Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Philleo Nash

Special Assistant for Domestic Operations, Office of War Information, 1942-45, and special consultant to the Secretary of War, 1943. Special Assistant to President for minority problems, 1946-52, and an Administrative Assistant to the President, 1952-53. Later served as Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, 1959-61, and as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1961-66.

Washington, D.C.
June 24, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]


NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened October, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]



Oral History Interview with
Philleo Nash

Washington, D.C.
June 24, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

 

[1]

HESS: Dr. Nash, to begin and for the record, would you give me a little background and biographical information on your birth, where you were born, on your education, and on your career?

NASH: Sure, I'll be glad to.

Once again, for the record, I am Philleo Nash, and I was born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. My family, on both sides, have lived there for a long time. I have an odd first name; it is my mother's maiden name. It's originally French and they were French Protestants who fled to this country in the early 1700s looking for religious freedom

HESS: Huguenots?

NASH: Huguenots. The family settled down in Connecticut and there was distinguished by early getting into the

 

[2]

civil rights and abolitionist movement. Prudence Crandall Philleo, who was the subject of one of the Profiles in Courage television series, not the original of JFK [ John F. Kennedy ], but the one they did on TV, had a girl's school in Connecticut in about 1830; accepted a Negro girl for enrollment; all the white parents withdrew their children; she then opened it to Negro girls and had an all-Negro school. Not by her desire but by force of circumstance. The good people of Connecticut for this put her in jail and eventually burned her school down. In the course of this dispute she became acquainted with a distant relative, though not an ancestor, Calvin Philleo, who was a Quaker preacher. After their marriage the persecution continued. She finally left with him to open a girl`s school elsewhere, I think in Illinois. At any rate they wound up a little bit later in Kansas where they were both associated with John Brown. He died, she returned to Illinois, and fifty years after the date of her persecution the Connecticut legislature restored her citizenship and granted her a pension for the remainder of her life.

How I learned about this particular episode of

 

[3]

the Philleo family history is because I was sitting next to Constance Motley at a NAACP money-raising dinner in Madison while I was Lieutenant Governor, and she saw the name on my placecard and she said, "That's an odd name." She then told me this story which I hadn't known up to that point.

The Philleos then were emigrants into Wisconsin just before the Civil War. My mother's father was a newspaper editor in pioneer Wisconsin, a founder of the Congregational Church there; died young. There were numerous Philleos and numerous relatives around central Wisconsin. My mother, Florence Belle Philleo, was talented musically. So she as a young girl was sent to eastern cities where there were relatives where she could study voice and piano, and she followed music all her life.

When I was born they couldn't seem to come up to a decision on a name for me. They finally wound up with Philleo.

Now, on my father's side, the Nashes are of Irish origin -- am I telling you more than you want to know?

HESS: No.

 

[4]

NASH: They left after the potato famine in 1849. They first went to Ohio and then to Milwaukee. They were looking for work at the time of the railroad expansion, after the Civil War, and Grandpa took up the new art of railway telegraphy. He wanted to better himself. All the boys were track workers on the railroads in and around southern and central Wisconsin. So Grandpa, as a telegrapher, obtained a job as station agent on the Wisconsin Central in Wood County in what is now the town of Babcock, or it may be the town of Armenia, I'm not sure which. Just after the Civil War the Indians were gathering wild cranberries and were shipping them on the Wisconsin Central Railroad into Chicago and other big cities, getting prices as high as $30 a barrel, in the chaff. Grandpa thought he would like to have some of that money . . .

HESS: Is this when cranberries came into the family?

NASH: This is when the cranberries came into the family. So this was permitted at that time, apparently. At least I assume it was, if it wasn't, he did it anyway. That was a Nash trait -- they're Irish! He hired some Indians -- bought a piece of land and hired Indians to pick the crop. And then he shipped it on the Wisconsin Railroad

 

[5]

and was receiving $30 a barrel up to the depression of 1872. At that time the price dropped and it didn't hit $30 again until 1947. It was a great thing at the time. He decided that it wasn't enough to harvest wild crops and therefore he began to ameliorate wild cranberries, using sand as they did on Cape Cod; leveling; using pumps. He pioneered many of the modern cultivation practices in the cranberry industry. He was one of the founders of the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association, which is about the oldest horticultural society in Wisconsin, and stimulated the formation of the old Wisconsin Cranberry Sales Co. which was a cooperative that originated in 1906. By this time, however, he was out of the cranberry business. The drainage movement took great hold in Wisconsin in those days. They were over enthusiastic -- they dug huge ditches and lowered the water table in the peat beds and at the same time they had just finished cutting down the big forests, so the ground dried out and began to burn. And it was in the late 1880s that Grandpa Nash was burnt out, and he never went back into the cranberry business. He wanted to use the money he had made in the cranberries to go

 

[6]

into the paper business -- the manufacturing of paper. Now, at that time, it was thought that you could only make paper in Wisconsin from the white, hard water of the Fox River. He felt that it was possible to make paper from the brown water of the Wisconsin River, and he did, and did so successfully, and with others founded the Nekoosa Paper Co. It was one of the large paper manufacturing concerns of central Wisconsin.

He was also interested in politics. He ran for the assembly as a Democrat and was elected in 1885. When I was Lieutenant Governor I had occasion to look up the proceedings of the lower house of the Wisconsin legislature and found the committees on which he served, and his reports. It was quite interesting. He served only one term but while there he made a very important connection in terms of business, and Wisconsin history and politics, too. His seatmate was the Civil War hero, Col. William F. Vilas. Vilas was, perhaps, Wisconsin's richest man; if not at that time he was a little bit later. He could have had almost any elective office within the gift of the people of Wisconsin because he was a very popular Civil War veteran.

