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.
June 5, 1967
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
June 5, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Doctor, at the end of our last interview, back in February, we were talking about the Committee on Civil Rights, and as the phone rang, terminating that session in February, I was asking you about a possible minority report to the October, 1947 report of the Civil Rights Committee. I have heard, read, understand, that there might have been a possible report by Dr. Frank Graham. What can you tell me about that?
NASH: Well, I don't particularly associate the possibility of a minority report with Dr. Graham, but your question does ring a very faint bell. There was an instruction from the President, if possible, to avoid dissent and try to come up with the one thing that everybody could agree upon, and we did have to do a certain amount of negotiating in order to get that to come about. Consequently, it is true that there were enough individual or specialized interests on the committee so that there were certain areas that some members felt more strongly about than others, and everybody was interested in giving an accounting of his service on the committee to his
constituency, whatever that might be. I associate one of these particularistic interests with the great civil liberties lawyer from New York, Morris Ernst. In the first place, Morris Ernst wanted a good big section in the report on civil liberties, as opposed to civil rights. In addition to that he is prominently identified, or was at that time, with the theory of disclosure; that the way in which you protect freedom of speech and the right of dissent is that you just make certain that when you speak up you make it clear for whom you're speaking, yourself, or a principal for which you are an agent, and so on. So, as I recall, there was considerable discussion about a section on civil liberties, the, Red issue (this was a little pre McCarthy -- but Joe McCarthy didn't invent that issue), but that was finally ironed out, I think, by a footnote reference. My recollection (this is many years ago now), but I think if you look at the report, you will find that at the appropriate place there is a footnote reference, and this was as close as we came to a dissent. And everybody was satisfied with that.
Now, with respect to Frank Graham, I don't think there was an element of dissent, but I tell you what
there was. At the last minute, he asked for a quotation or some invocation of divine grace or something of the sort, which again I think if we take a look at the report we'll find on a page by itself, just before the text begins -- I'm trying to recall, that's twenty years ago now, but you can easily check it out. Now, my guess would be that the story that your predecessor heard about a dissent and Frank Graham being connected with it, has garbled these two episodes: One is that when they got together for the final session where the report was approved page by page, the final session of the committee, that Dr. Graham pointed out that there was a great human area in which man was left out kind of by himself, and thought maybe that wasn't quite right. I don't think in that group anybody was going to disagree with that very seriously, and it was done and I think Frank Graham wrote something that appeared in there -- just one sentence.
The other one was really more substantial, and there was a question whether the committee should confine itself to the relationship of man exercising his rights in the face of interference from fellow man, as against his rights for interference by arbitrary government
action. And, of course, these are not very clear -- cut, and the report deals partly with the one and partly with the other. But there was a group in the committee led by Morris Ernst that felt pretty strongly about the Red issue and Communists in Government, in other words.
HESS: That was probably the minority report that I had written down under the general heading of the Committee on Civil Rights. This is asking you to remember all the way back to February, but do you think we've covered all that, do you recall?
NASH: About everything on the Committee on Civil Rights? Jerry, it's so far back in our conversation
HESS: I asked about the people who were on the committee. I had understood that you had helped write the report, but you set me right on that.
NASH: That really is not true
HESS: You told me about how you provided office space and helped pick the people
NASH: I helped make the selection, but it was Dave Niles' primary responsibility.
HESS: The cards that I'm flipping now are questions that I did ask last time.
In light of today's action on the invasion of Israel, I went through my cards, and my one card on Israel was down quite a ways, but I thought that perhaps we could just bring that up.
NASH: Incidentally, I left home before the Security Council had reconvened.
HESS: I haven't heard a thing since morning. I've been tied up all morning.
NASH: I watched the session on TV.
HESS: How far has the invasion progressed? Are the Arabs actually on Israeli territory now, shooting and killing?
NASH: I don't know who is invading whom. I really don't. Apparently, there was some kind of an air battle in which some planes were downed on both sides, and the Egyptians, at least, say that bombs were dropped on Cairo, or on an airfield near Cairo. The last I heard the Jordanians had occupied a portion of the United Nations headquarters in Jerusalem, and U Thant had demanded -- made some rather strong suggestions to King Hussein to get them out of there. The next thing I heard the Israelis said they had occupied it and were going to give it back, so I don't exactly know what the status is. But there has been active fighting on at least three fronts. Who moved in on
whom I don't know.
HESS: To go back many years what are your recollections on the events leading up to the recognition of the State of Israel? A great big question.
NASH: Yes, it sure is. Well, this was a major decision by Mr. Truman, and one to which he was led very directly by Dave Niles, my boss. He did ask me to do some writing chores, but there was plenty of manpower in the State Department on that, although I'm sure they regarded Dave as a good deal of an interference.
It was, of course, well known that the partition was just about the only answer, once the British had made up their minds to withdraw from the mandated territory. So, the question was, where will the partition lines be drawn. From the standpoint of American Jews, reflecting, I'm sure, the interest of Jews inside of Palestine, the real issues was, "What about the Negev?" This of course is in the southern desert, the tip of which is Eilat, and the existence of that port is what caused the Egyptians to close off the Gulf of Aqaba.
You see, Dave Niles' interest and mine, obviously had to be from the standpoint of the domestic interest.
We were not trying to do the State Department's work, nor were we playing politics with a very important world issue, but I think Dave felt that there were a great many people in the State Department and in the Defense Department who were very fully briefed on what other countries of the world thought about Palestine, or who were very well briefed on exactly what would happen to our petroleum supplies in the event of real disaffection in the Arab countries. But there were not very many people -- except what Dave and I were doing just by ourselves -- who were prepared to tell in an authoritative way what the American people or important segments of the American people thought about Palestine, namely, American Jews and their friends. This, after all, was rather an embarrassing commitment in terms of international politics. It was a commitment that grew originally out of desire on the part of the British in World War I to harass the Turks, so that if they promised British Jews a national homeland, as they did in the Balfour Declaration, and then sent Lawrence and other guerrilla leaders out to cut rail lines and interfere with the Turks from behind, this obviously advanced the cause of the Allies in World War I, and the outgrowth of this was the collapse of the Turkish
Empire, the rise of the Arab countries, and at the same time the demand by Jewish people in England, supported very much by Jews in this country, by our Government, by President Wilson, by resolutions in Congress and so on, that the national homeland should be made real.
So this country had a long history of support for the world Zionist movement, that is for the Zionist aspirations with respect to a national homeland in Israel, not necessarily for the creation of the State of Israel, but for the Zionist objective of a homeland. And we did not partake in any of the machinations that went on with Arab leaders in the Lawrence type of guerrilla warfare. Consequently, we were and still are uncommitted as far as the Arabs are concerned. And we have a commitment of some forty years standing so far as the Jewish people are concerned.
