Oral History Interview with
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.
November 9, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
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. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
November 9, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: At the end of the last interview, we stopped with the question about Charles Franklin and the Research Division, and you said that there was quite a bit to say about that, so we put it off until this time, but in the folder on the Harlem speech in your files at the Library, there is a memo from you to Charles Franklin, whom you addressed as Director of the Research Division, Democratic National Committee. And my question was, just who was Franklin, and was the Research Division in 1952 set up substantantially the same as it was in '48 or was there any difference? A two-part question.
NASH: Well, first, who was Charles Franklin. My recollection of him is of a dark skinned, slight, medium statured, Negro who was basically an economist. I haven't seen him lately, but he's around town. Just where he is, I don't know. In case you want to talk to him, who keeps in touch with him is Rod Riley, who is the economist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an old associate of mine, whom I brought in, and who knows Charlie Franklin because of their professional connection. He's around.
Now, as to the Research Division, you see the 1952 campaign was not one campaign but three. You had the National Committee, which largely attempted to reproduce the successful organization of 1948, for example, with the Research Division doing a lot of background material and putting out releases and looking for publicity that could come out of their own work. Then you had a good sized organization that was doing speechwriting, policy formulation and research closely associated with the candidate in Springfield. Dave Bell was, in effect, loaned for this purpose, and because he was a career man, not a Civil Service appointee, he resigned his job so that he could go out there.
HESS: And the third group being in the White House.
NASH: The third group, of course, was the White House group itself, which was doing the standard work for Mr. Truman. Well, we had developed a working relationship with the National Committee in 1948 on the whistlestopping and other things that I've told you about, so naturally we tended to rely on them. At the same time, we were trying to help the work of the candidate and some people, such as Dave Bell, for example, felt that I could
be useful, but there wasn't anybody in the Stevenson organization that would know of my peculiar specialty except Dave, but naturally it wasn't very easy for him to draw somebody in from that distance, and he had a lot more important things than that on his mind.
HESS: Why do you think the Stevenson people kept their headquarters and operated it out of Springfield instead of moving here to Washington? Any significance in that? Any reason?
NASH: Well, Mr. Stevenson was Governor of Illinois. I'm not privy to the inside story on that or many other things. But you had an incumbent President of the United States who was trying to help the ticket, you had a candidate who had certain constitutional obligations in the State of Illinois, which he couldn't very well give up, and this was his home base and if you wanted to have a separate identity this was almost the only way he could do it.
HESS: Did the Research Division stay here in town? Someone told me that they thought the 1952 Research Division was on the train, but I don't know what train . . .
NASH: You mean with . . .
HESS: That's it. I don't know if they mean the Truman train, the Stevenson train . . .
NASH: I'll rack my brain . . . if you're talking about the train, they could not very well be talking about the Truman train, because the crowd that was on the Truman train was the same old crowd. If they are talking about the Stevenson train, then you have to bear in mind that this was the first campaign in which television played a major part, and my recollection also is that there was quite a bit more airplaneing, although not what we're used to nowadays, but some, which there was not any of at all in 1948.
HESS: During the campaign, of course, the Republicans made a great deal about the "mess in Washington," but Mr. Stevenson also mentioned something about "the mess in Washington" at one point. Do you think that showed any antagonism between him and the President at all?
NASH: Well, it was a source of a good deal of irritation to Mr. Truman. He didn't think it was either tactful or justified, and he did think it revealed some thinking on the part of Governor Stevenson. He didn't like it.
HESS: This question slipped by when we were discussing '48, so we can sort of combine it here with the '48 and '52. It has to do with the Democratic National Committee. Did you have any close relations or working relationships with anyone in the Democratic National Committee in '48? By this I mean men on the level of J. Howard McGrath, Sam Brightman, Jack Redding, etc.
NASH: Sam Brightman, Jack Redding, yes, Howard McGrath -- I didn't have any personal connection with him, only a speaking acquaintance.
HESS: What about with the men in the ' 52 campaign. Did you work with the Democratic National Committee?
NASH: Yes. Although there again I think I, you know, will have to ask you for names. Sam Brightman, of course, was still there and Jack Redding. In '48 I think particularly of some of the Research Division people. I think we've already mentioned their names. In '52 I wasn't as close. We were more a self-contained unit trying to help Mr. Truman. Trying to help Mr. Truman help the candidate.
HESS: One of the speeches that was given by Mr. Truman in the '52 campaign, was the National Jewish Welfare Board
speech of October 17. In your file, there are drafts two through four and they are all marked with your initials, and I think they were fairly well as given. Anyway, my main question on that is that I had found in there a memorandum from Howland H. Sargeant of the State Department, and I was wondering how much help was given by the members of the various departments in a case like this?
NASH: Well, this particular one was very closely coordinated with the State Department, particularly with Howland Sargeant. There was quite a story behind this which I'm glad to give you.
I had recommended very strongly in 1952 that there be a speech about McCarthyism, not about Senator McCarthy, but about the issue of McCarthyism. And we had been concerned about it in certain states where this issue was rather clear cut. For example, West Virginia and Indiana, both involving United States Senate races where strong McCarthy supporters, members of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, etc., were involved, Senator Jenner, for example, and where there had been a direct platform appearance, a real embrace between
Eisenhower and candidates such as Revercomb and Jenner, or as later occurred in Wisconsin, late in the campaign, where in a famous, much described episode, he took out a favorable reference to General Marshall at the direct request of Senator McCarthy in a speech that was given in Milwaukee.
Naturally, it seemed to me rather important that the President should address himself to this issue, and to do it in a characteristically Trumanesque way, direct and forthright and, if possible, in a suitable setting. And my idea of a suitable setting was a New York audience, a downtown audience, an immigrant audience, an ethnic audience of which the issue that you would approach would be directly that of McCarthyism but where you would approach it via the Truman record on immigration, displaced persons and the whole humanitarian side of war and its aftermath. The setting that I wanted was provided, but the speech that I wanted was not given. At the last minute, the setting was changed to a meeting of the National Jewish Welfare Board in Washington at a lunch meeting at the Statler Hotel. Howland Sargeant of the State Department had also felt that this was an
important occasion and an important address and so on, but as it turned out, the setting was just one hundred percent inappropriate. It was a crowd that didn't like the theme, didn't like the direct references, didn't like the bluntness, didn't like any part of it. In addition to that, at the last minute, Mr. Truman cancelled out the appearance, and the speech was read by Assistant Secretary of State Sargeant, which, you know, further had the affect of detaching him from it, so that it was not really a very good way to do it; it was the wrong speech, for the wrong crowd, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place, and with the wrong speaker. It was not well received and I'm sure it contributed quite a bit to the bad feeling between Eisenhower and Truman which later developed and which continued over quite a long period of time. The part that seemed offensive to a good many people was one in which Mr. Truman said, in so many words, that although General Eisenhower had been the leader of the liberating forces which freed Europe from the Nazi tyranny, today as a candidate he was willing to stand by and to accept in others the technique of the big lie by which Hitler himself had come to power.
