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Author: Seigenthaler, John, interviewee
Interview conducted by Finger, William Tramel, Jim
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
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Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
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Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
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Languages used in the text: English
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2008-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-12-31, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with John Seigenthaler, December 24 and 26, 1974. Interview A-0330. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0330)
Author: William Finger and Jim Tramel
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with John Seigenthaler, December 24 and 26, 1974. Interview A-0330. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0330)
Author: John Seigenthaler
Description: 431 Mb
Description: 121 p.
Note: Interview conducted on December 24 and 26, 1974, by William Finger and Jim Tramel; recorded in Nashville, Tennessee.
Note: Transcribed by Joe Jaros.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with John Seigenthaler, December 24 and 26, 1974.
Interview A-0330. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Seigenthaler, John, interviewee


Interview Participants

    JOHN SEIGENTHALER, interviewee
    WILLIAM FINGER, interviewer
    JIM TRAMEL, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
To start with, to put some of this media analysis and impressions and so forth, into context, why don't you tell us a little bit about your earlier years, how you grew up in Nashville and . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I was born here, I was the oldest of eight children. My father was a contractor who almost went broke during the Depression. I grew up in this town with middle-class parents. I'd say that in terms of economics, middle-class income from the Depression until the 40's. I served in the war and came back. My uncle was an executive of the newspaper, vice-president and circulation director. I started at Peabody and he got me a job here as a cub reporter and part-time copy boy. My family was Roman Catholic, traditionalist Roman Catholics.
I think that I

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grew up almost unaware that the South was "different." I was not exposed to that many blacks. I think that I probably led a more sheltered life than most. My mother was Irish and my father was German-Irish. After Christmas, the big holiday in our family was St. Patrick's Day. I was aware that there was a difference in being a Catholic in the South, but I never can honestly say that I felt any sort of persecution or prejudice. As for other minorities, Nashville has never had that many blacks . . . it is about 30% inside of what we call the "old city" of Nashville, but we have metropolitan government—city and county consolidation—and it's about 17% now in the total community.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You say that your uncle worked with the newspaper?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
He was vice-president

Page 3
and director of circulation for both Nashville newspapers.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is this your father's brother?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
My father's brother.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was the newspaper then a kind of a part of your family? Were you close to that particular uncle?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I was close to him, but not that close. I always wanted to write. I really thought that I was going to teach school. I came back from service and went to Peabody College here with an eye on teaching school. But I got into this, the newspaper, and I was good at it. I liked it. I was fascinated by it. I was a control tower operator during World War II. I think that I became aware of absolute separation of the races in the Air Force and it struck me. I remember in the early mornings that I used to

Page 4
look down on that field—the barracks—and it was a physically, racially separated Air Force. It always fascinated me, as I looked down from the tower, that the blacks could march so damn much better than the whites. I mean, they really had it, you know. And if I ever had expressed it in those days the way that I saw it, I would have been accused of overt racism. But they just were better at marching than the white troops. They took more pride in the way they marched: they had more fun when they marched. They enjoyed it . . . God, it sounds like I'm saying, "I listen to them out front, picking the banjo and singing 'Mammy'." But the inequity of it all began to dawn on me then. I did some writing about that—essays for myself more than anything else. Shortly after I came out of service my sister was a finalist in a statewide speech contest and she asked me to help her with some ideas for her speech. I was very much concerned about this whole racial thing by that time. I had been exposed to blacks in Tampa, in service, but also the reality of Spanish-speaking Americans there

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and their problems. So, I remember that we sat down to work on this speech I talked her into writing on racial injustice. It was a religious-oriented contest. The first line of the speech that I gave her was, "The Man on the Cross had slanted eyes, his skin was black and they called him a Jew." I thought that was a hell of a line. It's controversial as hell, but she won with it. That year there were blacks in that contest for the first time. And my mother said, "They're coming from Memphis, and where will they stay, or who will entertain them? We will have to have someone to have a party?" And so, we took two blacks home and had a party for them. I remember the great furor about that.
JIM TRAMEL:
Is this '45 or '46?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
About '45 or '46. My mother is still alive and, at 72, a beautiful woman. I never have understood why she wanted to do that—have a party for blacks. I put a lot of pressure on her, maybe. It was beginning to get to me by then—racial injustice issues, in '46. It was beginning to get to me, heavy.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, it was a race question, more than a kind of a newspaper heritage that was starting to be more of a driving thing . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right. Then, I started here as a copy boy and part-time reporter I guess, in '48, and that was sort of off and on until 1949 when I became a full-time reporter while I was going to

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school.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, there wasn't much, say, overt politics in your family, around the dinner table discussions?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, my grandfather . . . and we lived during one period with him, was intimately involved with local politics, really up to his ass in it. But . . . it was always local politics. I remember my grandmother—my mother's mother—saying that on election night she used to worry about him. He'd always put on his pistol and go out.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Right here in Nashville?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right. And he used to tell great stories about the old days in politics. On my father's side, his brother, Louis, was the son-in-law of Bill Jones, who was Nashville's agent of Boss Crump. So politics was always there. Periodically, Uncle Louis' job with the state government would come up for family discussion. Every election, Uncle Louis' job was either in jeapordy or safe. He was either going to get promoted or he was going to get fired, depending on how Crump did. And in those days, Crump always did very well. I always was aware of politics at the very base level.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Having a job and that kind of thing?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That kind of thing. Or literally running the town for four years, which I always thought Bill Jones did. I mean, he was literally Boss Crump's boss in town.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Crump controlled Nashville?

Page 7
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yes, Crump controlled much of Nashville politics through Bill Jones. And usually, they won. Later on, Uncle Louis had a tough time with his job. As a matter of fact, when I came here as editor in 1962, he was working in our press room. As a boy he had started out in the press room, and that's where he died. He came to see me and asked if he could come back, he still held his union card. Uncle Walter was circulation director and he and I were both helpful to Uncle Louis, and he came back.
JIM TRAMEL:
So your sense of politics was more local than state?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
By far. Another thing that stands out in my mind going back: I remember those conventions about Uncle Louis. I remember conversations with my grandfather. My grandfather used to tell stories about how he was helping some guy get elected county registrar or county trustee. He once was helping a veterinarian named Boots Brown in a race for some office. This was one of the great stories that he used to tell. He was helping Boots. And they ran a man against Boots who didn't have any legs. He told this story many times . . .

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My grandfather Brew's home place was right up here at 12th and Broad just within two hundred yards from where we are sitting in my office on the other side of the street. They had a parade on election eve that came down Broad Street toward town. I guess that it started right around here. And they put this fellow running against Boots Brown up in a buggy. And they propped the stubs of his legs over the edge of the buggy, and started down across the viaduct. And my grandfather and Boots, the candidate, were standing in the background of this crowd across the viaduct there. And my grandfather said, "Boots, you are beaten. Your own mother wouldn't vote for you if she sees that son-of-a-bitch like that." Well, I remember that story and I can recall dozens of stories of his involvement in local politics. I remember that he was involved in such things as getting people to pay their poll taxes, or telling people that they should pay their poll taxes. He was sort of a precinct politico for many years. By the time that I got old enough to know anything about it, he had gotten older himself and was out of a good deal of it. But again, it was all local and not state. One of the other things that I remember . . . it's funny, the things that I remember are things that come back to me as things that I'm proud to remember about my family. My father was a contractor and he had a man working for him named Gene Woodruff. And Gene Woodruff had a brother named Horace Woodruff. I remember as a child, hearing around the

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table that Horace was an animal. I didn't know what that meant until suddenly, Horace killed a policeman named Mike Mulvehill and was sentenced to go to the electric chair. I remember my father and my grandfather and my Uncle Louis sitting down in the living room, and I don't know where I was, but I was somewhere around there, talking about arranging to go to see the governor to ask for Horace Woodruff's life. They did do that and Horace Woodruff's life was spared. Well, then a year or two later, he led a break in which three or four people were killed. Another inmate, Lonnie Taylor had his arm shot off. Again they went and again . . . they helped save him. Horace Woodruff spent twelve years on death row after that. I became a reporter and got involved in prison reform and went out there to do some stories. I had been out there maybe six months doing stories and one day, I was going through and the warden, a fellow named Droupie Edwards, said, "The fellow who runs our radio shop would like to see you." I went into the shop. He said, "I'm Horace Woodruff, your father helped save my life." I became . . . an intimate friend of his. And later . . . I think that without question he would say I was instrumental in getting him out on parole. The cop's family opposed parole everytime

Page 10
he came up. But Horace, in his late 50's, finally got out on parole. I was editor at the time. I remember as a child hearing that story about Horace Woodruff, the animal. I knew his brother, Gene. He was always around our house. I remember that very well. You know, I am strongly opposed to capital punishment and I don't know how much of it relates to that experience. I'm relatively sure that my father was not against capital punishment. I know that my mother was not against capital punishment. But when it came to Gene Woodruff's brother, they wanted to save him. They called him an animal before that.

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JIM TRAMEL:
It's interesting that you, as a liberal southern journalist, there was nothing in your family background that would . . . the period that we are talking about is the time when Kefauver was challenging McKellar and Crump.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right. Before that, even.
JIM TRAMEL:
But your family, if anything, was on the other side.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right, at least on my father's side. My uncle Louis, I am sure, would have been against Kefauver. Now my father was pretty independent of my Uncle Louis. But I would suspect that Uncle Louis probably always voted with Crump. Uncle Walter was, on the other hand, identified more with the Tennessean, which was against Crump. He had come up with the

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Tennessean and he would have identified with Luke Lea and later with Silliman Evans and the anti-Crump forces. His brother would have been the son-in-law of Crump's agent in Nashville. But both Uncle Walter and my father were almost apolitical. Uncle Walter identified with Colonel Lee, who owned the newspaper before Silliman Evans. He identified with Colonel Lee and against Jimmy Stahlman. Really, the added split in Tennessee politics was inside the Democratic party and was a prohibition versus anti-prohibition split. Colonel Lee identified very strongly with the drys, although he was a wet. And his editor, Edward Ward Carmack, a former United States Senator, was murdered on the street in downtown Nashville. The wet forces identified with Crump and the dry forces—Lea and Carmack—were anti-Crump. Wet and dry didn't mean a damn thing philosophically, or in any way except politically. Well, my uncle Walter came up on the dry side, with the anti-Crump forces. That's the uncle who was with the newspaper. The other uncle, Louis, was the son-in-law of Crump's man in town, so there was that dichotomy of interests within the family. And I suspect that my father was probably caught in the middle. And he went about his contracting business and didn't give a damn one way or the other.

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I can remember frequent discussions about Hitler. My mother was very sensitive about our name, early. You know, even when I was in grade school, thirty-seven, or thirty-eight she was very sensitive about "Seigenthaler" being a German name. She suddenly insisted that it was Swiss. Another thing about her that I think is very important: [unknown] she read me Shakespeare from the time I was seven years old and I am probably as knowledgeable on Shakespeare as anyone in Nashville, as a result. My father used to read me more mundane things. I can remember that he used to read me Rover Boys and Tom Swift. And I was always encouraged to write. I wrote volumes of poetry in grade school: just literally wrote bull-shit poetry.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was that as a vehicle to get you out of . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I don't know what it was, they just wanted me to be involved in letters and literature. An interesting thing, I stopped by my niece's . . . she's about eleven years old and is in the hospital with appendicitis, I stopped by last night to see her and she has written a volume of poetry. My sister is doing the same thing with her that my

Page 14
mother did to us. And you know, I . . .
JIM TRAMEL:
German heritage?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It probably is the Irish. There is a heavy Irish literary heritage I can remember her telling me about Currin and Edmund Burke and Jonathan Swift. I grew up knowing Jonathan Swift as a political satirist, not as the author of Gulliver's Travels. And she really had a deep sense of Irish history.
JIM TRAMEL:
Do you think, then, that your early interest in journalism was motivated more by the family's sense of upward mobility rather than a concern with issues?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Probably so. And probably with that involvement with letters, which with my mother was a near passion. Reading to us as children was a passion with her. Christmas, 1935, she gave me a volume of William Shakespeare that thick, which I still have and which I read from periodically late at night. So, I think that I was very comfortable with the language very early. I'll tell you a funny story. The first day I worked here as a reporter, as a full fledged reporter . . . the first day, they said, "All right,

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you are a reporter now," and they handed me some handout. Ed Freeman, who is now the managing editor, was city editor then. I wrote a story on the handout. And he brought it back to me and he said, "Read that lead." I read it. He said, "Do you see anything wrong with it?" I said, "Yes sir, I do." He said, "What's wrong with it?" I said, "It doesn't have a verb in it." That was nervousness, I tell myself. That aside, I felt very comfortable with words. But first of all, I came into journalism because I had an uncle with some corporate pull. Candidly, I was going to [unknown] to school and he got me a job that meant a little extra money. Then I became involved in the job and it occurred to me as I became immersed in the work, that it was important. Very early, I saw that it was a political newspaper I worked for. After I came here and became immersed in the work, I was fascinated by the people who were here. I would participate in the city room dialogue, which is still, I hope, as fresh and as vivid and as good as it was then. Late-night arguments among staff members, you know, with strong differing points of view.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kinds of arguments, city council arguments or what?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
City council arguments and . . . well, Percy

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Priest, who was the Congressman from Nashville, had been managing editor of this paper. And when he came into the city room as a Congressman, it was always an event. And people would talk about him pro and con. It really didn't get good—for me, it didn't get vital until early in the 50's, when there was an influx of journalistic personalities, then the discussions really sort of began to build. Wally Westfelt, who is now with NBC News, was here. Dave Halberstam was here. Tom Wicker was here for a brief period. Creed Black was here. Fred Graham now with CBS was here. I was here. And a tradition started then and which now continues. Today, Bill Kovach, who is second man under Clifton Daniels in the Times Bureau, came here while I was here. A dozen good journalists are in Washington and New York who started here.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did that start?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It just started. I think that early in the 50's, there was a little more freedom on the Tennessean than there probably was anywhere else around.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Around the state, or around the South?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Around the South. Ralph McGill in Atlanta was a magnet down there. You

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went in there with almost no opportunity to do anything except be a protege and admirer and a defender of McGill. Gene Patterson was in his shadow. And The Constitution was great in those days because of them. But I would put the freedom allowed reporters on the Tennessean. Today I think it probably exceeds that against any paper in the country. I hope it does. Maybe the Globe in Boston would be an exception. I went through an awful lot of shit from time to time as a reporter. I thought that with all its freedom they were too restrictive on some matters.
JIM TRAMEL:
In the 50's you thought this?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
When I began to want to move into areas of investigative reporting, I thought that there were some restrictions. I wouldn't bump into it but once in a while, but when I would bump into it, when I would rub up against it, you know. I would be crushed about it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kinds of areas?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I remember one in particular in about 1959. A place called Clay County, a rural county on the edge of Appalachia: a poor county. The county courthouse smells like a French pissoir: it reeks of urine, you know. And a man came into see me and said, "There's a vote fraud up there." I went up, spent literally a month getting affidavits documenting the fraud and came back. We sat in this office, right here. The editor by that time was Ed Ball. He

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was here with our lawyer. I spelled it out, showed them the affidavits and the lawyers didn't want to run it. I don't know why they were afraid of it. But they didn't want to run it. The editor said: "There is enough going on right here in Nashville without going to Clay County." And I got furious about it, I walked out of here saying, "That ought not to ever happen to anybody." I brooded about it three or four days and that fellow who was just here [John J. Hooker, Jr.] was a young practicing lawyer then. I went up to see him. And I said, "Look, there's a hell of a lawsuit to be filed." "What?" I spelled it out and he said, "Well, I can't go to them (the people whose affidavits I had taken), but if they come to me, I'll be glad to discuss it with them." So, I got the people who had given me affidavits and brought them in, and they talked to Hooker. He filed a lawsuit for them. The next day, the chairman of the election commission resigned, Frank Thurman, was his name. I never really understood why the paper didn't want to get into that. I had about three or four experiences like that. They were really debilitating to me. I got upset about it. I made up my mind that I would never make any reporter put up with that if I had anything to say about it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were any of those examples beyond electoral politics? Anything about the McCarthy era or crackdowns on unions?