Now, in the time between World War I and in the years after World War II, the Arabic, the Moslem countries is the proper word -- the countries that belonged to the Arab League -- have become important to us for an entirely different reason, having to do with the world reserves of petroleum, and the Defense Department gets very concerned about this. Secretary Forrestal and Mr. Niles
had quite a few rather hot discussions about this subject, and there were certainly a number of people in the State Department who felt that Mr. Niles was playing domestic politics and that there was little merit in his view. Mr. Truman was rather disinclined to be scared by stories about a holy Arab war. He rather thought that having a supply of petroleum would be about the same whether -- in other words, it was a business deal and that whether we were great political friends of the Arabs or not . . .
HESS: If we had the money, they would sell it.
NASH: If we had the money and they had the oil we would find a deal. So he just wasn't very much impressed by the so-called Defense argument. And Dave in particular always thought that the people who talked about a jihad, and I saw that word in the papers this morning the holy war of Muslims -- were just sucking their thumbs and reporting on the flavor, that this expressed their personal preferences and maybe some prejudices too. So, he, I'm sure, had some strong psychological reasons of his own for seeing to it that such presidential action as he had anything to do with, would be taken care of in line with what he thought were the President's own
personal interests, convictions, and so on. Accordingly, in 1947, wasn't it, was independence -- it was '47 and not '46. It seems to me '46 is more like it. Well, at any rate, the official United States position was that we supported international trusteeship, and this was what our representatives in the very early sessions of the United Nations, this was the position they supported under instructions from the President. This did not satisfy the American Zionists and they were very angry at Mr. Truman about this. They wanted to go much further. They were for independence and consequently there was an area of judgment that the President was free to exercise.
If certain forces were working for partition, and the official United States position was for trusteeship, then the trusteeship might or might not be acceptable either to the United Nations as successor agency to the League -- might or might not be acceptable to whatever government came out of the withdrawal. The British were determined to withdraw no matter what, and they had announced they were going to, and the date was well known, and all sorts of proposals were being made as to what to do, and the partition was just the most practical one in face of the circumstances. The United States didn't think it could support it -- honor, for example, some of President
Roosevelt's promises to the Arab countries during World War II, the latter part of it especially. So, this was a case of people doing what they felt they must do for themselves in Palestine at the moment of the British withdrawal, and it was not a case of the United States creating a new country, but a people creating it for themselves while we were supporting something else, really an extension of the mandate concept with the former mandated territory becoming a trustee country under the United Nations. I don't know whether this would have been acceptable to the Arabs or not; it certainly was not to the Jews in Palestine, or their world organizations or their friends in this country. So it was known that they were going to proclaim a new country. The United States was supporting trusteeship, but the UN wasn't acting on that any faster than they're acting on the cease fire declaration this morning. Accordingly, Dave as a practical, not a theoretical operator was interested in the President's reaction to the actualities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The actualities were that on midnight of a certain day, a country proclaimed its independence, and it didn't do this because of any view of anyone in the State Department, or
because of anyone's views in the Defense Department, or because of Mr. Niles or Mr. Truman's views. They did it because they themselves chose to take their own destiny in their own hands at that moment in history.
Well, Dave knew it was coming, so did everybody else, and he simply had ready a statement by the President, which was in fact a recognition of the existence of the new and independent country. It was the kind of thing that anybody could have done. I have no recollection of having worked on the drafting of that statement myself, although Dave was not a wordsmith. But actually, it seemed so unimportant as to how it was worded that I don't even recall that. It might have come out of the State Department or it might have come from several other places.
HESS: The spring of 1948?
NASH: The spring of '48? Well, of course, the thing was very, very tense. By the election of '48 in the fall, General Marshall was in Paris and this was where the UN was meeting, the Assembly was meeting at that time, and under debate was the question of the Negev. So, this was a very hot issue in the election of '48. I've a story to tell you about that in a minute, but you know you wouldn't think a thing like this could slip away from you in a
matter of years.
HESS: I believe it was the spring of '48, but I am not sure.
NASH: Well, it doesn't really make much difference. The famous thing was that six minutes after the thing was proclaimed in Tel Aviv, Mr. Truman had issues a statement, and I don't suppose there was ever a time when such an important action was taken with so little debate and discussion in one of the executive departments, because he had made up his mind what he was going to do a long time before that and he simply went ahead and did it. This was a part of a total package which was primarily intended, I think, the facts being what they were, and the American public's attitude being what it was, to gain the maximum personal and political advantage for the President out of a situation that he didn't create, and which he didn't have much power to alter. But it was perfectly clear what the American public wanted and expected. We simply took action that was in accordance with that line, and the rest of that package, of course, and a prompt state visit by Dr. [Chaim] Weizmann and an opportunity for him to stay in Blair House, as a guest of State, with the flag of the new country flying there and so on . . . you look a little puzzled.
HESS: No, I was getting ready to ask a question about Eddie Jacobson, Mr. Truman's longtime friend from Kansas City, and I just wondered how much influence he had on the President's thinking about Jewish matters, since Mr. Jacobson was Jewish?
NASH: I just don't have any firsthand knowledge of this. I've understood that it was a good deal. But that's something that I've understood only. I know about Dave's assignments for the President, I know what he was handling, I know what he wanted to do and why and so on, and I know that Eddie Jacobson was in and out of the White House all the time, and I have heard that on matters of this kind, Mr. Truman used to ask Eddie what he thought. And he was a lot more concerned with what Eddie thought, than he was with what the experts in the State Department thought.
HESS: There was a time when Mr. Weizmann was in the. United States, and the President, as I understand it, did not necessarily want to see him, and Eddie Jacobson implored the President on the grounds of their old friendship if he wouldn't see him and I wondered if that was close to the '48 election?
NASH: Well, I just don't know anything about that episode.
I don't know of any time that Mr. Weizmann was in this country that President Truman did not see him, and I do not know of any time where he did not want to see him
Now, if you recall, when you get a little bit later into the fight for Israeli independence, and if you recall they got the Negev by fighting for it. The United Nations did not give it to them. They were invaded by their Arab neighbors, and when the fighting was over they had the Negev. They were just tougher, militarily, and then the question was, were they going to be permitted to hold it or was it going to be taken away from them. That was what the issue was about in the UN. This was where Ralph Bunche, you know, got to be a great hero.
HESS: Won the Nobel Prize.
