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.
August 17, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened October, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
August 17, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Dr. Nash, at the conclusion of our last interview, I inadvertently let the tape run off the reel. Perhaps we should start by having you finish the statement you were making at that time.
NASH: I'd be glad to.
We had been discussing the Detroit race riots and the role that Ted Poston and I played in the quelling of that riot, working together from the Office of War Information, but under the general direction of Jonathan Daniels, administrative assistant to Mr. Roosevelt, and had mentioned some two hundred Negro leaders we were in touch with. I didn't mean that the Negro leaders I was speaking of were in any formal network or anything like that. I merely mean that it was Ted's job to know who they were and to be in touch with them so that we would have the closest personal informational contact that was possible with the Negro community in each of the major communities of the nation which had been identified as probably productive of race tension.
So we had a kind of a temperature taking system
and then we had a method for taking some action once we determined that the patient had a temperature. But that action was coordinated through the White House; and my job with Jonathan was not only to keep track of the incoming information, but to try to be imaginative and creative about possible solutions. And here our formula was a very simple one, a very commonsense one, simply to stop the little ones before they got to be big ones.
In those days it was common theory that race riots were both unpredictable and uncontrollable. This is like supposing that a tornado or a hurricane is unpredictable merely because you can't control it after it gets started, but if you have good information, good incoming intelligence, you can anticipate the developments, you can anticipate the course of the hurricane and even of tornadoes and you can take evasive action Communities can be warned; people can get out of the way. This is the very least that modern science ought to be able to do.
The belief that a race riot has no means of control is equivalent to saying that it has no cause. I doubt if anybody really believes this. Twenty years ago the
cause wasn't very well-known or understood but to say that you can't do anything about it is to take a defeatist attitude which nobody would have accepted even those days in terms of labor relations, and in more delicate areas of human relations such as child care and divorce, family relations, already the principle had been established that government can do something about family relations and so there are courts of domestic relations and children's codes.
So we were in at the very beginning of the development of a kind of race relations service. Neither Ted Poston nor Jonathan Daniels nor I or anybody else that we were associated with accepted for one minute the proposition that race riots don't have a cause, anymore than any other social upheaval is without cause. There are causes for all these things and it's merely a question of applying research and knowledge, inquiry and analysis to them until you find out what they are. So we operated on the premises that we didn't know what the causes were but that they could be found, especially if you could detect them in the early stages. So we first set about a simple kind of detection system and then we began to create an analysis
of the patterns that we discovered to see whether you could find long-term trends.
And, of course, we had to operate on an ad hoc basis and therefore we assumed that the little ones we discovered, if they could be handled as little ones, could be prevented from growing into big ones. And so we rather quickly discovered that a work stoppage over whether a Negro person was about to be employed on a streetcar line or an assembly line in a plant, or a civil disturbance in a housing project over whether a Negro family was going to be allowed to move in, or a disturbance connected with a recreation facility such as a park, or a disturbance that might arise over some interference with the formation of a crowd outside a place of recreation, like a dancehall or a bar, that none of these was without provocation and if there was provocation then you could find out what the provocation was, and this might lead to an amelioration of the situation.
The application of this principle enabled us to detect and stop all major racial disturbances from the end of the summer of 1943 to VJ Day, a period of approximately two years. The operation was one that had
the direct approval of the President; Jonathan Daniels was in charge, I was detailed from the Office of War Information as his assistant, although I continued to do my OWI job. Both of us felt we needed a kind of a contact with the Negro community that only a respected and known member of the Negro community can provide, and Ted Poston was that person, and then we made full use of every research and intelligence facility of the Federal Government to detect these disturbances, these seismic disturbances in the human community, before they had reached mountainous proportions. Then, we used the facilities of the Federal Government, the operating agencies, the War Labor Board, the National Labor Relations Board, the inspection service of the military, the Office of War Information, the Office of Civilian Defense, any Government agency that had programs in the area that could be put to work to ameliorate the situation, were used to this purpose at the direction of the White House, and this was .the secret of our success.
We ranged all the way from little upheavals based on rumors that the street march was going to develop into a riot, to the great Philadelphia crisis of 1944
in which we stopped a major riot but only by the device of Federal seizure of the transit properties of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit System by presidential order under the War Powers Act.
Now, I can describe this in all parts, in detail or in depth, but this was the heart of our wartime operation, and it was the granddaddy of all of today's programs which are operated through the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, whether you're calling out the marshals at Little Rock, as was done by President Eisenhower, or whether you're sending troops into Alabama, fundamentally you are using the presidential power for the purpose of insuring equal rights and are doing so on the basis of some kind of estimate of the situation with an evaluation of a possible course of action, which in our system of government, if it involves race relations, must be presidential.
