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 29, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
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and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
November 29, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Let's start off today by discussing the FEPC, the Fair Employment Practice Commission. Let's start back at the beginning when the FEPC was established by Executive order of President Roosevelt on June 25th, 1941. Who was on the committee at that time?
NASH: That is correct. Now, this took place before I came to Washington the first time. The creation of the FEPC was an outgrowth of Negro protest about noninclusion on the basis of equality in the war buildup. Specifically, Negroes were talking about employment in defense, they were talking about equal opportunity in the Armed Forces, and they were talking, to some extent, about public accommodations, although this was primarily a job and military effort. The matter came to a head in the election of 1940, which was already complicated by the third term issue with FDR.
A. Philip Randolph was very put out about what was essentially a continuation of the World War I pattern of discrimination. That is, divisional separation of Negroes in the Armed Forces; hot and heavy jobs
only in big industry; no participation at all in the auxiliaries, WACS, WAFS, and SPARS. Negro officers at a low level in Negro divisions, and none at all on an integrated basis.
The leading Negro leaders were brought into what was then the Army, with an Air Force subsidiary, to try to deal with this on a high level. William Hastie, then of the Howard University Law School, now Judge Hastie of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in between Governor Hastie of the Virgin Islands, whom I mentioned earlier, was brought in with Truman K. Gibson of Chicago, as his assistant, but their efforts were very unsatisfactory. And in the Air Force which everybody could see, was going to be a big thing in the war that was just around the corner, Negro participation was limited to a pilots training course connected with Tuskegee Institute, a segregated facility, and this meant segregation in the Army of the future. It's as though somebody were to say today that you would have a white NASA, and a Negro NASA, and it is unthinkable and inconceivable, but it was actually part of the defense buildup in 1940.
There is a story which goes around which I'll repeat
for the record without any attempt to verify it. This took place before I got into government. I heard the story many, many times, it is widely believed by Negroes who are old enough to remember the days of 1940, and the story is that there was a rally in connection with the 1940 election in New York, and as always there is a crush, this was before the days of airplane campaigning; so the presidential train came into Pennsylvania Station, or left from it, I don't know which, I think it was after a big rally and parade, probably the traditional Madison Square Garden approach -- something of that kind.
Steve Early, then the Press Secretary to the President was, according to the story, on his way back to join the presidential party, and a Negro cop from the New York police force, didn't recognize him and halted him, and asked for his credentials and Steve was in a hurry, and the story is that he kneed the Negro cop in the groin. So, this was about to result in a tremendous explosion and uproar in New York, and certain concessions had to be made. Now, my source for this particular story is Ted Poston, now of the New York
Post, and you can easily talk to him if you want to about this. From my standpoint, it doesn't make much difference whether it's true or false. The point is, influential Negroes thought it was true, and the story further goes that they demanded and received in court, concessions which look rather primitive today but were substantial advances at that time.
HESS: What were those?
NASH: A Negro general, Ben Davis; a Negro cadre in the Air Force, this was the Air Force unit at Tuskegee ; and an FEPC.
Now, I do know, from talking with others -- here we're dealing with the realm of myth, it might be true and it might not -- what is true is that A. Philip Randolph and other Negro leaders were so disturbed by the failure of Negroes to have any substantial participation in the build up of the war effort, is that they threatened a march on Washington.
Now, this is one of the earliest examples of modern militancy in the civil rights field. LaGuardia was then in the Office of Civilian Defense, as was Mrs. Roosevelt. It is my understanding, obtained from
Jonathan Daniels, and others with whom I worked, that in an effort to head off an embarrassing mass demonstration in Washington, comparable to what we have seen in the past few years, but in a much earlier era, that the FEPC was dreamed up – created -- and the Executive order creating it was prepared and issued and this staved off the embarrassment of the rally. This, I think, is substantially correct.
Now, I came into government when the FEPC order was less than a year old-you said June of '41, that's about right, and I came in May of '42; in round numbers, a year later. The executive secretary of FEPC at that time was Larry Cramer, according to my recollection -- this is rather a long time ago. Subsequently, he was the executive secretary of the Caribbean Commission, so that he had a government career in minority problems. The members of the FEPC, I don't exactly recall, but the chairman was a southern liberal. Soon after I came into government, he announced hearings about discrimination in employment, and scheduled them for some southern cities. Those hearing were held and are a matter of record, but the soft and ameliorative reproach which was
followed by. this committee was unacceptable to militant Negroes who were demanding much faster equal participation in the defense build up, which was by this time -- you see, by this time we were into the war -- we were talking about participation in the war effort.
My first contact with the committee began when the committee decided to hold hearings on the failure of the Capital Transit Company to employ Negroes in higher level positions, such as the motormen and conductors, in Washington's streetcar system, as it then was. These hearings proved to be a matter of great tension, and concern to the community. The transit industry of the eastern seaboard cities is still rather heavily dominated in the work force by mountain whites from the Piedmont area, West Virginia, Virginia, Western Maryland, the Appalachians -- Appalachian foothills generally -- and they simply carried with them their patterns of race relations, which were, that the good jobs were white, and the lower level jobs are Negroes, and the last hired-first fired. The Negroes in World War II were not about to accept this. The signs of the militancy were present on all hands and rumors about
"disappointment day," the day in which the Negro domestic worker is scheduled to show up, but doesn't show up, and this is not due to the fact that she isn't paid enough or the hours are too long, but she has organized herself to disappoint her white employer.
There were many such hostile rumors floating around Washington at this point. The various rallies by the Negro organizations and their friends were held in Washington to advance the cause of Negro unemployment caused great tension and apprehension expressed in fear of an impending race riot. Now, it was this fear and the obligation that the White House felt to deal with it in a rational way, based upon ascertainable facts, that brought me into my first constructive contact with the White House and led to everything that has happened since. Jonathan Daniels had come over to the White House from the Office of Civilian Defense, where he had been associated, I'm sure, with the promulgation of the first Executive order. The fact that this was widely regarded as a weak and unsatisfactory measure after the declaration of war led to the issuance of a new Executive order.
