry and whatnot, was being clipped somewhat and in that clipping there were the seeds of getting new developments, new approaches, and new regulations which would assist and help the people who were in need and that included of course black Americans.
Did you feel that you were part of a movement to make government more responsible?
Yes, but I didn't think that was I was a major part of it. I thought that I was among those who were participating in that activity but I didn't think I was the captain of the trip, of the troops going over the hill.
Let's stop, we're about to roll out anyway.
Take seventeen, change to camera roll twenty-three.
Through segregation and [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
Yeah, when I first went to, to the Department of Interior, William Hastings, who was a friend of mine and was also there as an Assistant Solicitor, we found out that, there were two lunch rooms in the Department of the Interior: one of them was for messengers and all the messengers were black, and the other was for everybody else, so there were de facto two lunch rooms, one white and one black. And we looked at each other, we decided that we were not messengers so we decided we were gone eat in the other lunch room and we went in and tossed a coin to see who would pay for the meal and I lost and so we had our lunch and I noticed that the cashier was being very nervous she couldn't keep her eyes off of us and we played it very cool. So we went up and Bill went ahead, and I asked how much the bill was and she said, "Do you work here?" And I said, "Yes." And she said, "Would you tell me your name?" I said, "Yes." I told her what my title was and I said, "And this is Mr. Hastings, he is Assistant Solicitor and he works here too." And she put this all down, so then she turned to me and said, I asked her and said, "Now would you mind giving me your name?" Well for about 10 ten seconds she couldn't remember it. When she finally fumbled it out and I put it down for what reason I don't know but it did make an effect and that was all until I heard from an impeccable, unimpeccable [sic] sources that a group of ladies came to see Mr. Secretary Ickes that afternoon and he found somebody cheating the government so he wasn't in a very good mood, and he was sitting at his desk signing something and he said, "What is it ladies?" And one said, "Mr. Secretary, you know what?" He said, "No if I knew what you wouldn't be here, what?" She said Negroes are eating in the lunch room. And he kept on working and one of them said, "What are you going to do about it Mr. Secretary?" He said, "Not a damn thing ladies." And that was the end of segregated lunchrooms in the Department of the Interior.
Do you have any other little anecdotal stories like that that you can tell me?
Not at the moment. Remember we're talking about sixty, sixty-five years ago.
That's a great story.
OK, take eighteen with Stept.
So, talk about Joe Louis on the radio.
You have to, you have to lean back, you have to sit back.
The night that Joe Louis had the first Schmeling fight, I was in New York and I had a project running here, a research project, was financed—
Excuse me one second, can you look at me when you talk? Can you start again and look at me?
The night of the first Joe Louis/Schmeling fight, I had been in New York that afternoon in the meeting of the group which was working on a surveyed project which I was doing and financed by the Federal Government. And on the way up to the stadium, we went through New York as a group, I meant through Harlem, I mean, as a group and every radio that you would possibly think could be on was on—go through the block it's just like you were sitting in your living room and listening to it. And what you missed at the end of this house you picked up at the next house. And so, we went there and, and all very burried [sic] up with this and we came back. But when we came back there was nobody on the streets and there were hundreds of people on the streets going up, not a single radio was on, and it was just as though there had been a tragedy of great movement that had wiped out the neighborhood. Such was the oneness between the black community and Joe Louis at that fight.
Great. Cut, OK.
Take nineteen with Dante.
The PWA program reflected-
Wait a minute...now you can go.
The PWA program reflected the character and the valiance of Harold Ickes. Ickes was a strong administrator and put his trends marks on the things that he did. The thing that he was particularly concerned about was that there be a hundred cents of value for every dollar of Federal money that was spent. He wanted the projects to be well-designed. He wanted them to be well-constructed and he wanted them to be enduring. This he insisted upon. And he also insisted upon having an adequate amount of Federal supervision so as to assure these results and assure also that the projects would be sustaining and represent a continuing and permanent contribution to the cities and the communities in which they were built. This was the type of thing that occurred in PWA. It was a program which required careful planning, which took some long time to get completed and which when completed represented a monument to the sponsors and to the participants.
Was there concern about dealing with Tammany prior to La Guardia's election? I mean Ickes was concerned about corruption and what-not, Tammany in New York was known for corruption. Did La Guardia's election make him more comfortable?
I think it did, because you see they, they were somewhat famili—similar these two men. They were difficult, they were explosive, and they were involved. And I think he admired, as LaGuardia admired in him, this involvement. But he still had some problems with some things that happened in New York City.
I want you to—should we cut?
OK, cut, that's it. Thank you.