Well, this is strong talk and if it had been . . . in the first place, I think it was a true statement and an important one, and one in which Mr. Truman felt strongly about personally. It however probably would have had a different reception in the press if it had been given at the foot of Williamsburg Bridge, which is where it was intended for, and if it had been given by him personally, it perhaps would have been just as offensive to General Eisenhower. Inasmuch as he acceded to the request of Joe McCarthy with regard to his old comrade in arms, George Marshall, who had been called much worse than that, I don't have any sympathy today and I had none then with Eisenhower's tender feelings, but it certainly did miff him, and some people thought that the speech ought not to have been given.
Howland Sargeant and I did work on it together, and it was very difficult to write. We worked long hours on it and due to the general exigencies of the campaign, we didn't get to Mr. Truman with it until -- well, it was substantially done, and at that time we sat down with him about it directly. The only particular comment of his that I recall was one which indicated that he had
been waiting for this opportunity, that he liked it, that he thought it ought to be said and that it would take a little brass off the buttons, and he wanted to do that.
HESS: What came up that prevented him from delivering the speech himself, do you remember?
NASH: I really don't recall, and I think it is rather impossible to know for sure whether there was a campaign conflict. I think there was a decision that it wasn't exactly the right speech to give at Williamsburg, but possibly somebody else thought that they had something else they wanted to say there. I mean, these things happen in a campaign. Truman, I know, wanted the speech given and it may have been decided that the Welfare Board wasn't really a big enough group for him to appear before, it was just a lunch crowd at the Hotel Statler. Somebody probably had afterthoughts and it's entirely possible that somebody got rather nervous about the McCarthyism issue because, you know, there was a see-saw of policy all the time between hitting out at them and ignoring them. And I was not one of those who thought it the way to do it was to ignore them. And
everybody didn't agree with me.
HESS: Well, just checking here a minute ago, I believe I said awhile ago that the draft that I found in your folder was as given, but I don't know why I came up with that because I don't have that down here on my notes. I don't believe I checked this against the speech. Do you recall offhand . . .
NASH: It was substantially . . . it wasn't changed very much.
HESS: It wasn't changed very much. It was read by Mr. Sargeant?
NASH: It was read by Mr. Sargeant. And the release copy of that, that is the press copy, specifies "Read by: Assistant Secretary of State Sargeant."
HESS: On the subject of McCarthy and Eisenhower: In your files in your general correspondence, I found a memo to Charles Murphy aboard the President's train on October 3, from Charles Van Devander. The memo was on the subject of Senator McCarthy joining the Eisenhower campaign train in Peoria. Who was Charles Van Devander?
NASH: Oh, boy, that's one I'll have to look back on. I see him every once in a while. It seems to me that he was
over at the Democratic committee, probably on loan, but he might have been brought into our group for some special campaign purposes. I guess I just don't remember it.
HESS: I looked him up in the '52 Who's Who and it says he was chief of the Washington bureau of the New York Post in '48, and appointed director of publicity of the DNC, Democratic National Committee, in ' 50. According to Who's Who he was not really an official participant in the campaign.
NASH: Oh, yes, but you can't go by that because all sorts of people are brought in, on loan, they volunteer, and a campaign organization is just thrown together out of bits and pieces. It doesn't have to last very long. He was a very capable person and I well remember the occasion and the memo.
It had been announced, you see, that Joe McCarthy was going to come aboard the Eisenhower train in Peoria and ride all through Wisconsin. Well, as things worked out, he did in fact get aboard the campaign train in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and ride to Milwaukee, and it was on that ride that he persuaded General Eisenhower to withdraw
the favorable reference to General Marshall from his speech. And in view of the fact that Joe McCarthy had called Marshall a traitor, the willingness of General Eisenhower to take this out -- and the story in Wisconsin is that the then Governor Kohler was really instrumental in persuading him to do it; that he probably wouldn't have done it at Joe McCarthy's request. This was said to be very embarrassing to McCarthy who had his very first repeat race for the United States Senate coming up in '52 and, you know, it would look like conflict, and the argument was party unity, and so on. I thought it was a very terrible thing to do and one that involved a real backdown on old friendships. It was the kind of thing that Harry Truman would never, under any circumstances, do.
HESS: To refresh my memory just a little bit, why did McCarthy call Marshall a traitor?
NASH: Because of his role in attempting to bring peace and stability to China during the Chinese civil war. And because he was Secretary of State during the time when Joe McCarthy said the State Department was full of Communists.
HESS: All right, back to the speeches. In the folder on the Chicago whistlestop, the address by the President at the Negro War Memorial on Chicago's south side, there are several drafts in the folder and they are substantially the same as given. That was a fairly short speech.
NASH: That was, you might say, a whistlestop. Well, this was an attempt to do in the Middle West some of those things that the President had done so successfully in Harlem. The War Memorial in question is on South State Street, in what is pretty much the heart of the Negro ghetto. In this respect it is somewhat like Dorrance Brooks Square in New York, and the Chicago politicians were particularly anxious for the President to make an appearance there, and it was rather easy for him to do, and it was the kind of an occasion that he liked, because the outpouring of affection was very great, and he liked that, as who doesn't. I don't remember the content of the speech. I remember working on it, and I remember recommending that it be done, and working with some of the Chicago people on it.
HESS: According to the draft, it was given word for word as you wrote it.
And in the New York whistlestop speeches, you have drafts for two: The 10th Street Station at 2nd Avenue, and at the Williamsburg Bridge. The first was on displaced persons and the second was on immigration, but I'm not sure if those were as given or not.
NASH: I don't recall. I think as you speak of it, what happened is that it was one of those places that I intended to have the McCarthy speech.
HESS: At the Williamsburg Bridge?
NASH: And then when it was decided not to do it, as a wordsmith, I was naturally obliged to turn out something whether I agreed with the decision or not, and memory draws a veil as to what was in it.
HESS: In the folder on New Jersey and Pennsylvania whistlestops there were several drafts on civil rights to be given at Newark, and all are marked with your name but one is marked "Draft of Schayer." Or it could be "Schayes" -- the way that I have it written down here. I wonder who he is.
NASH: I don't remember.