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JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, it was a liberal newspaper I honestly think that they were nervous about libel in this case. Frank Thurman was the chairman of that commission, a man who had some prestige up there, fully capable of suing you, you know. I think they were nervous that I was dealing with panhandlers and people on welfare; they were worried that they would get hit by a lawsuit. That's what I think.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I mean, your own interest as an investigative reporter at that time, did it go beyond electoral . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Sure. The piece of investigative journalism that I am most proud of, in looking back on it involved a murder case. We've got a reporter around here named Nat Caldwell, who is good. He has been around forever. Nat Caldwell was a veteran. Some black people came to see him. They told him that a man had been murdered in Camdem, Tennessee. They said this fellow had been murdered over an eight dollar cab fare. I went down there and spent about a month, lived in the black community. It turned out that this cab driver was white. He stabbed this black man, a saw mill worker, for an eight-dollar cab bill. He had thrown the knife away. They had arrested

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him that night; charged him with murder. That was on a Sunday. The next day, the grand jury met and returned a no true bill. When I got into it, I found that his father-in-law was on the grand jury. I reported the full back-ground of the story. They indicted him. I couldn't go back to the trial because I was getting threats from whites. Nat Caldwell and Gene Graham went back to the trial. The jury conficted him of manslaughter.
JIM TRAMEL:
Is that the one that you are most proud of?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah. It was really the first time that I felt like I had a scalp on my belt. I always thought that it was worthwhile. Here was the black man. He had been dead for a month. The murder had been hushed up in the community. Nobody gave a damn. I went in there and lived for a month and I really came to identify with the mother of the victim. I didn't like anybody associated with the other side, I was an advocate from the first week. I knew that he had been murdered and that the town had covered it up. And so, I went into it. In that case, when I came back and talked to Coleman Hartwell, who was them the editor, he was super on it. Now, in the McCarthy era, I was very much interested in the Highlander Folk School fight, which was really peripheral . . . you know, in terms of McCarthyism. It was a local issue.

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"Myles Horton is a Communist," it was said. I used to go up there (to Highlander) periodically and just sit around and look. I was too young, really, to understand why I liked it, but it was a good place to be and they were good people to know. I think that I met Jim Dombrowski up there and that's the first time that I really understood what an agnostic was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember any of the legacies of the Wilder coal strike, any of their union activities?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, no . . . you know, there was always a free flowing discussion up there and there was always something going on. And looking back on it, I think that Myles was probably one of the most beautiful con men who has ever been around here. I'm not saying that he was not committed. I believe that he was. But he also, you know, was a hustler and . . . [Laughter]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Pulled you in?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right. He served a very worthwhile purpose. I covered some of the legislative hearings when they tried to sink them, when they did sink them. On a purely phony charge, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you try to present that?

Page 22
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, I did. I was not assigned to it, but frequently, I found that I would not be assigned to a story and I would try to worm in on it. I would try to work the periphery of it, whether it was politics or a social issue. There was another big issue. Westfelt was assigned to Vanderbilt when Jim Lawson was trying to get into the Divinity School. I was on the city desk then, and I think that I played a very meaningful role in making sure that the paper kept Vanderbilt's feet to the fire. That board of trust out there was Neanderthal, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were about to say something about the Tennessean?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I thought that we were always moving. In retrospect, we were much too strident in political affairs and much too partisan in political affairs.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is still the 50's that you are talking about?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, the 50's. I came back as editor in 1962. Part of it was a reaction, I think, to the Stahlman tradition in journalism, the Stahlman-Lee fight in journalism. And that had to do with McKellar and Crump. Looking at it today and looking at

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it in those days, you know, everything was black and white, right and wrong. The machine and the anti-machine. And I think that we were on the "right" side of those issues most of the time. But sometimes, you go with a faction and get hit with a bad guy or a fellow who had a bad philosophy. I'm not saying that more didn't come out of government as a result of our being abrasive and continually rubbing government editorially. I think that it probably did, by making demands on winners. And when our side won, the Banner was making those abrasive movements I think that probably we had a very healthy, volatile conflict, which was philosophical. I mean, the Banner was a supporter of the McCarthy tradition and we were anti-.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did that breed the names that you have mentioned? People like Fred Graham and Halberstam . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I think that they were looking around for a place where they . . . Dave Halberstam left Harvard and went to West Point, Mississippi. He was just too hot for West Point, Mississippi. It was too small a town for a liberal Harvard Jew. He came up here because he had heard about the Tennessean and had heard that there was some freedom up here. But more than that, he was looking for a job on a

Page 24
progressive newspaper. Dick Harwood was here, he was the Washington Post's ombudsman, he is now the editor of the Washington Post's newspaper in New Jersey. He was here.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of influence did these guys have on you?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, we were really contemporaries, you know. We were equals. And I think that we had influences on each other. We would stay up late, there was a tavern down the road here, a half block down the way, called "Blackie's Place." And we used to go down there and drink out of coffee cups, sort of an after hours place, you know. Blackie was a deaf as a post you would sit around there or you would go to the Alley, or you would sit around the city room. Or you would be out, maybe playing poker. And the give and take on everything ran wild. You know, the people I've mentioned were the people who agreed with me or with whom I agreed in general philosophically. But there were others on the staff who would bounce conservative points of view against them. And sometimes it would be a real hostile discussion. But you know, it was a healthy, vital, vibrant, continuing exchange over the role of the press, the role of politics, social issues. And I thought that we were

Page 25
very progressive. When I came back here in 1962, shortly after I was back, a professor out at Fisk asked me if I would come out and speak to one of his seminars one night. I went out and they literally filled the auditorium. It may be June of '62. And I did pretty well, you know. I had been involved in the civil rights trouble with the Kennedy administration I had been hurt and almost killed, and so I had some credentials. And it was going very well and I was articulate and persuasive. And this little girl stood up in the back and said, "You know, I really like you. I think that you are a nice man and I think that if I could pick a white man in Nashville that I would like to sit down and talk with for an hour, it would probably be you. I don't know where we could sit down, but I've heard good things about you. You know, I read your paper every Sunday and to read your paper, you just couldn't tell that a black girl is getting married in Nashville." And there was this wave of applause, an outburst of applause. It was obviously, you know, there. I had been the editor for five months and it never dawned on me. I said something that sounded very much like a cop out, which I think probably was a cop out. All I was looking at from that point on was how to get the hell out of there with my scalp. [Laughter] And with my integrity intact. And I

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said, "It's the first time that it has ever come up. Has anybody in here ever brought an announcement to the Tennessean?" Another young woman stood up and said, "My mother won't let me. She is not going to have you humiliate us." And I made a flat commitment. "Anybody that brings it in, if you will meet with whatever deadlines there are, I am making the commitment that we will publish it." Only a couple of months ahead of that, we had desegregated our death columns. When I go on college campuses today and talk, I am almost embarrassed about civil rights struggles in the late 50's, early 60's. I remember that in the Justice Department, we thought that it was the most important, the most crucial, the most vital of all the things we were involved in. And it is almost embarrassing to bring it up now. I never do, unless they ask about it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I want to talk about the Justice Department a little more in a minute, but before we leave the 50's, I am still curious about all this creative . . . who there was, if anyone, among the reporters that you have mentioned, or the editors that you have mentioned in the South, anyone from Hodding Carter to Mark Ethridge, that you would view as a mentor?

Page 27
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
McGill was, I think, for all of us. He was for all of us on the Tennessean a symbol. Coleman Harwell, who was here and who was a very open man and a great editor. He was a martinet, tough to get along with, demanding, a scathing in-house critic. But he didn't write a column and therefore, he didn't stand publicly for anything. The paper stood for something. But he personally didn't stand for anything outside this newspaper community. But I think that McGill stood out as a target and a symbol.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have other sort of personal motivations, did you feel driven from the 50's, I mean, were you . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I'll tell you. First of all, I think that a Catholic background may be as much fundamentalist as a Baptist or as a fundamentalist as a Church of Christ background. It comes on with very, very strong attitudes of right and wrong. And looking back on it, you know, I don't know what I believe or what I don't believe. It's not really important anymore. Christianity is a good thing. It's just a great religion that has never been tried. I think that if we would try it, it would be just fine. But nobody has tried it and so we don't know how it would come out. But you know, I think that it does have all the answers with peace and love. But

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that's not the sort of Christianity that I came up believing in, you know. I thought that if you were wrong, you got punished.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
. . . I think that my identification with the Kennedys was not just their Catholicism. I identified with their liberalism, with Jack's liberalism. But I also identified very deeply with what Bob was doing to the Teamsters' Union. I was in that struggle here.
JIM TRAMEL:
Let me jump back before we get into the Justice Department. Again, with the reporters, Halberstam, you, Fred Graham, that were on the staff here . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Let me just see if I can remember some of the people who were here, because there were a great number of them. Creed Black is now the editor of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Tom Wicker, who was here in the 50's, as you know, he is with the Times. Chuck Coates is now teaching journalism in New Mexico and went with NBC News. Westfelt produced the Huntley-Brinkly News Show for five years. He is now executive producer at NBC. Fred Graham, we've mentioned. Halberstam, we've mentioned. Jack Hullet was on the copy desk at the Washington Post, the metropolitan copy editorial chief until

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he died prematurely. John Hemphill, who died at the age of 33 last year, was with the New York Times. Now, he came in in the early 60's. Bill Hannah is now with the Times. So is Reginald Stewart. Rudy Abramson, who is now a Pentagon specialist for the LA Times, Jim Squires . . . now, some of these people I brought in. Jim Squires is the bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune and is about to turn the Chicago Tribune around, or at least their Washington bureau. And then at least another half dozen that I could pull out. Gene Graham, Pulitzer prize winner down at the University of Illinois. This place was a hotbed of top-flight, hard-hitting investigative journalists.
JIM TRAMEL:
How long was Jim Squires here?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
About three years. Now, he was a protege of mine. I brought Jim Squires in.
JIM TRAMEL:
Two questions: To whom in the 50's would you attribute the fact that this really was a mecca for . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Coleman Harwell, who was the editor. And to a lesser degree, Silliman Evans, who let him be the editor. Silliman Evans owned the paper.
JIM TRAMEL:
How would you contrast that with, say, the Atlanta Constitution?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I think that McGill was a journalistic

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personality. I don't know how it was there, I just know how it was here. Here, there was a great deal of freedom, there was a constant political thrust to everything you did. There was always what I now consider to be the vague: a probing sort of journalism. I used to go to the American Press Institute to lecture managing editors on investigative reporting. And I always began by saying, "Look, I know that some of you think this is unseemly and out of place and too dangerous and too expensive, and you don't want to get into it." And by the time I was through, 2/3 of them would be saying, "Yeah, we do, we agree. Hell, we don't want any part of it." I think the Watergate attitude about journalism was here at this paper very, very early. Everybody who came to work for this staff, even if you worked on the beat, or if you worked on general assignments, you were looking for some way to get behind whatever it was that was going on. There was a healthy cynicism. I never met such cynics in my life as when I came to work around here. And it was a fascinating experience, you know, to meet guys like that. And it was also fascinating to see the local powers walk

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in and out of here, you know. And quite often, begging for relief, because some reporter was knocking their ass off. Now, the difference I think, between today and those days, around here, is that there was a side in those days that was pretty well protected. I never heard anybody protecting them. If Tom Cummings was the mayor, you protected him and you went after the people that were against him. And if Estes Kefauver was a Senator, you protected him and you went after the bastards who were trying to unseat him. They were the conservatives and we were the liberals, that's the way it broke down. A local pol could be as corrupt as hell, but if he was for Estes Kefauver—he probably was not—we were not going to go after him. Now, there was no written or spoken mandate of, "Don't do it." Things were much more simple in those days. You didn't worry about the good guys and the bad guys, they were clearly identified for you. Today, I think that it's much healthier. Everybody is bad. At least, I hope they are. Anyone who comes to work here is encouraged, you know, "Don't think that any one of those sons-of-bitches is a good guy. He is out to screw the public, and your job is to look at them and see through whatever facade is there. Now, maybe there are some of them around who are getting away

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with it, or maybe there are some of them who are great public servants. But your job is not to praise them, it is to find out whether they are." And I think that's healthy, you know.
JIM TRAMEL:
I'm just curious. When were you first aware of I.F. Stone?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Early, pretty early.
JIM TRAMEL:
The 50's?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah. Pretty early.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Drew Pearson, too?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Oh, yeah. Drew Pearson . . . one of the great moments of my life was when Mr. Evans brought Drew Pearson down here and I got to interview him. I was a young reporter. I remember that he made a speech in which he opened . . . I don't remember anything he said except his opening. He said, "I came down here to take the Silliman Evans cure and it damn near killed me." But I was aware of Drew Pearson. I don't know what that meant, because I don't think that he drank much. But it was a funny line. But earlier, I knew about Stone, I knew what Pearson was doing. We ran Pegler. I loved Pegler, because he read so well. I use to just laugh like hell at Pegler, disagree with everything that he said about Henry Wallace, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, but I

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did identify with Pegler's way with words. I was glad when he got hooked by Quentin Reynolds. It was a big libel judgement.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were any of those people . . . before we go on to the Justice Department . . . what you would call "radical?" When you talk about the liberal press . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, I really didn't see them that way. We had an op-ed page on the Tennessean early. I can remember in high school reading the op-ed page everyday. Everyday, reading everybody on the op-ed page. That was Lippman, Pearson, Pegler, it was even Dorothy Kilgallen and Earl Wilson. It was Fred Othman whose column was Buchwald's forerunner. He was a real wit. And I really very early identified with that op-ed page. I knew it was opinion that I was reading, and I loved it. I really loved it. But, you know, I don't think it ever occurred to me in high school, or at Peabody, or at Harvard as a Neiman fellow about the true meaning of the First Amendment being absolute Then I started being exposed to Hugo Black. My own understanding of the role of the press and what the role of the press has come to mean to me dates back to about 1958 or 1959 when I began to get on to Hugo Black.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did that happen?