NASH: Won the Nobel Prize. Now, there was a point at which we adopted a position, a stance, somewhat similar to what we're talking today, which is that the maintenance of peace is more important than the issues, and therefore we put an embargo on the shipments of arms to both sides, that is to Israel, and to all of the Arab countries. And this was most unsatisfactory to the Jewish people here. They didn't like it at all. Now, all I can offer
you is speculation. If at that particular moment in history with the Stern Gang conducting acts of terrorism, the Haganah conducting guerrilla warfare, and our posture being one of "We've got to get a cease fire and get some peace," at that particular moment, if Mr. Weizmann had shown up in Washington or New York, I can conceive of it being rather embarrassing to have an official visit. It would not preclude an off-the-record visit, although I don't know that such took place.
HESS: Well, does that pretty well cover the subject of Israel?
NASH: Oh, I promised to tell you another story. I may have it on another tape, so I'm possibly repeating myself, Jerry.
The weekend before election in 1948, General Marshall was in Paris; the question of the boundaries that were going to be set was up for discussion; the Israeli army had taken the Negev, and this goes beyond the old mandated territory, so the question was, were they going to be allowed to keep it, legally. They were going to keep it, all right, but the question was, were they going to keep it with the consent of the UN. And something happened,
I've forgotten just exactly what, on, let me see, the Friday before election. See, there was a big weekend planned in New York. That was the weekend of the civil rights speech, and that's what I brought up. But there was also a rally in Queens, the Madison Square Garden rally and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Brooklyn Academy of Music was a speech about Israel and independence and so on. Clifford was working on it and when I brought up the civil rights speech, the situation in Paris at the UN had become so tense they had to completely rewrite the Brooklyn Academy speech. So, that was done overnight on Friday, and that's why nobody had a chance to look at the civil rights speech. And that's why George Elsey called me up and said, you know, "You better come up."
HESS: That's why they were so busy.
NASH: Yes. They worked all night on this, and did it. In the lobby of the Hotel Roosevelt when I got there at about 5 in the morning, having come up after midnight from Washington with that civil rights speech, I had to work my way through the lobby where demonstrators were sitting in the lobby demanding to know -- it was a Jewish youth group, as I recall -- demanding to know what
General Marshall was doing in Paris. And when I heard on the TV this morning that a group was on its way to sit in in the entry chamber of the UN General Assembly, I was reminded of that. It was very similar.
HESS: The next card I have here is on the Committee on Government Contract Compliance. Shall we take up that general subject?
NASH: The history of that is that we decided, Dave and I, and then Dave took it up with the President and the President agreed that following the civil rights message of 1948 that there ought to be three or four areas of concentration. The Committee on Civil Rights had made certain recommendations, as a matter of fact, there were a dozen recommendations, major recommendations. And some effort was made to put all of these into effect. Some called for legislation, others could be done by executive action. But we felt that the President had to make a record of those where he was particularly responsible personally. That is as Commander in Chief, so that was obviously about the military; as the Chief Executive of the executive branch, this was where
Government contracts came in, and then in the District of Columbia; in the District of Columbia his hands were more or less tied because of the decision that the franchise was even more fundamental on the District of Columbia than equal rights on the racial basis. So, we went ahead privately to encourage some of the private groups to do something about civil rights in the District of Columbia. And the outgrowth of that was that little pamphlet, "Segregation in the Nation's Capital." This was privately done, but the White House hand was in it. I worked with those groups very closely and Dave kept in touch with the development of the pamphlet.
Incidentally, it appeared, came out just on election day in 1948. We had come forth with an Executive order that covered the military. There was strong pressure for a FEPC, particularly as we got into the Korean war. Nobody felt that this was feasible in this context, but I felt there was something that could be done, that would actually be more effective, and which embodies an idea that the original FEPC had had, but where they were thwarted. And that was that the powers to secure compliance by Government contractors with the nondiscrimination clause, was a very potent force, because the larger
the percentage of the economy that goes to Federal procurement, the larger portion of that economy you were making nondiscriminatory, if the nondiscrimination clause is enforced. It it's present and not enforced, then you have a tool you're not using, and you're justifiably criticized. So, it seemed to me, that the liberal forces, as sometimes happens, were tilting at the wrong windmill. They wanted an FEPC, because fair employment had become such a strong symbol in the civil rights movement, we had attempted to deal with the U.S. as an employer by going back to the original powers of the Civil Service Commission. We had dealt with the U. S. in the military, where we were asking the military to do what we were asking private employers to do.
And there remained the question of private employment, but in supply of Government procurement. Even at that time that was around -- Government procurement was in excess of ten billion a year, and that was twenty years ago, direct procurement. And both the first FEPC and the wartime FEPC had been unable to use this weapon, because the Comptroller General held that the clause was advisory, not mandatory. In the face of that, the first two FEPCs felt relatively helpless. Then when you add to
this, the legislative history of the FEPC -- that it had been put out of business by a congressional refusal to fund it in 1945 or '46, it seemed to me that the liberal forces wanting an FEPC and even wanting to reawaken old issues such as the FEPC transit matter and its employment record, that they just couldn't forget the old battles instead of moving on to new ones.
So, we got ready and did the homework, the legal work and so on, to make certain that we could create a committee for the enforcement of Government contracts, that we could legally pay for it, and that its decisions would have some force and effect, and did not call it FEPC. And it didn't deal with private employment, only with contractors who were making an agreement with the Government where nondiscrimination was a condition of doing business. Well, it took a long while to get it out because it was a very touchy matter. Again, as sometimes happens, the liberal groups were so strong in their demands for an FEPC that some people were afraid that this was too mild and that this wouldn't satisfy them. I was more interested in results than I was in satisfying anybody. Not that I was opposed to it but I felt that we had greater obligations. And such weight as I had went to a suggestion that when the
right time had come we would simply issue this thing.
Well, we did issue it at Key West. It was approved on the beach at Key West, and was read over the telephone by Joe Short, then the President's Press Secretary, from the beach to the Key West White House press room. And then we went from the beach, full of sand and salt water, and in our bathing trunks we held a press conference and I answered questions from the press about the Government contract committee, what it was supposed to do in its relation to FEPC and so on. The importance of this, of course, is that from that day to the present, that committee has never been dead. It's the ancestor of the current Equal Opportunity Commission, after 1952 the Republicans simply reissued the same Executive order, and the tradition was established that the Vice President would be the chairman of the Government Contract Committee.
In the Kennedy administration the order was again rewritten, and reissued and all of this was not substantially changed because that was all that anybody could do under the law. You could rework it, you could rename it, you could change the preamble but you couldn't change the essence of it, because we had gone as far as
you could go without additional legislation.