Malcolm Ross, whom you know about as the author of All Manner of Men, an old friend of Mrs. Roosevelt's, had been tapped as the director and executive secretary. He came to see me and my unit to ask what we thought the powers of the proposed new agency should be. That is, there was dissatisfaction and discontent, therefore, if you had to strengthen it, you strengthened it by Executive order, there was no possibility of getting a statute, it wasn't even under discussion, what then do you do? It was at this point that I first became familiar with the fact that the government's contracting power might be used as an instrument to secure compliance, that is, if you specify "X" coats of paint so many thousandths of an inch thick on the deck of a battleship, and you have inspectors to see whether there is compliance with this contractual obligation, why cannot the government require nondiscrimination as a condition to doing business with the Federal Government and have inspectors to see whether these things are complied with.
Now, this was the whole theory behind the Government Contract Compliance Committee, which has since been incorporated into the Equal Opportunity Commission. And,
my first acquaintance with this was with Mike Ross back in 1942, or it may be early '43. It sounds easy, but it took seven years, and a war, and several riots before the wisdom of this approach was plainly visible to those who had the power to do it, and it was done by simple Executive order -- no question about the government's ability to do this.
We were handicapped all through the war in our efforts to use this device, however, by a ruling of the Comptroller General which said that the President's Executive order that embodied this element of inspection and compliance with government contracts in the original FEPC Executive order was advisory, not mandatory, and this could have been reversed only by the Comptroller General himself, or by a court test, and we had another Executive order and a different kind of a ruling before anybody ever got to the court test. So, the operations of the FEPC were handicapped all through the war by the existence of this Comptroller General's opinion. They didn't have any real powers of enforcement. They had extensive powers of persuasion. They developed a small bureaucracy with some field offices, some of the
leading Negro intellectuals and political leaders today cut their eyeteeth in the FEPC. I was designated liaison from the Office of War Information to this committee, and then afterwards handled their affairs in the White House. They lasted all through the war -- southerners chose not to oppose the existence of the committee overtly but they didn't like it, and the end of the war, and the death of FDR, and the fact that they then had to run on their own instead of on his coattails, caused almost all of them to desert FEPC, and this was the cause of the great filibuster, which I referred to an earlier interview, of 1946. The appropriations debate 1946.
The question was on the appropriation for FEPC, it was part of the war appropriations budget, it was only five hundred thousand dollars, but the agency was so unpopular with Congress that they finally reduced it -- after twenty days of debate -- to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and with the proviso that this was to be terminal. Now, this is really a most important measure because it showed pretty clearly where the lines were divided and who was for and who was against.
It made of the Negro public a pretty much one-issue public. At that time we were not talking about voting rights, although this was in the background, we were not talking housing opportunities, we were talking employment, and not even equal participation in the war. This issue was present, it was real; treatment of Negro soldiers in the border cities around the big military camps in the South was most important in their thinking, and conditions were very bad. But overriding the whole thing was the question of jobs for Negroes, and the FEPC had been their champion. It was a presidential committee; it had congressional opposition; and this clearly lined up the Chief Executive as a pro-Negro friend that was willing to take a bloody nose. And for Mr. Truman it was particularly important because he hadn't been prominently identified with this issue or any other race relations issue, except that he had a good voting record on the poll tax. So, his first big test, as far as the Negro public was concerned, was his willingness to stand up for his war appropriations in order to get some money for FEPC. The fact that it was a pitifully small sum, the fact
that it was distrusted on the Hill merely reinforced the feeling that the Negroes had about it.
Now, one of the jobs that I did for Mr. Truman was to analyze the first five thousand, or a crude sample of five thousand letters, that came into the White House on the FEPC appropriations. This was one of the first uses, as far as I know, of modern sampling techniques to establish a reliable index of the meaning of public opinion mail. You understand this reached a great many stacks a day, possibly as many as twenty or twenty-five thousand pieces of mail daily over a multi-week period. It was impossible to answer it, a lot of it was postcard mail, obviously much of it campaign, and you just don't know what to do.
So, I was asked for a recommendation and I suggested the following technique which was adopted. I said, "Why don't we borrow some secretaries from one of the departments, set up a little answering, and let's answer these queries as they come in up to the point where it just doesn't seem practical anymore, and we will slip in a carbon on the answer which will be filed separately and this will be our sample. Now, from this sample, we
have an answer to the person who is pro, we have an answer to the person who is mixed up, we have an answer to the person who is neutral, and again this provides us with a simple device for coding."
So, what we did then was to break down five thousand answers into "for" and "against," or really "mixed up," "don't know," or "can't tell," and then we scheduled them by state. Now, the next thing was a simple measurement of the adequacy of the sample. We took the 1940 census figures, I knew they had a margin of error in them by 1945 , but it was the best available, and we estimated the normal proportions of a hundred percent sample that you would expect from that state if it were a perfect sample. We then scored the answers by intensity of interest, or negative intensity interest, as plus or minus the expectation. We also, of course, scored the percentage of answers in excess of the normal distribution, and with the following interesting results: We found that the great industrial states -- today this doesn't seem very surprising, but bear in mind this hadn't been done up 'til this point -- Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan,
Illinois, Ohio, I think, but I'm not sure, Ohio is a special case because of the Ohio Valley, and California were more strongly pro than any kind of chance distribution would lead you to expect. The states of the old Confederacy were more strongly anti, than their proportionate share of the sample would lead to expect, and the rest almost without exception ruled in a few decimals of zero on this scale -- neither more plus nor more minus. But it showed pretty clearly from every standpoint, political, social and economic, where the thrust of the movement was, where you would gain, where you would lose, and so on, and as in the other scientific samples that we introduced in this whole business, it was used as a guide for all sorts of recommendations, which were not necessarily followed, but they were the basis of what I had to offer, as to what you could expect, as to what you couldn't expect, where you'd gain, where you'd lose, and where you would be neutral. We subsequently used this same sampling technique in the matter of the partition of Palestine, but that's another story.