 

[7]

But he was interested in the university. He was a lawyer. He had a very successful practice. And he had come out from the East. And he ran for the legislature rather than any of the other things that were offered to him, because he wanted to sponsor a good, big building program for the University of Wisconsin. He got his seatmate, T. E. Nash, my grandfather, appointed to the Joint Committee on Finance which was the committee to consider his bill. He thought a big building program was well in hand and therefore he resigned his seat in the assembly -- I'm speaking about Colonel Vilas now -- resigned his seat in the assembly in order to become Postmaster General in the first Cleveland administration, and he left Grandpa to shepherd the university building program. Unfortunately things were not in as good shape as they thought and the conservatives, who felt that the university was about to become a state within a state rather than a university within a state, opposed the building program and cut it back to $300,000. Even so, in terms of costs in those days they were able to get a gymnasium, a heating plant, and the first fireproof building on the Wisconsin

 

[8]

campus, the old Science Hall, which still stands where I went to school.

After the term was over and they'd had to compromise on a very modest building program for the university, Colonel Vilas induced Grandpa to come to Washington with him as the Chief Clerk of the Post Office Department. They both left, of course, at the end of the first Cleveland administration. It was at about this time that the cranberry marsh burnt out, and with money from Vilas, with the money accumulated over the years from the sale of wild cranberries, Grandpa was able to build a small paper mill at Nekoosa. He served as president of this company, supervised its affiliation with the John Edwards Pulp Company to form the parent of the present Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company, which operates .in Wisconsin and New York. My father was associated with him in the paper business, but ill health forced my grandfather out in 1906 and my own father went out with him. My father served in the First World War and his own father died during that period. When he came out he had to find a new business to get into. He had always liked the out-of-doors and was a great naturalist and outdoorsman, and he

 

[9]

concluded that an outdoor occupation would suit him the best and the family fortune had been founded with cranberries and he thought that he would do the same thing. So he went back into the cranberry business for a second time, which is how we happen to be in the cranberry business today. My children will be the fourth generation at this particular location where we are now, which is not the original location where Grandpa started. My own father decided that reason could prevail in agriculture, and therefore, he engineered the first automated and mechanized cranberry marsh, which was a pushbutton farm even in 1921 and 1922.

HESS: Back when it was really revolutionary!

NASH: Back when it was really revolutionary. So this is the general family background. I would have been born in northern Wisconsin as my brother and sister were, in connection with the pulp operation for the paper mill, but the fact is we burnt out just before I was born and the whole family came back to Wisconsin Rapids and that's where I was born. I went to public schools there; elementary school, and high school. My mother, as I said, was always interested in music.

 

[10]

She saw to it that I was musically trained and I did have ambitions to be a professional musician -- the violin was my instrument. I won a contest in Wisconsin in 1926 and went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia for one year after high school. But they persuaded me that that wasn't a good idea, and I came back and entered the university. My brother had been a student of Alexander Meiklejohn at Amherst and our family has always been strong believers in the best and the most progressive in education. So my father persuaded me that the right place to go to school was in Alexander Meiklejohn's experimental college; the first progressive education enterprise in higher education. I had two years there and then went into the regular third and fourth year setup at the University of Wisconsin.

HESS: Let's go back there just a minute. What were their courses like?

NASH: This was an experiment in education which is based on the premise that American higher education was failing because it was being trivialized. In those days there were almost no required courses in our major universities. You could, if you liked, take a course in art appreciation,

 

[11]

refrigerator salesmanship, and musicology, and not have a sound grounding in mathematics, languages, science, and history. Meiklejohn's theory was to go all over the other way. We had only one subject matter for the first year and a second subject matter for the second year. Other than that there were no courses. We all lived together in one section of the dormitory. Because it was a men's dormitory, women were not included, but that was not Mr. Meiklejohn's desire, it was just the way the housing arrangements worked out. The subject matter he chose for the first year was Fifth Century Athens. We studied physiology, the physiognomy, the physical anthropology, the geography, the ecology, the history, the literature, the philosophy, the art, the music, and simply soaked ourselves, as an ethnologist would, in another culture for one year. Now some of us, like myself, were not very well prepared for it. Others were much better disciplined academically. I got a lot out of it, but it was in spite of the course, not because of it, I think. It was a very stimulating and provocative environment. We had twelve faculty members and the single men resided with us and were house

 

[12]

wardens in our various units in the dormitory. We had four houses with thirty men each.

HESS: Why did you say "in spite of"?

NASH: Well, I was very undisciplined as a student. I'd gone to a small town high school where everything was very easy -- there was not much competition and not very high standards. And then I'd gone to music school where it was all competition, and very, very stiff. I was just kind of floundering around between those two worlds at that time. You know, you set a kid out of central Wisconsin down and ask him to discuss the nature of justice and my response was: "Well, that's what you get down at the courthouse." Well, it seemed that everybody didn't think so.

HESS: They were talking about something else.

NASH: It was quite a surprise to me.

We had regular Monday morning assemblies where the very best people from all over the world came to talk to us. Lewis Mumford, on the cities of ancient Greece; A. E. Russell, because he was in the country, called on Meiklejohn. It was a very stimulating, intellectual environment; which was too good for some of us, including me.

 

[13]

HESS: How were the classes run, such as seminars or a regular lecture class . . .

NASH: By and large you would have every morning, every Monday morning, a major assembly in which everybody would go together in one place. Then it was tutorial in that for periods of about three weeks to a month each of us would be assigned to a faculty member who was our faculty advisor for that period. Then all of an advisor's students would meet with him for a couple of hours or two and a half hours, two to three times a week. And you wrote papers and these papers were discussed by the others and commented upon critically by the advisor. There was only one grade given for the whole year and that was simply given, not by examination but on the basis of a lengthy paper on a subject related to Fifth Century Athens. My freshman paper, on which I received a B minus was a comparison of the concept of tragedy in Greek and Shakespearian drama. It was not a very good paper. B minus I think was a little high.

