Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with James P. Coleman, September 5, 1990. Interview A-0338. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Coleman, James P., interviewee
Interview conducted by Egerton, John
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 80 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-04-27, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with James P. Coleman, September 5, 1990. Interview A-0338. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0338)
Author: John Egerton
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with James P. Coleman, September 5, 1990. Interview A-0338. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0338)
Author: James P. Coleman
Description: 85.9 Mb
Description: 22 p.
Note: Interview conducted on September 5, 1990, by John Egerton; recorded in Ackerman, Mississippi.
Note: Transcribed by Jovita Flynn.
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.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with James P. Coleman, September 5, 1990.
Interview A-0338. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Coleman, James P., interviewee


Interview Participants

    JAMES P. COLEMAN, interviewee
    JOHN EGERTON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I finished high school in 1931 right here in Ackerman, you see. There were not but twenty-four of us in the graduating class. Of course, the Depression, the Great Depression. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Was right on you.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
It was on us, but it set in, you know, on Black Thursday, or whatever day it was, in November of '29. The fallout didn't really get down here until 1930-31, and by '32 it was absolutely critical. So I grew up here and finished high school here under what you might correctly call the "old regime." Segregation was so ironclad, if you want to put it that way. Of course, segregation, in the first place, is a misnomer—there was a heck of a lot of non-segregation—but it was so completely accepted, at least, almost by the black people as much as the whites. It wasn't even much of an issue. There was no turmoil. There was no uproar. Of course, we had the separate systems of schools, and you had the separate social taboos, and yet you worked right along in the field with them or at the sawmill or in the woods. Had no industrial development, you understand, so it was purely an agrarian society, and that has its points. The only thing, it couldn't be maintained as such, sheer economics, especially after World War II. You'd have an occasional politician who'd try to make hay out of it, particularly folks like Theodore G. Bilbo, for example. If you'll go back and study his real record and so forth, he didn't get rabid on the subject until on up when it was getting ready to boil.

Page 2
JOHN EGERTON:
Matter of fact, he was a pretty strong New Dealer when Roosevelt first came in, wasn't he?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Oh yeah, he darn sure was. Well, of course, along came 1932 and I was a freshman at Ole Miss. I well remember election night, November 8, 1932. I remember it rained all day that day. We didn't have anything in the dormitory to find out what had happened about the election, except somebody had a little old radio—it probably cost five dollars maybe—and we all gathered around it and listened to the returns. Of course, it wasn't long until it was well known that Roosevelt had beat Herbert Hoover.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was this in the dorm or in the fraternity house?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
The dorm. I didn't have any money to be in a fraternity.
JOHN EGERTON:
You were a freshman?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
That's right. Well, I'll go back now. I'm going to take you back in time just a minute to 1928. 1928, of course, was the famous campaign between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. I was fourteen years old. Our next door neighbor, Mr. Boyd Robinson, not having a big family to support and so forth, he had more ready money, and he had an Atwater-Kent radio. I heard every speech that was made in that campaign by Al Smith and Herbert Hoover in Boston or San Francisco or Oklahoma City or wherever. I was a very rabid Al Smith man although I wasn't but fourteen years old. Well, of course, Hoover just beat the cush out of him. Had a great uproar here in Mississippi over the wet and dry issue in 1928. I don't think Hoover got [inaudible] in 1928. I haven't looked at the figures in a long time. But a lot of

Page 3
people, they called it, "bolted the ticket." We had two counties in Mississippi that went Republican.
JOHN EGERTON:
First time ever, I would think.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Yeah, one of them was Forrest County down here at Hattiesburg and I've forgotten what the other was. So the campaign of 1932 was pretty well foreshadowed by what had happened in 1928. The thing that always stuck in my mind was that in 1928 there were two prominent United States senators who bolted the ticket and refused to vote for Al Smith, not only because he was a wet, but because he was a Catholic and other things. One of them was old Senator Heflins of Alabama and one of them was Senator Simmons in North Carolina who'd been the undisputed boss of North Carolina. He named governors just like I'd hire somebody to go to the field for me. And they both got beat in the 1930 election. See, revulsion had set in.
JOHN EGERTON:
What was Simmons' first name?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Furnifold M. Simmons. He had been governor of North Carolina before 1900, and the boss of the state ever after. Until he made that mistake politically. When Bilbo became United States senator in 1935, elected in '34, I was working in Washington as secretary to the congressman from this district, who lived here in Ackerman, Mr. Ford. He'd been elected, too, in '34. So I left law school at Ole Miss and went up there with him. In fact, I'd helped him every campaign but he used to sit around and listen to Bilbo talk. Bilbo was a real genius in some respects and totally unbalanced in others. I remember he said, "Three things don't ever, ever do. Never bolt the party.