Now, there were two great controversies that developed
during the war around FEPC, and I should probably tell about them now. One involved the -- this is perhaps the biggest one of all -- involved the southern railroads. For two or three generations, the southern railroads had had a pattern with respect to their white and Negro employees. A Negro could expect to rise to be a fireman, he couldn't expect to rise to be a locomotive engineer. He could be number two in the cabin, but he couldn't be number one. And this was built into various working agreements, the Southern Carriers Conference Agreement; some contracts; even some union bylaws, I believe. And the euphemism was "nonpromotable fireman." This of course, means the Negro.
The FEPC, for reasons of its own, decided to pick this as an issue, and they held hearings, they went into the South in the middle of the war. They held hearings for the findings of facts, they didn't have court enforceable orders -- the cease and desist orders -- but they had access to pretty good publicity. The upshot of this was an impasse that was very difficult for the White House to handle -- I'm talking Roosevelt
days now, not Truman days. You have a war; the transportation at the southern railroads with the troop concentrations of the South, is very important. Here is a weak independent agency, a committee of the President without any statutory authority, all sorts of constitutional powers to fall back on, but limited statutory authority of small appropriations, and its attempting to tell the unions and railroads of the southeastern quarter of the United States what to do and what not to do, although they had been doing it for fifty years or more, maybe a hundred, for all I know.
Jonathan Daniels handled this, I was just watching from the sidelines, but it was pretty valuable instruction for me. What he recommended was a hearing committee. In other words, here you've got a committee that is set up to hear things, but when they hear something and they issue an order they are helpless but they put the President in a terrible bind, because unless he's ready to use his war powers, seize the railroads or something of this kind, he has no means of enforcing his committee's recommendation. So, it is a great
disservice, of course, to a President to put him on the spot this way. Jonathan, characteristically, found a way out and in fact he organized a hearing on the hearing. This wasn't very popular, but it was understood; and Mike Ross was in and out of the office at this time. Naturally, the findings of the committee to review the findings, didn't come to very much, and the whole thing sort of trailed off into a lot of nothing, which was the only outcome that was possible, short of seizure.
It was only one year later in the election year of 1944, that the FEPC did it to the President again, but this time with an election year psychology. This was the famous order of the FEPC to the Philadelphia transit system, to upgrade eight track workers to be motormen and conductors -- I think I've told this story before in this series of interviews -- and this time there was seizure. Of course it was considerably easier in a city transit system than it would have been for a whole rail network. But it had a very big influence on the whole course of civil rights, and on the Truman pattern to follow, because it was Roosevelt, it was the war,
it was an election year, and the full war powers of the President were used to protect minority rights, and it was, also, rather carefully set up and surrounded with all sorts of precautions so as to make certain of success, and as an operation I thought it had a good deal more to recommend it than the use of troops in Little Rock, for example, a few years afterwards. And in some respects I think it was a better conceived operation than the use of U.S. marshals and the troops in the Meredith case. However, this is a rather individious comparison because FDR had the war powers and Eisenhower and JFK did not. Any questions?
HESS: Well, let's get on to the report. Your article in the Current Biography states that you helped prepare the report of the FEPC in 1946. What can you tell me about the problems that arose in connection with writing the report?
NASH: Well, one of the things that was deemed important about the FEPC was to get its experience down on paper, particularly successful or favorable experience. In other words, here was a pilot program in the field of race relations, not just counseling but fact finding and eventually the
issuance of cease and desist orders, and ultimately the concept of going to the courts for enforcement of a commission order. In other words, it's the regulatory approach, but to a new field -- race relations. It was as much of a venture as the President's Committee on Labor Relations was in the early years of the New Deal, which later grew into the National Labor Relations Commission, and then the National Labor Relations Board, backed up by a Labor Relations Act. So, you can draw almost an exact parallel between labor relations and race relations as far as government intervention in this particular aspect of human affairs is concerned.
Knowing that the FEPC was in its final year, it was deemed important to report the history and to make a record, I agreed with this, of course. So, I was the liaison, I was assigned to see to it that it was done, and developed some standards, and the presidential committee and the President's prestige was involved, and so on. The committee was still in existence and they largely handled the first report themselves. They did it their own way, we looked over their shoulders, but not too hard. They pretty much came up with a report of their own activities. By the time the "death
sentence" was passed by Congress in their appropriations, it was then necessary to draw all this experience together, and therefore, there was a first report and a final report. The final report was done when it was clear that the agency was in its dying days. Unfortunately, as I think I mentioned in an earlier session, the Congress failed to appropriate money for an authorized pay raise, and discriminated against the FEPC, thus indicating a congressional intent, on the day they passed the appropriation act and all of a sudden it was necessary to liquidate the agency because they had some bills they couldn't pay, in the form of unpaid accrued leave and that sort of thing. So, we had to liquidate the agency very fast. This left the agency with a partially finished manuscript, as well as some unpaid bills.
I thought it was important to make a record, and therefore, I proposed that we bring their editor with her documentation into my office right in the White House where she could work on it -- we had no means of paying her except to pay her out of White House funds -- and get this final report done, so Marjorie McKenzie Lawson, now judge of the juvenile court, was brought
into the White House .and worked at a desk right in my own office for two or three months. The documents were brought over, and she actually wrote the report and then I worked with her on it until we were both happy and satisfied, and my function was editorial and expediting, she was the actual writer of it, and of course, it was anonymous in any case, but this is why the article says "editor of the final report of the FEPC."