Now, of course, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the necessary legislation was provided, but in the Equal Opportunity Commission you have a number of functions put into it that are considerably more involved than the original contract compliance function. And then it has lost some, too, as it did when the Community Relations Service was set up separately. But the kernel of it for over fifteen, in excess of fifteen years now, has been the power of the Federal Government to name the terms on which it will do business with its suppliers. This is a very, very potent instrument if it's properly used.
HESS: What were the problems in staffing the committee?
NASH: The Government Contract Compliance Committee. Well, I have to have my memory refreshed on that. Oh, yes. All right, well, we can go right down the line.
Well, Dwight R. G. Palmer was picked for chairman for a couple of reasons: First, in the old FEPC, he had been one of the large manufacturers who was very much of a cooperator with FEPC, the General Cable Corporation of which he was the president during the war and also at this time, had an outstanding record of race relations in its plants. We often cited a number of
things that they had done in the General Cable Corporation plants, to make fair employment possible and workable. And as an industrialist, a Democrat, and a successful fair employment employer himself, he was a natural for chairman, and I worked with him very closely from 1950 to '52. And we became very good friends and still are. I think very highly of him.
Jim [James B.] Carey, of course, was the -- obviously you've got to have some labor, some public and so on, members on, a thing of this kind, and in order to fund it, it seems to me that we started out in the Government Compliance Committee by paying for it as an interagency or interdepartmental committee. And, therefore, we had to have some Government agency people represented on it. Jim Carey, at that time, was pretty much the CIO's man on race relations, the "Mighty Mite," you know, he was small, a great liberal within his labor organization, especially in the field of race relations.
Dowdal H. Davis. I saw him just the other day, a Negro, and I'm trying to think just what he was doing then -- a newspaperman, maybe. That seems about right.
HESS: Was he from Kansas City? Was he from the Kansas City Call?
NASH: Yes, I think that's right. I think he was from the Kansas City Call. Mr. Truman was anxious to have -- we always had representatives of the Negro press on these things and this seemed a good chance to bring in -- somebody that . . .
HESS: I think he was the owner and publisher, perhaps one or the other of the Kansas City Call, a Kansas City colored newspaper.
NASH: I think that's probably right.
Irving Engel was a very prominent member of the New York Jewish community, a great liberal. I think he was the head of one of the Jewish organizations, Commission on Race Relations, or Commission on Community Development, or something of that kind. I haven't seen him much in the last few years, but I used to see him regularly. He was a great friend of Niles, and his organization position would make him a natural for membership on a thing of this kind.
Russell Forbes. There my memory draws a blank.
Mike Galvin -- I can visualize him. Oh, he was Under Secretary of Labor, of course.
Oliver Hill, at that time, had just been elected to the city council of Richmond, Virginia. He's an
NAACP lawyer down there, a Negro, a very fine fellow, very bright fellow, and one with a good acceptance in a Southern community, and yet a fighter. I see him every once in a while. He doesn't change.
Everett Hollis I: can't identify.
George Meany, of course, is the George Meany.
Boris Shishkin was the A.F. of L.'s, sort of, gadfly.
HESS: He keeps popping up every now and then.
NASH: Yes -- race relations. A very nice fellow.
John Small was on it from one of the Government agencies, I've forgotten which.
Oscar Smith, probably also. This looks to me like just enough Government people to pay for the Committee. That was their principal function.
HESS: In the report, "To Secure These Rights," the civil rights report of October 1947, the recommendation was made that a unit be set up in the Bureau of the Budget "[t]o review the execution of all Government programs and the expenditures of all Government funds, for the compliance with the policy of nondiscrimination." Was this the first time in the Truman administration that such a suggestion for something on the nature of the Government Contract Compliance was brought up?
NASH: Well, you see, I think you misread the meaning of that statement in the civil rights report. The purpose there was not to deal with contracts, but with Government grants of all kinds. This raised the issue, a very sticky one even today, twenty years afterwards, of whether you ought not to withdraw social security grants, land grant college grants . . .
HESS: In other words, when it says, "all Government funds" it means all Government funds.
NASH: That doesn't mean contracts, it means direct expenditures, indirect expenditures, contracts, awards, allocations, the whole business.
HESS: I see.
Doctor, on the subject of the Government Contract Compliance Committee, not too long ago, I received a letter from Barton J. Bernstein, professor at Stanford University, whom you know, and he had a few questions that he wanted me to ask people when we were discussing the particular subject of the Government Contract Compliance.
NASH: Before you ask the question, let me say that Mr. Bernstein called on me here in this office, oh, eight or nine months ago now. I talked to him for a couple
of hours and after that he wrote me a letter in which he asked me some direct questions. And I thought the questions were loaded and I concluded at that point that the best thing to do was not to reply. I regret that because I think there ought to be open exchanges of views and information between scholars and administrators, especially for those of us who have scholarly backgrounds. But until I gain more confidence in Mr. Bernstein's objectivity as an historian, I don't think I'll reply to questions loaded or unloaded, and these are rather loaded.
Now, what did he ask you?
HESS: The first question was one that you've already covered to a great extent, but it is: "What caused the delay in creating the committee?"
NASH: Well, that's worth a one minute answer. The delay was caused by the necessity to find a formula that would stick, that would stick in the law and that would be effective, in view of the fact that some of the best lawyers in the country, Southern Senators in the Congress of the United States had attempted to tie us up in knots. You don't get out of something like that overnight.
So, this was the basic cause for it; the second one, of course, was the insistence of the ADA and some other liberal elements that there be a recreation of the FEPC, and the feeling on the part of some of us that this would invite a head-on collision with the Senate, would probably cast a doubtful legality on all the actions of the committee, and if you made it too much like FEPC, then under the terms of the rider to the Appropriation Act of 1946 whatever you did would be illegal the minute you did it, and consequently a chairman who would take the presidential assignment under those circumstances, would automatically prove that he knew so little about it, that he wouldn't very well qualify.
So, the delay then was caused by the need to find a satisfactory formula and to do it in an unpressured way.
HESS: Second question is, "Why the halfhearted earlier attempts?"
NASH: I don't know exactly what . . . this is what I mean by a loaded question, "Why the halfhearted earlier attempts?" Well, then, you've got to start and look for some halfhearted attempts. I don't know any -- any
time you have a new idea or a new tool it's the outgrowth of many different efforts to find a workable solution to a difficult problem.
For example, in the District of Columbia alone, there are memoranda in the record, which propose that the licensing power of the Commissioners be used to insure nondiscrimination and integration. For example, in restaurants, restaurants are licensed, well, rather than argue about the status of a law going back to 1870, why don't the Commissioners simply say that beginning January 1, next year, we won't renew licenses unless we get some indication that people will comply with the policy of nondiscrimination. Well, the problem with this, of course, is it's one thing to lead and another thing to get people to follow you. This is not the purpose of licensing, which is basically for reasons of health and law and order and revenue and a lot of other things, where you have to add the other element. It's easy to add the other element if the times are already with you; if they're not, then you'd better watch out that somebody doesn't challenge you and create a situation where you can't make it stick.