Now the second year the same technology of education prevailed -- that is, one assembly a week; tutorial relationship to an advisor; reading and

 

[14]

criticism of papers; and seminar-type discussions, plus many, many activities. We did a yearbook and I took the pictures.

HESS: What was the subject of the second year?

NASH: Nineteenth Century America. So where we'd been reading Thucydides we read Henry Adams; where we had been reading Aeschylus, we read Hawthorne and Melville, and commented critically on them the same way. I was much better prepared to receive the input of the second year. And John Gaus, who was the program director for the second year, was then professor of political science at Wisconsin and very much interested then -- as he is now at Harvard -- interested in building up a bureaucracy of service in State and Federal government and was responsible for a great many of us from the college having an affirmative attitude towards public service.

HESS: He's at Harvard now?

NASH: He's at Harvard now, at the Littauer School. A great man; as Alex was; as they all were.

When my daughter was old enough to go to college they had a modern version of the experimental college as they still do at the University of Wisconsin.

 

[15]

They called it the Integrated Liberal Studies program. And I saw to it that she had a chance to opt this program, and she did and liked it very much. Of course, it had completely changed by this time. Education didn't stand still.

Well, let's go back then. So this was a very, very stimulating experience, but I wasn't quite ready to absorb it or take it; and I wanted some time off, so I left school, and drove an uncle, who was moving from Wisconsin to California, out there in his car and then stayed and just got the best jobs I could in southern California. You see, this was 1929 and the depression had already hit the paper industry in Wisconsin, and this particular uncle, one of the Philleos, was a manager of a paper mill that got caught in the embargo of Canadian pulp. So the newsprint industry in Wisconsin just collapsed with this embargo. His plant closed and he went out to start life over again. I drove him and my aunt out there -- a very nice experience for a college boy, and I was a boy, not a man.

That was my first view of the West, which I liked very, very much. And I got a job waiting on

 

[16]

tables in a girl's school . . .

HESS: What school was that?

NASH: That was the Westlake School for Girls. Shirley Temple's alma mater.

HESS: Is that right?

NASH: So I thought I was doing pretty well. I had $75 a month, board, room and laundry. I was really rolling in money.

HESS: How long did you stay there?

NASH: I stayed there through the fall and winter. My family was rather insistent that I should come back and continue going to school and by this time the depression had hit Los Angeles. You could see that this wasn't . . .

HESS: It made things pretty tight around there.

NASH: Yes, pretty tight, pretty tight, and the job wasn't going to last long. So I pulled out, I think they were just as glad to see me go. I don't think I was too cooperative around the place.

I came back and started school again in the second semester. Things were very bad in the cranberry industry and I didn't want to be a burden to my family. I had always earned money. Even in the experimental college

 

[17]

there was plenty of time for outside work.

HESS: What school did you enter then?

NASH: Wisconsin, as a major in anthropology. But I was able to get along with little or no money from home. I got a job as a janitor in the First Unitarian Church and my room went with it.

HESS: This would be your junior year in school?

NASH: In my junior year. So, I had a very, very satisfactory life and began to settle down to a little serious school work for the first time; instead of just talking about Fifth Century Athens, I took some German, some philosophy, and some music, and some anthropology, and began to learn a little bit about things.

HESS: Do you think that's a better type of school than the other school you went to?

NASH: Oh, no, I'm very strong for the unitized field theory of education, but I think the ideology behind it is not a very good one. Some young people need a much more highly structured situation and the lack of structure, of definite times and places and pieces of work that are laid out -- in other words unprogrammed education is very anxiety-provoking to people who are not emotionally mature.

 

[18]

HESS: Some people like regimentation a little bit more, too. It's better for them.

NASH: So I did much better actually under the new . . . the more conventional situation. And then it was good for me to work. How I happened to pick anthropology, I think, is a direct outgrowth of the experimental college, however. Much of what we had been doing was a kind of ethnology -- the ethnography of Pericles' Athens really. Among other things we read a great many anthropological works. For some reason, some one of the faculty members was greatly enamored of Briffault's The Mothers, which today is a very dated work in anthropology, but I'm sure it seemed to be very comprehensive to the faculty and advisors at the experimental college. So we all read extensively in The Mothers, and it has a lot of interesting material in it, and this did catch my imagination. I had to pick a major and I just wasn't really particularly interested in any one thing. At one point I did actually go through the catalog from A to Z, starting with anatomy and art and going through to zoology. Anthropology was not the first but it was not very far along and that was the one that I

 

[19]

really liked the best, and it did seem to be related, and I talked to some people who had had courses and read a few course notes and decided that maybe that was the best thing for me. But I had minors in philosophy and German, both of which were very strong in Wisconsin in those days, as anthropology was. My first anthropology teacher was Ralph Linton, who afterwards went on to Columbia and then was a Sterling professor at Yale. Also Charlotte Day Gower, who now lives in Washington and works for CIA downtown. She spent quite a bit of time in China -- left the teaching profession and went out there and was interned after Pearl Harbor. She came back on the first Gripsholm exchanges. She was a very important influence on me, both in anthropology and generally in education; in some respects more so than Ralph Linton. She was a young graduate of the University of Chicago and she had done her dissertation on Sicilian peasant culture. So she was really my first contact with an anthropologist who was studying something that was modern, alive and current, not something that was antiquarian. So, as you can see I liked the nineteenth century part of the experimental college much better than I did the Fifth Century of

 

[20]

Athens, and I liked the study of Sicily more than I liked archeology and so on. But archeology is what is open to you when you are a young student, so I needed a summer job and I got myself a summer job with the Milwaukee Public Museum; and I went out as a digger at three dollars a day and board and room, which is not bad for those days. This was in the thirties. I worked for the Milwaukee Public Museum, and then wrote the material up as my undergraduate dissertation. In those days Wisconsin required a dissertation for the A.B., usually based on library research and secondary sources. I was never very strong on this end of things and I decided to conduct this excavation and did so. Subsequently it was published by the Milwaukee Public Museum as a bulletin, and I got honors out of it. I did pretty well as a student that last year -- I finally caught on to what it was all about ( it took a long while ); and I was working all that time and living in the basement of the Unitarian Church. So, then, I finally graduated in the winter of 1932. I was strongly tempted to go on in graduate study in anthropology, but I wasn't too sure that I was cut out for the life of a scholar. I went home to think about it for awhile and also to read

 

[21]

several hours a day and see whether I could really tolerate this life of black and white and print without getting either bored or restless.