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JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I don't know. The first time I heard him say that libel had no basis in law, I violently disagreed with that. I thought that was an irresponsible statement. And I understood that he was the only court dissenter who felt that way. You know, he was on to it very early. I heard him speak once. And then shortly after I heard him speak, I heard Justice Bill Douglas speak down here. Now, it seemed to me that the two of them were on to it, that they were coming to grips with it. Black was ahead of Douglas. I heard Black speak in Washington and I don't remember where it was, but I remember he said: "The Constitution was written by men who understood absolutes and who spoke in absolutist terms." I didn't know what in the hell that meant. And then, somebody got up and challenged him and he said, this fellow said, "There is no such thing as an absolute." And he said, "What's your business?" The fellow said, "I'm a lawyer." He said, "Do you believe in every man's right to an open trial by a jury of his peers?" And he said, "Yes." "Would you want a man tried under any other conditions?" He said, "No." "That then, is an absolute right." The lawyer

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said, "Yes, but that's different." "It may be different to you. But the founding fathers were talking in absolute terms about the Sixth Amendment. They were talking in absolute terms about the First too. Free speech, separation of Church and State, the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of your peers—these are absolute rights." Even now, I'm not sure when I agreed with him, you know. It was a gradual thing. I think that after I came back here as editor, I heard Douglas speak one night at a Presbyterian church out here. Afterward I spent the evening with him. I really started probing him for his reaction to Black's point of view.
JIM TRAMEL:
William O. Douglas?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah. And he was a great friend of John Hooker, senior, the fellow who was just here, his father was a close friend of Bill Douglas. Douglas was the best man at his wedding. And Hooker, sr., had him out to his house and I began to probe Douglas on what he thought. Well, I could tell that Douglas was not as far along as Black was then. He is now. But you know, I just don't have any reservation about it now. But, it started then, with hearing about Black's dissent. I can't remember what case it was. It might have been Near vs. Minnesota. It might have been Pennekamp vs. Florida. It might have been the dicta in the Harry Bridges case. But in one of those cases, he took the line that there was no constitutional

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basis for the law of libel, which was too strong for me at the time. It is not now.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me ask you one other thing about the formative things in the 50's. We can't leave Ralph McGill the way you put him, without commenting on the vicious anti-Communist stance that came out of Atlanta during the 50's. And you were all in the creative group of male minds that was here. People didn't speak out about that much, did they? You know, it was obviously taken so far along and . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why is that? Why didn't something happen to you in that whole arena of prejudice, like it did in Camdem, Tennessee?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
You know, I guess that you really have to confront it in terms of personality. When it hit Myles Horton, I could understand it. It was pretty clearly defined. I think that if I had come up as the son of Walter Reuther's parents, and been exposed to that sort of dining room rhetoric, or exchange and give and take, I would have arrived where I am much earlier. I think that basically, my people were moderate, decent, honest people who thought that society needed restraints. You know, they believed that there were

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things to be afraid of. They thought that you would go to hell if you committed sin.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There were remnants of that with you?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I was not conditioned — not just by my parents, I think not by school, too. You know, you don't come up in that parochial school environment without having strong feelings about right and wrong. And part of that right and wrong is Christ and anti-Christ. God and anti-God, Communists and Catholics. You know, "We are right and they are wrong." And unless you get exposed to inequity, and injustice, racism is not so apparent on its face. You really had to work with Cold War problems, before you were really willing to say, "It's not right for us to do something just because we argue that somebody else does something." It's not right, nor is it consistent to follow a nationalist policy out of a sense of patriotic duty. And incidentally, you know, I think that McGill had a lot of those hang-ups. Ralph McGill had the good sense to know Joe McCarthy was trying hard to subvert the Constitution of the United States and subvert freedom in this country but he couldn't come to grips with Vietnam. Not ever.

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He never did. He never did admit that Vietnam was wrong. Late in his life, he and I got to be pretty good friends. We would talk on the telephone every month or two. There would be some problem up here and one down there. His last crusade, I guess, was trying to do away with the playing of "Dixie" in high schools. Everytime that I would hear of a case, I'd call him and everytime that he would hear of something his way, he would call me. He would come up and make some speeches and I would introduce him. He loved Vanderbilt, even though he had been thrown out of there before he got his degree. That hurt him, you know. He was a man who was hurt a lot. But I remember that the last time he was here, before he died, there was a young, fireball, Episcopalian preacher who haunted his footsteps all over the hall and ended up at the home where we had a party afterwards, you know, just giving him hell about Vietnam. And finally, McGill said, "Goddamn it, Father, let me alone." Part of it was that Lyndon Johnson liked him and was nice to him and honored him. Beyond that, though, he just thought that we were right. I talked to Harold Martin, who wrote the book about him, about this very thing. He said, "You know, Ralph

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could be so right when he was right, but God, when he was wrong . . . " He was just a stubborn man. Now, he was a beautiful man. He had a great impact on me. Hodding Carter, Sr., had a great impact on me. I knew that anybody in this business that was punished for what he wrote appealed to me. And both of them, I think, suffered a hell of a lot. A hell of a lot. And Hodding got to be a good friend of mine before he died. He was almost blind. But Hodding Carter was a Cold Warrior, too. In 1968, I was managing Bob Kennedy's campaign in northern California and Hodding was literally on his last legs. He called me on the phone and said, "Look, I'd like to come out there and be a part of that thing. You don't have to pay my way, just let me come out there and be a part of it." I said, "Come on." And he got out there, and Tom Sorenson, who was Ted's brother, was handling scheduling for me. I said to Tom, "Look, Hodding is coming out, could you arrange some speeches. Maybe we can get him into the University community, hell, a 'Southern liberal is coming out," you know." So, he got out there and Tom came to me and said, "Look, I don't know about this fellow. I don't know if we want to expose him too much." So, I said,

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"Why?" And he said, "Well, you talk to him." I said, "Well, hell Tom, I'm busy. I haven't got time to worry about it." Well, that night, I was having a little dinner party for John Glenn and Tom said, "You know, this will all be friends." I guess that Burke Marshall was there and Glenn was there, C.K. McClatchy was there and he'd just endorsed RFK. Jack Warneke, Ambassador Reischauer I think was there night. And Tom said, "Why don't you get Hodding to stand up and try out his speech?" So, we did. So, Hodding's speech: . . . "they say that he [Robert Kennedy] is ruthless." And Hodding's answer to that is, "He is. I was ruthless when I stuck a pistol in the gut of a redneck racist, segregationist sherrif in McComb, Mississippi and told him that I was going to blow him to Kingdom Come. By God, unless we get somebody who will be ruthless that way with the Russians and the Red Chinese . . . " And Sorenson looks at me and says . . . [Laughter] I mean, Hodding was a Cold Warrior, you know. And he knew McCarthy was wrong, finally, because McCarthy was punishing people who were "innocent." And their innocence didn't have anything to do with whether they were sympathetic to the Communists. But I don't think that Ralph ever considered himself willing to go against national policy. You know, the national

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government to them was a saviour. If the national government didn't save the South, it wouldn't be saved.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's a good place to go on from.
What was your first contact with the Kennedys?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, I was involved with the investigation of the Teamsters here, starting in 1956.
JIM TRAMEL:
Did you cover that?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I covered it. Nobody else on our staff really wanted it. It was a liberal newspaper: we had been sympathetic to organized labor. I had strong positive feelings about organized labor. I didn't want it either. I had been covering the federal courts and working on the city desk on weekends, as part-time city editor. But it was just so tough, what had been going on in this community, so blatant and so wrong, that I couldn't ignore it. They were blowing up buildings, beating the hell out of truck company owners. It was really organizing by violence. And in those days, I was not in any sense of the word a pacifist. But it was obvious that not only was the labor-management process being undermined but that politics were being undermined.
They were literally raising hell all over town. They would blow up a beer place. A dozen cars in a car lot would have

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sugar poured into them, in the gas tanks. I really didn't know how big it was. But I knew something big was going on. And then, when the cases would come up in court, invariably they would be dropped. I tried my best to stay away from it as long as I could and then I just couldn't stay away from it any longer. Three or four fellows inside the union came to me and began to tell me stories. They began to talk and I began to write their stories first and the next thing I knew, I was into it. Up to my nose, I was into it. It was a horror story. It was really a disaster, what was going on in this town. And the police department, some of its ranking officials, were members of the union—had held positions in the union-years before that I hadn't known anything about. The deeper I got into it, I saw that the political process was being undermined. Halfway through, Coley Harwell saw me, and with just one sentence he could cut you down. And he said, "Look, I've been very proud of what you are doing." By this time, I was getting all sorts of phone calls. I said, "Well, thank you very much." He said, "But before we go too far, I'm getting congratulations from members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. It's very upsetting to me. I think that we ought to take another look at what we are doing and make sure that we are on the right side." Well,

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he said it in a funny way, you know, but I worried about that, too. All through '56 and then, by '57, it had turned around. I had a handle on it and I hit it so hard, so regularly, exposed it. It was not just local, it was statewide. And they had a bomb squad and a squad of sluggers that really were operating all through the South. There was a judge in Chattanooga who had been corrupted by it . . .
JIM TRAMEL:
Schoolfield?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Schoolfield, yeah. And the Chattanooga press had just given him a free ride. And he was bad news in many areas outside of the Teamsters. But there were a couple of Teamsters cases that really put the finger on him. I went down there and talked to some of the people on the Chattanooga Times. The reporter said, "We know it, you know, but . . . " They were very sensitive about being, "New York-Jew owned," which was what Schoolfield would say about them, openly. And they never really took him on. So, I did from up here. Then, in '57, I went up to a seminar of the American Press Institute. By this time, I was beginning to get known pretty well around as an investigative reporter. I had done this thing with the blacks down there in Camdem. I had done a good job in Texas. I had found a man in Texas who had been

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gone from Nashville twenty-two years. It was a big story. I was into this Teamsters thing. Around '57, it began to get around that I was pretty good at it. And the American Press Institute began to ask me to come up and lecture. I ran into Clark Mollenhoff while I was up there and I said, "You know, I've got a terrible thing down in Tennessee." And he said, "Well, why don't you talk to Kennedy about it. He's in town." It seems to me that this was April of '57. By this time, I had been at it a year and I had a hell of a case. So, Clark called Kennedy in the Foley Square courthouse in New York. He, by this time, was just getting into Dave Beck. He had had one series of Beck hearings and they were about to go into Scranton, Pennsylvania. And the third hearing that they were going into was the garbage thing, the Squillante involvement in the New York garbage racket. So, he was in Foley Square working on the garbage thing and Mollenhoff called him and said, "There is a guy down in Tennessee that has got a hell of a case. I've been over it with him and you ought to talk to him." So, he arranged for to go in at around three o'clock that afternoon. I get there at a quarter to three, and Bob Kennedy is there with his overcoat on. And he is acting like I am an hour late, which I know that I'm not. But he said, "I'd like for you to meet

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my administrative assistant, Mr. Adlerman." He introduced me to him and left. I didn't like that very much. So, I sat down with Adlerman and gave him the whole background. He was very interested and said, "Now, could you write a memo on it all?" I said, "Sure, I'll write you a memorandum. In fact, I'm going to be in New York for about a week and I'll just stop by Washington on my way back to Tennessee." So, I prepare the memo. I'm going back through Washington and I get off the airplane and go into the Senate Office Building. I figured, "Well, I'll go see Kennedy and give it to him." So, I go in and get the same sort of cold shoulder, "See Mr. Adlerman." I thought, "That rich little snob." I really didn't like him. He said, "Oh, yes. We are very interested in that. Would you see Mr. Adlerman?" So, I see Adlerman and I gave the memo to him. By this time, there had been a few other developments while I had been away. So, this went on literally for months, you know. There would be a new case of violence, I would add to the memo. I couldn't get them to pay any attention. And I despised him. I couldn't get him on the phone, he wouldn't talk to me about it. He was always interested in something else. I didn't like him. He would refer me to Jerry Adlerman. And one day,

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[Portions of the original transcript have been deleted in retyping]
he called me on the telephone down here and said, "Look, I'm sending two investigators down there. I've been over this case over the weekend and I think that it's awfully good and I would like to come down there and we are going to get into that." I said, "Great." And he sent two investigators down that week and that's how I got into it.
JIM TRAMEL:
He was staff counsel?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Chief counsel for the committee. [interruption]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, we could talk about this Teamster thing for a long time.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, we shouldn't.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you view that as . . . well, let me ask it this way. We've been talking about the press, you have been vigorous, aggressive.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Here you have a chance, you know, to make big and you were obviously ambitious, you were trying to show Robert Kennedy, you didn't want to mess around with his under . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I didn't want to fool around with Alderman, that's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you were also, I mean, did you see the press

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as a power vehicle in this thing?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I don't know whether I ever did. I don't think I ever at any point in my life thought that I had a springboard. I liked what I was doing. If I stopped being publisher tomorrow, I would like to go back to being investigative reporter. Probably couldn't afford it. But I was good at it. I liked it . . . It was worthwhile. I was very, very happy doing that work. I was very happy. I was pretty cynical about government. I will just take you quickly through the events that brought me into the Justice Department. I worked on that with him. They came to Tennessee. They made an investigation. They had a hearing and it literally shook this state to its heels. It exposed corruption. Schoolfield was impeached / convicted. About six police officers in about four cities were fired, a TBI agent was fired (Tennesse Bureau of Identification) agent five or six Teamsters were sent to prison as a result of it. It was a big scandal. I had been able to penetrate the surface with news stories. But the power of Senate subpoena was phenomenal. For example, there was one fellow here who had just beaten the hell out of a truck company executive. This truck company executive went into court and said, "I'm not going to prosecute." And the

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case was dismissed. I could never get him to tell me why he would not prosecute. When they put him under subpoena, they were going to put him on the witness stand, before the McClellan Committees. He said that the reason he did not prosecute was this: "My boss came from Atlanta and told me that it was the hardest thing that he ever had to do. He knew that my jaw had been broken, but he had to ask me not to do it; not to press charges. I never asked him why." So then, the committee called in the employer, a man from Atlanta. He said, "I was in a meeting in Chicago and Jimmy Hoffa came in and sat down beside me and said, 'We've got a problem down there in Tennessee, it's going to be very tough on you if you don't make your man not prosecute my man." So there is just so far that a reporter sometimes can go. Government can take it a little further with the power of subpoena. But at any rate, that investigation and hearing was very meaningful in terms of building a relationship between Robert Kennedy and John Seigenthaler. The next year, '58, I was Neiman Fellow at Harvard. Jack was running for election. He asked me if I wanted to fool around with that, you know, "It's not going to be a tough campaign, but we are thinking maybe the Presidency. Would you like to be around it?" I said, "Yeah, I would." And I was. I was free to ride with the then Senator whenever I wanted to ride with him, go where he

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went, be a part of inside conversations. I had thought that I might write a book about it. They thought they could put up any Republican and get enough votes to embarrass him. They nominated some unknown Italian-American lawyer who had an office over his father's grocery store. Well, Jack campaigned like he was running for the Presidency and just clubbed the fellow. I was exposed to really some good experiences in that. I saw how the two brothers worked together. When that was over, he . . . Robert asked me to help him with The Enemy Within. So, I wrote him a letter and told him that I would be glad to spend three months on it, but I didn't have any more time. But it took longer. I extended my leave after the Neiman Fellowship for about six months, which would have taken me from June of '59 to the first part of '60. I came back here, went on the city desk. The political campaign came along, Kennedy went into it. Coley Harwell came out and said, "Look, he's going to be in these campaigns, wouldn't you like to cover them?" By this time, Silliman Evans, Jr. was the publisher. He called me in and said, "Look, I'm going to be for Lyndon, but it looks to me like Lyndon is not

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going to run in the primaries and Kennedy is going to be the big man on that side. I'm going to assign somebody else to Lyndon and you take Kennedy and go ahead." So, I did. I covered West Virginia and Wisconsin, which were the two big primaries. I went to the convention. On the day that I got to the convention, Bob said to me, "We are going to win. We've got it. I would like for you to come to work in the campaign and be my administrative assistant." I agreed that day to go to work for him as administrative assistant in the campaign. I did that. During that period, the editors here changed. Coleman Hartwell was out and Ed Ball was in. Maybe it was just before the convention. I guess that it was just before the convention. Ball didn't really care for me and he liked Kennedy less. When the campaign was over, there were an awful lot of loose ends that had to be tied together there. I called here and asked Ball to give me some more time. In the conversation back and forth, he, in effect, fired me. That made it very sweet in '62 when I came back and took his job.
Bob had asked me to come into the Justice Department as his press secretary. I said that I didn't want

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to be anybody's press secretary. I didn't want to be a propagandist. At least I knew by that time that the separation between the press and the government should be absolute.
I had grown an awful lot. A lot that I had seen was beginning to come together. I said that I would like to be in the administration. I said, "I would like to stick around for a year working with you."
At any rate, I went into the Justice Department as his administrative assistant. Ed Guthman came in as his press secretary. I was very anxious to get involved with civil rights activities. Burke Marshall was in civil rights and needed somebody who had a southern accent and . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you work with John Doar?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, I worked with John Doar.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you go to Fayette County?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
As a matter of fact, if you look at Fayette and Haywood Counties, you'll find that they went for Nixon in 1960. John Doar is responsible for that. John Doar is and was a Republican. He had been hired by Eisenhower and sent down there in those years. The only black areas of