HESS: Let's just take a minute and go over the people whose names are listed as being members of the committee in that report. Could you just tell me a little bit about these people, how they came to be a member of the committee, what type of people were chosen, and your evaluation of them? How about Malcolm Ross?
NASH: As I indicated earlier, my first acquaintance with Malcolm Ross was when it was made clear to me that he was going to be the executive secretary of the remodeled commission, this would be back in '42 or '43 -- you know, there were two orders -- so, this was at the time the second order was being drafted . . .
HESS: He became chairman in '43.
NASH: Chairman in '43, 1 see. He's a labor relations man
primarily, he's dead now; became a professor of sociology at the University of Miami after the war, and exactly what his background was other than that I don't know.
HESS: Was he a good administrator?
NASH: No, I think not. Certainly not by today's standards of administration. He was an enthusiast, he was a writer and publicist primarily, and I think, was not too good at dealing with the problems of a good-sized staff and one in a highly controversial field. Now, I don't suppose it was possible for him to do his job without putting the President on the spot and he did not have very good control of his own staff members; this is difficult to do at best. When you are a weak independent agency, and your own position with the administration gets called into question, this is pretty hard to do, so, I am perhaps not as critical today as I was twenty years ago, but I had many phone conversations with Mike in which he would call up and he would say, "Where is the party discipline?"
And I would say, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Well, so and so voted against us in committee," or "so and so did such and such on the floor."
And I said, "There isn't such a thing as party
discipline that I've ever heard of, what are you talking about. How about a little discipline in your own organization. You haven't got any there either."
A very nice, warmhearted fellow, but I would rate him as an enthusiast rather than an administrator.
HESS: Why do you suppose he was chosen to be chairman?
NASH: I think this was a fairly characteristic way of choosing people in the New Deal era.
HESS: Because of their enthusiasm?
NASH: Their enthusiasm and some kind of personal association -- somebody knew somebody, and let's give them a chance -- let them try.
HESS: Interest in the subject and things of that nature.
What about these other people that served on the commission; John Brophy?
NASH: John Brophy is a well-known labor leader. The representative of labor on the commission.
HESS: Charles L. Horn.
NASH: Yes, indeed. I haven't thought of these names for years Charles Horn was a liberal industrialist who had a good record of employing minority group labor in his own plants; from somewhere in the Middle West.
HESS: Boris Shishkin.
NASH: Boris Shishkin was a staff member of the A.F. of L. -- as Brophy was in the CIO. This was during the era of the split before the merger, Brophy was the CIO representative on the committee and Shishkin of the A.F. of L. Boris was an intellectual, an economist, very much of a scholar, very much of a European gentleman, a very, very fine human being.
HESS: Sara E. Southall.
NASH: Sara Southall was personnel director of the International Harvester Company with headquarters in Chicago -- one of the few career women in American industry to have a lot of prominence during the war. She was a delightful person, she had been responsible for a very enlightened policy of minority group employment in the International Harvester plants and was a very faithful member of the committee. I haven't thought of her for many years, but I was very devoted to her during the war.
HESS: Milton P. Webster.
NASH: Milton P. Webster -- gee, I have to stop and recall -- he's a big burly Negro. My recollection is he was a representative pretty much of the Pullman porters on this
committee, but that is dredging the old memory pretty deep. At one time, I knew him very well, but I haven't seen him for twenty years.
HESS: I found a reference to an incident that I'd like to bring up. In his book All Manner of Men, and in an article entitled "The Outlook for a Kew FEPC," in Commentary magazine, April 1947, Malcolm Ross refers to President Truman's fruitless appeals to Congressman Slaughter of Missouri to break the deadlock in the House Rules Committee on sending the permanent FEPC bill to the floor. In the article Ross said that the President tried to persuade Slaughter "openly and through aides." I'd like to know what do you recall about that incident, and who were the aides that Ross mentioned?
NASH: I haven't thought of this for many years, but this is a true statement. Congressman Slaughter was the President's own Congressman at that time. He was on the Rules Committee which was evenly divided as it usually is; it is set up to be evenly divided. The question of sending the permanent FEPC legislation to the floor was the subject of debate in the rules committee, and Mr. Slaughter was not persuaded by the President and was
induced by his conscience or the pressures of his office or whatever, to stay away. Now, one assumes, since he was the President's own Congressman, and it was a presidential programs that if he had been present, he would have voted for the President's program, but this is an unknown. There was, as so often happens in one of these delicate political balances, you don't really know for sure whether you're doing more for your program by helping them to stay away, or more for your program by making it impossible for them to stay away.
Now, I did not make any calls, but I know that calls were made. They were made at the direction of the President. He didn't know what Mr. Slaughter was going to do, but he couldn't very well be President and not encourage his own Congressman to stand up and be counted. Mr. Slaughter never did come, and my role in the situation as usual was a rather indirect one. The question was, what will Mr. Slaughter do? I got in touch with the NAACP in Kansas City to ask them, where does he stand, how does he rate in your books, and I got a very full rundown on Mr. Slaughter, and it was not very good
from the civil rights standpoint. But I also got another little piece of insight which is indicative of the way in which civil rights operated in those days and probably still does today. The NAACP at Kansas City said, "Don't you worry, Nash, we'll let you know if he leaves the house."
I said, "What do you mean?"
They said, "Well, his cook is a member."