HESS: It was written, so I put it down two ways. I wasn't sure how it was spelled, but all the drafts in the folder
were marked with your last name, and then one of them was marked with this name. It rings no bells?
NASH: It rings no bells whatsoever.
HESS: So we don't know who that man was.
NASH: I haven't the foggiest notion as to who he was -- with either spelling.
HESS: Do you have anything more to add concerning the 1952 campaign?
NASH: Well, I don't think we mentioned the President's Harlem appearance, did we?
HESS: I think we did.
NASH: Including the business about the white roosters?
NASH: Well, he did have a sentimental attachment to that appearance and he did work it over again and it was quite successful.
HESS: One thing, did you think that the President thought that Mr. Stevenson was carrying on a successful campaign? Do you think that the President thought that Mr. Stevenson was doing as he should?
NASH: It's not in Harry Truman's nature to think that he couldn't do it better. His style is different. I saw
him in New York when the train came in in connection with a number of New York appearances, especially the Harlem appearance, towards the end of the campaign, and we had dinner together and talked over things, and I think he was tired, and put out, and it was quite obvious that he would have done it differently, and that he felt a little bit out of things. I don't see how it could be any other way. I mean, you know, he was the outgoing President but he was campaigning as though he was running for office and . . .
HESS: Did he say anything of substance at that time that sticks in your memory?
NASH: No, just what I'm telling you.
HESS: Fine. Anything else on '52?
NASH: I'm sure I'll think of something, but I don't at the moment.
HESS: If we do we'll just come back and cover it.
Concerning two of the off-year elections -- just as we're having right now -- in 1946 and in 1950, Mr. Truman took very little part in the campaigns. Was that a set plan for him not to take part? In other words, why didn't he take more of a part in the '46 and '50 campaigns?
NASH: I don't have a recollection of any decision or general discussion which led to removal from it, but I think this is rather characteristic of the Presidency. In modern times, the last President who attempted to intervene in the off-year election was FDR, in either '34 or '38, I think '34, and it was called a purge and it wasn't successful and damaged his prestige. I think most Presidents have tended to stay out of things as far as people will let them. A Vice President is used extensively for this purpose. Nixon was so used, and Mr. Humphrey has just been used that way in this election, but you note that LBJ didn't take a very active part. He did certain things that made news and were intended, doubtlessly, to have a favorable outcome on the election, but they were indirect methods of campaigning.
There's a little history on this. It so happens that after I left the Government and when I was Democratic chairman of Wisconsin and Joe McCarthy died, I came back from Puerto Rico where I had gone down to the Casals festival, to organize the party for the campaign. It was not obligatory upon the Governor to
call a special election. Under Wisconsin law as it then existed it was a discretionary act. He could leave it vacant or he could call a special election, but he couldn't appoint. So we organized a campaign to put him in a position of where if he did not call a special election then he wasn't following a Wisconsin tradition. This was a pretty sizable pressure. He did eventually call a special election and the Republicans lost it. This was the beginning of the changeover in Wisconsin. So it was a very important occasion and a major event in political history in that state.
In connection with the calling of that special election, I had some historical research done which disclosed that in 1917 there were special elections called in Wisconsin because in the war fever of that year the Congress had declined to seat Victor Berger who was elected from Milwaukee to Congress on the Socialist ticket and the elder La Follette had declined to vote -- he either voted against war or Army merchant ships -- at any rate the issue of neutrality was something. He filibustered as I recall. It was a very famous event but I'm not too sure of the details
at the moment.
There was a special election on that occasion, and President Wilson sent in Vice President Marshall to campaign in Wisconsin for a war -- support ticket, in effect against La Follette, the liberal Republican, and against the Socialists. Incidentally Victor Berger was re-elected. He never was seated, but he was elected twice. Congress just refused to accept him. And the issue of the outsider, the intervention, the bossism, the President tried to tell the people of Wisconsin how to run their affairs, was very prominent in the newspaper accounts that year. And it's a risk that the President always runs when he himself is not a candidate, and yet he goes in to try to help others. He can make news, he can create a climate, but if he attempts to campaign directly and say, you know, "In my judgment you ought to do thus and so," he usually ends up doing more harm than good from his own standpoint. So, you get a certain amount of standing aloof in the off years.
HESS: Anything else on elections?
NASH: Not at the moment.
HESS: Let's take up the general subject of segregation in
the District of Columbia. In our last interview we mentioned the Thompson Restaurant case. About that time was when Dr. Ralph Bunche refused an appointment that would have meant that he would have had to resign from his post at the United Nations. Do you recall anything on that?
NASH: Yes. This was not the only reason that Ralph Bunche refused that appointment. He felt personally committed to the United Nations and he desired to be an international civil servant. One of the reasons that was given for his declination of the appointment as Assistant Secretary of State was the difficulty of getting his children educated in an integrated environment in Washington, D. C. Well, it so happens that I was one of the organizers of an integrated school, Georgetown Day School, for my own children, in 1945, which is still in operation and of which my wife is the director, and with Mr. Truman's knowledge and permission, a good deal of my time went into the affairs of that school because he felt it was of a pilot nature in the District of Columbia.
It so happens that on the day Mr. Bunche (was an
old friend), was coming in to see the President about the appointment as Assistant Secretary of State, I went over and hung around the outer office, the President's office, at the time that Mr. Bunche was due and while he was waiting there to go in, I said to him, "Ralph, the newspapers are saying that one of the reasons you are going to turn this thing down is that you don't have a proper place for your children to go to school. Don't forget Georgetown Day School." He knew about it because it's a fairly famous school, particularly among the Washington Negroes, and his close friend and old law partner, Charlie Houston was, at that particular point, one of the school's officers.
So he said, "Well, that wasn't the only thing." And went on to make some remarks about the importance of the United Nations, and what he personally could contribute towards it, and his obligation to it. So I think that the public statements about Washington, the Nation's capital, and segregation, and high level appointments, were true but the utterances were intended to have an effect, to be a blow calling people's attention to the existence of a problem and an unmet need.
I don't have any doubt but what Ralph Bunche or any other high ranking presidential appointee then and now, with the help of a few friends, would be able to find what he needed in the way of housing, and of schools, and the like. After all Washington has been the principal seat of the country's free Negroes all through the period of slavery, and high ranking civil servants or intellectuals or professional people, of which Ralph Bunche is one, are the modern counterpart of the free Negroes of a century ago. And ten percent of the country's Negroes were free Negroes at all times. And Washington was their capital and the elite of the Washington Negro community is about as an exclusive an elite as you will find anywhere in the country. It's a very close group, and they're very proud of their membership in it, and they don't let others in. I'm not saying Ralph was one of those; I'm saying that this elite exists even today, and they are mostly old Washingtonians through the descendants of free Negroes of a hundred years ago. So if this community existed then, I don't think we should underestimate the ability of professional persons who happen to be Negro to take
care of themselves. At the same time, nobody in that situation in his right mind would overlook an opportunity to speak up.