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this country, that I can find, that went for Nixon in 1960 are Fayette and Haywood Counties and I've told John Doar personally that he was responsible for that. But we were close friends. As a matter of fact, when I got hurt in Montgomery, he was with me that morning. I was wearing his shirt. I had been on the road, the Freedom Riders needed to get out of Birmingham after they had been assaulted in Anniston. And the President couldn't get John Patterson and finally, the lieutenant governor arranged for me to see John Patterson and I flew down and met with him and got assurances from him that the Freedom Riders would be given safe conduct into Mississippi. And of course, they got from Birmingham to Montgomery . . . Well, let's see, the first group of Freedom Riders we had to fly out. I flew down and got them out of Birmingham into New Orleans. Then the second wave came down and were failed. I went up to Birmingham to meet with Bull Connor and I had to negotiate with him some.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What year is this, '61?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
'61, yeah. The first wave of Freedom Riders left Baltimore and got as far as Anniston and the Klan got them, burned the bus and beat the hell out of them. They were a rather interesting group. If you looked

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at them, they were old line pacifists, demonstrators, some Socialists. But when I got to them in Birmingham, they had been stranded there for two days. They had canceled three or four airplanes because of bomb threats. They were stranded there. They couldn't get them out on the bus or the train or by air.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who called you to go?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Simian Booker was a black reporter for Ebony Magazine. He was an old friend of mine and an old friend of Bob Kennedy's. And he called me and said, "Man, it's real shit down here." He said, "It's rough."
WILLIAM FINGER:
He was traveling with them?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah. He had come into see us before he left. And when he called, I took the call first and he said, "You know, we can't get out. I don't know if we are ever going to get out of Birmingham. They have got the airport surrounded." I told him to wait; had been trying to get through to the Attorney General for a couple of hours. And so, I went to see Bob and said, "Simian is on the phone." He talked to him and said, "I'll talk to the President and we will get somebody down there to help." So, he called the President and the President said, "Well, who have we got." Bob said, "John's here, he can go." He said, "Send him. And see if you can get Patterson on the telephone and tell him

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that his problems will be easier if we can get them through to Mississippi. Put those problems on John Stennis . . . "
JIM TRAMEL:
And Ross Barnett.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
. . . and Jim Eastman and Ross Barnett. So, I went down that night and got with them at the airport. I then met with the officials of the airline and worked out a plan to get them on board the plane before they would take any phone calls. Because, you know, they would have bomb threatened them and kept them there forever. There was a crowd outside the terminal. They had been there almost around the clock. We flew them out to New Orleans and I was in bed about midnight that night. Bob called me and said, "There's another wave starting down from Tennesse, you had better get back to Birmingham." So, I got a U-Drive-It and drove back to Birmingham from New Orleans that night. Bull Connor had met them when they got off the bus and threw them in jail. And I went through three or fours days with Fred Shuttlesworth on one side and Bull Connor on the other trying to negotiate. One night Bull took them out of jail and ran them back to Tennessee. They hardly got to Tennessee before they were back. There were cars there waiting at the Tennessee line and they beat Bull Connor back to Birmingham, you know. The next day, he rounded them all up again and threw them all back in jail. John Doar had been trying a voter rights case in Judge Frank Johnson's

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[Portions of the above transcript were deleted in retyping]
court in Montgomery and it looked like we were going to have to go to court in Birmingham to get them out. Suddenly, Patterson flew back into Montgomery and gave me an interview. I drove down to Montgomery and went into see him. And finally he said, "We can protect them and will." I then left and met with Doar and while I was with Patterson, we got the president of Southeast Greyhound and the Attorney General on the line and I had a conversation back and forth. The result of it was that we agreed that the state of Alabama would protect them from Birmingham to Montgomery and from Montgomery to the Mississippi line. It has been written about so damn many times . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your exact role hasn't been . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, I don't think it has. So, then Doar and I drove back to Birmingham. Bull agreed then that if Greyhound would carry them, he would let them out of jail. The understanding though, with Shuttlesworth and the Freedom Riders was that the bus would make a regular run. They would stop at every small town. They wouldn't run an express bus. Well, Greyhound couldn't get a driver to take it on that basis. At any rate, when they got on the bus, Doar and I drove to Montgomery

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and had breakfast and when we got to the . . . the Federal Building—it is really the Post Office Building. It adjoins the Greyhound lot. I let John out and he went into the Federal Building. As I drove around the bus station all hell broke loose. The police hadn't provided any protection. John Lewis was on that ride. They were just beating the hell out of them. Two young women were catching it and I bounced up on the curb and got out of the car and tried to get them into my car. They got me and they damn near killed me. I'll tell you, I was in the hospital with a fractured skull. Well, when I woke up there was a lieutenant of police standing beside the car. Doar had stood in the window and watched it all. The FBI took pictures of it. Later they recovered the pipe that I got hit with, which Kennedy gave me framed when I left the Justice Department. But all ambulances were out of service for thirty minutes. It was really a bad time I woke up and I've got blood all over me and . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
. . . you know, and I said, "What happened?" And he said, "Well, you got messed up with these niggers and you got hurt." I said, "You better call Mr. Kennedy." So, he

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very officiously takes out my notebook with all these numbers that I've got in it . . . John Patterson, Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, the president of Greyhound, Dianne Nash, you know. And he takes out my notebook and says, "Now, what Mr. Kennedy is that?" I said, "Well, either the President or the Attorney General." So, he looked at me. I didn't have any identification on me except that notebook. He put it back in his pocket and said, "We'd better get you to the hospital." He took me out of the car, and I don't remember anything after that until maybe hours later and they had me on an X-ray table and I woke up talking to Wizzer White and he said that the President had called. Bob had been out somewhere, I don't where, and he called later and there was a good conversation. At the end of it, he said something like, "How is my popularity down there?" I said, "If you are going to run for public office, don't do it in Alabama." Martin Luther King came in three or four days later and I went out as he came in and they surrounded the building with police to keep people away. It was a bad time. It was the first time that the Kennedy administration used marshals. And I was sort of the excuse for that. "The President's representative was beaten into unconsiousness and left lying

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in the street for thirty minutes, so therefore, the marshals are coming in to enforce the law." John Lewis and I have been friends ever since.
JIM TRAMEL:
Why did you leave the Kennedy administration?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
This job came open here as editor. Silliman Evans died. His younger brother Amon took it over when I had been city editor here. Amon had been a reporter. His younger brother thought I was good and he wanted me to come and he asked me and I did.
JIM TRAMEL:
That's sort of a personal answer, let me go back and . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Sure.
JIM TRAMEL:
What motivated you to move from the South to Washington and from journalism to government?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, it was really . . . in my whole life, it has really been events that have taken me where I have gone, more than anything else. I wouldn't deny for a minute that there has been a driving ambition, you know. I guess that part of that struggling middle-class business, in the 50's and 60's we were on the make, you know. It's too corny to say that I thought that Horatio Alger was anything but a horseshit myth, but we were imbued

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with the desire to make it and as events developed and challenges came and opportunities came, I took them. I knew and I told BOb Kennedy when I went to the Justice Department, that I wanted to get back into journalism. I was offered, after nine months, maybe three or four jobs.
JIM TRAMEL:
Within government or in journalism?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, in neither. In business, administrative jobs. And always politically related. They wanted me to be a lobbyist. I remember talking to him about one of those and he said, "How much are they offering you." "Well, they haven't really talked about it in terms of the money, but I think probably twice what I'm making." He said, "Listen, don't even talk to them unless they are willing to talk four times what you are making." I said, "Well, I'm not even talking to them anyway." I didn't want to do that. I said to him, "I want to get back into journalism." It was pretty obvious that I was very close to him and I think that people . . . you know Washington has a glut of leeches and I think that bankers and businessmen thought that here was a chance to get a young fresh kid on the make and have a friend in the administration.
I had about three really good job offers. But I didn't want that and I agreed to take this job only because I knew

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that I wanted to come back into journalism. I talked to Reston about going to work for the New York Times and recommended Dave Halberstam. He was interested in Halberstam anyway. I didn't want to go to work for the Times at that time, I don't know why, I just didn't.
JIM TRAMEL:
Did you want to stay in the South?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I did want to stay in the South. I always had the feeling that southern journalism was better. I still have that feeling, that southern journalism is better. I don't know if I could prove it if I had to. I probably couldn't prove it. But it does seem to me that the South has a close tie to letters, to journalism. Maybe southern journalism . . . I am now an avid believer in John Egerton's theory of the Americanization of Dixie and the Dixiefication of America. I think that we have exported our worst and imported our worst. We've sent poor blacks and poor whites to infest the ghettoes and hillbilly havens of Chicago and Detroit, Cleveland, and we have brought in branch plants and small shirt factories—industries to pollute the atmosphere. And everybody wanted to come to Atlanta Atlanta is just "little New York" now, I mean, nobody who has any sense now wants to come to

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Atlanta, but . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
How about in the press, that same feeling?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I think that the press may be the difference. I think that the one contribution that perhaps we have made from Henry Grady to Ralph McGill, anyway . . . and I don't know what is going to happen from this point on, but I think that there has been a pretty good tradition of southern journalism. McGill and Hodding Carter are two examples of it, but North Carolina has been infested with good newspapers. I think that Georgia has had more than its share. Waterson started something very good in Kentucky and I still think that Kentucky is southern. I know that I went to the ASNE last time in Atlanta and Fritz Hollings and the new Senator from Arkansas, John Seigenthaler, and some black legislator—a woman—from Georgia—were on the program. A guy got up from Milwaukee and said, "Look, I don't understand this thing about the Stars and Bars. What is it about the southern flag? I see it everywhere." Well, they gave him two answers that were identical. I couldn't believe it. Here were two guys, Fritz, (relatively "progressive" and Bumpers)—everybody is talking about him running for president—who stand up and say that flag is a matter of pride, traditional pride. Well, I jumped to my feet and headed for the microphone and Barry Bingham, Jr. beat me there. He said, "I think that is

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a hypocritical answer." And there was this black woman on the program and I followed up and said, "I do too. There are three members of the panel, let's see what the third one thinks about it." That's by way of saying, I think Louisville has been a strong influence. I think that we have had some of the best and some of the worst journalism in the country.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Heddermans?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, Tom . . . you know, Jackson, Mississippi is a newspaper disaster area. And the chains have come. I mean, Tom Hedderman, as far as I know is a perfectly nice fellow. But you know, I couldn't work for his paper and he wouldn't have me. And I would understand it and so would he.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The theme that you are pushing, though, you mentioned the homogenization. It seems that there are two ways that that can affect southern journalism. It can affect individual writers, Barry Bingham, Jr. and yourself and the newspapers they put out, you know, the kind of journalism that gets written. But it can also affect control. Corporate control is seeping into southern papers, just as much as ITT is buying southern farms.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, I agree with that.

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WILLIAM FINGER:
What does that mean?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's a problem. I think that it is very tough to have great southern editors if they are part of a national chain. Now there are exceptions to that. I think that Pete McKnight in Charlotte is a fine newspaper editor and he understands the South as well as anybody I know. And there are others. You know, Scripps has some good newspaper editors in individual cities and they are southern. But I do think that you lose something of the character of a community when the paper goes with a chain. It could happen to any paper in the South at any time, if a chain ever bought the St. Petersburg paper, I don't know whether they would keep Gene Patterson or not. But Gene Patterson is a great southern editor. I think that the great southern editors and the great southern journalists and great southern reporters are people who have been free to act and interpret freely as a part of the community, as opposed to a part of a national chain. You know, McGill was writing primarily for Atlanta. What he said just happened to have relevance all over the South.
JIM TRAMEL:
Why do you think that southern journalism's tradition

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has been better?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I think the ordeal of racism has been something that we had to live with and worry about and write about. And it's not just journalism. I think that southern letters have been better. The fugitives were products of the South. They were something uniquely southern. The fugitives were basically literary people. Out of their group grew the agrarians, who, I think, were less less literary and more political. They were far out philosophically. But they were clinging to the southern way. And the "southern way" gave us something to rub up against, you know, something to react to. There has always been a challenge in the South. There was always a lynching or a rape or a railroading of some innocent black in some community in every state of the region. There was some injustice every month for six or seven decades. You know, when recession hit the rest of the country, it hit the South harder. The ordeal of reporting on events in the South was more of a challenge, I think, for the southern journalist than for reporters in other parts of the country. Now, I'm not saying that everybody lived up to it, but it seems to me that there was always the possibility that somebody on a paper is going to be up to it, somebody would serve as a continuing conscience for one paper or another. You can't hire these people to

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come to work on a paper and screen how they think. And periodically, somebody gets on who creates a problem for a newspaper. And some newspaper editors and publishers found out it was better not to fight that. Some of them found that it was just better to stand up and fight injustice. A few of them did that. Not many of them. But you know, the story of Hodding Carter got known because a few other papers were willing to write about his struggles even though they weren't willing to carry them on in their own communities. Then, you get into the 50's and 60's, Martin Luther King starts his peaceful revolution and that's unavoidable. I think that great journalism . . . well, the tradition was there. I think that the southern reporting on that was pretty solid.
JIM TRAMEL:
Let's relate that to corporate control of these newapapers, the chains. Historically, have the newspapers of the South been less dependent on the corporate chains?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I'm not sure, Scripps was in here pretty heavy pretty early. McGill was a product of the Cox chain, a small chain, but a chain nonetheless. I don't really know how delibitating chain ownership would

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be on the unique quality that I am talking about, that I see in southern journalism. Overall, I would say that the chain ownership is not good for the business; it's not good for communications; it's not good for the media, it's not good for the Bill of Rights; it's not good for journalism, it's not good for what I do. Whether it's worse in the South, I just don't know. You know, when you link up, from city to city, editorial philosophy and editorial ideas, it just doesn't seem to me that that's a very healthy thing for free thought. Now, I saw an article, I guess in that magazine that is done in Tampa . . . Southern Magazine or the South Magazine, they did something on this . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
The South.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
The South. That's it, they did something on this a few editions back, whether corporate ownership was . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
They did a kind of a surface thing.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
And I thought about it some at the time. You know, maybe we are not as . . . maybe we haven't been as good as I think we have been. If I have to point

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to individual newspapers in the South, I can find some that have not been very good. All I'm saying is that I think I can make a case that there have been more good newspapers and good newspapermen who have developed in the South. And I would go to the New York Times and point to people who have come from the South, to the Times . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
But for political and economic analysis, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, they all draw on the South the same way that the New York Times and the Post . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Have you ever thought about why that might be?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I think the talent has just been developed here. There has not been a fight going on in every other community of the country. Racism in the South has given us for a hundred years something as newspaper people, something to write about, to be concerned about to try to rationalize, to try to live with. And I relate it directly to that. Now, there are other social factors that also make it unique, that have made it unique

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and different. I see Boston and Pontiac, Michigan and suspect that they are going to start producing good newspaper people. They happen to have some pretty good newspaper people in Boston, anyway. But what I am saying is that I think that those newspaper men who have developed in the South, did so largely because that continuing story was part of what they had to live with on a daily basis.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Are there things that are going to take their place? Like the strip mining in east Tennessee? what the Peabody Coal Company and TVA, and all that kind of corporate inroad into the South? That's going to take a more sophisticated kind of journalism.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah. And I don't think it is just going to be southern, either. I think that the problems of strip mining goes as far west as the shale states. I declined to join the L.C.Q. Lamar Society, because — I like Brandy Ayers, but I never could agree with him or come to any point of agreement on whether I think there is any sense in furthering the myth that we have all the answers because southern leaders were nursed at black mammies' breasts. I mean, hell, as I look at the South today, I see us trying to become little Los

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Angeles and little New York. "Let's have an international airport, let's get as many cars in and cars out. Let's get as much branch industry in as we can, let's build as many factories as we can to employ many people, let's give industry tax write-offs to steal them away." If that is inevitable, it's inevitable. But if we are going to do that on one hand, let's don't go around beating our breasts and saying how great we are because we don't sing "Dixie" anymore at the half-time of the football games. I really feel that the South is not that different anymore. We have exported the worst and we've imported the worst, some of the worst. And I think that we have lost some of . . . I think that Jack Cash would be hard pressed today to come back and write The Mind of the South and find that there is a mind of the South. I don't think that it is that clearly defined anymore. And I think that it is a waste of time to go around talking about it and acting as if we have found something that is meaningful in our racist heritage. I think that's a waste of time.
JIM TRAMEL:
Talking about the future of investigative journalism, it seems to me that investigative journalism is a search for who calls the shots, who controls . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I agree.

