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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Various politicians react to the integration issue

LeMaistre considers national politics and integration. Eisenhower bought the legal argument about the equality of African Americans, but did not motivate much activism; Kennedy, a shrewder politician, moved the issue forward by creating community groups. LeMaistre also remembers George Wallace's efforts to use his attempt to obstruct court action on the issue to win support from white Alabamans as he sought the governorship. A judge, Frank Johnson, would not play ball and Wallace called him an "integrating, carpetbagging, scalawagging liar."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN J. GOING:
He doesn't call names, you know, but he refers to an Alabama law professor as being active in it. Now I don't know whether that was Jay Murphy or not.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Could well have been Jay Murphy, although there really wasn't any structured effort to bring about a rather calm and serene sort of integration until after Kennedy took office. Eisenhower, very properly I think, used the strength of the Federal government to say these things have been declared to be among the rights of citizens white and black, and that he was going to enforce the law. But he never got around to appointing groups to smooth the way. Kennedy, and even more so Lyndon Johnson later on, got the people with some standing in the community to serve on groups that were themselves bi-racial and were trying to make the change to a bi-racial, integrated society a little smoother. They didn't always succeed, but at least there was a place you could go.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Eisenhower didn't ever call up Martin Luther King when he was in jail like Kennedy did.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Eisenhower wasn't that good a politician. But the thing that Eisenhower did was to rely on his legal advice, and when they told him what the rights were, to his credit he didn't back off and say, "Well this is too difficult a job for me to handle."
ALLEN J. GOING:
Attorney General Herbert Brownell was active in promoting some moderate reforms leading toward civil rights, because there was the first Civil Rights Act in '57 and the second one in 1960. Of course, in the '60 one, Lyndon Johnson had a lot to do with it.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, Lyndon Johnson had a lot to do with it, and that doesn't mean, however, that Brownell was not in favor of it. I think the truth of the matter is that there was no favorable climate in the Senate or the House for the passage of such a bill before that. Nobody could have got one through. You could have got one through with a general declaration that all citizens have certain rights. But when it came down to spelling out those rights, it was just like the old Fair Employment Practices Act that Truman supported. It had an extremely difficult time in Congress; the people that were in Congress were not ready to do anything about it. I'm not sure there was even a voting rights act pending in Congress until after Kennedy took office.
ALLEN J. GOING:
There may not have been. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 tried to encourage, if you want to use that word, or to make an inroad into more blacks voting by certain powers—you know they tried subpoena powers to get registration lists, and that's when Circuit Judge George Wallace got himself a lot of publicity by resisting that.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That's when the "integrating, Scalawaging, lying, Federal judge" said that he had delivered the lists to the Federal marshal, and as a matter of fact Wallace's lawyer said that Wallace delivered those things to the Grand Jury as required, and he did it after he had a conference with the Judge. In that conference he is supposed to have said that if you go ahead and find me in contempt that will set me up where they can't beat me for governor. He had already lost his first race for governor and was running again. And Frank Johnson, who happened to be the judge answered and said, "George I'll find you in contempt, but it won't be any little fine or slap on the wrist. You'll go to jail for as long as I can send you if you don't deliver those things."
ALLEN J. GOING:
That must have been about sixty or sixty-one.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
When was Wallace first elected?
ALLEN J. GOING:
Sixty-two.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, it was right before that when he was running for the office.
ALLEN J. GOING:
It was June of 1960 when Johnson . . . It was appealed to the Supreme Court when Johnson was upheld. Then it was in the campaign when Wallace referred to him as the . . .
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
"integrating, carpetbagging, scalawaging liar" or something like that. Johnson had been appointed by Eisenhower with pretty much the acquiescence of the two Alabama senators—Not that they wouldn't have taken a Democrat if they had had the power. But they felt that Frank Johnson was the least objectionable of any Republican being considered by Eisenhower.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That was about fifty-four, wasn't it?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Fifty-four or fifty-six—either his first term or second.