HESS: In a clipping I found in one of your folders at the Library, he was quoted as saying that it was extremely difficult for a Negro to maintain even a semblance of human dignity in Washington. As you say there were probably many reasons for a statement such as that.
NASH: Lots of reasons, yes.
HESS: The Thompson Restaurant case, do you think we covered that fairly well the other day?
NASH: I think so. It was a rather carefully planned test and it had a good effect.
On the general subject of segregation in the District of Columbia I think we might give a little history on this. At the time Of the special message in February of 1948, one of the questions under discussion was whether there should be a reference to segregation in the District of Columbia, and a decision was made then by the President's advisers, in which I'm sure he concurred, although I had never discussed it with him personally, that there were two related issues in
the District of Columbia of which one was basic to the other: One was the franchise and the other one was segregation and discrimination. So the question was do you go after everything at once, or do you go after the voteless District of Columbia? This was the problem to start with. After all, if all the people of the District of Columbia were properly enfranchised, they would be able to deal with the questions of segregation and discrimination themselves. The reason why they are not enfranchised is because those who choose to protect segregation in the Congress of the United States know that this is true and therefore are unwilling to permit it to happen. It was true in 1948 when we were discussing the message and the legislation to accompany it, and it is true even today. This is basically the issue behind home rule.
Well, rightly or wrongly, we concluded that the President should hit the issue of their franchisement of the District of Columbia and say that if this is accomplished, then it would be possible for the people of the District to settle this matter in their own way, in their own time. This meant that the message and
the legislation both played down the whole issue of segregation in the District of Columbia. It's a very, very old issue. It's interesting how often this has come up in the history of the Presidency. You see, there was emancipation of Negroes in the District of Columbia, a clear Federal responsibility where the whole issue of slave states and free states and states' rights can't possibly raise its head, because constitutionally it's a Federal responsibility. This issue was raised, legislatively and politically in the time of Lincoln. If you check the history books you'll find out that the Emancipation Proclamation was foreshadowed by the emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia, I think legislatively. And since the votes just weren't present to do it legislatively for the whole nation, the President chose the war powers of the Presidency when the time came. Now in modern times, of course, it was inevitable that Washington should become an arena in which this issue would be wrestled out. This did happen in the restaurant case, and the recreation system, and the school system, and every aspect of modern community service entered into it.
The course that we followed in the White House at this time, following the decision to make of it only a secondary issue and leaving the presidential focus on the primary issue of the, franchise, was characteristic of the way in which he operated in all these areas when I was there, that is, the President had certain powers, he can call attention to things, but he's also the Chief Executive and he has special powers where the District of Columbia is concerned, but also in other Federal territories. Consequently, his staff can be working with either voluntary organizations, or the agencies of Government such as the District Commissioners, or the Corporation Council, with the foundations, in our case the Marshall Field Foundation and the Rosenwald Fund, using the powers of the office to exercise leverage. This is exactly what was done in the case of segregation of the District of Columbia. With presidential blessing I went to a meeting in New York in which eight or ten people got together, and they raised with me the question of the ommission of any reference to segregation in the District of Columbia, and discrimination,
in the President's message of 1948. I told them substantially what I am telling you. They didn't agree with it. They said, "All right, now the President didn't do it, so we have to redress it."
At that point, I put forth a suggestion which I thought was a good one then and I still think it was. That rather than leave this up to the President, which would inevitably obscure the issue of home rule, a more fundamental issue even than the issue of segregation, that the President ought to be given some help. And the problem with the various forces that were contending in the arena of Washington, D.C. was that they were all dealing with parts of the problem and dealing with it in their own way, which is inevitable, but without the uniform ammunition that a good fire power needs to have. So I was persuasive on that occasion and those who were present decided that a little committee would be set up, which would make its own investigation of segregation and discrimination in the District of Columbia, and would issue a report. And this report would then be made available as a public service but it would be a. disclosure and
HESS: Who were members of that group?
NASH: Well, let me see. Will Alexander was still alive; Charles Dollard of the Carnegie Corporation was there. I don't mean John Dollard, there were two Dollards. This was the Dollard that had been associated with General Osborne in the Information and Education Branch of the. Army; Donald Young, now of the Russell Sage Foundation; I think this is basically the group. And they did do the research. They prepared a pamphlet which came out. Well, I was handed the first copy of it the morning after the election of 1948. So the research was done, you see, between the February message on civil rights and the election itself. I provided quite a bit of technical assistance to the committee. Again, I saw to it that they had the services of an information specialist who could help with the writing and who could work on the distribution. We used the same technique of distribution that we had used for the report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights, by Charles I. Durham, "Jack" Durham. I did not attempt to guide their research. I kept miles away from the
writing of it, and as often happens in things of this kind, it was just as well that I did, because the actual author the committee hired was the son of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Jr., who was a writer at that time for Marshall Fields' newspaper, the Sun-Times. He was young and enthusiastic and he said some things probably that a more cautious person wouldn't have, and it did lead to some trouble. I think they eventually dumped him and got another writer to take his material and rework it with more caution.
HESS: For the final product.
NASH: Yes, and he was a very controversial guy himself. So you see what the problem was like to start with. That was the famous Joe Lohman. You know about him?
NASH: Oh. It's spelled L-0-H-M-A-N, and he was -- let's take it from the present and go back. At the present time he is chief of the Institute of Police Management or police something at the University of California at Berkeley. This is a famous police training school and one of the few that has university standing. It's
the one where Wilson, the present police chief of the city of Chicago came from, and when Wilson came to Chicago, Lohman went to Berkeley as the director. He had just been defeated for nomination of Governor of Illinois, he had served at least one term and maybe two as treasurer of the State of Illinois and he had got into that position from having been sheriff of Cook County.
We're old friends from the days when we were graduate students together at the University of Chicago, he in sociology and I in anthropology. In between he had done some very interesting work for the American Council on Race Relations in the field of the police in relationship to minority groups, and had been a consultant to that group. This was an organization which I helped start. So I knew of his work and he came in with the finished pamphlet, as I say, election morning, that is, the morning after election. We had all been up all night listening to returns. I think of it because it was a day like this, except that I hadn't had any sleep that night -- 1948. And he came in.