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JIM TRAMEL:
The conflicts that you are talking about during the civil rights movement were out in the front and generally, they were between middle-class folks. You know, is investigative journalism, and uniquely southern investigative journalism, going to expand into questioning corporate control? Is it going to become a more subtle thing than out front racial clashes?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I just don't know whether it will or not. It depends, largely, on the commitment of the press to unexplored areas of regional life. This paper has traditionally supported TVA. We wrote an editorial of restatement of policy, restatement of support, about three weeks ago. But, we wrote it with grave reservations about TVA's role with particular regard to the environment. TVA has now joined arms with the AEC and I don't think that anybody is sure about nuclear reactors as a replacement for coal in terms of producing electricity for the Valley. And beyond that, TVA has been an offender, ravaging the hillsides and not demanding that its coal contractors reclaim the land. My wife, this week, joined a group to try to block the construction of the Hartsville nuclear plant. She believes that TVA has not told people the truth aboutitor has not investigated to find

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out the truth about the dangers that are attached to nuclear development for energy purposes, peaceful energy purposes. Now, whether the press is going to be aware and is going to be willing to move into this, I don't know. Take the oil cartel, which is a reality. The oil companies in this country are right now trying to buy up all the coal lands in Appalachia. And that is a story. That is a story. And how long it is going to take the total press to get onto it, I don't know. But it is something that if the press doesn't get onto and you have an administration that is not really worried about anti-trust or is too business-profit oriented, you'll not only wipe out TVA, you will wipe out any possibility of providing a way of life that anybody can enjoy. I am concerned about corporate America's intransigence toward people, it's attitude of "we know it all, we have all the answers, just get government out of our way so that we can procede and everything will be all right." You know, this country has been in really terrible shape for the last four or five years. We damn near had a corporate government in Washington. They were buying and selling each other. "If you don't pay, we are going to sue you for an anti-trust violation. If you do pay, you can do whatever the hell you want to do." It's been almost that simple. I am worried about it. As long as I'm in it, as long

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as people around here are up to it, we are going to be on the attack. But it is going to be a struggle, I'll tell you. It's going to be a struggle. For one thing, you wear your welcome out. You know, the press can become a common scold. And you can lose your credibility and you can get so immersed in political partisanship that you damage your ability to relate to people. I have done some great jobs of investigative reporting on local candidates that this newspaper has opposed, only to have the public come out on election day and tell me how little they thought of my work, you know? And that is always a problem. My view of it is, though, that if the press doesn't do it, it won't be done. The corporate infection of political life has grown immeasurably in the last ten years. Our Congressman, a man I like, a man who has a good record, was elected in a tough race the first time with our support and the issue was Medicare. And he was on the right side of that. He is now one of the sponsors of Medicredit. The AMA supports him and he now supports them. So, I worry about more than one manifestation of what is happening. By the time that you take the medical profession, the legal profession and the oil lobby, the gas lobby, the whiskey lobby, the

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tobacco lobby, the labor lobby (which is as much a closed shop as ITT) . . . it's very, very difficult to see that there is going to be any check or balance, if it doesn't come from the press, or at least if the press doesn't demand that the various functions of government fulfill their checks and balances role.
JIM TRAMEL:
Against the background of being so continually associated with a paper that was intimately involved with the fight for TVA and has backed it traditionally, when did you personally first start to ask questions about TVA? Was it environmental or earlier?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, well, I asked questions about it at the time of Dickson Yates. Because I saw then that . . . if Eisenhower had packed that board with private-power people, which I think that he thought he was probably doing (or the people who were advising him thought that he was doing that) I think that I understood from that point on — or at least from Dickson-Yates on)-that TVA was only as good for the people as the members of that board were responsive to the concept of public power over private power. And I would think if Ford names a very conservative private power-oriented person to the board next year, in March or April, TVA may not die, but it will be a

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fight to keep it alive. TVA's viability over the years has only been that it was a concept that was competitive with corporate power. Corporate power despised it. And Dickson-Yates was a very subtle effort to undermine TVA. Fortunately, we got on to it and exposed it and stopped it. TVA has not moved in a very forceful way or a very responsive way for ten years. It was not responsive on reclamation, it was not responsive towards opposing what was going on internally; it has not been open about its relationships with big businesses that have been getting into joint relationships with it. It is now in bed with Exxon, it's now in bed with Westinghouse. The most ingenious thing that it has proposed has been to purchase Peabody Coal, and it is doing that almost in self defense. They are saying that, "If we can get our own source of coal, we can stop the oil companies from buying up all the coal in the country and jacking up the price beyond what we can afford. But again, how is TVA going to be environmentally on that? TVA is, I think, in its most critical period right now. I have thought about TVA having feet of clay, for a long time. For a long time, I thought that it was a concept that could fold. Barry Goldwater would have given it away. He would have just given it to Arkansas Power and Light and Georgia Power and Light. The

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problem in dealing with something like TVA is recognizing that the people who are on that board have split personalities about what they are doing. I mean, TVA is socialistic in concept. It was at the beginning. And none of them like to admit that, but it is and as long as it has been that, it has been envied. Now, I would have less concern about TVA if it was developing its potential.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
TVA needs to open up all of its councils, and discuss dangers; talk about what you do if you have an earthquake or a terrorist takeover of a nuclear power plant. What they have done is kept it close to their bosom, talked about it to no one, admitted what they were doing to nobody, and gone to bed with Westinghouse and Exxon Nuclear. And I think the result of that is that TVA is in danger of losing its credibility as an agency that serves the people. I have always felt bad, too, about its power of eminent domain. It has moved too fast, too many times and in too many areas for no good reason. You know, you reach a point of saturation with flood control and production of energy. After you've got this many dams, how many more dams do you need? We are not flooding the Valley anymore, that's pretty much in control. And I have been out

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covering stories from time to time, where they had just literally taken land they didn't need. And I always worry about the power of eminent domain. Get into that, get into urban renewal fights, and you start . . . you know, I can remember when we started thinking about urban renewal fights and thinking, "God, isn't it wonderful?" To tear down all those slums and build some nice new high-rises.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Have you covered urban renewal in Chattanooga?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, we have. I must say, what's going on down there is . . . I think they are up to their ass in it. I don't know where that is going to lead.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You have both of them on the strings right now.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Both of them. And I never thought that we would get either one of them on the strings, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A theme that has been in your history, the way that you have described it, and is involved in the [unknown], is the distinctiveness of the power of the southern press, in a town where other institutions aren't strong and unions and two-party politics . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A newspaper has a chance to make more of a splash. It's a bigger power broker. You had a chance to stay in Washington in government and you came back for different

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reasons. So, you became an editor of a southern paper with that kind of power brokerage. But you have written books about national issues. Your last two books have been national in scope, not state, not regional. Now, with the Baker stuff, he is a local Senator, he's a local issue, but he is into national reasons for what he is doing. It is a seeming contradiction in the books that you have written, they are of national scope, but your primary interest is southern.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Does that seem like a contradiction to you?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, again, I guess . . . and maybe this is not a direct answer to what the question is, but you talked earlier about ambition and agressiveness, the whole characteristic of my life has sort of been a young man on the make. And you know, the facts speak for themselves. My response to that is that I sort of set out the area I wanted to work in, I really enjoyed working in it, I worked like hell in it and as doors opened, I walked through them and maybe I kicked a few of them open along the way. I don't know. So, that's one thing. On the other side, there has been, I think, as a product of that work experience, going through those doors, I think that there has been a continual development of

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my own philosophy about attitudes and life. People say that as you get older, you get more conservative. It just hasn't been that way with me. I've reached a point in my life now where I don't think that I have any fears anymore, about anything. You know, I know now that whatever it was that those nuns were teaching me, they didn't really know anymore about it than I knew. I ain't going to hell, no matter what I do, and nobody else is. You know, I think that you could turn the prisons out tomorrow, and you would have waves of violence, but you wouldn't have anymore crooks on the street who are doing more damage to the society than there are crooks on the street right now. There are as many white-collar crooks in this society as there are violent men in prison. I have gradually come to look at the total society where I don't feel anything about a need for retribution or punishment or any of the traditional values that I had . . . nationalism, as an example. I just don't see that much value in nationalism anymore. Like religion, it has probably done more harm than good over the years. So, while I have worked in one area and it has been limited largely to this region and to this city, the experiences that that has really thrust on me, have been such that I've found myself addressing more and more, philosophically,

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issues that touch the whole country. I can't see how, if you had asked me in 1949, when I started as a full-time reporter . . . I can't see how I would find acceptable 90% of the convictions that I hold today, as they relate to the society in which we live. I think that I have really come from being a rather narrow, decent, moderate, mean, young reporter, to a fellow who doesn't describe himself as a liberal, but who probably when he talks about his philosophy, is described by others as an ultra-liberal. And I am very comfortable with that. I have to say that 1968 brought on dramatic reappraisal for me, the death of Martin Luther King, the death of Bob Kennedy both occurred within a few months and had a dramatic impact on me. And from that point on, . . . I think that I am much more of an observer than I am an activist today, although I think that the paper is much more activist today than it was five years ago. And so, I don't really see a contradiction in the terms. I don't think that I have addressed myself to the question as you asked it, but . . . it occurs to me, that if you take all of the controversy that people are shaken by today, the whole youth movement, women's rights movement, the new morality, the continual broader and deeper understanding

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about prejudice as it relates to blacks, Chicanos, Indians, I am much less satisfied with society than ever before, but much more comfortable in my understanding of it. I don't think that I know a whole lot, but I'm much more comfortable in my ignorance than I was then. If somebody walks in and asks me if I want to be a part of going after some "evil" in society . . . and in 1949, I wouldn't have put quotes around it, I would have seen it clearly as an evil . . . I would now be inclined to go if they wanted to go, just on the theory that it would be helpful to stir it up, to create thought and controversy in society.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Otherwise, you would observe?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It's not that important for me to get scalps on my belt anymore, that's really what I'm saying. I'm not saying that the fight is not worthwhile, but after you see a lot of good men blasted, you know, you wonder whether it is.
JIM TRAMEL:
Against that, why did you choose to release this about Baker? Choose to get into that.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, a bright young guy walks in here with that and it was obviously factual. I feel no tie to Howard Baker. If he is there, he's there and that's our role. As I say, if some activist walked in and said, "What about it?"

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And I think that people should think about Howard Baker. We supported him and I don't apologize for that.
JIM TRAMEL:
Against Blanton?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Against Blanton.
JIM TRAMEL:
You did? I didn't know that.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yes, sure did.
JIM TRAMEL:
Why?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It was close, but his record on civil rights and human rights was slightly better. Blanton had introduced some legislation that . . . I think he was the product of a district that was really sort of an extension of Mississippi and Alabama. And Howard's record on those issues where you could draw a clear cut vote between Blanton and Baker was better. On things like . . . well, Blanton had supported legislation to cut off kids from college loans if they participated in demonstrations on campuses and a lot of silly business like that. Things that really didn't commend him for the Senate. I think that he grew a lot in two years. And that's the next question, "Well, why did you support him against Alexander?" Well, we supported him against Alexander because I think that he came to understand that he could not be elected as a Democrat in Tennessee unless he opened his arms to the new ideas and to all the people. And he made an effort at that. He worked with Harold Ford very hard in Memphis to get him elected to

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Congress. He worked with Marilyn Lloyd to get her elected in Chattanooga. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment. He made some efforts to broaden his own base of support and let it be known that he didn't have a sheet and a hood in the back seat of the car.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Can you think of anything else about southern journalism that you want to discuss?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, but if I do, I'll call you on Thursday and we'll go back into it again.
WILLIAM FINGER:
O.K.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I've been really thinking about the whole question of what it is to be a southerner in the 1970's, for a good while. The discussion with Brandy Ayers has been one that has gone on. I've thought about joining the L.Q.C. Lamar Society seriously and finally, he almost put it on a basis of friendship. And I backed away from it, primarily because I just don't believe that emphasizing southern heritage is really helpful to any of us at this point.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me ask you a question about that and it might be a way to . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
To get into what you want to talk about.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Yeah, and you too. So, you will know more where we are coming from. I got Jericho for Christmas, you know, that James Dickey . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And there are a lot of ways of emphasizing southern heritage. There are a lot of magnolias and all kinds of taints. Right?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What you said about Walter Reuther the other day, that if you had been Walter Reuther's son, you might have had a different political

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perspective from the kind of community you came out of.
You know, you came out of a Nashville family. You got interested in electoral politics. You were stretched in certain ways, right?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
We don't know enough about . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Stretched, but never really shoved in any direction.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But there were people who were shoving in our southern heritage. Jim Dombrowski was shoving people, Myles Horton was shoving people. People got shoved as workers, too, that weren't in that middle-class, protected, Wilder, convict labor. I think that we need to know about that southern heritage. Because the issues are really complicated now, in the 70's. Civil rights was clear, clear to you as a reporter. It was clear that we had to move through that. Corporate ownership and amalgamation of farms and newspapers is not as clear.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, but let's just settle this. This draws the line where I would like to have it drawn. Nothings been talked about, written about, thought about or discussed more than the southern heritage. Let me tell you why I think that it's dangerous. I said the other day that it seems to me that aside from letters—and I certainly consider journalism a vital part of the region's cultural life— the South really has made no distinctive contribution to the total society. All that has come out of that, or most of what has come out of it— has been pain, torture, struggle, conflict, controversy. All of that has been the product of poverty or racism. Those two factors have really created most of the ordeal that the South has experienced. I'm

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not saying that's not valuable. That is valuable. I would say that we have produced an inordinate amount of men and women of letters; not much more. We produce people who are willing to think and appraise and analyze their own situation, their own condition, or at least, if not their"own"in a subjective sense, their"own"in terms of people that they know or identify with. The interesting thing about southerners—Liebling used to write about the wayward press and he said that no matter what newspaper you worked for, it was always, it was always "our" paper. Whatever the paper did, good or bad, newspaper people talked about "our" paper and the way "we" did it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Possessive plural.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right And we've come to think about the South in the same way. We think of the Klansman as a part of ourselves; we think about George Wallace as a part of us. Lester Maddox as one of us. It seems to me that we've got a great sense of guilt because of people like that. The problem has been that while we have been willing to talk about it and think about it, very, very few of us have either been willing or able to do a bloody thing about it. The South is as segregated today as it ever was. This is a city that is split by race. White neighborhoods are still white; black neighborhoods are still black, job discrimination is still rampant. You find a token black in a bank, or a token in an office, or a token in a newspaper city room, or a token on a television screen. But we are still racially separated. And that is continuing, despite all of the rhetoric about a "new South. Despite all the study and all the analyses. I said to Brandy Ayers when I

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interviewed him on a book review program I have: the first question was: "After a hundred years and thousands of volumes, do we still need another book analyzing the role of the South? Do we really need, You Can't Eat the Magnolias?" His response was, "We do." I read Willy Morris and I think the same thing, "Do we really need it, Willy?" And after I've read You Can't Eat the Magnolias and North Toward Home and Morgan Rouser's book here on southern political voting trends, I conclude the same thing that I guess I concluded when I read V.O. Key and Jack Cash. "Yeah, that southern contribution is important," but it is not as relevant in the 70's as it was when V.O. Key or Jack Cash wrote about it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What's relevant in the 70's?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
What's relevant in the 70's is that it is no longer southern. It's national. Let's just face what has happened to American society, it has become southern in character. Sure, we still have more blacks than any other region in the country, but we don't have more black dominated cities. I mean, Dick Hatcher in Gary is a reality and he was elected because Gary, Indiana, decided that it was going to be racially black.
It couldn't decide otherwise, apparently. Gary, Indiana has a black mayor because that is a black city. Washington, D.C. is a black city.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about economics?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, just look at those downtown communities and what is happening to them. What's happening to Gary is the same thing that is happening in other cities, southern and eastern and western and northern.
Some statistics the other day showed that from 1960 to 1970, the number of blacks in the South steadily decreased, until about '69. It just leveled out, it now appears to me that it is levelling out at about 50%

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regionally. Regionally, we've got about 50% of the blacks in the South . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Percentage?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, the rest of them are spread out now all across the country. Now, you take that factor and then project that to what happens in Gary and Chicago and Cleveland. Maynard Jackson is not even a first. I mean, he is a fifth or a sixth or seventh. The black mayor of Atlanta was elected because Atlanta went black later than Gary or Cleveland. And Carl Stokes was elected because they went black sooner; Dick Hatcher in Gary because the same thing happened. Walter Washington in Washington because the same thing was obvious. You get 80% black and you just have to have a black mayor, even the federal government could read that. I wouldn't put Tom Bradley in that category because I think that Tom Bradley is the exception. But there is an analogy between Los Angeles. I mean, Lester Maddox is really the prototype of the traditional southern politician, but Lester Maddox is no longer southern. Louise Day Hicks and Sam Yorty are as southern as the prototype of the southern politician: Lester Maddox. I said the other day, without really explaining it, that we have exported our worst and imported the worst that they've had. One of the things that we've exported is our separateness, our separate society. We've sent off so many blacks that we have literally segregated cities and the result of that is that we have changed the political climate in places like that. So, while Tom Bradley is an exception he was not elected because the blacks in Los Angeles outnumbered or nearly outnumbered the whites. They didn't in L. A. He certainly came into power because in that instance, Sam Yorty was everything that the typical stereotype southern politician was. Tom Bradley just happened to be the fellow who moved into that political vacuum and got elected following that. Tom Bradley could have been a white liberal as easily and been elected. People out there were sick of Yorty.