Page 4
Never bolt the ticket. Never become involved in a schoolhouse dispute." [Laughter] I've forgotten what the third one was. Anyway, '32, of course, Roosevelt was nominated, but not on the first ballot. I well remember, Mississippi was split wide open. Governor Conner, who's probably the best governor the state's had in the 20th century—I say that most sincerely—for some reason he just wasn't for Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pat Harrison was. The Mississippi delegation was under the union rule, and they were just about equally divided. Mississippi was just getting ready to vote for Baker for the nomination, and Pat Harrison, who was in his hotel room, they said, put his clothes on in the taxi going to break the tie. What I'm saying to you is that as I recall it, and my grandfather, my mother's father, he was keenly interested in politics. That's all he talked about. Politics was just as red hot and interesting and explosive back then as they've ever been since. There's one difference. People back then would tell you who they were for and how they stood and why they were, and have a fist fight about it over here on Front Street, too. Nobody's bothered that much anymore, of course.
Well, my impression of the time up until World War II was that the white people and the black people got along real well on an individual basis, except once and a while there would be an inflammatory rape or something else. I was always so ashamed of Mississippi's record on lynchings, and I hoped while I was governor to see if I could put through one four years without Mississippi having a lynching, and dern, if we didn't have one in a matter that I didn't know anything about until after it was

Page 5
over with, but that's a different story. The thing that started the pot to boiling was absolutely World War II, when everything mixed the troops and all that sort of thing. 'Course, there had been shadows of things to come. You had the Oklahoma College decisions right after World War II. It was Oklahoma and. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Missouri was another.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Missouri, that's right. Yes sir, somebody ex rel. Gaines vs. Missouri, and the other was Sipuel vs. Oklahoma, as I remember. [Pause] I have to admit that I think on the facts and on the evidence, that here was Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union economically, on economic figures, and one of the richest, as far as I'm concerned, in many, many other values of life that were so important then, and as far as I'm concerned, still are important. Trying to maintain two school systems. Barely able to maintain one, see.
JOHN EGERTON:
When it really couldn't afford one. Always struck me as an ironic thing.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
And of course, we had the separate but equal, but we didn't live up to the equal. The main reason being we were not economically able to do so. Couldn't afford it. Even then we were, at least I was and a lot of other people—and of course I was twenty-one years old in 1935—we didn't feel good about that kind of situation. The thinking people knew that they were not being treated right and all that. Of course, way back before then, forty years before then, you had Jim Vardaman and his dogma that if you educated the black man, you ruined him, you know, and so forth. But as I look back on it, it's just sort of like going

Page 6
from a period of very clear weather over quite a number of years, but with no remedies being advanced to take care of the situation. So all of a sudden, the cyclone came up and nobody had any storm cellar. Of course, I remember, you know, all about the school desegregation cases. I was Attorney General of Mississippi at that time.
JOHN EGERTON:
What years were those that you served in that. . .?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
From 1950 'til '56. You know, your segregation cases were Prince Edward County, Virginia, and Clarendon County, South Carolina, and Topeka, Kansas.
JOHN EGERTON:
Washington, D.C.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Which is a different legal question on the national scene.
JOHN EGERTON:
There was one more.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Let's see. Anyway, they got up a grave uproar, but I went to Washington, and I sat in the Supreme Court of the United States. I was a member of the bar of the Supreme Court. I heard all those arguments, the ones they had while Vinson was still the chief. You know about his being found dead on the floor, and then Warren was appointed and so forth. Then they re-argued them and I went back and heard those. However, all the southern states, most of them, they joined in an amicus curae brief supporting South Carolina and Virginia. I refused to sign it. I refused to participate in it. My position was that the problem had not yet arisen in Mississippi, and there wasn't anything to be gained by rushing forward to become embroiled in a problem that might be many years away. At least we'd have more time to