I guess I must have gotten my father pretty restless, because I had been home about six weeks and he strongly suggested that I go down to Madison and talk it over with my former professors, and I wound up entering the University of Chicago in the spring quarter as a graduate student. I liked that; that was a good spring quarter and I decided that this wasn't such a bad life, this life of academia, after all.

HESS What were your favorite courses at Chicago?

NASH: Well, of course, I was having largely introductory courses, though at the graduate level. I liked linguistics very much. I'd had quite a bit of philology at Wisconsin which is a good center for that; was then and still is. I liked the theoretical courses and I liked Bob Redfield's course in "Race and Nationality." This was my first introduction to the problems of minority groups. I don't know that I had that right in the early spring of 1932.

Maybe I'd better give a little more background

 

[22]

if this isn't too detailed.

HESS: Fine.

NASH: Well, you see, there was a visiting professor at Chicago at that time, Professor A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. He had had a very extensive career throughout the British Commonwealth, doing some research -- his early research was on the Andaman islanders in the Bay of Bengal; then a tribe on the west coast of Australia; spent some time in Tonga as educational advisor to the Tonga government; and by the time he came to Chicago he had spent his life pretty well around the world in the Commonwealth nations, making a major study of a group, and founding a department of anthropology. He did this at Capetown, he did this in Australia. And they brought him in as their VIP; a visiting professor. He had lectured at Wisconsin and what he said made sense to me; I was always looking for integrated meaning. I liked it and he had a rather systematic approach and it appealed to me, so I took courses with him and I did like what he had to say, although I discovered that there was a good deal more to it, of course, than that. It had been rumored that he was going to get a large grant from the Rockefeller Foundation that would be what we call today "salvage

 

[23]

ethnology" -- recording the ethnographies of primitive people all over the world before they disappeared entirely. This grant fell through. Incidentally, right now, in 1966, there is talk of it again. So 35 years later they are still talking about the same thing. They'll probably do it now.

I liked those courses and I liked the approach of the university. I was ready to use it, to take advantage of it, and I did. I had to have a job for that summer; they had a summer archeological trip and I went on it. Made my living and just a little bit more. By this time I'd become very much more interested in social anthropology and social theory and linguistics, in ethnology and the other related subjects. I don't know exactly where it was, about this time, that I had my first course from Bob Redfield. But it was my introduction to the problem of minority peoples and it appealed to me right away. So that I would say, Charlotte Gower, with her introduction of me to the subject of culturation, and Bob Redfield, with his introduction to problems of minority groups, were the two principal influences, more so really than Radcliffe-Brown. I later became Radcliffe-Brown's research assistant, but

 

[24]

the rigidity of his theoretical system was too much for me and I drew away from it.

Perhaps the most important influence at that particular time was a professor not in the department of anthropology, Harold Lasswell of the department of political science. He was an assistant professor, not much more than a graduate student himself, and he had many young men and women around the University who were attracted by his brilliance; by his willingness to listen to them; and by the boldness of his imagination. I talked to him at length. I never had a course from him. But he was a great stimulant and very much of a guide to me, and I've stayed close to him all through the years. I would say that he is responsible for my interest in social psychology; the feeling that you can measure attitudes and responses and that these are also a determinant of how people will behave in a given situation. The kind of ethnology that I'd been exposed to was historical ethnology -- how did the plow move from the Tigris and Euphrates Basin into the rest of the world; what is the history of the alphabet; innovation, how does it take place. This was an introduction to me of the thought that when

 

[25]

something moves there has to be a recipient and that the attitude and the feeling and the response of the recipient -- individual or group -- is as important as the giver. Now, of course, if you add to this the element of the conditions under which the gift reaches the given from the giver, you have a complete communication cycle, or a complete historical episode. So this was what I then attempted to put together.

I was very much interested in linguistics at this time and I applied for a summer fellowship in linguistic research for the summer of 1933. I would have taken it, except that I got into the hospital and they took some X-rays. Both my brother and sister had had tuberculosis and they said, "Well, you'd better go to bed for a while." So, I didn't go to a sanitarium or a hospital but I did spend about 6 months in bed and lost the summer fellowship and also another quarter, you see, because this was in the spring.

So, I came back to Chicago in the fall with a year of classwork ahead of me before I could get to my dissertation, and had a very, very good year, indeed, with Redfield and Lasswell and Radcliffe-Brown and my wife -- not then my wife, but my present wife -- who was then

 

[26]

just doing her first year of graduate work in anthropology. So, she went down to Mescalero Apache on a training program in fieldwork under Morris Opler.

In 1934, I applied for the same program that I had the year before, but they didn't have a linguistics section that summer. So I had to go into the ethnography section and I wound up then on the Klamath Reservation in southwestern Oregon with Leslie Spier and a student group that included Alice Marriott, who has since written widely on many aspects of Oklahoma and New Mexican ethnography; Dave Rodnick, who was an anthropologist attached to ECA in the early days, and has made many studies of folk cultures in western Europe,and half a dozen others whose names escape me at the moment -- Irving Goldman, now a professor of anthropology at Sarah Lawrence.