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If you just go one step beyond that, the result of what has happened in the South, it seems to me, as a result of all these ordeals, turmoils, struggles, conflict and controversy . . . because of the racism and the poverty—those twin specters that are not really separate in and of themselves, but you can separate the two, I think — the result of that has been in the 1970's, a movement toward moderation. The thing that I fear is, and fear deeply, is that a dependence on men like Bumpers, Hollings and Busbee and Askew, Blanton, Baker and the rest, who consider themselves moderates and who are praised now as moderates, not only by the masses in the South, but also by the intellectuals and academics in the South, the journalists, the people who have produced the southern literature that I talked about. The moderates are now hailed as the saviours of the South. And it is my judgement that there will not come out of moderation, the inventiveness or the ingenuity, or the genius or the fire for expermentation and development that this region and the whole country must have as we go on into the 70's. Who among the moderates of the South or the North will be able to stand up and say, "We've got to stop strip mining."? Their idea is to compromise. That's what moderation means, compromise. And this country faces economic, environmental, racial challenges that won't be resolved by men who look upon "the role of a moderate" as being the role of a compromiser.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me ask you this. The base of a lot of what you said . . . I don't have any real quarrel with it, but racisim and poverty are not causal phenomenen. Those are the results of things. Those are the kind of twin specters that you used to say that . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
To say that they creat the ordeal and the turmoil . . . yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
We have exported that and those remain with us. Racism and poverty

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came about because of a colonial situation.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No doubt.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Colonialism is still with us in a more subtle form, when Peabody Coal is here and in Montana and . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
But that says something, you know, the fact that they are both here and in Montana and in Pennsylvania. I mean, if it is not Peabody, it's somebody else.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's right. The whole country, perhaps.
What you are saying then, is that the whole country is as colonial as the South.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I'm not sure that I am talking of it in terms of colonialism. But I understand what you are saying. What I am saying is this: that I am confident that the South finally accepted in concept the wisdom of the Supreme Court's decision, not just because they understood in the South that not a hell of a lot would be done about it, but because the simple justice of it finally got through. Look at the South from 1954 to 1960: aside from Little Rock and a few other places, there was not that much confrontation. In 1961, I don't think that anybody in the country knew how active the Kennedy administration was going to be, not even those of us who were inside that administration. I mean, there were really strong reservations about Bob Kennedy. And we went in there and began to move and the resistance to that was substantial. Heavy. But, you know, when you made the argument about the wife of a veteran killed in Vietnam, traveling from Mississippi to Arlington and then going home and not being able to go to the bathroom or to a country-friend chicken place or a restaurant, the simple equity involved had made an impact. What I am saying . . . I could go on and make that case again and again and that

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case was made in the South. I think that masses of people, as they confronted problems of blacks in the South, the simple reality of the argument made itself felt. I could talk about education, I could talk about jobs, I could talk about all those things. My fear about it today, is that, not just in the South, because I don't think that it is the problem of the South anymore, the questions of the environment are questions that address themselves to people all over this country. The problems of racism do, the problems of poverty are beginning to. Detroit is more a colony today than Montgomery, Alabama. The unemployment rate in many northern cities is much higher than it is in many southern cities. Now, if our leaders are going to be moderates, who is going to argue the inequity and the injustice being done as a result of an imposition of what you have described as corporate colonialization. Which I might call something else. But who is going to argue? Who will have the fire and the zeal? Not the moderates who have been elected to rule in the South.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Are they newspaper men?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, well, I don't know whether I am or not. I won't know until the challenge comes. But I can look around the South and it looks to me that it is possible. I mentioned Gene Patterson the other day, and Pete McKnight, and Claude Sitton and Johnny Popham, and Reg Murphy . . . You know, I look at Reg Murphy. I don't see that there is much fire left in the old Constitution. But I know he is a good man. Now, the question is whether he is good enough. I don't know what happened to Gene Patterson and Jack Tarver in Atlanta. Everything that I have

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heard is on the side of a free press Jack Tarver has been cast in the role of something of a villain. That's usually newspaper Rotarian gossip. But I don't really know what happened there. I hope that some of those people are going to have the guts and the courage to stand up. Now, go ahead.
JIM TRAMEL:
Let me go back a minute. I sense a sense of frustration at being able to pinpoint our solution.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, sure there is.
JIM TRAMEL:
Is there something that is uniquely southern, that we have maintained an illusion of living in a community, and has that kept us from being honest with ourselves about a class society?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Oh, sure. And the one thing that we have done is convinced ourselves that we were "different." There was nothing really good about being different. And still, we told ourselves that we were different, as if that meant we had superior qualities. There was nothing really good, by my standards about the southern way. It was good and bad. The ambivalence that has been part of the mind of the South during my lifetime, is a natural ambivalence. You know, there is something to be said for an agrarian society. We haven't had one in a hell of a long time. But there is something to be said for an agrarian society. There is something to be said for a slower pace, a better or more relaxed attitude about work. But while the southerner for the most part, has seen that as . . . part of his society as being worth protecting still, at the same time, he has wanted very much to be like the North. He has wanted to be industrialist. And so, he brings in the industry, which puts burdens on him. Then he screams because things aren't like they used to be. "Things aren't like they used to was." That ambivalence is more pronounced in the South than it is elsewhere in the country, because of the

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dichotomy that has been so marked in the South. Northerners really don't make much bones about what they were. You know, they were crass in their approach to the industrial revolution, which really made them that way. And they saw the genius of their whole environment resting in an ability to mass produce. And we thought that we could have it both ways. We thought that we could have the good old days and the good old ways and still bring in what they had. We thought that we could help our own situation by making it possible to export a lot of so-called undesirables. And the result, I think, is a homogenization that really leaves us one nation now. You talk about a sense of community. And there was that. And in a sense, that remains. I think that it is subconscious with us. But I think that it is still there. We still talk about Lester Maddox as part of ourselves. We still talk about George Wallace as one of us. I don't think of myself as being like George Wallace, but I can't talk about the South as a region without identifying what the total South is and identifying with it. And you know, whether you are talking about Jim Dombrowski or the head of the Klu Klux Klan, you are talking about . . . and I'll tell you the truth, I don't know whether Jim Dombrowski was southern. He may not have been.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He was here long enough.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, for long enough to make an impact.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, let me get at this another way. Let me ask you a question. Do you think there is something, that . . . what you are talking about is that sense of family, the sense of community?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, that's here. In the 1940's, the late '40's, maybe early '50's, in '46, there was a race riot in Columbia, Tennessee. There was a man who lived here named Edward War Carmack, who had run for United States Senator a couple of times. He went to Columbia, all the blacks had been jailed, and he

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marched into the jail and said to the head of the state highway patrol, who had gone in and taken over the town, "I want the Carmack niggers." And he got them. He got the blacks who had worked for the Carmack family since slave days, I guess. And those blacks came out with him and went back to wherever it was that the Carmack Negroes worked. That sense of family has been something that Ed Carmack felt and it is something that all of us have felt. We do think of ourselves as inter-related, as unique, as different, as part of the total family and that of many subfamilies. The point that I am making about all this is, that at this point I can't see any value to be gained from looking back on that. The time has come, it seems to me, to look at the South in 1974 and see it as it really is, not that different from any other part of the country, with not that many answers and maybe with a hell of a lot more problems. I don't see the South as part of a colonial possession of the corporate North, but it is more than that. You know, the corporate North has more branch plants in the South . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
And headquarters.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right, and headquarters. And that means for the South, last hired, first fired. You know what the blacks said about employment in the nation, the methods that the South is now going to have to experience, if this economic downturn continues, is that we . . . and again, notice how I say, "we" are going to be. Which is just exactly the point you make, we do think of ourselves as families . . . we are going to find ourselves hurting most, the last to get relief. And what I am suggesting by—all that I am really saying-is that if the South continues to look upon itself, if we continue to look upon ourselves, as being "different" as opposed to recognizing the nation in the 1970's for what it is, a very homogenous society, then I

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think there is no real value in being southern. No real value in being southern. That's a heresy for somebody who has looked upon the South as being special and different and unique. There is no way to find any answer in the 1970's, in my judgement, from a re-evaluation of what the South has been through. Only because we haven't found any answers after a hundred years, and if we can't find any answers after a hundred years, there is no chance that Cleveland or Gary or Detroit is going to find any answers from looking at us. The South is not better than the rest of the country. It is just a little bit worse.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's quite a rap you just gave. You are talking about a person not seeing the homogenization as a limitation, you know, retaining the illusions of a uniquely southern . . . the idea that we might have answers. What I am trying to get at is the limits of Egerton's book. We have got to transcend this. The homogenization theme is a limited one. I don't think that you can relax, in the way that he does say, with "the Americanization of Dixie." I'm not sure that I can say exactly why, but let's try to get at it in this way: In 1962, things were clearer. The Justice Department was on the move. You went to Montgomery, you were an activist. You had been an ambitious reporter and you jumped out of your car and took the chances in Montgomery, a big chance, as it turned out. Lots of things happened in the country and to yourself personally in those years. The country has changed a lot in twelve years, too. Personally, in 1962, you came back to the newspaper. You said the other day that you wanted to come back to the South. That seems too simple an explanation. You had the opportunity of a lifetime.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Oh, sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had access to national, and in fact, to international power.

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The Kennedy family and all of that. It was national level politics and the New York Times. So, let me ask you, in 1962, first of all, what you thought were the possibilities of the government, you mentioned the other day that the press doesn't have the subpoena power that the Department of Justice does. The possibilities of the government, the possibilities of the press . . . then, the possibilities of what you could do as a journalist, which you say that you like better than you know, with the New York Times. Let's go from there . . . talk about that a minute and then we will come back to it. Why did you leave?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Why did I leave the Justice Department and come back? Well, as I say, I told Bob Kennedy that I was going to come back. I had told him that I was going back to journalism. I didn't know I was going to come South, I had no way to know that this job was in the offering. And when I talked to Reston and Wally Carroll, about going to work for the Times, it was a brief interview one morning in which I made it clear that I was just getting ready . . . this was between the election and the inaugural. They had heard of Halberstam, they had taken a lot of people from the Tennessean. And they said at the outset, "Are you interested in coming?" I talked to Wally Carroll first and he said, "Are you interested in coming into journalism?" I said, "No, I'm going into the Justice Department." And I thought that was going to be an interesting experience and it was. The conversation immediately turned to Dave Halberstam and I talked to them about him. They were already considering him. So, to say that I ever really considered or that they actually made a job offer wouldn't be completely accurate. I had the feeling that they were interested if I was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had an entree that you could have pursued.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I had enjoyed that campaign. I could have pursued it,

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but I had enjoyed that campaign. The situation here had suddenly changed. I told you about the experience of being told that I was not really all that welcome back here and that was about the same time, you know. I think that if I had pushed it and left up there, I could have come back immediately. I could have called the editor, Ed Baugh the next day, or the publisher, Silliman Evans, Jr., and said, "Look, there has been a misunderstanding here, I would like to go back." But the truth was, the opportunity for a new position and a new area of experience was opening and I was somewhat excited about that. There was no way to be involved in the campaign in 1960 and listen to Jack Kennedy talk or Bob Kennedy talk about the impact of government on society, the impact of an idealistic administration on a rather unemotional, staid, almost stoical approach to government, which had been my impression of the Eisenhower years. And besides that, there was no way to look at the place I had come from, the South, without thinking that a changing of the guard was going to be energizing and the opportunity to be a part of that meant something to me. I wanted to get into that, I wanted to be a part of the New Frontier. It was not just a cliche or a slogan on a billboard, it meant something to me. The New Frontiers were there. And if I had it to do over again, I think that I would do it over again. I would do it without the stars in my eyes. So, I went into that experience with only one reservation: I didn't want to be a press secretary. I had had enough of taking handouts from governors and I had been through enough of the . . . I had had enough business public relations men hand me promotion sheets. I didn't want to be a government propagandist. I didn't want to do that and I knew that I didn't want to do that and I said that I didn't want to do that. Bob Kennedy moved into the Justice Department immediately after he and the

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President decided that he was going to be the Attorney General and that was an interesting experience in and of itself. But we moved into the Justice Department while Bill Rogers was still Attorney General. Bill Rogers' press secretary immediately thought that I was going to succeed him and was a very decent fellow, a veteran of the New York Times . . . the name escapes me, but I know him (Luther Houston). But he went out of his way to come down and say, "Look, I guess that you are going to be moving into the office." And I said, "No, I'm not." And he stayed on for a few months. I didn't want to be part of that press office. And quite honestly, I knew that I was going back into journalism and I said I was. Now, I might have gone to the North after a year or two.
JIM TRAMEL:
But, you say, "We."
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right. As it relates to the Kennedy administration?
JIM TRAMEL:
No, I'm saying that earlier in our conversation, you used "we" in terms of the South.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Oh, sure, that's right.
JIM TRAMEL:
So, in '62, you did come back South rather than going North.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right. I think that part of that was that the job opened here, but I was very happy to come back South. It was like coming home, you know. I guess that if I left here tomorrow and stayed in journalism and somebody came in and said, "Do you want to go to work for a newspaper somewhere else?", I think I would say that this paper was . . . let's say that this paper was purchased by William Loeb and the Teamsters, which would really make it impossible for me, you know. And let's say, if they did that, I think that I would go north toward home. No, I would prefer staying in the South. I would prefer going to a southern community. What you say about that feeling of community is still there and it always will be there for me.