Page 7
think and to plan and to provide. Well, I well remember the day, May 17th, '54, when the decision came down. When people have been told by the Supreme Court of the United States, that's it all right as long as you treat them equally, as they had back there in Plessy against Ferguson, later on in Gum Long against Rice. That was a Mississippi case. With men like Holmes and Brandeis and all those supposed liberals sitting on the court at the time, unanimous decisions. They held that Mississippi could exclude a Chinaman from going to school with white students. That was in '28 or close to it. So then to have it just turned abruptly and absolutely around, and naturally that was going to foment a lot of trouble. What a lot of people overlook is that, of course, the federal courts in that situation were sitting as a court of equity to redress and remedy constitutional deprivation. Even the Supreme Court itself, to start off with, deferred any implementation [of Brown] for a year. Came back and had arguments on that a year later. I heard those as well. There wasn't a suit filed against Mississippi until after I left office as governor. Of course, we then got us a governor named Ross Barnett who kept throwing a match to every gasoline barrel he could find until we had a magnificent explosion. I found, at that time—and I would go around and make speeches to the black school events and things like that—I found that, course, the black people ordinarily are very gentle, easy to get along with, and non-violent people. 'Course, all the violent ones, they get the publicity, and they sound like they've got the whole thing engulfed but that's not really the facts. Too many of us, like

Page 8
myself, 'course that's a long gone breed that worked in the fields along side the black people, and had them come in and help look after us when we were sick, and we'd do the same thing for them, and all like that. There was a real reservoir of good feeling, let me put it that way. An old lady that worked for us for years and years, named Lil, she was just as much a lady as anybody you ever saw, and when we died, my mother cried like it was a member of the family. 'Course, those feelings somewhat got stamped out in the later agitation and so forth and so on.
But I think that the real whirlwind began in 1948 when the southern states walked out of the Democratic Convention. That was what poured the gasoline on the fire. It'd been a rumble off in the distance. It was a kind of a monster that was hiding around the bend. I'm talking about from the standpoint of upsetting everything and tearing everything up, even getting ready to abolish the public schools and all that kind of stuff. Well, I'm a product of the public school system, and in these latter days I've got five grandchildren and they've all gone to the public schools, and they educated me and they've educated my grandchildren as well. But I would say that the real high water mark was when they walked out in '48. I'd been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1940, and I was a presidential elector for Roosevelt and Truman in '44, the last time Mississippi went Democratic victoriously until Jimmy Carter in 1976, thirty-two years later. Of course, Mississippi went democratic in '52 and '56 because John Stennis and Jim Eastland and myself got out and campaigned for the ticket. Which reminds

Page 9
me, I'm going to tell you this, show you about the ups and downs and why there's always a tomorrow in politics. Most politicians forget that. There is always a tomorrow, and a lot of what happens tomorrow is governed by what already happened today, naturally. But in 1928 in the big bolt on account of the liquor question and the Catholicism question, there weren't but three people in Mississippi of any stature that dared speak up for the democratic ticket—Pat Harrison, BilBo, and old man Paul Johnson, later governor. In the meantime, as I pointed out while ago, men like Heflin and Simmons, after a long career, they got ushered out of office because they had bolted the ticket. But in 1948, you remember, they carried a bunch of places. They carried Mississippi, carried South Carolina
JOHN EGERTON:
Carried five states. Were you a delegate to the convention?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I wouldn't go in '48. I knew they were going to walk out.
JOHN EGERTON:
You knew what was going to happen.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I knew, just as well as I see you sitting in front of me, that they were going to walk out, and I wasn't going to do that. And I didn't do it. Well, of course, we finally got straightened out and got back in. I was Democratic National Committeeman from Mississippi in '52. But after all, all you had to do was just read the history of the Charleston Convention of 1860 and that taught you right on the front end, that was a futile undertaking. I did not get out and campaign in 1948 for the Democratic ticket for the simple reason that it was easy to