Well, I had a twenty-four hour watch on Congressman Slaughter. I had a closer knockdown on whether he was going to leave and come in and vote, or whether he wasn't going to come down and leave and vote, than anybody in town, which, of course, I made available to the President. Now, in the end, you know, Slaughter never did come and it pretty well finished him with the President, and it was a long time ago, but my recollection is this was the way in which Dick Bolling got presidential favor and Slaughter lost out.
HESS: That's right, Slaughter lost out in the next election.
Let's begin to carry the quest for the permanent FEPC through the Truman administration. Now, on June the 5th of 1945 , less than two months after the President took
office, he wrote a letter to Representative Adolph J. Sabath, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, on the fact that the House Appropriations Committee had deleted the War Agencies Appropriation Bill, so this is really what we have already covered, but that was the first reference to FEPC that I can find. Now, the next, and a very important reference, is in the important message to Congress on September 6th, 1945. Mr. Truman has said he really became President on sending that message. That was his twenty-one point message. And he called for a permanent FEPC, which was, of course, something that they never did get.
NASH: This was the January message of '46 . . .
HESS: No, this was September 6th of '45. As Mr. Truman says in his Memoirs, this was really something that should go in a State of the Union message in January, but he felt was so important, along with his other twenty points, that he had Samuel I. Rosenman work up the message, and sent it on September 6th of '45, and the FEPC was one of the twenty-one requests in September, but Mr. Truman never did get a permanent legislative FEPC. Now, we have mentioned the final report of the
FEPC in '46, is the next time that FEPC really comes into vogue -- well, let's see -- the President's Committee on Civil Rights, they call for it do they not, in their report of October of '47?
NASH: Yes, let's take that. You start out with his accession to the office in April of 1945; September it's one of twenty-one points in a special message, really a special State of the Union message. My recollection is, it was referred to by incorporation in the State of the Union message in '46, but by the end of 1946 you had lynchings in Macon, Georgia; you had the blinding of Isaac Woodard; you had the Columbia, South Carolina riot, which had raised the Negro feeling to a real fever, and has resulted in the first of the great marches, certainly the first since Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the Roosevelt administration, you had kind of a mass funeral observance with again Marian Anderson singing on the steps of the Memorial, and the delegation then calling on Mr. Truman, and Mr. Truman agreeing that action had to be taken. The Civil Rights Committee grew out of this meeting. The committee then makes its report in 1947 . . .
HESS: In October.
NASH: The State of the Union message in 1948 again approaches it by incorporation. The special message of February of 1948 makes it one of some ten or eleven specific civil rights points, and again the fight is on.
Now, at this point my memory gets a little vague. There were at least two episodes it seems to me in which the question of a ruling came up in the Senate in which a procedural point was involved, but FEPC was the real issue; that is, do you have the right to change the rule 22, in other words to make it more difficult to filibuster the FEPC, because we repeatedly got an FEPC of sorts through the House, only to have it die in the Senate, and usually to be filibustered, and thus the procedural question of rule 22 got to be the point of issue. Now, possibly your notes can help out here. I remember Senator Frank Myers as Majority Leader; I remember Scott Lucas Majority Leader; I remember Arthur Vandenberg making a ruling from the chair as presiding officer of the 80th Congress. And then I remember Barkley making the opposite ruling as presiding officer of the 81st, and I was present in
the gallery marking ballots on all of those occasions. Now, whether there were more votes that I've forgotten about, I'm not even counting the procedural monkey works in the House. I just can't say, but those were the high points.
Now, of course, Vandenberg had -- at any rate the Republican president pro tem in the 80th had held that rule 22 couldn't be modified by a majority vote, and the Democratic forces went down to a smashing defeat and at that point the Wherry rule came into play which for awhile required three-fifths of the constitutional membership to change the rules, let alone to break a filibuster. So, the administration not only went away in disarray, but it got a worse rule than it started out with for its pains. And for many years we referred to this as the Wherry rule. There was a big question about what Vice President Barkley as a border state Senator would do. He held that the Senate had the power to change the rules at the opening of each session by majority vote. This was appealed from the chair, and the ruling of the chair was overturned.
Once again, I would have to go back to notes and
all sorts of things I don't have to recall the details. But the significant element here, in terms of Mr. Truman's history, is that his leadership was very clear, very explicit, direct; but that regularly the votes to defeat a pro-civil rights ruling of the chair, were delivered by Republicans. That is, the combination of conservative Democrats and Republicans was not quite enough to defeat these votes, but in terms of the coalition that ruled the Senate for a quarter of a century you could always be certain that if your nose count was good and it indicated that there were about four or five or six or seven or eight votes that were .wavering, Republican Senators from states that had no Negro constituents: the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, the Mountain States were anti-filibuster, this goes way back to the free silver days, and they joined the Southerners on this regardless of their position on civil rights. So, your pro-civil rights votes on procedure always came out of the same states that I recited earlier in this interview -- the big industrial states -- California, then jumping over to Illinois with nothing in between, and then a straight
shoot up to the industrial northeast. This wasn't enough to put it over, and it wasn't enough through Truman, and it wasn't enough through Eisenhower, assuming that there was any will to do it, which I don't think there was, and it wasn't enough for Kennedy. It was only the landslide of Johnson in 1964 that broke the back of that coalition, and Johnson who is a master of legislative strategies, recognized the crucial importance of having the votes for the first time in twenty-five years, and he bulled through the great society programs -- forty programs in education, eight to ten programs in health, and so on -- because he had the votes and he knew doggone well that he might never have them again, and now the 90th Congress is facing us and the votes won't be there, showing how right he was. You could match those procedural votes in the Senate of the United States almost anyone of the times I'm telling about against the poll that I ran analyzing this mail and you come up with just about the same results.
HESS: You could tell which Senators, where they were from, how they were going to vote, just by how
the people that were writing in from that area had indicated.