And here I had a great opportunity. By coincidence I fell in with the widow of a Modoc medicine man, Dr. George, a shaman, who had been killed by the relatives of a patient who died in 1906. His widow; in 1934 was still alive, but he had been very instrumental as a very young man in developing some of the rituals that were connected with the rebellion of the

 

[27]

Modoc, that was known as the Modoc War; this was a long time back, in 1871 and 1872. But I discovered that his widow and her son, who had been one of the shaman's assistants -- she was very elderly and he was in his 60s -- were well able to recall songs, rituals, costumes, dress, face painting, details of ritual house construction, many, many aspects of events, religious events and political ideological events, that had taken place fifty-five to sixty years before that. This was just the last few weeks of the training period, and I concluded that I would attempt to come back and get more information about this, particularly in terms of the differential response. This was the Lasswellian approach. We know who the prophet was that disseminated those ideas. We know what the conditions were in a rough or crude way. White contact; the agency putting people in jail for practicing shamanism; encouraging them to grow crops that filed; requiring them to settle down when they had had a free and wandering life; now we know that the response was not uniform, instead of saying the Klamath or the Modoc joined in the great religious revival known as the Ghost Dance of 1870, what we mean is some Modocs joined but some did not.

 

[28]

All right, then, what is the difference, if any, between the life conditions of those who accepted and those who rejected the doctrine, and what we learn from this about administration, about protest, about revolt and rebellion, about the nonconsensus. It cost the United States Government four million dollars and it took a thousand troops to settle the Modoc War, which grew up largely out of the protest of those who did not join the religious movement, but who fought. Some fought, and others tried to control the environment by magical or religious means. Would it have been better to have encouraged the Ghost Dance of 1870 than to have discouraged it because it was a frightening protest movement which predicted the death of the administrators, of the whites, of the nonbelievers, and a rebirth of ancient days?

It wasn't then, it seemed to me, just a curiosity, but a chance to learn something about the way people react and the right way to handle such a reaction if you are an administrator and have a choice. Now, the reason I go into this in detail is that I did go back, I did make the study and it was the subject of my dissertation; and this is by and large what I have been doing ever

 

[29]

since; to try to get into situations where I could help to make the decisions and to make it on the basis of better understanding of cultural and personal values and attitudes and responses -- rather than on the bare superficiality which was so costly and so destructive to Indian-white relations in our country from roughly the Civil War on until the New Deal; and it is still going on. The people in those days were just as frightened of the Ghost Dance as they are of LSD today, and are reacting with the same blind apprehension, fear, cliché-thinking rather than finding out what it is all about.

Now I might say one other thing that is related to my later work in the Government for Mr. Truman and afterwards. Anthropologists, generally, don't like the Government very much. They identify very strongly with Indians; Indians have been placed in a dependent condition and they don't like the Government. They are dependent on it, and can't do without it, but they don't like it. During that summer of 1934 when Leslie Spier was my mentor he made it very clear that if you expect to have any good relationship with the Indians, if they are going to have confidence in

 

[30]

you, then you must stay away from the agency. If you go near the agency, they won't trust you. I'd never seen a big reservation; I was raised with Indians. The cranberry industry has always been associated with Indians. We got cranberries from them; we got the handtools by which they used to be picked from them; and we had Indians in my own business almost exclusively until the end of World War II -- well, later than that, until mechanization came in about fifteen years ago -- especially at harvest time. But I had never seen one of the big western reservations with the elaborate agency setup and all the things that go with it. So, when I saw this big establishment, many houses, barns, administration buildings, all the paraphernalia of a big agency, I was curious and interested and eager. In addition to that, in the family lore, it was known that my own grandfather had been offered the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs by Colonel Vilas in the second Cleveland administration when he became Secretary of the Interior.

You see, Vilas had two tours of government -- one as Postmaster General in Cleveland I, Secretary of the Interior in Cleveland II. By this time, Grandpa was

 

[31]

in the paper business, so he said he didn't want any. Then I have an uncle, who is still living, a great favorite of mine, who is a world traveler and adventurer, and he had traveled extensively in Brazil and was quite an expert on all aspects of Brazilian history and culture. And he had gone to work for the Indian service in 1928. So I was familiar with his travels in the Indian country, and he was, in 1934, a special assistant to John Collier, the Commissioner.

By 1930 or a little bit later, he had become the Superintendent of the California jurisdiction, so I didn't have a strongly negative attitude toward the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its administrators. So when our teacher and mentor said, "Stay away from the Bureau," he was giving a message that didn't fall on very receptive ears. I didn't cause any problems while I was there but I made up my mind I would come back to do a piece of research and I would find out whether it was true that you couldn't be on good terms with the Indians and the agency at the same time. I went back and finished out my course work and applied for a predoctoral fellowship from the Social Science Research Council and went back to Klamath where I spent

 

[32]

a year studying this movement in depth; and for the first time a member of my profession was on good terms with the agency, and I copied out nearly all the significant agency documents, reports of sub-agents, of the wagon and plowmaker, of the doctor, of the farm specialist, of the teacher for the period from the founding of the agency through the decade of the Modoc War and the Ghost Dance movement. And one portion of this has been published as "The Place of Religious Revivalism in the Formation of the Intercultural Community on Klamath Reservation, 1871-72," or something like that. Now this is -- if it is of any interest -- this is because these things had quite a bit to do with my interest in government, with my interest in anthropology, my interest in administration rather than pure research, and with the desire to introduce a greater degree of rationality in the handling of minority group affairs.

HESS: I think what we have covered so far will interest political scientists a great deal, judging from the questions that we get from them.