HESS: Does that pretty well cover that aspect of your job?
NASH: Well, it's very much of a "once-over-lightly." This is the most important period of my life. It set the pattern for almost everything that took place in the Civil Rights field in the past twenty years. Its
never been written about, never been told about. Jonathan Daniels knows about it, Ted Poston knows about it, and I know about it, and I doubt if very many other people do.
HESS: Do you have anymore that you'd like to say here on that?
NASH: I have a lot I'd like to say, particularly if you want to get into individual episodes.
HESS: Why don't you give me an example or two, and maybe we can show how it worked.
NASH: Well, I think a good example would be -- let's take the Philadelphia Rapid Transit strike. You start out with the Fair Employment Practice Commission and its decision that eight Negro track workers should be upgraded to maintenance men.
It had been believed that this would be very carefully, thoroughly, worked out in detail with the union, with the company and with the municipal authorities of Philadelphia. Yet when the August 1 deadline came of 1944, on a Monday morning, all the workers reported sick at the same time. It was not a strike, it was wartime and a strike would have been illegal. They were just all sick.
It took five days to get that situation resolved. It came at a time when I was out of town, and Jonathan and Ted Poston handled this pretty much by themselves, but using procedures that we had all worked out together.
Of course, this is disappointing when something like this happens without you, but it is a matter of pride that it works, you know, devoid of personalities; and it did work without personalities. So the President was out of the country, and it was rather quickly determined that the situation was of a national emergency character, that it required prompt action and rather large scale action, and three steps were taken immediately: One was in line with, let us say our detecting system to keep track of the police blotters so that we would know from hour to hour how large the groups were that were involved in action with each other; and then on a simple scale of severity, such as words only; words and blows; words, blows and missiles. It was a very simpleminded, commonsense scale, but as you can see, if people are shouting as drivers do at each other when they meet on a red light, you don't have a very tense situation, but if they get out of the car and they start slugging
each other you have potential trouble, and if one of them picks up a brickbat, then you're really in for it. This is application of the same common-sense principle. We kept track of it all over Philadelphia, blotter by blotter, on an hour by hour basis during the time of the mounting tension. Consequently you could see the tension growing, you didn't have to rely on rumors, but if the average group today is twenty-five, and the average group tomorrow is fifty, and the average group the day after that is one hundred . . . you better get ready to move.
Now, the second thing in preparation for basic trouble, was to get a seizure order out with the President's personal signature on it so it couldn't be challenged on constitutional grounds, and he was making a wartime inspection and therefore a courier had to be dispatched for this and there was an inner limit as to how fast you could move.
The third thing was to be completely ready with the manpower and the force that would make the thing foolproof so that you wouldn't have a recapitulation of the terrible Detroit disaster. I've forgotten what was on our tape at the end of the last session, but
if I related the entire Detroit account, I should have explained that the commanding general of the 5th Service Command came out with the necessary seizure papers in his hand and only discovered after he got there that they were inapplicable, and some thirty lives and five million dollars were lost and property destruction took place before that could be straightened out by the lawyers. So, Jonathan was very anxious to avoid that a second time, as we all were, so there was a real determination here to use all the force that was necessary to achieve the goal. What was done in this particular case, the problem was turned over to Mr. Daniels at the direction of the President, to the Army Transportation Corps, which then proceeded to find, by machine-card sorting, every serviceman in the nearby service command area -- there were about three service command areas on the east coast -- every serviceman who had any working experience on a bus or a streetcar, and to have him detached for special duty in Philadelphia and without any fanfare whatsoever they were assembled by bus, train, plane and every other necessary means, into a special transportation unit in Philadelphia. And they were quietly assembled and each one of them was assigned as
an observer, so that you had a motorman observer, you had a conductor observer, every working member of that Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company had an opposite number who was a soldier, or a sailor, or a marine or something in the military service. And they simply proceeded to learn the routines for two or three jobs working alongside. They were not running, but they were there. We hoped, of course, that their presence would bring back the fellows that were reporting sick, but it didn't. So along toward the end of the week when it became clear that the seizure order was in hand, the seizure was made and still they didn't come back.
At that point the commanding general of the special transportation unit that had been assigned to Philadelphia, that had been created for this purpose, went on the air, urging the strikers to come back to work in the interest of production for the war effort, and when they did not do so in twenty-four hours he went on the air again and read off a list of things that would happen to those who did not come back, and at this we kicked the roof in. For example: Red points would be cancelled, blue points would be cancelled, nobody would be provided with gas coupons in order to
get to work, no referrals would be made to other war agencies, consequently they would find themselves without the possibility of a war job, any draft deferments based on occupational -- special treatment would be cancelled, and a whole long list of things like this which were related to their essentiality to the war effort, which of course was ended because they were not going to work. And then he said, "Of course, this won't be true for those who report back tomorrow morning, or who have a doctor's certificate indicating that they really are sick, but in any case, the leaders will be arraigned under various criminal statutes, their cases will be brought before a grand jury and will be prosecuted."