Well, this turned out to be good, sound strategy, because
with this pamphlet in hand all of us began to work, instead of getting a scattered effort you began a focusing of effort in terms of the finding. Even those who disagreed with it were obliged to attack it and others defended it, and so it tended to channelize the energies and efforts and since it didn't take very long and wasn't very expensive, I think the whole thing cost less than $100,000, it was a very successful operation.
Now, there were other things, of course, that could be done in the District of Columbia, ranging all the way from the appointment of school board members, the planning of the budget, the naming of commissioners, commissioners' appointments and so on, and from 1948 on I worked with other members of the staff and with the Bureau of the Budget on legislation and budgetary matters and everything connected with the District of Columbia, if it had any civil rights angle whatsoever. I'm not saying this was something that I did, it's merely that somebody had to do it and it was a part of the whole Truman operation and contribution to the civil rights
HESS: Was there very much local pressure back at that time, such as there is now, people like Marion Barry, who heads the Free D.C. Movement?
NASH: Yes, I'm familiar with the movement, of course. Yes, except that it was in a very low key compared to today's efforts. Everything we did looks pretty mild, pretty old-fashioned by today's standards. But we were as closely abreast and as far ahead of the thinking in the 1950s era, as the people that handled the problem in the '60s are today, and they wouldn't be able to go as far as they do and still have at least some community support, and they may have exceeded it at times. You know, when you've exceeded then you have backlash. If you don't have any backlash, then you're riot far enough ahead of the crowd. If you have too much backlash, you've gotten ahead of your troops and you've got to wait for them to catch up with you. It seems to me that this is one of the principal items in the art of political leadership.
HESS: Did they ever try to have a meeting with you at the Executive Office Building, try to put pressure
on the . . .
NASH: Oh, yes, and often did. That's what I was there for. And you know, when Mr. Niles was alive and functioning this was basically his area of responsibility and then we would do it together or else I would do it. Then after 1950 I did do it pretty much myself.
HESS: In working on the District of Columbia matters, did you work with the Department of the Interior and with Oscar Chapman?
NASH: Yes, indeed. You see, the real leader as far as the agencies of Government are concerned in the whole matter of segregation of the District of Columbia over the years has been the Interior Department. I suppose about the first public facility in the whole District of Columbia that was integrated were some of the recreation facilities maintained by the National Capital Park System, under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department by Secretary Ickes, way back in the old days, a long time ago; Hains Point, specifically. By my time, these things were taken for granted. Segregated golfing wasn't thought necessary, but segregated swimming was, and we had a lot of tension around the opening of the swimming pools. We had a lot more
tension around the opening of the playgrounds.
HESS: Do you recall the trouble that was caused by the Anacostia swimming pool, June 28 and 29 of 1949?
NASH: Indeed I do.
HESS: Could you tell me about that?
NASH: Well, it was a case where the D. C. let me see, was that a D.C. recreation -- yes, it was the D.C. recreation -- that board operated the pool and consistent with the President's policy, it was announced that it would be integrated for summer operation. Other pools had been integrated, Hains Point, for example, but the Southeast was a slightly different kettle of fish as far as the neighborhood goes, and there was a good deal of tension surrounding it. It was opened and then it was closed. I am trying to recall now whether the Interior Department was involved in that one. I don't think it was, but I think there was an indirect connection in this sense, Jerry, that the Interior Department let it be known that if the D.C. Commissioners backed down in the face of pressure, which the Department was quite sure would subside, they would simply take it over as a part of the National Capital Park
System which operated under the Secretary of the Interior and they would, so to speak, nationalize it. In fact, that might even have been done in order to provide additional policemen, because with three different police departments: the metropolitan police, the capitol police and the park police, there always has been a divided problem.
HESS: They still have that division today, don't they?
NASH: Yes, yes, they do, and it's very troublesome. Well, I would just have to check the facts of the records, but it seems to me that we had some dealings with "Jebby" [C. Girard] Davidson, then the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, with jurisdiction over parks; Abe Fortas, now justice, who was Under Secretary. And the point is, how do you handle a situation in such :a way as to continue to provide the swimming, to provide it where it's needed, to provide it consistent with the policy of no segregation, the national policy, and where the local people are timid. I don't blame them, anybody's timid in a situation of that kind and where they just say, "Well, we just don't have the power to maintain law and order. We don't have enough lifeguards,
we don't have enough of anything, there will be an incident and so on, and we can't get the money to build the extra pools." This is always hard to get for the District. At this point, I think the Interior Department, with help from the White House, just said, "O.K., if you aren't man enough to do it, we are." And between the two of them, they got it done, and of course, today, it sounds like ancient history. But it wasn't then.
HESS: On what subjects or areas of concern did you work with the Interior Department the most?
NASH: Well, those that touched on civil rights. Territories, because at that time they were handling Alaska and Hawaii statehood, Indians, the National Park Service, because we had a lot of problems in the park service. Many of the national parks grew out of state parks, and sometimes those are taken over with covenants which in effect stated that the Federal Government is bound to provide services consistent with state law, in other words, with segregation. I well remember going down to Shenandoah National Park and finding that the points from which you view the valley were
separated. There was a white viewing place and a colored viewing place, and trying to explain that to my children proved impossible. So we went back and I got in touch with "Debby" Davidson and Oscar Chapman and we got that straightened out pretty fast. Little things like that are what, of course, make the big difference in an administration which is trying to execute the laws faithfully. I would say those three primarily, territories, Indians and parks.
HESS: What were the problems that were encountered in the question in segregation in Government building here in town?
NASH: When I first came to Washington the pattern of segregated facilities was still general, for example, what is now the Executive Office Building, the old State, War and Navy Building, by this time State had occupied the whole thing, had an executive dining room and it had a cafeteria, white, and a cafeteria, colored. And it wasn't until Dean Acheson was Under Secretary that we got those signs taken down. I called Dave Niles' attention to it one day and he just picked up the phone and spoke to Dean, and Dean had been around the building so much that he wasn't especially aware
of it. He just took them down. I must say, people continued to eat in the same place, but I mean, there's a world of difference. And of course, today they don't, but they would if they still had that sign out.