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WILLIAM FINGER:
But it was more personal to you, rather than a strategy, like you said that the southern press was a more powerful tool . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I'm not sure that I think that it is a more powerful tool, and I don't think I said that. But I think that the southern press has produced more men of value for journalism than other regions. And I think that I can make that case.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, in '62, you were still energized by the New Frontier.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I really was, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you are talking about a kind of personal thing. You wanted to come back home and that wasn't what was . . .
JIM TRAMEL:
Why did you leave in '62?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It came up.
JIM TRAMEL:
The job came open?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
You know, if you started out on a paper as a copy boy and somebody calls you and tells you that they want you to be the editor and if you love journalism, you come.
WILLIAM FINGER:
For letters, or you wanted the power?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It was just that it was something that I ultimately was going to go back to and here was an opportunity to do it at a new level. It was really a great opportunity for me, a superior opportunity.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Compared to being the administrative assistant for Robert Kennedy?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Not even close for me. I didn't think about it twice. I told him about it and he said, "Well, you've always wanted to do that." But interestingly enough, his wife, within twenty-four hours, came by to see me and said, "I hope that you don't leave. I think that it would be a mistake for you to leave." I knew what was happening. He was an interesting guy, he didn't like to have people say no to him. Nobody likes to have people

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say no to them. I think that he thought if he asked me and I said no, it might spoil our future relationship. So, she came.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But it is hard for me to believe that with what was happening in 1962 in the Kennedy administration, that a paper that had a local base at least and a state kind of arena at most, is analogous to being administrative assistant of Robert Kennedy.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
The Attorney General of the United States?
JIM TRAMEL:
An activist Attorney General.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
An activist Attorney General . . . well, . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is before the events of 1963.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were looking at an eight-year Kennedy administration, basically.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right. And I will have to say that I enjoyed the position of power. The work was hard. We worked sixteen hours a day, but I worked that hard when I came back here. The pay here was not that much better. I was well paid in those days, as Washington employees of the government went. I guess that in a sense, you could even say that I lived in a southern environment, I lived in Virginia. But I will have to say that I never thought twice about it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did your wife want to come back?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Not that much. I wanted to come back. She was willing to go wherever I went. She was never . . . she is from Lexington, Kentucky and Rome, Georgia. She was a professional singer, her whole life has been music. Before me, it was really Music City that attracted her here from Rome, Georgia. She was pop, not country, but she knew an awful lot of the country music people because her station was WSM and she was good. And she spent some time with Arthur Godfrey and she did television and radio shows in Nashville. So,

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you know, she's not a "southern girl", in the sense that she is perfectly happy in a metropolitan area in the North. And I think that if we hadn't been married, she would have wanted a career. She did pursue it as long as she wanted to while we were married. She could have made it singing in the North easily, you know, with no question. So, she wouldn't have objected if we had stayed there. We have one son. Well, you state it this way. It is hard for me to understand and I can only tell you that I never thought about it twice. The day the offer came, I accepted it. I told Bob that day that I was going to accept. In effect, I had already said that I wanted to do it.
JIM TRAMEL:
Was it more of a personal decision rather than a tactical or strategic decision about how you wanted to work and . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I thought that I was cut out to be a newspaper man. I thought that I could do other things. I think that I could have been a success at anything that I wanted to be in, you know. I mean, I think that I have some innate abilities. I really thought in 1962, that I was cut out to be a newspaper man. I had spent ten years in that, I thought that I did it well. I thought that I wrote well enough. I thought that I was tough enough. I did not want to be a "press secretary" inside government. I had dealt with too many of them as a reporter. While I was in the government, I found some natural ill will for the press.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]

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JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
But I was not comfortable with the anti-press feelings I found existing among people in government. The criticism that came from Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon was an exaggerated form of the sort of press criticism that exists in government at high levels in every administration. I'm convinced of that. Not many in government, outside of those people who have been in the press, really appreciate or understand the role of the press. The adversary relationship between those in government and those in press is natural and it is going to be with us for a long, long time. I talked about Justice Black the other day and didn't really get into that in any depth. I don't think that I was a First Amendment absolutist when I was in government. I am today. I was headed in that direction, though, and I was not ever comfortable when occassionally hostility for the press would be expressed by those inside government.
JIM TRAMEL:
By Bob Kennedy?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Not so much Bob Kennedy, because he had been exposed to the press. I think that Jack Kennedy and to a lesser degree Bob Kennedy, saw the press, not just as an adversary, as Nixon and Agnew saw them, but also as an agency that could be helpfully used. I can remember people like Louie Oberdorfer or Bill Orrick, who were Assistant Attorney Generals, Lee Levinger, who was an Assistant Attorney General, wondering why Bob Kennedy would spend an hour with Holmes Alexander, who was a very conservative columnist. They thought, you know, no matter what you say, he is going to come out of there and it is going to be very negative. Why would he spend that time? Well, I think that the Kennedy approach to the press was much more like Roosevelt's approach than Nixon's. They never said that there were bastards in the press without laughing about it, or chuckling about it. While people at lower levels would say that there were bastards and mean it.

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I never saw Jack Kennedy in a press conference that I didn't think that he looked upon it as an intellectual wrestling match. His preparations for press conferences extended all over the government. We in the Justice Department, before a press conference, would alert Pierre Salinger as to what controversial cases were pending that the President might be asked about, and what the facts were to back up the Department's position on those. And those inquiries went out throughout the whole government. And when the President went up and stood up before the members of the press, he was as well prepared as a man could possibly be. He always had a stack of memos in front of him in case something came up. He had spent long hours in briefing and we would spend time talking to Pierre, Andy Hatcher and others, briefing about problems that might come up. I always had the feeling that the President enjoyed those confrontations. But when things would happen, like cutting the New York Herald Tribune out of the White House, which was a Presidential order, I never felt comfortable about that. As much as William Loeb prostitutes the business I'm in, I still always felt that he had a right to do it. And I feel that way more today than I did then.
JIM TRAMEL:
You mean that Kennedy cut the Herald Tribune out of the White House press corps?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, no. He refused to take the newspaper, wouldn't let it on the premises of the White House. Absolutely outlawed it from the White House. The President, by personal order, canceled the subscription to the New York Herald Tribune and wouldn't let it in the White House. I don't recall what the issue was, but when I heard that, I never felt comfortable about it. And Bob Kennedy was the sort of fellow that would always listen to

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your arguments. I mean, no matter how much you had to say in contradiction to his own position. He was very supportive of everything that his brother did. Always, to anybody else. It was "The President said," and he accepted that. That doesn't mean that inside the councils of the White House he didn't object or insist in their own personal relationship; publicly he didn't object. But he was supportive of the President's decision to cancel the New York Herald Tribune.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me move on this. One of the things that I would like to talk about is what you have mentioned as your own perspectives of the limitations of government and the press. Your obvious loyalties were with journalism and the press.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yes, despite its inability to function without a subpoena in government. They've got the power and so they can get more done, perhaps, in terms of cutting out evils. I guess that it has been proven again by Woodward and Bernstein, who opened the door, but who couldn't get there. Go ahead.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, it's harder to know what the issues are in the 70's. But you are afraid of the moderates, in the sense that people have relaxed with John Seigenthaler and that kind of thing . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Afraid is probably not the right word.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, what would you use?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Reservations. I have grave reservations about their abilities to provide adequate leadership for the answers that are needed to the problems of the 70's.
WILLIAM FINGER:
O.K., those are some of the limitations of government. That kind of a facade, of an image, a moderate. You said, "Will we continue to hail them?" Is the place of the press in the 70's, aside from the unique southern question, to continually challenge that facade, to expose it, to

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speak to strip mining, to speak to the individual connections with those things? Maybe it is a time, because we have a businessman's government, to bring on the press and other institutions for that kind of role.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
My answer is yes. A simple and emphatic, "yes." In quotations, underlined and an exclamation mark after it. "Yes!"
WILLIAM FINGER:
All right, then . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It is the only agency in the society to do it. But again, let me say . . . well, go ahead.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The other day, you said that you were an observer. You are an ultra-liberal, but you are an observer.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I don't know that I am an ultra-liberal, I just don't argue with anybody who says I am.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you said that you were an observer and not an activist. But you were clearly an activist in 1957 and . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
In '62.
WILLIAM FINGER:
'62. And now, you say that the press should be, emphatically underlined and with an exclamation point.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That is a contradiction.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, is it really? Here is the thing about it, I also said . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You will run stuff, if it is brought to you, that . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, sure. I don't want to be . . . I guess that all things are relative.
1968, Bob Kennedy came here to make a speech and afterward, he came to my house. He said, after that, he sat down with a hundred leaders

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from a variety of backgrounds. Within the framework of what we are talking about, it may be more for the oral history than for an interview . . . I might just talk about that for a little bit, because it is an interesting anecdote.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you will deal with my question?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
All right, I will. I'll deal with the question afterwards. I went up to the Gridiron Dinner, which was probably in March. I got to Washington and called him on the telephone and he said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I've come to see the Gridiron." And he said, "Well, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Why don't you go with me, I'm going to make a speech in Iowa for Harold Hughes, who is running for the Senate. It's going to be a fund raiser and there are going to be two or three governors there and then I am going on to break the bread of social justice with Cesar Chavez. And I am leaving in an hour." So, I packed my bags and met him at the airport.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You began here?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yeah, I was here and then flew to Washington for that Gridiron. So, the anecdote goes back a little bit. We go to this place in Iowa, he speaks for Harold Hughes. Afterwards, in a suite, there are four governors, Guy, Hearne, Docking, Hughes. And their intimate advisors. One of them opens the conversation, John McCormally, who is a newspaper man from Iowa and didn't come to hear the speech, I don't think, probably stayed up in that suite. He began the conversation by saying, "All right, Senator, when are you going to announce for President?" I have the feeling that at this time, Bob was really in the throes of decision making.
JIM TRAMEL:
This is March?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
It would have been March, I think. February, maybe. It

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would have been prior to . . .
JIM TRAMEL:
New Hampshire?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
New Hampshire. I don't remember the date in New Hampshire, but the date would have coincided with the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, which it seems to me, is every year in March. But I don't remember when New Hampshire was, maybe April. He said, "Look, I've already said that I can foresee no possibility of doing this." And it was interesting to hear those governors talk about their own political futures, in terms of his political future. Hughes represented sort of a consensus when he said, "Well, I'll tell you one thing. I am sick of this administration and Lyndon Johnson's inability to hear what the people are saying. I don't think that Gene McCarthy is really saying all the things that ought to be said, but a number of my supporters are committed to Gene McCarthy and if you got in, you would just foul it up for me and them. But you will have to decide." That night, after they left, Peter Edelman and I stayed up late and argued with each other in front of him about our ideas. That argument continued the next day on the way to California. My position was that he should not run. My position was that Lyndon enmity for him was so deep that as a sitting President, Kennedy could never take the convention away from him. And that to run, would in effect, be to lose. Peter's argument, on the other hand, was, "I think that he can beat Lyndon Johnson and whether he can or not is not important. What is important is for him to be the moral leader of the Democratic party." And I said, "You can be a moral leader of the Democratic party and not be a candidate. You will be in great demand at events like this one all across the country." We went the next day to see Cesar and after that, flew from Delano down to Los

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Angelos, got out at a private airplane place and he walked up to American with me. Just before we left, he said, "As always, you have been candid and you told me what you think. You know that I am leaning in the other way, but I haven't made up my mind." . . . he may have. Others have said since then and have written since then that he had already decided. I don't believe it. But I think that without a doubt that he was close to it. Just before we left, he said, "Well, before I announce anything, I'll call you." And I said, "Well, if you accept everything that I say as logical and the odds of beating Lyndon are maybe 90-10, what's the rationale for following another course?" And he sort of looked away and there was a long pause. He said, "I just feel more comfortable doing it." And I knew when I got on the airplane that that feeling . . . he had spoken earlier about McCarthy's inability to deal with the questions of blacks and poverty, aside from the issue of the war. He said, "It shouldn't be a one-issue campaign. McCarthy couldn't win on a one-issue campaign." But anyway, he called me a little bit later and said . . . no, he announced, he didn't call me before he announced. But about a week after he announced, he was in California and he said, "I'm coming South and I wondered if you could get a few of your friends together and let me make a speech to them at some college down there." I said, "Well, when, and how many friends?" And this was on a Friday or a Saturday night and he said, "I'd like to come Monday and if you can get an auditorium full, that's what I'd like." I said, "Well, I don't think there would be any big problem about getting an auditorium full of college students, if you would give me a little more time." He said, "Tuesday. I am going to Alabama on Tuesday afternoon and I thought that I would come to Nashville on Monday night and I thought that since you are my friend, you could get a bigger crowd than they could get down there." I said, "Look, that's three

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days away." It must have been Friday night, and it was very late, he woke me up. At any rate, the people at Vanderbilt were very responsive and we filled the place, 16,000 people. After that, he went to my house and we had some labor leaders and business executives, lawyers, students, college professors . . . some of the traveling press was there. Dave Halberstam came out. At any rate, after it was over, he walked out front, and said, "I need help bad in California. Could you take a couple of months off and go out there. I really need help." I said, "Yeah, I can. I don't know if I could give it two months, but I could give it from now to the end of the California campaign." He said, "O.K., if you would do that, I would appreciate it. Northern California is in desperate straights." So, I said, "Sure, I'll go." He said, "Well, could you go tomorrow." I said, "I don't think that I could go tomorrow, but I will try to go right away." In 1964, when he ran for the Senate, he had asked me to come up to New York and I went up for a week and saw that it was a waste of time. Really, at the time that he asked me, it was a week before I could go and within that week, his television began to take hold and there was a transformation. I got there and spent several days and saw that I was not needed and left. I said, "Look, I don't want to go through another New York. You asked me to go up there and it wasn't really necessary. Don't think that you just have to ask me just because we are friends, to come out and participate in this. If you really need me, I will go, but if you don't need me, what I am doing here is important to me." He said, "I really need you." So, within forty-eight hours, I went. Looking back on it and what happened, I'm glad. But that's a long story to get to another point. I was still an activist in 1968. I still thought that a great deal could be done by changes in government. I've done a great deal of

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reflecting on that since 1968, and I wouldn't go back into government, under any circumstances, in any role, in any post.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about for the man?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
For anybody. That's not saying that I wouldn't work for somebody in a campaign for a few weeks. But, I would have gone back if he had been elected President, if he had asked me to come. I might have gone back to some position of power. I'm not saying that when I am sixty, if somebody asked me if I wanted to be an ambassador, I wouldn't go to Chile or Argentina or Luxembourg, but I am saying that that would be a form of semi-retirement, you know. I just don't think that the opportunities for changing society from inside government are that meaningful. Government is the corporate colony.
JIM TRAMEL:
Can we quote you on that?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Please do. Government is the corporate colony.
JIM TRAMEL:
Isn't that inevitable?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I don't think that it is inevitable. I suppose that if you look at the history of this country for at least the last hundred years, you would have to say that there is a cyclical turn to events which inevitably leads us back to where we were in terms of issues. And that each time the cycle is completed, we find that we are a little better off than we were before. If you take from 1960 to . . . and I am not saying that they are ten year cycles, I don't think that there is any regularity to the cycle, but busing when it came to Nashville, was as critical a problem for the total community, as was the desegregation of movie theaters. Now, in the interim, the whole picture had changed. If you consider a few blacks in a few jobs a change. If you consider whites sitting in lunch rooms with blacks, and blacks sitting in the downstairs of the movie house instead of upstairs, a change. [unknown] ou know, I think that government was