You mentioned John Collier, and I have been asked

 

[33]

to ask your opinion of John Collier.

NASH: John Collier was a great Commissioner. He was not a great administrator but he was most assuredly a very great Commissioner. He's still living and I still see him whenever I'm out West. I've always been on good terms with him. Anthropologists think well of him, and the Indian people think well of him. Now he had enemies, and he still does. But by and large, today's Indian leadership, and even yesterday's (if they're alive), recognize that John Collier was responsible for the great forward movement that was initiated by the New Deal in Indian affairs. He stopped the alienation of land; he instituted economic development; he increased tribal self-government; he made conservation procedures mandatory by law on the reservation; he increased the powers of the tribal councils, including the right to make their own agreements and contracts with lawyers to represent them rather than having the government represent them. Now these are great huge steps forward. He also substituted community schools for the off-reservation boarding schools.

This turned out to be a mixed blessing, however,

 

[34]

because the program was inadequately funded; consequently, education fell seriously behind and our present generation of Indian people is undereducated compared to what they would have been if a more thorough education program had been carried out. We are spending several times as much money on education in the Bureau of Indian Affairs today as there was for the whole Bureau's appropriation in the Collier era.

Now, I'm not saying this in any way to be derogatory of John Collier. He was not provided with the appropriations that he would have desired, but he was dealing with a limited concept as to how much of the national effort could be put into this particular phase of our national responsibility, and it wasn't done and we are paying for it dearly today. John was a leader and an inspirer, a great picker of men. He made his mistakes, he wasn't free of them by any means; but the average was very good and he really carried Indians a long way towards modernity. But he didn't have enough time. He had about 5 or 6 years only. He came in May 1933. Now, he lasted 12 years until 1945, but those were war years.

 

[35]

and there was anticipation of war, and therefore a curtailment of programs from about 1940 on. I think you can say he had 6 years at the most where he could apply to the programs that he was responsible for. Incidentally, that's only one more year than I had. You see, I had five. So we think of him as a Commissioner with a long term but he had his hands tied for 6 out of the 12 years.

HESS: When the war was going on.

NASH: I didn't want to have my hands tied and that's one of the reasons I resigned.

HESS: You received your Ph.D. from the University of Chicago?

NASH: All right. So with this dissertation on acculturation, I received my Ph.D. It was a couple of years after I did the work. In between I lived in and around Berkeley. On my way out to the fellowship, why, I went down and talked to my present wife about getting married and I proposed to her on the Mescalero Reservation. And she accepted me.

HESS: A fine place for an anthropologist to propose.

NASH: That was the right place. Later I told the Mescaleros that; they were greatly intrigued. And then I went out

 

[36]

and did my work that summer, and early in the fall I came back, we got married and we spent our first year of married life on the Klamath Reservation. We had a very happy time there and my wife did research the same as I did.

A Ph.D. in '37 and then a question of "where are you going to get a job?" I would have liked to have continued my research but word came out from the Social Science Research Council that I was in danger of becoming a research bum. Too many scholarships, too many years as a graduate student, and time to go out and get established. Time to go to work now. So they turned me down, not on merit but just for my own good.

HESS: They figured you'd had enough of it.

NASH: I resented it but they were right. So I . . .jobs were not too common then. I had my chance at two, one in Knoxville, Tennessee, and one at the University of Toronto in Ontario; and the one in Ontario was a little bit better university and paid a little bit more, and I was intrigued by the idea of being in another country, even though it was a very close, nearby country; one culturally very similar to our own. I went up there and had four years there, as a Lecturer, which in their

 

[37]

system is a rank corresponding to an Assistant Professor in our universities. Canada was still in the throes of the depression. We were not very well paid. I held a concurrent position as Assistant Keeper of the Ethnological Collections in the Royal Ontario Museum of Archeology, for which I received no pay, and I set up their research program for the Museum of Archeology in Canadian archeology.

This I enjoyed very much, but it kept me busy all summer and again this didn't involve any extra pay. Both my children were born there, and I was very, very anxious for advancement. I wasn't breaking even on the money -- I advanced from $2,000 a year to $2,700 a year in 4 years and I had two children; I just wasn't making the money -- so I approached my father and he was anxious for me to put in at least one full year in the cranberry business and get acquainted with the annual cycle -- summer work, winter work, harvest, and so on. And he was getting along in years, although he lived six years after that. He wanted me to have this experience and he was willing to pay more than the university and so I told the university good-bye.

 

[38]

I wanted to retain my academic connections; I didn't want to sever them and I didn't want to leave forever, but I wanted to be in a position to receive and demand better terms, so I put in a year as a special lecturer at the University of Wisconsin. It was a formalized arrangement but I didn't receive pay -- just my expenses. And that was to keep my hand in. I would have continued that had it not been for Pearl Harbor. Two very satisfactory courses there: they permitted me to write my own ticket, so I gave one general definitive course for graduate students on the structure of social systems the first semester, and on changes in social systems the second semester. With a great interest in Japan and the approaching Pearl Harbor crisis and catastrophy, I picked the modernization of Japan as the subject matter around which we would discuss, first, it's structure under the Meiji and then its change into modern Japan. Of course, this went on only until May when I came to Washington on a war job. And that was the last university job that I've held.

HESS: You went from there to the government?

NASH: From there to the government.

 

[39]

HESS: What was your first job in the government?

NASH: I came to Washington first in the Office of Facts and Figures. This was an outgrowth of my association with Harold Lasswell. Before Pearl Harbor, but in the anticipation of an emergency, he was an advisor to the Department of Justice, which had created, under Keith Kane, a Bureau of Intelligence dealing with the foreign agents problem.