What's now the Department of Health, Education and Welfare , when I first came to town in 1942 , was called the New Social Security Building. I don't know where the old one was. It was called New Social Security, and it had segregated eating facilities as late as May of 1942. They didn't last very long. Now then we also had a problem, of course, with the older departments which were willing to hire a certain number of Negroes if they were in lower level positions, I'm not talking about custodians , but clerks, Grade 1 , Grade 2 , and Grade 3 , and always somehow kind of compartmentalized with filing cabinets put up there so there would be a little psychological barrier between then and everybody else. This was almost universal in the Government agencies right up to the end of the war. The method that we used in getting rid of this was simply to see to it that every major department and independent agency had a special assistant. He usually
just had that title, "Special Assistant to So and So," to the top man, mostly a Negro, sometimes not. His job was to see to it that the voluntary organizations, the Negro press, the employment policies, the division of office space, there was a complaint procedure, that there was somebody that they could go to and he could go right straight to the top man and get it straightened out. This was the technique that we used, and as long as he didn't have statutes, only presidential policy and its implementation, it was the most effective way to work. Now it is not as effective, of course, as what is being done today, by any means, but if we hadn't been doing that I don't think you .would have what you have today and in another ten years this will look pretty old-fashioned too.
HESS: What were the problems that arose down at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving?
NASH: I can tell you've been going over my files.
Why, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving was, and I think still is, very highly organized on a craft union basis. There were not many engravers, and the fellows that handled that specialized work -- print the
money and do the engraving from which the plates from which the money is printed, and stamps and Government bonds and all the rest of it -- are highly paid and it's not an occupation that expands very much. In other words, it isn't a big bureau; it isn't much bigger. than it was when the money supply was smaller. I mean, you don't have to have more engravers just because you print more money. And it's been very restrictive. They are old-fashioned, old line, it's an old-time art, and they just continued to pursue old time ways. They resisted change and they resisted it very, very vigorously.
HESS: They put up about the biggest resistance of anybody in town, didn't they?
NASH: Just about, just about. But we prided ourselves in our ability to handle that type of problem without an explosion.
HESS: How did you handle that?
NASH: Very steady pressure. You have to let people know that if there is a showdown, the President wouldn't particularly mind closing up the establishment and having the printing done under contract. You don't have to have a Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
HESS: Was that threat made?
NASH: I don't recall, but this is . . .
HESS: Something that could have been done.
NASH: Sure, essentially this is a threat that you always have.
HESS: I didn't know things got that serious or not.
NASH: Well, I don't know either, but there isn't a time when this isn't in the back of somebody's mind. When you're conducting a tough negotiation -- there isn't anything magical about the Government printing its own bonds. It does so in order to protect their integrity and prevent counterfeiting, but it could be done under contract. And if it were done under contract these old-fashioned personnel practices wouldn't be permitted. So you don't have to misuse the fact that you represent the President and say, "Well, you know, the President is going to close you up." I mean, this is a very poor way to do anything. In the first place, it wouldn't have been my decision; it would be his decision. I didn't have the right to make that, but when you're talking to people and they say, "We don't have to continue to make these bonds." The answer is
the Government doesn't have to. There were a lot of people who would like the business. But you have to bear in mind that you're dealing with old, established, on-going social systems with ingrained practices and that people will change for the better if you help them and if you display both patience and complete firmness.
HESS: On the subject of housing in the District, when the colored population starts to expand, of course, they move in and take over other areas. Was there any pressure from real estate groups to try to restrict the colored people to a certain section?
NASH: Of course. And this is very fully covered in that little pamphlet "Segregation in the District of Columbia."
HESS: Did these pressure groups ever come to see you in the White House?
NASH: No, my contacts were primarily with their adversaries. As I say because we made the decision to focus on home rule rather than on segregation and discrimination as far as the President was concerned. Then we were using other groups, and helping other groups, and consequently they were at the focal point of the pressure. Therefore,
I didn't have direct negotiations with them. We did, of course, want to help out in the housing field, a very fundamental field in minority rights. And it was in this context that the Government brief in the restricted covenant cases was developed. The case that was heard in 1948, is a piece of landmark, traditional history. I think I've already mentioned that. The work on that was done over in the Justice Department by a lawyer there who was a brother-in-law of Charlie Ross.
We also, of course, had our own hands filled with responsibilities. As far as the Government agencies were concerned, one of the perpetuators of segregated patterns of housing, was the Public Housing Administration, which at that time was building segregated housing and a subsidized low rent program. The Federal Housing Administration was a lending agency which had valuations built into its regulations which required the appraisers to put a lower valuation on mixed neighborhoods rather than on segregated neighborhoods. So that around 1950 I spent months of work trying to get those regulations changed and my principal contact over there was Frank
Horne who was a Special Assistant to the Public Housing Administrator, no he was at the Federal Housing Administration. At any rate, each one of those had a race relations adviser, and I worked at times with them and then at times with their bosses. Then, you see, we had the new program coming up which was an antecedent to today's poverty program, the Urban Renewal Administration. And here it was very important that we find some method of dealing with the housing problem, and the people who are being turned out of their slum homes, in order to have either public housing projects or publicly insured private multi-family dwellings, so that you wouldn't have "Negro clearance" at the same time that you had slum clearance. We were not a hundred percent successful, but we were somewhat successful and we were able to get around enough of the obstacles so that after a few years, Chicago, which hadn't had any public housing up to that point, then began to get a lot, and this was, of course, this has completely changed the face of Chicago and made it look very different. There wasn't a major city in the United States that didn't have this problem. My concern was, of course, that the President
as the Chief Executive would not condone, or by failure to act, permit the development of policies, regulations, procedures that were, in fact, discriminatory. Now in all this you had to operate without benefit of special legislation, but in my opinion you didn't necessarily have to have special legislation because almost all of these programs were operated in accordance with regulations generated by the agencies themselves. If they, historically, had developed discrimination patterns, then historically they could change it. And I thought it was our job to see to it that the President's influence was exerted in that direction. This, of course, is not a rapid or drastic way of bringing about change. But in some respects, it laid the foundation for much more sweeping changes that came about legislatively or as a matter of policy later. In some ways, I think it had a good deal to recommend it because we operated without any backlash to speak of, and still, I think, we got quite a bit done.
HESS: A question coming up to modern day, do you think they'll ever have home rule here?
NASH: I don't have any doubt of it.
HESS: How will that be put through. What will finally be the actions to get Congress to change their minds?
NASH: Well, if you get enough of a change in the climate of opinion so that Congressmen who come from the part of the country where segregation is accepted as a way of life having an almost religious sanctity, if you get a situation where either they aren't returned to office or where when they are returned to office they don't get put on committees where they can exercise protective custody over white supremacy in the District of Columbia, which is what happens now, the day that happens, it will change and that will be the end of it.
HESS: The way some of these people coming from the South, with their seniority, always land on the top committees that's a little bit hard to do.
A question on Earl Wayne Beck, while we are discussing the District of Columbia, and in your files there is a rather thick folder dealing with Earl Wayne Beck and most of his story is pretty well-known, of course, but I wonder if there was any background, anything that wasn't generally known about the story?