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probably pretty well owned by the corporate power in the 1890's. The cycle has changed and it has been less and maybe we are thrust into . . . well, let's take 1932. When Roosevelt came in, the cycle had turned again and maybe the cycle is just now turning once again. I don't think that it is inevitable that the government will be owned by the corporate power structure. But I think that it is inevitable that the corporate establishment is going to continue to try to influence government in anyway it can. And as it showed during John Mitchell's tenure as Attorney General, it is willing to pay a substantial price and as John Mitchell proved, some are willing to hold the offer out to be bought. I think that you can lessen the degree of ownership and I think that what is going to come out of the next two years, if the press continues to do its job, will be a lessening of corporate ownership of government. And I say, "ownership," in a partial sense. De facto instead of de jure. Only partial to the degree that the ownership is not total and anybody who is bought in government is free to cut the shackles anytime that he wants to cut them. But I think that it is inevitable that the corporate power structure will continue to try to buy, and I would certainly include within that corporate ownership, that element of organized labor which has been making offers inside the marketplace for a long time. When I say that I am now an observer, I just think that after twenty-five years in the newspaper business and after the last five years, I am probably more cynical than many others and to the degree that I am more cynical than I was in 1949, when I came into this business, I am more of an observer and less of an activist. That doesn't mean that I don't enjoy activism and that if it is thrust on me by others on this paper, that I won't accept my share of the responsibility for it, or that I won't encourage those who work here to be activist. I think that I do everyday. I'm just saying that my understanding has altered as to how dramatic a change can be wrought by either well-meaning

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people in government or by dedicated people in the press . . . My understanding is such that I suspect both their ability and our ability to bring about dramatic change.
JIM TRAMEL:
Was there an event, when you were in government, within the Justice Department, that made you more cynical, especially under an incredibly idealistic administration, that showed the limits of how far government could push vis-a-vis corporate power?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Not really, because I don't think that I had begun to approach the point where I am today until 1968. I think that's . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were real spunky and bushy-tailed when you came back.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
That's right. When I came back to Nashville, and still am. You know, there are some things that I just won't do. I belonged to the Rotary . . . I was inducted into the Rotary Club in Nashville after I came back as editor. The Rotary Club, after so many years, was confronted with the black question —black membership— and they came around and negotiated and said, "Look, don't quit, we are going to bring about this change." And you know, I was willing to discuss it. I thought that maybe if I didn't get out, it would make some difference. Well, after a little while, it became obvious that I was kidding myself and they were kidding themselves or maybe they were kidding me and themselves. And I quit and quit over that issue. I don't belong to organizations in the community anymore. I don't belong to the board of the United Fund or the board of the Chamber of Commerce or any corporate board. I just don't think that's the proper role for a newspaper man. Now, there are others on the staff . . . there are young women on the staff who belong to NOW and a couple who belong to the NAACP, who participate in those affairs

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and activities.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you work with Marie Lirillo?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I am on her board. And that is the one I have stayed on. And I would quit that one, because I think that I would probably be able to provide editorial support to them that could be helpful, which I can't do since I'm on their board. But her board has not been . . . I mean, her financial support has been rather tenuous throughout. So that's one that I have stayed on. I'm going to resign at whatever time I think is meaningful. When I quit the United Fund, it doesn't hurt anybody and maybe most people applaud, most business men who are on there applaud. Probably not, but . . . I used to enjoy the Rotary Club. It was nice to go up there and sit down at a table, because about once a month, somebody would attack some editorial that I wrote. "I just don't understand your position on this." And by the time that the luncheon was over, more than one was probably upset about it. And it's not that I like that much controversy, I have an awful lot of businessmen who are good friends. They somehow think that I am a pretty nice fellow and they don't like the editorial columns of the Tennessean, but they don't find me an unlikeable man, I guess, and I don't dislike them. Our roles are just different.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you have anything else?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, the one thing that I really wanted to have an opportunity to articulate in a little more detail is that whole thesis by which I myself expressed some ambivalence as it relates to the South as a region. I think that the South as a region is through. You can't change culture and you can't change history and God knows, I wouldn't want to. But there is nothing about the South in the 70's that is distinctive or as distinctive as it was in the 60's. And as I see the natural evolution of

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events through the 70's into the 80's, it is going to become less and less distinctive. I don't think it's helpful for the South to continue to look at itself as being different. I mean, we are just as good and just as bad as the rest of the nation and less different today than we were ten years ago. And less different every evolving day. It seems to me that the exceleration of homogenization is something that has taken hold. If the recession goes into a depression, we are going to be punished worse, but that won't make us any better. Certainly, we have lost a right to claim distinctive characteristics about racial separation. We are racially separate in the South, but no more racially separate than many areas of the North now. We still have more blacks, but fewer than we had ten years ago and we will have fewer ten years from now. And the change that is going to affect the South is not going to be helped, in my judgement — and I admit that I may be in a minority of one—but it is not going to be helped by continuing to talk about how different we are, how distinctive we are, how unique we are, how if we just apply ourselves to our problems, we can provide answers for the whole country.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Because this is oral history, too, let me ask . . . if you have the time . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It is timely now to look back . . . you know, you sort of skipped over Northern California, those two months. Were you there when Kennedy was shot?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, I was in Northern California.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And what do you think of Lowenstein's stuff now?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I feel about . . . let me answer it first. I can't

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go near any of those assassinations. I wrote a book that didn't seek to probe the question, the unanswered questions . . . Kennedy, King or Kennedy. And I don't really care. I don't really care whether there was a conspiracy or not. I hope that there was not. I have read a lot on the Warren Commission. I don't think that anybody has ever asked any questions about James Earl Ray and not many about Sirhan. But, I don't really care. If Al comes up with something, I would be glad to accept it. There is nothing that I have seen in the Warren Commission that gives any credence to anything that Garrison says. Maybe there was some CIA involvement . . . no doubt that there was some CIA involvement with those Cubans down there, but I don't find any ties between that and the assassination. But if somebody else wants to probe into that and discover it, it suits me. I would be glad to accept it. I've talked to an awful lot of the witnesses who were in the kitchen in Los Angelos, you know, Plimpton and Rafer Johnson and Jess Unruh . . . They just haven't said anything to me that would make me think that there was anybody else there. Paul Schrade, I see, is now taking a new look. Well, that's fine. I read all the testimony and it seems to me that the testimony pretty well bears out the fact that Sirhan acted alone. I had to read the testimony to do the book. I talked to four people who were there, Plimpton, Rafer, Jess Unruh and Bill Barry. And admittedly, Bill Barry was back in the back with Ethel when it happened. If Al Lowenstein comes up with something else, it's not offensive to me for him to look. Walinski called me on the telephone awhile back and tried to get me interested in it and I talked to him about it. I told him that I just . . . well, I didn't like to hurt his feelings either, I just sort of let it pass, you know. I'm not up to looking into that. Now, on the night of the

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assassination, I talked to him pretty early. We had about four or five routine boxes . . . NBC checked about four or five routine boxes in the San Francisco area and they were not good boxes. And then the machines broke down, the computer broke down and we weren't able to get anything for three or four hours. But we had people at the polls throughout all the Bay Area, and their returns continued to come in by phone to us. Well, he got those first returns and called and said, "What's that about?" I said, "Don't worry about it. It's all right, I'll call you back in a little bit and let you know." I called back about a half hour later and told Steve Smith that I had some additional returns and he put Bob on and he said, "How does it look?" I said, "You are going to carry Northern California, don't worry about it." He said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yeah, I'm very sure. I've just given Steve some returns, I'll go over them with you if you want to." He said, "Well, I'll look at them and I'll call you back." Then, some very good returns started coming in from Filmore and the Oakland area. I called him back and he got on the phone and said, "Look, somebody around here has talked to NBC and they are still hung up on these first boxes. How sure are you of this?" And I said, "I'm telling you that I'll talk to you in the morning when this is over and I will tell you then and you will believe me then, what I'm telling you now. They are crazy, you are going to sweep Northern California." He said, "What do you call a sweep?" I said, "Four percentage points. It could be more, but I guarantee you that you are going to win up here handily." He didn't think that he was going to carry San Francisco County. He then said, "What about San Francisco County?" I said, "It's a cinch. I'm telling you that it is a cinch. You will carry it." He said, "I'll tell you. I'm getting ready to go on television and accept, if I am going to carry Northern California. I lost last week, I

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don't need to be told this." I got a little testy and I said, "Come on, cut it out. I don't need to tell you that, either. If you don't need it, I don't." And he laughed and said, "Well, that's what I want to know. You are saying that I have no problem." I said, "I can assure you that you can go on television and accept and be certain that you are going to win in Northern California." And he said, "Well, can I say that our reports up there indicate it?" I said, "Sure, you can say it if you want to." Well, he didn't say it. When the question came, he said, "The reports up there are mixed, but we are confident." But he went on. A couple of days before that, he had asked me if I would come down to Los Angeles. I said, "No, I don't want to come down." I didn't got to Hyannisport the night of the election in '60. I didn't go to New York in '64. I said, "Look, I feel the same way here that I did in 1960, there are a hell of a lot of people up here who have been working. The election doesn't end tomorrow, you are going to have to win. So, I'm not coming down, but I'd like very much to have Teddy up here." And he said, "Well, I'd like to have him down here." And I said, "Look, Bob. There are a lot of people up here who want to know. I'd like to have him up here if you can get him, and if you can't, could I have somebody else? One of the girls." He said, "Well, I'll ask him." So, Teddy then called me a couple of days later and said, "I'll be glad to come up there that night." So, we had a rally at a Masonic Hall and we had just left the Masonic Hall, he in his car and me in mine, going back to the Fairmont Hotel, when the word came over the radio.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were with him?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I was in the car behind him . . . We went back to the hotel and my wife and son were in my car with me, with my mother. They had

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come out for the election night, and another fellow named Paul Corbin. I put that in just as a part of the oral history, because Paul Corbin is a very controversial fellow in the life of Robert Kennedy, but we'll leave him for another time. But at any rate, when I got back to the hotel, Teddy was waiting and said, "They are going to have a jet fly us down, I'd like for you to go with me if you would." So, I did. My wife ran upstairs and packed a bag and I got Steve Smith on the phone. Teddy and I flew down within a half hour. We drove out to the airport together, somebody drove us out. And there was an Air Force jet, a four seater, that flew down. One of the cousins flew down and Teddy's administrative assistant, a guy named Dave Burke. He used to be his administrative assistant. So, I got there before he died. He lived for another day. He was totally . . . you know, he never regained consciousness.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you tell that story very often?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I'm not surprised.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, I don't tell it very often. You know, we were very close. We were good friends, we talked weekly on the telephone. I was thinking about it the other night, The Missiles of October was on t.v. I remembered that he called me from the Russian Embassy once, down here. It was late in the evening and I was at the office working. It came through the switchboard and he said that he was making a long distance call and could he get in touch with me if I were home or somewhere else and I just happened to be in the office. And he said, "Do you have any relatives or friends in Florida?" I said, "I've got no relatives, I might have some friends." He said, "You'd better get them out of there. There is going to be some strafing

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in there and maybe some bombing." And I said, "I've just been sitting here looking at the wire reports and Khrushchev is a fool to give Castro nuclear weapons." He said, "Isn't he? I've got to go. Is there anybody else that I ought to call?" I said, "Maybe Bill Barry, maybe McGill, maybe Sylvan Meyer." He said, "Why don't you call them." And he hung up. Well, I thought about it and it occurred to me that he was calling from a place that . . . and I later talked to him about it and it was true. I didn't call Sylvan or anybody. I just became convinced that there was something about the nature of the conversation that was unreal. First of all, he knew that the likelihood was strong that I didn't have any relatives or friends in Florida. And what he was really saying on that telephone was, "Look, we know how bad it is." I don't know who else he talked to, but I later talked to him and he said, "Yeah, I thought that they were listening, and they weren't. They hadn't been listening to anybody." I suspect that he probably called maybe Ethel and asked her the same thing. I don't know who else he talked to. But, he was having a terrible time. There was a Russian aide, who was one of his contacts, a fellow named Georgi Balshikov, who had been close to him as a line of contact as early as '61 when I was in the Justice Department. I had a feeling that when, I don't know whether he called me before he saw Dobrynin or after he saw Dobrynin, or if he saw him several times or whether this was a day when he was there to see Balshikov. But at any rate, it appeared, or appears now, that Dobrynin didn't know a lot about what the Soviet policy was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He was the Ambassador?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
He was the Ambassador. And it appeared also that the

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Russian Embassy, at least overtly, was not giving any indication that they thought anything serious was developing. He and the President both had worried because of Vienna, the Berlin Wall . . . well, it came out in the Missiles of October, Vienna and the Berlin Wall and the Bay of Pigs, that Khrushchev would have the idea that JFK would back away. I think that part of RFK seeing Dobrynin . . . maybe the whole reason for his seeing Dobrynin . . . was to impress upon Dobrynin that we were, that the country was going to stand up.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was the day of the phone call, do you remember?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
I don't have any idea. It would have been, well, it was before the pilot was killed, or it could have been the night that the pilot was killed. That might have been what had me down here that night. It could have been that it was the night the U-2 pilot was killed. There was some crisis in the news during that whole period. It was within two or three days. I am sure that my secretary has kept all of my telephone books, so I'm sure that I could get the date that Robert Kennedy called. But on the other hand, I have to pick and choose between dates, because we talked weekly on the telephone, certainly every other week, or every three.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He hadn't been down here?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No, it had been a long time since he had been down here.
JIM TRAMEL:
You talked weekly while he was still in Justice, or . . .
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Yes.
JIM TRAMEL:
Or afterwards, as Senator?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
Well, we talked regularly for as long as he lived. We were in frequent communication. After he was a Senator, I made a couple of

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trips with him, a couple out of the country with him. One to Latin America. We went to those five Latin American countries. He had a sense of humor that many people missed. And I think that maybe I was cynical enough to appreciate it. And I used to put him on a little bit about public posture. We would . . . he would make speeches and I would . . . and this has been written about a couple of times. I would get in the crowd somewhere and yell, "Kennedy, go home!" Which at times, almost broke him up. I remember that on this Latin American trip, a number of times, whatever town we were in, I'd pace it at some point in the speech when he was being very critical, there would be a pause and I would yell, "Kennedy, go home!" Sometimes, there would just be a flicker of a smile. But we had been to Japan together in 1961, at Wasada University, and all hell broke loose. It was really a tough time. I had brought a bull horn along and they pulled the lights so he couldn't speak and the Zengakaren, which was the Communist youth movement (still is) just raised hell. "Kennedy, go home! Kennedy, go home!" So, from that time on, wherever we were, if I could . . . in that day at Delano, I got a poster that they were selling, somebody was hawking posters, a picture of Zapata. And I literally got right up in his face, he was coming down off the platform and I was behind this poster, yelling, "Viva La Revoluccion!" On the other side of it, I can remember him telling Guthman "Somebody get that nut out of here. Christ! Don't you know the cameras are aiming." And I am just giving it, "Viva La Revoluccion! Viva Zapata." So, after awhile, I said, "Boo!" And he literally broke up. Another time, we were in a crowd, when he arrived here in Nashville for that rally at Vanderbilt. He was late and the crowds were packed. I had no idea who the young woman was, she now works here, over in our Sunday department, Alice Alexander. But we were

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coming along through this crowd, literally millions, and he was saying, "How far is it to the door. Christ, I don't know why you have got everybody out here for, nobody will be at the speech . . . "
JIM TRAMEL:
Where was this?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
At the airport. And all of a sudden, he comes along and there was this young woman sitting there on either a suitcase or something. She is carrying two signs, one says, "I love America, Apple Pie and Bobby." And the other one said, and this is the one that really got him, "The Banner loves Bobby." The Nashville Banner, you know, and he knew about the Banner and he said, "The Banner loves Bobby?" And he literally . . . I mean, everything just stopped. He had a very wry, but a very strong, sense of humor. A caustic wit, he had a great ability to poke fun at himself. During the days of the McClellan hearings, some lawyer in Chicago called him a vicious little monster. And Kenny O'Donnell who was then his administrative assistant, called him and said, "George Clinton, who is a lawyer in Chicago, says that you are a vicious little monster. And AP wants a comment." He said, "Tell them that I said I'm not so little." That was the sort of wry humor he had.
JIM TRAMEL:
Was it more than personal friendship, do you think that he saw you as a key in the South?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER:
No. No, I think he saw me in the same way he saw many others. Pierre, Kenny, Walter Sheridan, . . . as a friend.
END OF INTERVIEW