Under the administration of the Foreign Agents Act, two techniques were to be used to hold propaganda under control. One was the registration of agents who were involved in disseminating literature, information, or other communications about their countries or about the hostilities; and the other one was disclosure, requiring that each piece of literature have on it the fact that this was the output of a registered agent. In order to find out whether people ought to conform or not, it was necessary to have some analysis of the content. Does this meet the requirements of the law? Should it be labeled? How do you make these fine distinctions?

So Lasswell was brought in to create the organization that would establish the content of the publications in English and in foreign languages, and analyze them

 

[40]

objectively so that there could be some administration of the Act. He invited me to come in with them, but this was before Pearl Harbor and I had a commitment to my father. I'd only been about six months through the annual cycle at this point and I'd promised to do at least once all the way around. Pearl Harbor changed all that, so when they called me a second time and asked me to come in, I accepted.

By this time the Bureau of Intelligence and R. Keith Kane had moved over to Archie MacLeish in the Office of Facts and Figures. So, I talked to a man named Katz -- and he'd be very irritated if I couldn't recall his first name because I know him well, very nice fellow -- about coming in charge of the Groups and Organizations Section. This was the Special Services Division and the function of the Groups and Organizations Section was to maintain an identification register and to keep it fully current.with those organizations which, after the declaration of war, on the domestic scene, were either making the war effort go forward or were maybe standing in the way. Now this was an outgrowth of the activity of analyzing foreign propaganda but it had no connection with the Foreign Agents Registration

 

[41]

Act. It was simply an effort to service the war information program by keeping track of those individuals, those organizations, those groups that were in the information business, some of which might be in competition with the war information program.

In this connection -- I did go with them, and I was Chief of the Groups and Organizations Section, Special Services Division, Bureau of Intelligence, Office of Facts and Figures. That Bureau of Intelligence turned out to be an unfortunate name because word went around that we had everything but our own product.

HESS: They didn't think you were very intelligent?

NASH: They didn't think we were very intelligent. In the course of my work in the Groups and Organization Section I became aware of the fact that there was in existence a group of memoranda from various units of the Special Services Division -- which constituted a general alert on race tension: Race tension was growing, there was great discontent; an analysis had been made of the Sojourner Truth housing project riots in Detroit. These memoranda showed that there was race tension and that it was localized. Now it seems perhaps a little hard to recall this under modern conditions, but the theory

 

[42]

which prevailed in government circles and among sociologists and other social scientists was that riots were a thing that couldn't be controlled. They were a thing like tornadoes, you might say, "human hurricanes;" unpredictable; unregulatable; and all you could do was endure it.

Well, we didn't think so and I didn't think so. This is the kind of thinking that made it possible to have the Indian wars. So we set about to try to bring this to the attention of somebody who could do something about it, to make a contribution to a possible solution, and in the meantime to carry our research forward so as to be able to pinpoint, if at all possible, the tension centers. More than just saying, "Some Negroes are pretty frustrated."

HESS: Was this done within any particular area, did they say the Negroes in New York, or something like that?

NASH: Well, not in the beginning. But what we did as a definitive project of the Bureau of Intelligence, Special Services Division, was to start pinpointing this. We did this in several different ways. Other sections than the Groups and Organizations Section were put to work on it. Some of these were dealing with

 

[43]

the content of the various communications media. We were preparing a weekly intelligence report on information problems and it was agreed in the Bureau that one of these weekly issues would be devoted to a complete analysis of the picture of race tension. Before that weekly report we threw all the forces of the Bureau of Intelligence into operation. Rensis Likert, and his surveys in depth, now at the University of Michigan; Wilson and the Opinion Survey; we were doing the most complete opinion survey in the United States in existence 'at this time, because we went into rural areas; we had a better sample; we got better results. The media analysis divisions were called upon to analyze the content of the press, the radio -- TV, of course, didn't exist -- of magazines. And our own Groups and Organization Section made an analysis of the attitudes of group leaders and members in organization positions with respect to Negro participation in the war. The participation in the war, and the tension resulting from it or from its absence, were the subjects of inquiry. The result of this was the first comprehensive study that had ever been made, as far as I know, of race tension in a quantifiable form. We couldn't get anybody

 

[44]

to listen to it. Nobody wanted to hear about it. Anybody who was raising this subject was just agitational. Nobody had any responsibility. The Office of War Information was an information agency. I went to see John Collier. Anybody I knew. It was just inconceivable to me that an agency could have this kind of information, which pointed very clearly to a danger, and that there would be no administrative responsibility and no structure of government that you could go to, that you could bring to bear on it, that you could even talk to about it. We tried the Office of Civilian Defense, OCD, Mobilization Division, and there we found the first glimmer of a response.

[ Fiorello ] La Guardia had been the head of that unit and, although we didn't know it, about a year before he had dealt administratively, not with a piece of research, but with an actually existing situation in the form of a threat of a march on Washington by Phil Randolph of the Pullman Porters; and not wanting to have it in an election year they had taken steps such as creating the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practice; naming the first Negro general, General Davis; and a few other palliatives like that, after which they

 

[45]

were probably forgotten. That's the way things were done in those days. Interestingly enough the nature of our researches wasn't exhaustive enough on government itself to uncover this. We uncovered the attitudes and sentiments and the conditions, but this we didn't find out about until later.

In connection with pursuing this matter through the Office of Civilian Defense, trying to find somebody that would say this was a civil defense matter, because it was quite obviously approaching the police standpoint, I came across Jonathan Daniels. Jonathan Daniels had just moved out of the Office of Civilian Defense to Mr. Roosevelt's staff as an administrative assistant to the President. And although I didn't know it, he had either just finished working up or was about to work up the Executive order that created the Office of War Information and abolished the Office of Facts and Figures. He understood what I was talking about, and he asked me to keep in touch with him. He read all our memoranda. We put all the material into his hands. We were at last dealing with the White House, and dealing with somebody who knew from the OCD background about this threatened march on Washington in 1940.