NASH: That plus the tactical knowledge that some people could be left to vote either their conscience or the desires of their constituents, but a certain number of people, sometimes four, never more than eight, had to be there to save the day for the coalition and prevent the -- you see from the Republican standpoint, preventing the Federal Government from coming into the new area of Federal regulations; from the Southern Democratic standpoint, preventing an invasion of the historic states rights position.
HESS: This was mentioned in the February 2nd, '48 message to Congress, now was FEPC mentioned in the Humphrey-Biemiller civil rights plank that was pushed through?
NASH: Without looking up the specific language, I just don't remember.
I assume that it was because if it wasn't then they might just as well have used the language of 1944 .
HESS: Just after the convention on July 26th was when Mr. Truman signed his Executive Order 9980: Regulations Governing Fair Employment Practices within the Federal
Establishment, which we have mentioned before, but we put off to discuss until this time. Was this the only thing during the Truman administration that was really put through concerning FEPC, and this is executive, it isn't legislative.
NASH: We got nothing but executive action on the whole civil rights field during the seven years of the Truman administration.
HESS: This was it, is that right?
NASH: This wasn't the only one -- oh, no, indeed, oh, no You had the -- this covered Federal employment, but you also had the order governing the equal treatment and opportunity in the Armed Forces . . .
HESS: That's right.
NASH: And you also had the Government Contract Compliance Committee so there were three besides the overall findings of the Civil Rights Committee, plus a dozen others, at least, not on the direct field of Negro white relations; of our territories, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Trust Territories of the Pacific, immigration and naturalization
as a whole, so it was a tremendous big thick field of accomplishment, all by executive action.
HESS: Was Executive Order 9980 the only one of these actions that mentioned fair employment in its title?
HESS: We'll cover these other subjects at a later date.
In an earlier interview you mentioned something about a "freezing session" with the President when this Executive order was drawn up in 1948. I have down here "When we hit this ask Dr. Nash about the 'freezing session' with the President." Does anything come to mind about that?
NASH: Yes, I think so.
HESS: This has to do with, I trust, the writing of the . . .
NASH: Yes. The question was, you know; this was a sensitive area, and drastic action, involves the fulfillment of campaign promises, and probably the raising of some hackles among the people that don't believe in it, so it was customary in the Truman administration to have a pretty thorough Cabinet discussion, or Cabinet level discussion, of anything as important as this.
Now, the prime pusher for "let's get it done, let's get it done now," in 1948 was Oscar Ewing, then the
Federal Security Administrator, and he then wanted the order on FEPC in the Federal establishment put out and also the equal treatment on opportunity in the Armed Services orders put out, and they were done simultaneously, and I was brought back from Wisconsin to do them and I had the basic outlines of what was needed to be worked out. When I got back into town, George Washington, then the solicitor of the Justice Department, and Clifford and Murphy, and George Elsey and I sat down and talked about it, and then we went to work to begin to get some wording on it. We had to deal with the Bureau of the Budget. The question of how to pay for these things was rather important. The FEPC in the Federal Government was easy because here you have statutory authority, and have had since the creation of the Civil Service Commission. The equal treatment and opportunities in the Armed Forces was not quite so easy, but we persuaded the Department of Defense to pay for that.
When they were all ready -- it was on a Sunday morning, as I recall -- and nearly about two-thirds of the Cabinet was invited over to the White House to hear a reading of the drafts and to make their comments on them, and to
hear the presidential statement that was proposed to be issued, as I recall. My memory fails me at this point, I think I was there, at least I can visualize it, and I know that Oscar Ewing lead the arguments, and what others were there, I really don't recall.
HESS: Do you remember anyone who might have argued against issuing something of this at this time?
NASH: If there was I don't remember it, and by this time I doubt if anybody would have done it, because the convention fight was over and the four Southern delegations had walked out, and any "nervous Nellies" worried about what Thurmond was going to do, were more than offset by the million to two million votes that would be taken off the other end of the Democratic column by Henry Wallace.
HESS: Before we move on here, I would like to read just a sentence taken from one of the thesis -- master's thesis -- that's been done at the Library by a young man working on the field of FEPC, and just get your general reaction to this statement. "His biggest handicap during these first years in office was not seeking the advice of the Democratic party leaders. Without mutual support civil rights legislation could never pass Congress. Truman
kept talking about civil rights but did nothing to gain support for his proposals. [Thomas W. Carneal, "President Truman's Leadership in the Field of Civil Rights Legislation." (master's thesis, University of Missouri at Kansas City, 1965), p. 32.] What's your reaction to this?
NASH: Well, it is a very juvenile statement. It is one that I've heard before, it is very shallow, and it did not reflect any understanding of the ways in which legislation is actually influenced, by the President or by anybody else.
The Truman strategy was to keep the issue of civil rights, of which the spearhead was FEPC, before Congress and before the public by presenting it as special legislation, or in special messages. In the meantime, doing what he could do without legislation through Executive orders, and through day-to-day contacts with the executive departments which was primarily my responsibility. I had people that I called in each department as problems -- individual problems -- came up. Now, to say that he did not lift a finger, it seems to me as both inaccurate as to fact and is the wrong estimate of the use of presidential power. We had quite frequently, as these close votes came up, individual calls from the President to certain key Congressmen and Senators . . .
HESS: Who would he call?
NASH: He would call the chairman of the committee handling the legislature, the whip. I'm sure there was communication between him and Barkley at the time of the Barkley ruling, for example . . .
HESS: The Big Four, as they used to call them.
NASH: The Big Four. There was always the Monday morning meeting, but then there were things like this question of the rules, a matter in the House where his own Congressman was involved. So, I think he actually did a good deal, but we were at this point about fifteen years away, from the breaking of the southern Democrat-Republican coalition.
HESS: Now, you mentioned the President would make some phone calls. Would he rely on any of his staff members in the White House to carry on any congressional liaison at this time?