Page 10
see that the hysteria had grown so high that there wasn't any way you could cool it off. I was a judge at the time too. I was state circuit judge. In any event, when we went back in '52, you know they tried to throw Mississippi out of the convention of '52 because we had walked out in '48. But Governor White was not a "walker-outer." I went up there, I was attorney general, I made the argument on the convention that kept Mississippi in the convention. Of course, they threw Virginia out, you know. Gordon Browning ended his political career in Tennessee by voting to do so. In any event, if anybody could write a real history of this thing, this has been a potboiler of a thing for a long time.
JOHN EGERTON:
Fascinating time.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
In many incidents, it boiled over, and darn near put out the fire, you know. Lot of differences between now and back then.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you have the feeling, or maybe it's looking back, that I'm asking, but you mentioned '48 as being. . . .
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I think it's a watershed.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's when it busted. Was there a period of time between the end of the war and '48 when the more progressive forces of the South might have been able to kind of turn this in a more progressive direction, or is that just impossible to imagine that could have happened?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I honestly do not think that it was an impossibility. I think the historical fact is that nobody put enough emphasis behind it have any chance of success at that time. You remember, in '48, when we walked out, that's the year that Truman,

Page 11
surprisingly, defeated Tom Dewey. It's an interesting thing how life keeps meeting itself coming back. Got to talking in the post office lobby one morning down here several years ago, something came up about '48. And I believe Truman and Barkley got 19,000 votes in the whole darn state of Mississippi, and of course, I was one of the 19,000 and said so. There were two preachers in there, and they said, "Well, we voted for Truman and Barkley, but obviously we did not announce it from the pulpit." That was how hot things got, see [laughter]. Well, what's that on the front of the Archives and History Building in Washington—"The past is prologue." You can't explain anything without knowing what is going on before, except we cross-divide. We get on the mountain top; we get down in the valley. We've got to climb out again. But I would say, this will have to be checked, I don't know whether Truman had ordered the integration of the Armed Forces before '48 or not. I rather suspect that he had.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, I believe he had.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
And that was one of the great bones of contention.
JOHN EGERTON:
And also, the Civil Rights Committee he appointed had issued its report in the fall before, I think the fall of '47, and that upset a lot of folks.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
And then bear in mind, it was at that same time now, and it's not an unimportant thing at all, a long about then is when the federal courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States, but the lower federal courts got very busy vindicating constitutional rights, especially involving black people involved murder cases and rapes and that sort of thing. But bear in mind

Page 12
now, that it was not until 1963 that the Supreme Court of the United States held for the first time that the Fourteenth Amendment had incorporated the federal Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments into the federal constitution—and thereby effective against the states. In 1948 the Supreme Court of the United States held that—and had held it many times before—that the first ten amendments were only limitations on the federal government, not on the states, you see. But they came forward with this incorporation theory, and said the Fourteenth had incorporated. There wasn't any question but what they rewrote the Constitution when they said that, or else all their predecessors, some of the great judges of the country, didn't know what they were talking about. I don't know what the course of history would have been if they hadn't done it. We do know that that's why even to this day, I see in the paper this morning they postponed the execution of a murderer in Arkansas who's already been through the federal system five or six times, making a mockery out of the effectiveness of the courts or the ability of the states to enforce their local laws. There is no national murder statute, of course, you know, unless you kill a federal officer or something like that. It's really been a highly interesting time to live in. Even while I was governor of Mississippi from '56 to '60, and while it was boiling away in a lot of places, I vetoed a bill that was passed by the legislature that required the NAACP to register its membership and file public records of them. You know, the legislature didn't even attempt to override the veto. And if I had time to sit down and