 

[46]

And now you see, we were up to the spring of 1943, and the summer was coming up. No sooner had we brought those memoranda to him than he called me, and he said, "What do you know about this movement to do something about the employment of Negroes in the Washington transit system?"

And I said, "Quite a bit. Not only what's in that memoranda but quite a bit more."

"Well, I'd be interested. Can't you find out a little bit more about that?"

So we started to work on it, and it wasn't very long before we discovered that Jonathan had a good reason for it because this was the day on which the rumors started going around that there was going to be a race riot, and that it would take place at a certain street intersection, and so on, and so on. Well, this, of course, was nothing more than a frightened response to the announcement by a group seeking to integrate the Capital transit system that there would be a rally and a mass meeting at a certain point. Washington really hit the panic button and people started phoning each other all over town, and went on home. I kind of lose my time sense on this, I'm not sure which came first

 

[47]

and which came second. The point where we really got connected with Jonathan Daniels and the White House was in the summer of 1943; we were working together; we had an audience now for our reports and we felt it was a place where some action would take place. And on a Sunday in 1943 Detroit erupted. I didn't have my radio on, I didn't know about it until I got down to work the next morning. Fortunately, I came in early that day, and the bells were ringing in the newsroom. The tickers had this story of street fighting in Detroit, and buses and streetcars and automobiles being overturned and set on fire, and I called the White House to get Jonathan. He wasn't in yet, but they put me through on his White House phone at home, and I told him about it and this was the first he'd heard of it.

All through that day -- this really terrible Monday -- two things were happening simultaneously: the military had been alerted and the Commanding General of the Sixth Service Command had flown out from Chicago with the troop orders in his hand, but he also had some military law with him and a few other things and discovered, when he got to Detroit, that he didn't have

 

[48]

any authority to order out troops to quell a domestic disturbance. This is a presidential prerogative. So the battalion of military police which had been assigned to Detroit to quell disorder if it arose, and had been practicing deploying itself around City Hall, which was not in any danger, sat on its hunkers waiting for the lawyers to figure out what to do. The various intelligence agencies were all reporting to Jonathan. But the really up-to-date reports were coming in over the news wires in the Office of War Information. So we had, after all, every reporter in America working for us at this point. The information that I'd phoned through to Jonathan that day was faster and nearly as reliable as the official intelligence reports that he was getting from other governmental sources, although we were basically doing a newspaper type of job.

Well, Jonathan is a newspaperman. Naturally, he liked this better. He had more confidence in it than he did in the slower, more meticulous reports of the other people.

So this established a working relationship and now, after 30 people were killed and $5 million of

 

[48a]

property was destroyed, for the first time we had a working relationship -- a responsible agency in the White House; an information-gathering service, the Office of War Information; and a place to go for action. Jonathan and I had discussed it and he said, "What do you think we ought to do?"

And I said, "Well, I've always thought there ought to be a committee."

"Well," he said, "I don't like committees. They spend too much time meeting. Get me up a list of the agencies that could do something about this if they were members of the committee."

So, I got him up such a list and he said, "Fine. Now we'll write a letter to everyone of these people telling that they are to designate somebody to report to me and you will be the one from OWI, but there'll be somebody from the Intelligence services, and the War

 

[49]

Labor Board, and the War Manpower Commission, and the War Production Board." Every agency that was in contact with the situation, whether it was housing or manufacturing or transportation or health or community organization, was to have somebody. But he said to me, "This committee will never meet. This will be a ‘maypole’ committee. They'll all be members of committee but they won't know it. We're not going to waste time in meeting, we haven't got time."

He took this proposal to the President and the President ok'd it, and said in effect, "Go ahead and do whatever you have to do. Say I told you to do it but just be sure you keep out of trouble." So Jonathan called me over and said, "All right, you're the operator, go ahead and do whatever you want to do. Just bear in mind that if it goes wrong, it's the fault of OWI, if it goes right nobody will ever know it."

From the day we set up that operation there were no more race riots until after the War Powers Act expired, although we had some very close calls.

HESS: During this time did you know a man by the name of Ted Poston?

 

[50]

NASH: Yes, indeed, a very dear friend. Ted was in the news division of the domestic branch of the Office of War Information, then a very well-known Negro newspaperman and journalist. He'd also done some very fine short stories. He was an outstanding person, and still is, and he and I became Jonathan Daniels' eyes and ears on this subject of race tension.

HESS: Do you know where he lives now?

NASH: Yes, indeed. He's living in New York and is a byline writer for the New York Post. He was an intimate of Jonathan's, as well as of mine, and handled many aspects of this problem. You see, not long after we set this relationship up and about the time we formalized it and were beginning to get in regular reports from our field men in the Office of War Information, that whole aspect of OWI was cut down by act of Congress. Domestic OWI was never popular with Congress, and we had just about got the thing started, I think we were in our second or third weekly report for the White House, when the money was cut off and we had to close it out. There were no more field offices in OWI. At this point, we set up a watch on the news tickers and Jonathan would ask me for information he wanted or else

 

[51]

we would just keep track of it by keeping our own personal account of tension points, based on a number of intelligence reports that were available at the White House. And then if we needed additional information, I would call, as from OWI, call the government agency and ask them to check it out for OWI; knowing that we would want the Negro angle covered, Ted would then call as from the news desk of OWI and would call a Negro newspaperman -- Louis Martin, for example, now at the Democratic National Committee as Deputy Chairman, then assistant to the publisher of the Chicago Defender. We had maybe two hundred Negro leaders, knowledgeable people in the community spotted all over the country, in all the tension points, so that we could get in touch with them over the phone on a moment's notice. Now I don't mean that they were in any formal network or anything like that, I merely mean that it was Ted's job.

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