This broke the back of the whole thing, and they all came back to work the next morning. The leaders were brought to court and there was an arraignment and an indictment. They were tried but it took about a couple of months as I recall, and ultimately I think their sentences were suspended. By this time the whole thing.was pretty well over. The troops continued in action, in and around Philadelphia. For example, we had motormen observers and conductor observers riding the streetcars for about two or three weeks after this and then gradually some were removed, others were removed, still others were removed, and I
don't know just how long it was, but it was two or three months before the last one was taken out. And, of course, during this whole period, the FEPC order was enforced by the Government; in other words, those eight men who were to be upgraded, and whose upgrading provoked the work stoppage, went on the job, and this transit system was integrated during the wartime and remained integrated ever since. We had quite a few like that.
HESS: Now, at that time you were still on OWI, but you were detailed to Jonathan Daniels. Did you work out of the White House at this time?
NASH: I worked out of Jonathan Daniels' office. I didn't have an office in the sense that my name was on the door, as I did later; I was detailed by Mr. Davis to the White House, but I continued as special assistant to the Director of Domestic Operations.
HESS: Elmer Davis:
NASH: Well, Elmer Davis was director of the whole OWI. There were two branches: overseas and domestic, and at this time I was a special assistant to the Director of the Domestic Branch, and my duties were to do what the White House asked. I thought it was rather important to continue my work for OWI and therefore I did that too. So I had
an office in OWI during all this period. Now the custom in OWI at this time was to have a domestic director who would come in for about six months at a time and then go back to his newspaper (these were usually newspaper publishers). And, when I first came in, the director of the domestic branch was Mike Cowles, of the Cowles publications. He was succeeded by Palmer Hoyt, then I think of The Oregonian and later of the Denver Post, isn't it -- Post or News?
HESS: I think so.
NASH: I forget. He, in turn, was succeeded by . . . I never thought I'd forget his name . . . the editor-publisher of the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, and the last one and still on the job at the end of the war was from the Barry Bingham papers in Louisville, Kentucky, and I forget his name at the moment. All of these people, with one exception, very clearly understood what I was doing at the White House, and why, they lent themselves to it very happily.
HESS: Who's the one exception, would you care to say?
NASH: The last one, the last one. If I could only think of his name. He felt that he needed to know more about what I
was doing and wanted a written memorandum as to the nature of this detail. Well, we already had a memorandum from Mr. Davis assigning me to the White House for this purpose, and I just thought that this was broad enough to cover everything that I was doing, and that verbal understanding with my director of domestic operations was enough. This was not satisfactory to him and I worked for quite some time without a desk or telephone or secretary or anything else. His theory being that I could just as well have office space at the White House and they wouldn't need to provide it for me. The White House wasn't about to do that. I did my work anyway.
HESS: What other jobs did you hold between that time and the time that you started in at the White House?
NASH: Well, there was a brief period in 1943, I guess it was. The Pentagon had been considerably plagued by race tension, not only in the military bases around the country, but in the adjacent communities. They had an adviser, Don Young, Donald, that is, now of the Russell Sage Foundation, who was a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of War for Manpower, and he conceived the idea, together with Truman K. Gibson, who was special assistant
to the Secretary of War, and was the race relations adviser. I assume your tapes have some reference to the Black Cabinet. He was the defense member of the Black Cabinet.
HESS: Tell me a little bit about that.
NASH: In the early years of the New Deal, starting with Harold Ickes, the custom developed of having special assistants to the principal Cabinet department officers -- usually the Secretary -- each one of which was a respected member of the Negro community and was responsible for all the racial aspects of the program. This would go to services to the submerged Negro minority, in housing, employment, and in manpower. In interpreting the agency's programs to the Negro public through the media, that were rather observed by members of the Negro minority, in other words, Negro press, in those days the Negro radio, later Negro TV programs -- this was pre-TV -- with respect to employment. Now if you're going to have a successful Negro program, obviously you've got to have some people from the Negro community who are administering it, not just interpreting it. This involves a talent search. So the way in which the whole process of the incorporation of the Negro minority into the executive
as a part of the body politic, began under Roosevelt and started with the employment of key people, each one of whom is usually tagged "Special Assistant to . . ." These were known in the Negro community as the "Black Cabinet." [Robert C.] Bob Weaver was one of the first members, today the secretary of HUD. He was special assistant to Harold Ickes.