NASH: This is not an important enough episode to be worth wasting much time on, Jerry. Earl Beck was an administrator of a public facility, I think a children's home in Kansas City, when Mr. Truman was the chief administrator of the country, and the job as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia since the days of Lincoln has been a Negro appointment. Today, it's so old-fashioned to think of it in those terms that it's not a political plum. And it really wasn't anymore after the second war. It was, however, as late as 1944 , when a preacher from Philadelphia was made Recorder of Deeds and this was regarded as a top Negro appointment. It seems hard to believe that as recently as twenty-two years ago, this could be the case but it was.
Well, when Mr. Truman came along and wanted to do something for an old friend it seemed to him as though this were a good man to put in, but it was deeply resented by some people who thought that it wasn't a thing for an old friend, that it was a top spot still for either an aspiring Negro politician or a reward for a Negro politician. And in the course of it they
created quite a strong controversy including digging up the fact that there had been some discontent about the way in which Earl Beck handled that school. And Mr. Truman has always maintained that he was a strict disciplinarian, but that was all that was wrong, and he didn't see anything wrong with that, and eventually it wore itself out.
But the fact remains that Mr. Beck wasn't qualified for the job and the Recorder of Deeds' office needed modernizing and it was just a part of the many things that are wrong with the District of Columbia government. The office needed modernizing, you couldn't possibly modernize it if you were going to use it in this particular way, but after the attack of Mr. Beck the President got his dander up and after that there wasn't anything to do but find some way to go through with it. This was one of my many jobs.
HESS: In the end I don't believe he was appointed, was he?
NASH: I think it just wore itself out.
HESS: Anything else on the general subject of segregation of the District of Columbia?
NASH: Not for now.
HESS: How about the general subject of staff meetings. We mentioned the pre-press conferences some time back, but I don't think we mentioned his general staff meetings in the morning.
NASH: Well, I can tell you what I know about it. I'm probably not the best informant on this.
Mr. Niles never attended staff conferences. As far as I know he never attended one. I attended them daily for the very brief period in which I reported directly to the President without an intermediary. During most of my ten year association with the White House I had an intermediary, so this is why I say I'm not such a hot witness.
Suppose I begin by telling you what they were like. Bear in mind that this was at the end of the administration, it was almost in the close-out period. It was in the final month, Mr. Truman was getting ready to leave, many important issues were either being deferred or sometimes they were just acted upon knowing that they would be left as a kind of a residue for a new President. But they opened up at 9 o'clock. They were in the President's office. Characteristically in
the less than two months that I attended them there would be the President's three Secretaries, the three service aides, the Administrative Assistants and the Special Assistant to the President, and the Counsel. That's about it. And, of course, the Executive Clerk. If you didn't have the Executive Clerk, nobody would know where the papers were. He was a very important man, not a policy maker or adviser, but a very indispensable technician. Mr. Truman would convene things, there would be a little visiting first, people would, you know, get his ear and there would be a little discussion for twenty or thirty seconds, and then he would sit down behind the big desk and we'd all be lined up in a semi-circle in front of him in straight chairs, as many as were needed, and nobody would, as a rule, volunteer anything, waiting for him to take the lead, and he would pass some comment about the day's events or what had happened and there would be a good deal of wisecracking back and forth. Then he would bring up some problems. Sometimes they would be problems for discussion. Sometimes they would be simply matters that had come to his attention where there
was a piece of paper connected with it, and he would simply hand out assignments right then and there. They never lasted over a half an hour, sometimes only fifteen or twenty minutes.
There was not a great deal of discussion among us, it was more a series of back and forth discussions between a person who had a responsibility or an area of interest, who would either volunteer something or the President would call on him. Bear in mind this was a group of people that knew each other intimately by this time. We'd done everything from playing poker together, to going through political campaigns together, to working on some of the biggest national problems that our country's ever had. You didn't need ground rules with a group like that, this was all old shoe.
HESS: Would the President like to have a solution presented at the same time that a problem was brought up?
NASH: Well, Mr. Truman's way of working matters of that kind, was not necessarily exemplified in a staff conference. When a matter was up for decision -- see, the staff conference is not a good place for a decision; there would have to be a special meeting on that. All
sorts of people might be brought in who would not ordinarily partake of the staff conference. Consequently, what he liked to have was the basic file, and then the action papers on top, and if it was at all controversial he expected to have the action papers both ways, with memoranda explaining the pros and cons, or maybe one memorandum supporting the pro and the other memorandum supporting the con. But he didn't read these at the time. He would usually be familiar with what was in them. I never went to the decision meeting where he wasn't quite familiar with what was the subject matter. But I always had a feeling that he'd either done his reading before or he'd had so many discussions about it with so many different people that he had acquired a feel for it. And then there would be a back and forth on it, and then as a rule he would say, "Well, let me have the arguments for it." And then somebody else, "Well, I know you're against it, now, let me hear what you have to say." And then he would make the decision, make it right then and there without any elaborate palaver or discussion and move on to the next subject. Usually,
the meeting would break up and then another one would reconvene.
HESS: This is speaking of a decision meeting.
HESS: Would those come up on any regular basis, or just when a decision had to be . . .
NASH: No, strictly ad hoc. You might get one on fifteen minutes notice and it was just your business as a staff member, if you'd been assigned this area or this special problem, to be ready. If it was a matter of major importance you'd probably know about it, you know, two or three days, or sometimes two or three weeks ahead. But when the time comes for the decision, you're usually operating against a deadline of some kind. A bill has to be signed, a bill has to be vetoed, or the Executive order has to be signed, or something has to go into the Federal Register, I mean, the business of the office regulates the tempo. And it's simply necessary between about nine in the morning and sometime before too late at night to get everything in and get the business settled and move on to the next problem. There were very few of these that Mr.
Truman couldn't dispose of in fifteen minutes.
HESS: He had done his homework and knew what . . .
NASH: And he expected you to have done yours and to have the alternatives laid out in very sharp, clear-cut form as far as possible, so they were subject to a yes or no decision: "Yes, I will, " or "No, I won't." Very good method of operating.
Now, some people are likely to say, "Oh, well, this makes the world all black and white." Well, in the first place, Mr. Truman is somewhat of a black and white temperament guy. Things are either the way you want, or the way you don't want, and that's why . . .
HESS: They're right or wrong
NASH: They're right or wrong, that's it, and he's not interested in the gray area.