So, this may be the kind of halfhearted attempt, that is discussion of various techniques. Bear in mind that the idea of using contract compliance goes back to the very first FEPC, in words, to 1940, so that it was already a decade old by the time Professor Bernstein is talking about.
Now, those were halfhearted, yes. And Mike [Malcolm] Ross, you'll find, refers to those in his memoirs, All Manner of Men. It was through Mike Ross and my liaison with his committee for the Office of War Information, that I became aware of the inspection possibility as an instrument for gaining compliance with a Federal policy, once it was perfectly clear what the Federal policy was. I don't think Professor Bernstein adds much light, you know, when he just says those were halfhearted. Were they halfhearted because they were deemed inadequate or imprudent or something, I don't know.
HESS: Question number 3: "Why was there so little pressure on FHA to change its lending policies which effectively guaranteed residential segregation?"
NASH: Well, this is another loaded question. It is true that FHA was one of the agencies that was very difficult to deal with on the subject of nondiscrimination. And
all you'd have to do is to look at the controversy over the open housing statutes to see that not only the housing industry, but the country as a whole, is a little bit less inclined to go along on the subject of open housing than they are on anything else. In other words, the neighborhood in residence is a little bit closer to the guts of life than the job, or fighting together in the armed forces and so on. In addition to that, FHA is pretty much of an industry agency, and the people that are brought into that agency are industry trained and industry-oriented. The lending agencies are the most conservative of all agencies when it comes to the values associated with segregated housing, or segregated anything.
There wasn't, in my opinion, very much point in going over FHA's lending policies, until the procedures that represented instructions to the work force had been cleaned up in the FHA manual.
Now, Frank Horne, who was the head race relations man at Housing and Home Finance before it became a department, who is now with Mayor Lindsay in New York, and I went to work on those regulations at the White House long before the period that Professor Bernstein is talking about it. So when he says why did everybody
wait so long, one of the answers is to be found in a place like Chicago.
Here you have a tremendous Negro ghetto, you've got big slum areas that need cleaning up, and we had Urban Renewal Authority beginning in what, about 1950. So, comes the question of condemning the land, acquiring title to it, demolishing the buildings and then putting up more modern buildings, but you're not going to eliminate the congestion of the slum unless you have less occupancy per acre than you had when you started. Consequently, to some extent, slum clearance is people clearance and in Chicago, the fact of the matter is there wasn't an alderman who wanted any of those people from the south side in his ward. It has created some very bad public housing. Those high-rise monstrosities along the edge of what used to be Bronzeville and still are, except they are just multi-storied in glass.
HESS: They always remind me of grain elevators.
NASH: Yes, well, they are terrible places to live. They're just better than what they used to be. And this is the answer. Now, when you're struggling with problems like that, I think to go at the indirect thing of FHA just doesn't make very good sense.
Frank Horne was successful in getting the FHA regulations changed.
Professor Bernstein and others like him, who have never had the responsibility of running an agency, apparently don't see why it is necessary to change the instructions to people before you blame them for doing wrong. If the instructions either permit wrong or encourage wrong, then you've got to change the instructions. Then there comes the question of how did they get in there in the first place. Well, they got in there because this represented the views of the lenders, the buyers, the sellers it was an industry view. So this is one of the things I found out in the Indian Bureau. You don't want people to disobey your more liberal orders, therefore you had better change the instructions before you start firing people for following them, or they won't follow yours. That, I think, is the answer to that last question.
HESS: All right, fine.
What was the general degree of cooperation by the Government contractors with the Government Contract Compliance Committee?
NASH: Well, it was a pretty weak vessel in the beginning,
but it was one that I thought would gain in strength as more was put into it. I, of course, lost contact with it after 1952. It was in existence only two years before the Republicans revised it and put Mr. Nixon in as chairman. My friend from General Cable, put an organization together. They began to hold some meetings and began to develop some ground rules. I would say that most of that two years was devoted to getting organized and they went after the easier ones first. There are some that are very very difficult and have never been straightened out yet.
HESS: What are the toughest ones?
NASH: Southwestern Telephone. Here's a case where you have openly discriminatory policies with the supplier of telephone services to many big Government installations in the Southwestern states. And they made it very clear that if they were interfered with that they would simply not provide the service and would be very glad to have the Government condemn the facilities and run its own telephone business. They had a monopoly.
HESS: They were very forthright about it, weren't they?
NASH: Oh, my, they were. So, Dwight Palmer talked to me about it and I said, "You know, they're in the wrong, and do you want to go into the telephone business?"
He said, "Not especially."
I said, "Well, let's go on to something else, then."
This may not be true today, but it was at that time.
But, you see, by starting in a smaller way and growing, the shoe is now on the other foot. The discriminating company is now in the minority today, and they are on the defensive. They want to be able to say, "We are an equal opportunity employer." It's been given some prestige value, but this takes time.
HESS: What was the attitude of the leading Negro organizations to the committee -- NAACP, Urban League . . .
NASH: Well, they supported it. They would have liked more, of course. They were involved in the symbol FEPC, and so when the Contract and Compliance Committee came along, they said, "Well, that's not very much, is it?" Well, it wasn't. But, as I said before, it was all we could do and it was something you could build on. The National Labor Relations Board started with very little power, and little or no standing and no presitge and it acquired quite a bit of all three as the years went by. You must also remember that we were in the period
of the Korean war.
HESS: When the war came along and more products were needed, did that do any damage to the Government Contract Compliance Committee? Did things have to be toned down?
NASH: Well, when the war comes then you have more contracts, therefore the portion of the economy which is affected by the requirement of nondiscrimination is enlarged. Therefore, your effectiveness is enlarged. On the other hand you have less options, because you always have to be prepared if necessary to do without the product and to say, "Well, you have not conformed, therefore, we refuse to accept delivery." And they're mostly making something which you need in Korea.
HESS: You can't turn that down.
NASH: Well, sometimes you can, and sometimes you can't. The telephone service is essential and you have no choice. Certain kinds of steel were so vital that Mr. Truman seized the steel plant in order to keep the production going. You couldn't let discriminatory practices stand in the way of that because there was a larger objective. Also, however, when you have a war like that going on, the opportunities for employment are
so much greater than they were before that to a degree the problem takes care of itself. Therefore, what you need to do is to be working with those industries that have the contracts, are looking for employees, and would be willing to work on a nondiscriminatory basis and improve their practices if somebody showed them the way. So this is pretty much what the Contract and Compliance Committee did for that two years. Now, anything they might have done was overshadowed in any case by the integration that took place during the Korean war. So where we had been battling with the military through the Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Services, from 1950 on, the situation changed for reasons that are well established historically, we had to throw garrison troops into support of the Republic of Korea troops. They had become very heavily Negro, and everybody got so mixed up they couldn't be sorted out afterwards, and the first thing, you know, the Army discovered that it had integrated.