NASH: Sure. Everybody was brought in, if there was somebody that you could talk to on a personal basis. For example, at the time of one of those rulings in the 80th Congress, and I think maybe again at the time of the Barkley ruling of the 81st Congress, I took on the
responsibility for checking the views of both Wisconsin Senators -- at that time, McCarthy and Wiley -- McCarthy was later to attack me viciously, but this didn't mean that I couldn't talk to him on the telephone about a matter that involved Wisconsin legislative affairs, and I did so, and both Wisconsin Senators voted to support the President. This would have been very unpopular in Wisconsin if they hadn't done so. As a matter of fact, we lost only one Democrat from these neutral states; the states that were neither very strongly for nor very strongly against.
HESS: Who was that?
NASH: Guy Gillette of Iowa.
HESS: Would other staff members also call people that they knew?
NASH: Certainly. Always of course, on a very personal basis. Either the guy from your state or someone you know where you can call up and be on a first name basis.
HESS: Is this something that was done in general, not just on this particular legislation but on other items of legislation?
NASH: Anything of major importance.
HESS: Whoever knew somebody on the Hill would phone them.
NASH: We would have meetings and then you would also work with the associations. For example, in one of these FEPC rulings we had a meeting in Steve Spingarn's office. Well, Steve, because of his Uncle Arthur who was president of the NAACP, his father, Joel Spingarn, for whom the Spingarn Medal was named, had very good calling cards with them because it was my job to keep them informed and also to use them as a sounding board as a -- to take their temperature from time to time -- on all matters involving national policy in the President's program. So, we held a little meeting in Spingarn's office. We referred to it as "Operation Mixmaster." You know, "Who knows Senator So and So. Who knows Senator So and So. Who can call so and so. We need to know where he stands, we have thirty for and thirty against, but there are thirty that we just don't know, now without getting a commitment who can find out where Senator So and So stands? Well I talked to him last week and he seemed to think so and so. Well could you call him again? Yes, I could. Okay." That was checked off.
HESS: That was "Operation Mixmaster?"
NASH: That was "Operation Mixmaster."
HESS: You had mentioned that in one of the earlier interviews.
NASH: And, on a couple of times when I did this we also saw to it that we had a few telegrams coming in to some waverers from their own hometowns. Now, for this we would use associations.
HESS: What associations usually?
NASH: In my case -- I'm talking only about civil rights because this is my area -- the civil rights organizations -- this means the NAACP, the Urban League, the local Negro press, the Negro college sororities and fraternities, which were very important in the Negro middle class world.
HESS: Do you recall -- this is asking you to remember back quite a ways -- who were your main contacts in some of those various organizations?
NASH: Well, usually I dealt with the head man. Walter White for the NAACP, with Clarence Mitchell as Washington representative; Charlie Houston, who is now dead, but was their general counsel; Thurgood Marshall now the Solicitor, then of the general counsel's office, now the United
States Solicitor; such Negro publishers as John Sengstacke of the Chicago Defender; you had to hold an array of special assistants throughout the government, each of whom was responsible for a special area depending on his job and the job of the agency, defense, housing, welfare, labor. Congressman Dawson was for a long time the only Negro Congressman, he had a staff, when he got seniority he had a committee and the committee had a staff. These are people whom I still see every couple of weeks.
HESS: If you wanted a write in campaign, you just let them know, would they usually come through?
NASH: They never failed. But, I was on the receiving end of too much mass mail aver to start a great big barrage that would just result in a descent of mail on me. Nobody makes money out of that except the printers, but, when you had a wavering Senator, or a wavering Congressman, or a wavering staff member, who just didn't believe that this was any concern to anybody, then we would pinpoint it.
HESS: Was this usually pretty effective?
NASH: As your juvenile master pointed out here in his dissertation -- I don't know how old he is, but he's
juvenile in my book -- the President did not get the legislation so the only important test is that it was not effective. However, I'm satisfied that we changed a lot of votes, and I don't think anybody operates any different today, and I don't think they ever did.
HESS: You did try anyway, where as the person that I quoted didn't even give credit for trying.
NASH: Oh, yes, oh yes. Sure.
HESS: That's what we want to clear up there.
After 1948 and the passage, or the signing, of the Executive order that I mentioned awhile ago setting up the FEPC in government, what came up next, was there anything that particularly came up before 1950? I found quite a bit in the New York Times in 1950 , which would that be, that would probably be the 81st Congress?
NASH: The 82nd.
HESS: The 82nd Congress.
NASH: Well, the years tend to run into one another. 1950 , of course, was the year in which we issued the third of the big three Executive orders. You see one covered Federal employment with the Civil Service Commission in Washington; one covered equal treatment and opportunity
in the Armed Services, and the Korean war, plus that order, the effect was to integrate the United States Army and all the defense forces.
HESS: And then this Government Contract Compliance of 1950.
HESS: We'll get into that a little bit later, but as far as just straight FEPC, whether there was any action between 1950 , I'm not sure, but anyway, what this gets into is what I mentioned just before we turned the machine on, was that there is a very interesting article written by Arthur Krock on January 26th of 1950 in the New York Times and his article is entitled "Has Mr. Rayburn a Senior (Silent) Partner?" And what this all boils down to is an analysis of the factors that were preventing passage of FEPC legislation on the Hill as he saw it. There had been a meeting between President Truman and various Congressmen, Rayburn being one of the members, and it was well-known that Mr. Rayburn was going to rule as to whether or not a particular man, I believe Congressman Lesinski, whether or not he was to be recognized probably it was the next day, or it could have been the same day when Rayburn went back up on the Hill. But Mr. Rayburn was asked by a reporter after
he left the meeting with the President at the White House, if that had been mentioned and he said that it did not even come up, and the President didn't even ask him about it. And Krock suggested in his article, that if the President had really been interested in this thing, he would certainly have said something to Sam Rayburn, the man who he had there talking to was going to recognize the man. So Krock suggested that "most of the principals in the parliamentary farce now going on want to keep the FEPC issue alive for campaign purposes in the congressional elections of 1950." Krock goes on to quote Congressman Marcantonio, who was one of the pushers for this particular bill saying: "It is obvious to everyone, but to the events of today, that everybody wants civil rights as an issue but not as a law, and that goes for Harry Truman, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party." Was that a little hard to follow, or not?