Page 13
think about—that's been a long time ago—I've been very busy and I haven't thought about it all that much. There was instance after instance in which I vetoed some far-out bill of that type, and the legislature didn't override it. As a matter of fact, I was not overridden a single time during the whole four years I was governor, although I was frequently being called a moderate by the red hot fringe, you know. And then finally got beat for governor in my second effort in '63 because of my support for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election, which I had actively done. I had stumped the state for him, along with others who escaped punishment. I will have to confess to you though that I didn't make but a 60-day campaign. I didn't begin to make the effort that I had made when I was elected in '55 because I knew too much about the job. [Laughter] You just didn't want it all that bad the second go around. And I did get into the run-off, and of course, [Paul] Johnson was elected and he was elected on the most unreasonable, far out platform you ever heard tell of. I thought, well, man, we're just in a heck of a fix.
JOHN EGERTON:
It looked pretty bad right through there, didn't it?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Except I got 195,000 votes in the midst of all that. So I knew that there was a great, big crib full of seed corn out there. Then Johnson fooled everybody and turned around and pursued exactly the opposite course as he ought to have done, and which he always had done in the past. Johnson got beat a time or two for governor because he was a liberal Democratic, you know [laughter]. It's funny how it ebbs and flows. I see in the paper this morning that the old ex-senator from Florida, Askew,

Page 14
in spite of the fact that he has to take medicine for depression, nevertheless, won the Democratic primary for governor in Florida.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh, not Askew, but Lawton Childs.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Sure, you're a hundred percent right. The other name subconsciously came up. Whatever happened to Askew?
JOHN EGERTON:
I have no idea. That's a good question.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
He's disappeared too. Yeah, it's Lawton Childs.
JOHN EGERTON:
Let's see, Governor Wright was governor in '48, wasn't it? And he went on that Dixiecrat ticket.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Yeah, you see, Governor Wright was elected Lieutenant Governor in '43.
JOHN EGERTON:
And governor in '47?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Well, naw, Governor Bailey died in '46 and he [Wright] succeeded to the office from the lieutenant governor's office. Governor Bailey died of cancer of the spine in '46. Then he ran for the full term, and the upshot of it was that he served more than six years continuously.
JOHN EGERTON:
So that would have put him up there until about. . . ?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Well, up until Governor Wright was elected in '51 and took office in '52. In other words, Governor Wright served from '46 to '52. Let me tell you a little something about that. Governor Wright and I, we were great friends, personally and politically. I had actively supported him for lieutenant governor in '43 and in the governor's race of '47 which was for the full four-year term. He appointed me to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, and then when the Attorney General died, he just got after me to get off the Supreme Court and go around there and

Page 15
take over that job. I didn't really want to do it, but, as Senator Stennis reminded me at the time, they only have one Attorney General, at the time, but they've got nine Supreme Court judges and everybody's afraid of them, and your career ends right there [laughter], you know, if you get to the Supreme Court. So Governor Wright told me for four years, and he was totally sincere in it—from '52 to '56—he wanted me to run for governor and all like that. Then right in the middle of the campaign, you know, a bunch of the sure enough, rock-ribbed conservatives, all of them now gone from the scene, like Wally Wright and others, they sold him on the idea that I just couldn't win. I was the only new man in the race. Everybody in it had been running for governor before. So they talked him into it. His heart wasn't in it. Although he helped lead the stampede in '48, see, he didn't even get the run-off in '56.
JOHN EGERTON:
When he ran for reelection?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
When he ran again, you know.
JOHN EGERTON:
Not reelection but. . . .
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
No, he'd been out four years.
JOHN EGERTON:
But he tried to get elected again.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
In '42.
JOHN EGERTON:
You mean in '52?[56]
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Yeah, '52.[56]
JOHN EGERTON:
And you think because he had bolted the party and gone the separate party route, that's why he couldn't get elected?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
That was a large factor. It was not the whole, sole factor, but it was a large factor. See, he and I and Governor