HESS: What was Mr. Truman's attitude toward the Government Contract Compliance Committee? Did you ever discuss matters with him at a point later than the issuance of the Executive order? Do you recall?
NASH: I don't really recall talking to him about it afterwards. We discussed it on the beach. He had wanted to do something and he said, "I wondered how long it was going to take you fellows to get around to that." I don't think he would have perhaps bought it if it had had the FEPC symbol attached to it, because he knew what kind of a situation this would get him into with the Congress.
HESS: He knew the difficulties there.
NASH: That's really the only comment I could make on that.
HESS: Do you have anything else that you'd like to add on the Government Contract Compliance Committee?
NASH: Nothing more.
HESS: That covers it.
How about for our next subject, the general subject of Indians, which you became very familiar with later on and you were familiar with before then with your living with the Indians, but what were the problems with Indians. What were the problems in that area during the time you were Mr. Niles' assistant?
NASH: Well, of course, there really was not very much of a problem during the war years, I mean, there was, but we were busy with other matters and it didn't come up.
I know now that many of the problems that developed later on -- the reservations got their start during the war because we stripped the agencies of their personnel, didn't replace them, day schools had to become boarding schools or go out of business. Many things happened in those four years that weren't righted for a long, long time afterwards.
The problem then begins in the early postwar. The 80th Congress was just as rough in the Indian field as it was in any other. They cut back the appropriations very severely. The, let us say, the cowboy-settler constituency in the Congress had finally succeeded in getting rid of my great predecessor, Mr. Collier in 1945 and he was succeeded by -- well, there was a long period of acting, when the Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Zimmerman, was the Commissioner, acting commissioner, and then, Mr. William Brophy, a lawyer of Albuquerque, was made Commissioner, but his health broke down, so that again thecae was a period of many months when Mr. Zimmerman was acting. The appropriations were cut. They got Mr. Zimmerman up before the Senate and demanded that the Indian Bureau prepare a list of tribes that were ready for termination, which was then done -- I mean the list
was prepared, they weren't terminated. It wasn't until 1948 that we were able to do anything about appropriations. So you had an effective period of three years there where the Indian Bureau was leaderless and it was at that time that I got into the arena.
The question was what kind of a person could be persuaded to become the Commissioner? I discussed this with Mr. Truman. By this time I had become well enough known to him and he had enough confidence in me so that I could take some things up in a direct way. Before that time I had been pretty careful of Mr. Niles' feelings, I mean more so than later.
It had been proposed that Dillon Myer who had been extremely successful as the Administrator of the War Relocation Authority, and who was greatly respected by the Japanese-American Citizens League, which was the interest group of Japanese Americans that grew out of the wartime concentration of the Nisei, they liked him, and it seemed to me that if they liked him and he was well-known as a capable administrator and that may be this was the answer in the field of Indian affairs. In this, I may say that I was exactly one hundred percent wrong. He was offered the governorship of
Puerto Rico and declined it. I didn't know as much about Puerto Rico then as I do now, and he missed a great opportunity. So if I had known then what I know now I would have known that he wasn't the man to recommend for commissioner.
But I was disturbed about Indian affairs and distressed by what I was hearing from the Interior Department, and the money wasn't there and the leadership wasn't there. So I went to Mr. Truman and said that it seemed to me that it was a field in which more ought to be done than was being done, and that it could be done. And he said, "What's the problem?"
And I said, "Well, they don't have the right man for commissioner, this is one of the problems."
And he said, "Help me find a good man."
So, Oscar Chapman was Secretary of Interior at this time and I talked to him about it. He said he thought that Dillon Myer would be a very good man.
It was not my original idea, but I accepted it enthusiastically. I knew him pretty well and I took him out to lunch and tried to persuade him to take the job. He declined it. They looked around
some more and still didn't find anybody, and I was approached, not by the President directly, but by one of the staff members who knew that I knew Mr. Myer, to see whether I could persuade him. The second time I was successful. I did persuade him. I'm not saying that I was the one, but I mean, I went out to lunch with him and we talked at length and then he agreed to do it.
And so I was present and I went over and watched him get sworn in. Well, my disillusionment wasn't long in coming, because he took me to lunch and he said, "I'm going to do three things that I don't think you're going to like." He said, "I'm going to do them anyway, and I thought I'd tell you about them."
I said, "What are they?"
He said, "I'm going to create area offices and reduce the superintendencies. I'm going to get the Indian children into dormitories in the border town areas so they can go to public school." And, let me see, what was the third one. Well, those two were enough.
I thought maybe I'd be more persuasive with him if I were not on the board of the Association of
American Indian Affairs. So, I resigned in order to try to be in a better position to influence him. He never paid any attention to me whatsoever. Things went rapidly from bad to worse. So, it would be about 1950, it seems to me, that I concluded he ought to go and that it had been a mistake to get him there in the first place.
And I had a visit with Mr. Truman about it. This was at Key West. He said he didn't think that he could do that, that Dillon Myer was a strong administrator, and a strong Bureau chief, and they were hard to find. And if I had somebody else for him, all right, but he said, "Don't pull one man out until you've got a better man to succeed him."
I must interrupt this because there was one point in there rather early in the game where there was another man as commissioner, and he was there very briefly, and that was John R. Nichols, who was a very nice man, but not particularly well qualified for the job, and he didn't last very long. He was, I would say, not very well treated either. He was pulled out of the presidency of a New Mexico college, then was put in as commissioner, and then six months later was studying
civil defense in England.
You can see what were the problems. The problems were, first, morale, appropriations, leadership, and then an element that I discovered in my conversations with Mr. Truman: His familiarity with this problem was not as good as his familiarity with other minority group problems. And where as a rule you could rely on what Charlie Ross used to call his visceral instincts, to find the right course and take it and to hit it without much discussion or argument; in this one you couldn't. He really did think that the Indian Bureau was pretty much the cause of the Indians' problems, and as I'm so fond of saying, this is like saying that the nurse is the cause of the patientís illness. If she would just get out of the way, then the patient would get out of bed and walk.
You have poverty, and with the poverty goes dependency, and the Indian Bureau is then said to be the cause of the dependency, rather than the poverty being the cause of the dependency. Then you've got to find out what's the cause of the poverty, and the Indian Bureau didn't cause that.