But, it's also a fact that you cannot run the affairs of government, and maybe not even any affairs, on a "yes," "no," or "maybe" basis. It's like a computer, you know, the circuit's open or it's closed, and those people who are always filled with the maybes, may be good philosophers, but I think they're quite often bad administrators. Mr. Truman was a very good
natural administrator, and he relied on his staff very much, but not for the decision. He learned the hard way. There was a time, early in his career as President, when he let the staff advisers make decisions for him and they got him into an awful lot of trouble, and after a couple of big ones that went wrong, that never happened again.
HESS: What were those?
NASH: Well, the two famous ones are the termination of lend-lease to Russia, where he just felt he didn't know enough about it to make the decision and relied on the State Department for advice, which I think historically turned out to be very bad advice. The other one was letting Cyrus Ching go.
HESS: Back to his meetings, if a problem would have to be argued out, say before he came in, would the full staff generally argue it out or would there be a smaller group?
NASH: Here again, I'm possibly not the best witness. There may have been all sorts of meetings that I don' t. know anything about. When I left the White House at noon on January 20, 1953, I'd been there longer than anybody
else. The reason why I was there longer than anybody else was that I kept my nose out of their business and I saw to it that they kept theirs out of mine. So I wasn't about to debate civil rights with the service aides, nor was I about to take up with them the question of aircraft procurement.
Now, some people had .a tendency to try to get into everything, sometimes they had to, sometimes they didn't have to. The American Council for Judaism, a small non-Zionist, Jewish organization in the United States, somehow or other got the ear of John Steelman. Well, John wasn't in a position to know how big this organization was, how influential, or which important areas of support for the President would be undercut by giving them presidential recognition. The reason they went to him, of course, was that they couldn't get anywhere with Niles or me. So, several times I had to pull John up pretty short. He had a lot of rank that I didn't have, and so on, and it wasn't a question of -- pulling up short isn't the right way to do it -- I mean, if I'd done that he probably would have stepped on me and this wouldn't have helped the
President any. So, I just had to sit down and talk to him about it, and gradually get him to see that what looked like a reasonable course of action to him was not necessarily either politically wise in the President's interest, and quite possibly not even as right morally as it appeared on the surface. When this would happen, we'd usually say, "Well, why don't you take care of it?"
Of course, this is what should have happened in the first place. When I got letters like that, or when Niles got letters like that, why, we'd see to it that they went back to the person that should have handled them in the first place instead of trying to get into an area that you're not competent in. This was something I learned from him, because I'm one of those people that has the tendency to get into everything, but I learned not to do it and then I watched some of my closest associates at the White House get assassinated practically.
HESS: There was a time in 1946 when it was under consideration to curtail staff meetings because of the "Kitchen Cabinet" criticisms? Do you remember anything about that?
NASH: No, I just don't know anything about that. In 1946 I wasn't . . .
HESS: It's pretty early.
NASH: . . . yes . . . close enough to the inner workings to know about that.
HESS: O.K. Anything else . . .
NASH: But at that time if a subject like that had come up with Niles, he would say, "Well, you know, who wants to go in the first place."
HESS: That's all right. He wouldn't care.
O.K. Anything else on staff meetings? Now, we mentioned pre-press conferences earlier on the tapes, but one of the questions I forgot to ask you was, who went to the pre-press conference? Did the entire group that sat in on the pre-press conference go over to when the President actually met the reporters?
NASH: No, no, because if that is done it then looks as though the President doesn't feel self-confident and isn't able to field the questions that come to him, he's got to have a small army behind him. This creates a very bad impression. I used to make it a practice not to follow, and if I did, it was because of
having taken part in the pre-press conference across the street with him, then I would see to it that I didn't get up in front of the room, unless I had some business to be there. There were some people, of course, the President's Press Secretary, I mean he's got to be showing there. Some people feel that their position is somehow denigrated if they can't sit up there with the President in front of the press. This is really very poor business. Only those should be there who have a good reason to be there. And if it got to be too many, why, somebody, the Press Secretary or somebody would kind of ease out a little bit and some of us would be in the back of the room. I made it a point always to attend press conferences, but also to stay in the back there with it.
HESS: You did always attend.
NASH: I attended every press conference that took place anytime it was where I was anywhere nearby, but when they used to be held in the President's office I would just wait until everybody was in and then I would wander in and stand in the back of the room where I could hear, but not be conspicuous. Then when they
were moved across to the old Indian Treaty Room in the State Department, and then I would come in and take a seat in the back of the room. Sometimes, I would have been at the pre-press. Well, I just detached myself from the President's party and came around the other way and come in the back door. Nobody ever makes you stay at a thing like that, you know. Anybody that does that does so because he wants to be in the limelight instead of doing his work.
HESS: Anything else on the press conferences?
NASH: I don't think so.
You have a little tape left. There's one episode that you might want to get down. Did I ever tell you about the day of prayer for world peace?
HESS: I don't think so.
NASH: Well, this was when the press conferences were still being held in the Oval Office, and of course, as everybody knows, it's traditional for the first question to come from anybody that wants to ask it and then for the senior member of the press corps to say, "Thank you Mr. President," when he thinks it's time.
HESS: Merriman Smith usually.
NASH: Merriman Smith has done it for the last generation or two. On this occasion a fellow spoke up and he didn't wait for the President to say, "Well, gentlemen I have thus and so today, or I don't have anything, but I'm ready for questions." He just started out and he didn't say, "Mr. President." He said, "I represent the thus and such," which nobody had ever heard of. He said, "I want to know how you feel about a day of prayer for world peace." Well, the whole manner and the approach and everything else showed that he was a ringer. So the Secret Service moved over towards him and the press moved away from him. They didn't know whether he had a stink bomb or whether there was going to be gun play or whatever. It was very tense. This is one of the times I admired the President's ability to think on his feet. It didn't ruffle him in the slightest. I mean, the idea that he couldn't think on his feet, or that he shot from the hip, or that you could catch him off guard and so on. When he appeared to be off guard he usually wasn't. And he was far from off guard on this occasion, you know. He knew that perhaps he was faced with a potential assassin, or troublemaker,
or a very bad news story or a touchy question, this sort of thing was never asked in a press conference, except with deliberate attempt to embarrass the President. And without hesitating one second or doing anything he said, "I think that's something we ought to pray for everyday, next question." They didn't hustle him out of the room, but boy there was a big inquiry to see how he got in.
It taught everybody a good lesson, I think, because he was a friend of a friend of a friend, and a new member of the staff had called over and had, at the very last minute, just as they were going in, had asked whether so-and-so could come. And they said, "Well, he doesn't have a card. Well, it's all right." And they just had time to give this man's name to the gate, from the press office, and the fellow that came, you see, was not the one that asked or was invited. He used the other man's name. He was a ringer, a harmless ringer, but it could have been the other way around, too. I just thought I'd tell you that story.
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]