Page 16
White and John Stennis, we belonged to one family politically, and of course, Senator Eastland and Old Man Paul Johnson, Sr., and Paul Johnson, Jr., that tribe belonged to another group.
JOHN EGERTON:
And Bilbo?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
No, Bilbo, he always had his own tribe [laughter]. He never did line up with anybody much.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Rankin, where would he have been?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Well, Mr. Rankin was on the far right, you know. Bear in mind, I was always good friends with Senator Eastland personally, and I supported him when he was elected the first time. One of the things that I don't want to be quoted on, which might make all the historians blink, blink, blink: in 1972 when Senator Eastland was up for reelection, he sent his man down here from Washington to tell me if I'd go on and run for the U.S. Senate, he'd retire and he'd support me. Well, he didn't announce that. He shouldn't have because he finally wound up running himself. Of course, I told him no. I had six years invested in the Court of Appeals then. If I jumped that and ran for the Senate, I might very likely get beat. The outstanding example of that, you know, is—what was the fellow's name in North Carolina, the big chemical heir that was a federal judge. He resigned to run for governor or the Senate one in North Carolina, and led the ticket 50,000 votes the first primary, and got beat in the run-off. Ah, that just shows you I'm getting old, I used to have a computer memory for names. But anyway, politics is a very uncertain game. In 1952, talking about things casting their shadows before them, in '51, to take office in '52,

Page 17
the candidates for governor were Governor Hugh White, who had been governor before and one of the only two men in Mississippi history who'd ever been elected a second time, Bilbo being the other one. And Bilbo got beat once before he brought it off, you know. In '52, is Hugh White, Sam Hopson [?], who was the lieutenant governor, and Ross Barnett, a great demagogue—I hate to say that about a man when he's dead—and Mary Cane[?]. That's '51. Governor White and Paul Johnson Jr. went to the second primary, and they carried 41 counties apiece, in the second primary, and Governor White just had a few more totals. Had an equal number of counties. Sam Hopson got left out of the second primary by 500 votes. This sounds like bragging, but it just shows you how politics turns around. Governor White came to me in the '51 campaign, and he said, "If you'll go on and run for governor, I'll withdraw in your favor." Of course, that was great compliment. Well, I said, "Governor, that's sort of like an end run in a football game. It works fine when it works, and it fails miserably when it fails." [Laughter] I said, "I think I just like four more years having the statewide acquaintances and connections to be able to make it." So, of course, I didn't do it. Well, of course, Governor White, he was for me to be his successor, but he didn't take any active part in the first primary because he was also a great friend of Fielding Wright, you know. Fielding Wright had been Speaker of the House in the legislature when Governor White, I believe, was governor himself from '36 to '40.

Page 18
A lot of things could have been changed. There's no doubt about it. Well, I like to think that it was highly changed in Mississippi during my four years because we didn't have a single lawsuit to integrate the schools. We had no racial incidents except the case of the black man who raped a white women, and I didn't hear about it until—the circuit judge, the District Attorney, nobody told me a thing about it until a bunch went in there and hung him, which was wholly unnecessary because the due process of law would have done the same thing. It was a most unforgivable. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
That was the Mack Parker case.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Mack Charles Parker. I didn't even know there was such a case until the night of the lynching and then the sheriff called the governor's mansion, you know. I about had my fingers crossed we were going to make it out to four years without it, and I don't believe we've had any since either. That was in '59. So that's been twenty-two years.
JOHN EGERTON:
Thirty-two, judge.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Thirty-two, yes, I'm trying to take ten years off of it [laughter]. I'll have to do like my Grandfather [inaudible], who lived to be 95 years old. When he was 85, he said he was 75, and when he was 95, he said he was 85. And I mean, insisted on it. So I used to kid my mother that one way to live a long time was just to take some years off your age [laughter]. And there I was doing it again, myself, indirectly. But Mississippi, the thing about it that's always really bothered me, because of these extraordinary things, Mississippi has never sold for what it's