So, this was one where I really felt I'd flubbed
it, flubbed the ball, very much. I never was successful in getting Mr. Truman to understand this problem.
I had had my share in getting the wrong kind of administrator, because Dillon Myer then proceeded to handle the Indian problem as though the reservations were concentration camps in which you needed to empty them out and get the people out as quickly as possible before anything worse happened to them.
Well, this happens to be not the way the Indian people feel about it and there is also a little question of property interest and so on and so on, and they're not overeducated, middleclass people who have already accepted our value system as the Nisei were. These are people who haven't had an opportunity to join and they don't know whether they want to or not.
So, eventually, I wound up asking for the commissioner's job myself. And, at that point, Mr. Truman never talked to me about it, because I didn't get that far but Don Dawson did and Don said, "Well, now look, you've got to decide whether you want to evaluate somebody else, or whether you're going to drop out of this and become a competitor."
So, I had no desire to desert Mr. Truman at that point and so I said, "Okay, in that case, I back out, and I still think you ought to get another Indian Commissioner."
Well, they never did. They went all the way through to the 1952 election, and the very first thing that happened, of course, was that the Republicans dumped Commissioner Myer, and put in their own man who was a banker from Gallup.
However, the most I got out of my discussions after I felt we had just made a terrible mistake that had to be retrieved, was that I was told I could get into any area of Indian affairs that I wanted to, talk to the Secretary of the Interior about it and try to get things straightened out. So, I had, you might say, a watchdog assignment on Indian affairs by direct instructions from the President, about the last two or three years of the Truman administration. And I was quite active in the field.
There were many, many things I got into, the Navajo Hopi Rehabilitation Act for one, and various efforts to amend it so as to bring in state jurisdiction and create a certain amount of termination. And we managed to overcome
that. Is that an answer to your question in general?
HESS: Yes, it is. Does anything else come to your mind?
NASH: Well, of course, Mr. Truman had been very active as a Senator in getting the Indian Claims Commission Act passed, and he signed it into law while he was President. So the last time I saw him was a year ago this August, when the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes of Eastern Oklahoma presented him with a plaque in the Library, and they were nice enough to invite me to go with them, and we had a very nice session, a very heartwarming session. We did not discuss the details of any Indian problems at that point, needless to say.
HESS: In your files at the Library is an undated memorandum from Will Rogers, Jr., entitled "Memo on the Navajo," in which he makes a recommendation that the Navajo reservation be made the 49th state. Do you recall anything about that?
NASH: Well, I had a visit with Will Rogers, Jr., at this table about three months ago. He's been made a consultant to Secretary Udall. He's been riding around the reservations, especially looking at the schools, and making some recommendations to the Interior Department and judging by the conversation I had with him at this table, these recommendations made just about as much
sense now as they did then.
Will Rogers is what the tribal Indians call a "glue Eye." He's Indian in the sense that his father Will Rogers was an enrolled Cherokee and is regarded as an Indian by other Indians, especially by the Cherokees, and especially by Oklahomans who are very eager to claim Indian ancestry, and very proud of their Indian ancestry, while at the same time they don't do anything about the problems of Indian poverty in their own state.
Will has adopted a couple of Navajo children and he and his wife are raising them in southern Arizona. He had them with him for a while in Beverly Hills. Will Rogers is as nice a person as you could ever want to meet, he's a real charmer, and he and his wife have done a good job with their adopted Navajo boys, but he just has never had the contact with Indian problems that anybody else has had, and he is really just not aware of the similarity of his own situation as a rich Indian to the problems of poor Indians. He sat right in this chair across from where you're sitting now and said, "It's just terrible what we've done to these people with this trusteeship."
I happened to know the answer, and I said, "Well, Will, how is your estate handled?"
He said, "Oh, there's a trustee, but it's a bank."
So there never was a serious proposal to make a state out of the Navajo reservation. It's a nutty idea. It cannot afford the police force it's got, let alone the things it would have to have if it were a state government. The economy is not yet sufficiently developed to support a government.
The Navajos are spending about 22 million dollars a year of their oil income on various tribal government projects, in which there is a little waste and extravagance, but on the whole, it's very well spent, well budgeted. But we have to put in almost sixty million dollars a year on top of that to provide the essential community services for the Navajo tribe, even at their low level and they are inadequate today. The schools are not big enough or good enough even after the millions and millions we have spent on them in the past few years; the same with the roads. So, it's just a nutty suggestion that really isn't worthwhile spending time on.
HESS: What could be done to improve the lot of the Indians?
NASH: Oh, well, continue the policies of the Nash administration,
We embarked on a dual program of resource development, and of individual development. The theory here is that the individual should be put in the best possible position to take advantage of whatever opportunity he can find wherever he chooses to find it, so that if he chooses to find it in New York with the New York City Ballet, like Maria Tallchief, or in Beverly Hills as its mayor, which Will Rogers, Jr. did for a while, or in the oil fields of Los Angeles, as some people have done, or on a skyscraper in New York as some of the Iroquoian groups have done, this is their business, their right, and we have an obligation, I think, to maximize their opportunity for success.
You do this by basic education, on the job training, vocational education, apprenticeship, and so on, relocation, the whole program of individual assistance to the one who wants to make his start in a new place.
But there will always be many Indian people who prefer rural life, and the continuance of this rural life should not be at the price of a standard of living which is so much lower than the rest of us that it's a serious deprivation to the individual and an embarrassment
to the rest of us. So, what do you do here? It doesn't do much good to take that person who chooses a rural way of life and teach him to be a radio repairman if the economy doesn't permit people to have a lot of radios, and to pay to have them repaired.
When you train that person as a radio repairman, you are, in effect, telling him, "You had better go and live in the city or you won't have any chance, and therefore the money we put in making you a radio repairman is just a frustration." Consequently, for that person who chooses not to relocate, there must be job opportunities on a reservation. Now, at the present time the economies are so underdeveloped that these job opportunities are mostly bureaucratic. That is, that is the Indian Service itself. We have more than 10,000 Indian employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Public Health Service has 5,000 employees, about 3,000 of those are Indian.
The tribal governments are quite big now. So many thousands of Indian men and women find work with their own tribal governments, in jobs that are comparable to, at rates that are comparable to those of the Federal Civil Service. But this is a dependent kind of
If enough credit were available, if the resources that are now idle were developed, if Indian-owned industries, or privately owned industries that came out of the reservations were making jobs, you would then have the beginning of the cycle of economic growth that makes true independence possible.
Now, in 1961 when I became commissioner, we embarked on a program, as I say, of joint economic development on the reservation and of individual development for job opportunities wherever they might be, on or off the reservation. Now, basically, this has to be by industrialization. So, we enlarged our branch of industrial development, and I think for the records here, it might be worth putting down what we were able to accomplish.