NASH: No. I get it. Well, this is characteristic of the civil rights controversy, then and now. Arthur Krock was the head of the New York Times Washington bureau. He was favored by being given some individual interviews
at times when others weren't. He was pretty conservative in his views on FEPC. I'm not suggesting that he was conservative in other respects, I'm merely saying that he was in this regard. Marcantonio was an ALP representative in the Congress; was accused on all sides of being a Communist. He was out of favor with the Democrats and the Republicans, came from a district in which there was almost unanimous support for FEPC and other civil rights causes; he could scarcely lose. And everybody finds it very easy at a time like this to say that the President is insincere. I worked for four Presidents and I never knew a time when they weren't accused of being insincere, because everybody said, when it suited his own purposes to say it, "But of course, he can do these things by a stroke of the pen." That is, the President could integrate the Armed Forces by the stoke of the pen.
Well, this is as stupid as to say that, "Morale will improve at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning."
HESS: It doesn't work that way.
NASH: It's not the way people work and it is not the way Presidents work.
HESS: I should mention here that Arthur Krock did give several different possibilities. He just mentions that if such and such is possible then perhaps something else is possible also. He doesn't come out and say flatly that the President wanted to keep the FEPC issue alive for campaign purposes.
NASH: I have no doubt if Arthur Krock were writing for the New York Times today, he would be asking himself, "Is LBJ sincere about seeking peace in North Vietnam?" And he would use the same arguments that were used in respect to Mr. Truman. If he had really meant it, he would have discussed it with the Speaker when he left his office. I can assure you that with Mr. Sam nobody would know whether the President had taken it up with him or not, just by asking him. If the President and he hadn't agreed that it would be a good thing to say that he had, Mr. Sam's natural answer would be, "Well, he didn't take it up with me."
HESS: That is 1950 and we can get clear through to 1952 and there never was a legislative FEPC, is that correct?
NASH: Yes. That is correct.
The last effort had resulted in a resounding defeat
for the administration, the last effort before that had resulted in worsening the procedural rules on filibusters. And I think the feeling at this point was that you better let well enough alone, if you start monkeying with it at this point, it will get worse. Moreover, by this time we had moved into the Korean war. There was quite a bit on everybody's mind. The Armed Forces were in the process of getting integrated. The nation's capital had become pretty much of an arena for the testing of civil rights, and that was going rather well. We had working Executive orders, and working committees, on three big areas, which together represented maybe sixty to seventy percent of the domestic economy; that is, government contracts, which at this point were running about at the forty billion rate, and direct procurement plus all the indirect feedbacks, about two and a quarter million Federal employees covered. We had about, right close to two and a half million men in the Armed Forces, and with the National Guards even coming along, parks and recreation, almost every government department moving along in its own program, I think it seemed to the
President's advisers -- it most certainly did to me -- that you would lose more than you would gain by forcing the issue unless you had some reason to feel that you had the votes. It had had two voting tests, and had lost both, and there may have been more, too, but the two that we have already discussed are quite enough to establish the fact.
HESS: Did you say they would lose more than they would gain?
NASH: Yes. I think so. You'd probably wind up what -- we had already taken one shellacking -- two shellackings . . .
HESS: Just a general question. What could have been done, what should have been done, or was there anything that could have been done during these years, to help establish a permanent FEPC?
NASH: I think things were going very, very well. Now, we were visited almost everyday by representatives of the liberal organizations: Auto Workers, Americans for Democratic Action, demanding that the President do something very affirmative about FEPC. It had become a great fighting symbol as far as the civil rights movement was concerned.
HESS: And the liberal movement.
NASH: And my advice was not to get into it.
HESS: Just a general question, not really on FEPC, just on the civil rights in general. Were there any measures during these early years that you would like the President to have taken that he did not take, that perhaps some of the other advisers, Mr. Niles included, advised against?
NASH: No. By this time -- by 1950, on, I was the principal adviser on this subject, at least as far as the staff level was concerned. This doesn't mean that Cabinet members wouldn't come in, or the leaders of organizations wouldn't come in with their own proposals, of course , but as far as the staff was concerned, Mr. Truman had confidence in me and my judgment. We had a number of very clean, effective operations going which did not satisfy the ultra liberals who were looking more for a show, than for results, but which satisfied Mr. Truman, and in particular were bringing effective results to the people concerned, and this has always been my philosophy of administration.
I am much more concerned with the effectiveness of existing authorities, or such new authorities as
you can get, with respect to programs that help people. If they are bringing results through the economy as a whole, if there are more jobs for Negroes, if there is equal treatment and opportunity in the Armed Forces, if they can go into restaurants and other places of public accommodation in the nation's capital, if all these things are happening to them, it doesn't make very much importance whether the ADA has taken its fighting symbol. Their primary concern, and they have to be, with memberships and their own strength and their own position, and so on, and I regarded them then, as I have ever since, as organizations that are effective politically but whose views on administration are worthless, because they are irresponsible.
HESS: I have run out of questions on FEPC. Is there anything more to add?
NASH: No. That's all I think of at the moment.
HESS: We're getting pretty well down, do you want to stop for the day?
NASH: I think that's enough for today.
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