Page 19
worth. There have been times when it didn't even want to sell for what it was worth. I lived four years in Washington, D.C. when I was working for this Congressman. Left him and came back to Mississippi. Of course, I've been about a whole lot. Served on the Fifth Circuit when it had six states. I know about Mississippi's warts and moles but to me it's still the best place on earth with all those defects. Other people have defects too, you know. You just don't hear about them if you don't live there. And so much of it could have been changed. Actually, the change set in when Paul Johnson, I mean, the great change set in, in contrast to Barnett's four years when Paul Johnson. However, he had his—I said there hadn't been a lynching. I guess it was a lynching when they put those men under the dam. You know, they searched this whole country. They even searched my farm down here, trying to find them. Of course, naturally I didn't know anything about it. On the other hand though, to show you about the ebb and flow, and that's what it's all about, John Bell Williams was elected in 1947, John Bell was, personally, he was just the nicest kind of fellow. Never did support me politically, but became my fast friend afterwards, and when he got really shouldered with the responsibility. Came to my father's funeral when he died, which I appreciated very much. What sort of turned John Bell around, you know, when they were trying to throw the Mississippi House delegation out of the House in '64 in that contest in which 132 members of the House voted to throw them out, I represented them in all that. And this dern terrible fellow, what's his name, this radical that's always

Page 20
getting in the papers and so forth, why can't I think of his name? It's always in something. He was leading the charge to pitch them out. Later wrote a book about it, which is about half full of lies. That's when John Bell and I got on good terms with each other, and he certainly did not do anything to exacerbate the situation. Old [William] Waller, you know, he just absolutely, he choked the Soverignty Commission, no money. Then, of course, when they all got the franchise, the talk went on but not from the house tops, you know. The atmosphere changed completely, no, not completely. There's plenty of people who haven't changed their minds about a darn thing.
JOHN EGERTON:
Even then.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
That's right. They're just keeping their good manners about it, you know. It's still a factor.
JOHN EGERTON:
As you look back on it, Judge, has it turned out the way it should have, in your view, all the social change that's finally taken place in the South and across the country?
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Well, let me say, I think, number one, it's turned out as I knew all the time, it was destined to do. We'd already had one good lesson in all that, the Civil War and Reconstruction and so forth. I don't agree with everything that's happened because I don't think it was even for the good of the black people. Of course, I didn't have to deal with that issue. It's a funny thing, you know, they were not voting much when I was elected governor. They did over close to Vicksburg and Greenville and a few places like that. So that part of it, I did not have as an acute political knife in my chest, so to speak. Although, I

Page 21
hope, if anybody ever gets around to writing the history of that four years, I'll get credit for never, never, never igniting the flame on the subject. We had tried that once. My great grandfather right down here before the Civil War and on the very farm, part of it, that I was raised on, and that I own today, had 1800 acres of land, a sixteen room house, and 100 slaves and everything. And they just absolutely burnt it to the ground with all those radical positions, those radical tactics, and so forth. Of course, slavery was doomed anyway. If the hotheads on the other side could have only been made to see that, there's no way. That was the first social security. You had to support him until he got big enough to work and take care on him in his old age. And he was an indifferent worker at the best because forced labor's not going to do any more that it absolutely has to [laughter]. And the South had already gotten in debt to New York alone for a quarter of a billion dollars in 1860 money, trying to maintain that system. Of course, two of my great grandfathers, also living here in the county at the time, they didn't have a slave to their name, not a one. My great grandfather Bruce had six or eight, but . . . . Well, you know the story. Nine tenths of the Southerners, or some such figure, didn't own any at all.
[Interruption]
If you have anything else you'd like to talk about, you know, that's one of my weaknesses, I like to talk.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, that's great. I need to drive to Greenville tonight, and I'm going to have to go on.

Page 22
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I'd afraid I've talked and kept you from asking questions.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh no, you've helped me a lot though. This has been really helpful. I guess the main thing I'm wondering is in that 1945 to '48 period, if the political and religious and educational and economic leadership of the South had been a little bit more progressive and had been willing to say, "Now's our time. There's change all over the world. We've just come out of a liberal war to defeat a racist in Europe. Why don't we deal with this now on our terms, instead of waiting to have it thrust upon us?" That it might have happened, but the longer I look at this, the more I kind of come to the conclusion that it was too much to expect. That it never would have happened.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
I think it was just one of those things that was destined to take place.
JOHN EGERTON:
The whole long stretch of it—the civil rights movement, the courts, and all of that.
JAMES P. COLEMAN:
Well, no, it might not lasted near as long. The problem is that we're governed by those we select to govern us, and those who went against the popular sentiment. . . .
END OF INTERVIEW