In the five years that I was commissioner, we started out with a work force of a little over 100,000, and in that five years that work force increased by 16,000, so at the end of the five years there were in excess of a hundred and sixteen thousand people who had to have jobs on the reservation. We began with about 58,000 unemployed, making the unemployment rate at
fifty-two percent. In the following five years, see, while the work force was increasing by 16,000 the number of unemployed at the end of the five year period, was considerably less than 5 8,000 in fact, it was down around about 38,000. So, you might say that where unemployment had been approximately one-half at the start of our program, five years later it had been reduced to one-third, which is very substantial. I'm very proud of this. Incidentally, these figures were not available when I left the Bureau in March of '66.
Now, I think, probably we shouldn't even be putting this down unless it's related in some way to Mr. Truman's Presidency.
When I was defeated for Lieutenant Governor in 1960, I wanted to come back to Washington, I needed a job, and I asked for the commissionership of Indian affairs. It was given to me. One of the reasons I asked for that and didn't attempt anything else, the Peace Corps, for example, which I might have, AID, which I might have, the Equal Opportunity Commission, and some of those other things, which I had done for Mr. Truman, was that I really felt that we had made great progress
in the Truman administration in minority groups rights as far as Negroes, and Samoans, and Guamanians, and Puerto Ricans, and Virgin Islanders were concerned, and with the ethnic minorities and the whole displaced persons program, Negroes, even conscientious objectors, but that we had just failed miserably and utterly as far as the American Indians were concerned. They were worse off.
HESS: During the Truman administration?
NASH: At the end of the Truman administration the Indian people were worse off than they were at the beginning.
HESS: To what would you attribute that?
NASH: The fact that the war had brought about a great shrinking of the establishment at the same time that it created opportunities off the reservation. This then gave a push to those forces in American life which think that the solution to the Indian problem is to wipe out the reservations and scatter the Indians and then there won't be Indian tribes, Indian cultures, or Indian individuals. There will simply be some Indian genes floating around on the common gene pool. This is not the right solution; this is not a good solution; it is not one that is acceptable to a thinking person, but
this is an area where we often reason by analogy, and if we think the melting pot was a good idea, then we think it would be good to melt off the Indians in the reservations. I just disagree with this profoundly.
HESS: You think they should keep their culture.
NASH: Of course, and it is possible to do both, and in the five years I was commissioner, we did both. The result is that the Indians are happier and the reservations are better than they were before. I don't know whether we are going fast enough or not, but I really was not able to get Mr. Truman's attention on this, because he had his mind made up that the Indian Bureau was a bad bureau. Well, I never really thought it was a bad bureau, but I thought it maybe needed some pretty big changes, and I went into the commissionership, thinking that we would make those changes, and I found out that it is in fact a very good bureau, but it does not have understanding support.
HESS: Can businesses be brought into the reservations to provide employment for these Indians and still retain their culture?
NASH: Yes, certainly, certainly. Let me give you an example Preston Kevama is a Hopi, a Hopi Indian. He got a job
during the war at Los Alamos;, and he's very capable, speaks excellent English, well educated in the Hopi schools, had army duty, came back and married a girl from San Juan Pueblo, which is not far from Los Alamos. So he got a job at Los Alamos. He rose rather quickly to be chief of the surplus property disposal unit at the Los Alamos laboratory. When I used to go to education conferences I saw him all the time. He's on the Governor's Advisory Commission on Indian Affairs for the State of New Mexico. He's very progressive, very businesslike, very middle class. He called me up long distance one time to say, "If you're thinking of coming out for the Niman," which is the going home ceremony of the masked gods in the Hopi villages, and it comes in August. It's an all day ceremony in which masked dancers representing gods dance in the plaza and there are priests that sprinkle them with pollen and cornmeal, and it's the end of a long ceremony. Quite often, young Hopi boys will be initiated into the kachina cult at about this time because their fathers want them to have this experience. These are all secret so naturally Preston wouldn't tell me what it was about. He would speak in circumlocution, "Well, there will be doings and it
would be nice if you could be here."
Well, I knew pretty well what that meant. Actually, his son was being initiated. He was too old for it, but he had never been initiated before. An employee, by the way, of the Indian Bureau -- the boy. So, what do you suppose I see. I'm sitting on the ground watching this day long ceremony and here comes Mr. Preston Kevama in a breechcloth; he has short hair, not long hair, but he has an eagle feather tied to what hair he can get together for the purpose, and taking pollen out of a little leather bag and sprinkling it on the masked dancers. He's one of the priests. This man, in other words, moves in two worlds. One is the world of nuclear fission and fusion and Government regulations and surplus property disposal and "Sign here, and be sure to have eighteen copies," and the other one is the world of Hopi ceremonialism. And he does so without any conflict and is a better man for both. And the next generation will be the same if he can make it that way, and that's how I would like to make it.
And if I had ever had an opportunity to explain this, you know, in detail and in depth to Mr. Truman, he would have understood it because it's the kind of
problem and program that he would react well too viscerally, but it was never presented to him in those terms.
Between 1946 and 1952, I had other things to do and other matters that concerned me and I did not perhaps have quite enough familiarity with the side of it that I did get a chance to become familiar with afterwards. So much of what I've learned about Indian affairs I learned as commissioner. It's true, I've been a student in the field for twenty-five years, but this is not the same thing as doing it. And I saw all the reservations, and all the people in the Bureau, and all the tribal leaders, with very few exceptions in five years, and this is the only way to learn. There is no other way to learn.
HESS: I went to K.U. in Lawrence, Kansas, and of course that's where Haskell is, the Indian institute. Of course, Haskell was set up many years ago and it's still in operation, but what do you think is the best way to educate the Indian? Would it be to have schools on their reservations, or would it be to take them away and place them in schools like Haskell?
NASH: You have to do it very many places. Haskell should not be a school for Indian children and it is not today.
One of the things we did in my five years was to make a postgraduate technical school of it. Today, you don't go to Haskell unless you are a high school graduate. And we have now about 2,000 -- about 1200 -- post-high technical students pursuing 33 trades and occupations.
HESS: I left Lawrence in '57.
NASH: Well, we've put about three million dollars into plant improvement at Haskell since then, and we began phasing out the high school in 1962. First, we did not take an eighth grade, then not a ninth, then not a tenth, then not an eleventh, and so on.
HESS: I'll put in a personal note. I would say they were the best behaved youngsters I have ever seen.
NASH: Yes, this is still true.
HESS: Shall we quit for the day?
NASH: Yes, that's enough for one day anyway.
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