Another very important member was Mrs. Bethune; Mary McLeod Bethune, who had the same position in respect to Aubrey Williams in the National Youth Administration. If you go back to an old wartime issue of Life magazine, you'll find a cabinet portrait of them as the Black Cabinet. It's most intriguing. Truman Gibson was the Defense member of it and so on. Well, those of us who were "pale faces" were, of course, not a part of any such little cabinet . . .
HESS: Little inner organization . . .
NASH: Little inner organization. Ted Poston, I can assure you had been the War Manpower Commission member and then was the Office of War Information member. Now, I was not, but I knew of the existence of the group, and one of my jobs, of course, was to see to it that Ted Poston's status in this group was made to work for OWI, and for the whole Federal Government's programs which could only be done
on the basis of mutual trust and confidence between him and me. I didn't have to be a member of that group. He could be, I couldn't be. So, we had these problems in the camps.
We had a very, very severe morale problem inside the Armed Forces with regard to American Negroes. The military itself was the inheritor of a very antiquated tradition, going back to World War I, which held that Negroes were capable of being utilized for supply services, but not for combat. An excuse given was, one of the grounds of capability, and another one was on the grounds of loyalty.
In other words, this is about as negative and derogatory a policy as it's possible to have towards a portion of the body politic. The policy which was never officially, or publicly, or openly admitted, was in fact followed out in practice and is based upon memorandums prepared by a then member of the general staff, then Major [Brehon B.] Somervell, between the two wars, between World War I and World War II.
I have myself seen a copy of this memorandum, so there is no mystery as to whether it exists or not, and it does say what I said it says, and this was the basis
of the troop policy and fact in the preparatory stages of World War II, and it was known to the American Negro leadership. They were not about to stand still for it. They made their views known politically at the highest levels, and in particular in conjunction with the 1940 election, and the result was a manageable modification of this restrictive policy. It continued through World War II, however, and we were able to get only limited modification of it, largely at White House insistence.
On this Jonathan Daniels was again the principal operator. You had, for example, segregated SPARS, segregated WAVES, segregated WACS, a segregated training facility for pilots at Tuskegee, and we began to work on this along with a lot of other things through the Troop Policy Committee of John McCloy, who was then the Assistant Secretary for Manpower. Truman Gibson, being his representative on the committee. Don Young being the Pentagon consultant in all these matters. I operating out of the Office of War Information and with daily White House contact.
We concluded that we ought to work if we could through the Troop Policy Committee for individual integration in
the final phase of the European war, the forcing of the Rhine; looking toward the war in the Pacific where the question of color and segregation would obviously be of considerably more morale and propaganda importance even than it had in Europe. The higher levels of the military were quite willing; the lower levels, in the theater, were not as willing.
Accordingly, a compromise was worked out in which it was agreed that rifle companies, to be engaged in the forcing of the Rhine, would be augmented by one platoon of Negro volunteers. So this was platoon integration; it was the first major departure from the actual existing policy of division segregation and was the beginning of the major changes which were completed by the end of the Korean war, and was really quite a significant event, and one which has not been written about very completely or fully in my opinion.
Now, you asked what all did I do! Well, both Gibson and Young thought it would be a good idea to have a training manual. In their experiences the military tends to work in terms of written documents and training manuals, so it was decided that there would be prepared a training manual that would deal with the leadership of
Negro soldiers, and this would be used as an information document to try to orient all the people that were concerned with race relations in the Army, and this was eventually produced and did become a training manual, I think, in eleven or twelve circulated million or more copies. Young was the general editor; I was the immediate editor, various people wrote sections of it; it all appeared as a public document without anybody's name on it, but it, I think, paved the way in providing certain kinds of understanding. It's rather a quaintly, old-fashioned document today when you look at it. But it has its place in history.
HESS: Did you meet with Mr. Roosevelt any time during this period?
NASH: I never met FDR face to face at any time during the three years that I was detailed in the White House. He was very fully occupied with the war. I was privileged to attend the 1945 inaugural and we stood on the lawn on the south of the White House in three inches of snow, and, I don't know, three or four thousand of us, I guess, saw FDR sworn in, and that was as close as I got to him during the whole period. Of course, he died on the 12th of April.
HESS: Just a point of information on that subject, what were your views that day, did you think he looked in pretty poor health?
NASH: Well, you know, I was very naive about a great many things then and maybe I still am, but I wasn't aware of the fact that he couldn't walk in 1945.
HESS: You didn't know he could not walk?
NASH: I never saw a picture of him where he wasn't standing by himself or sitting down. The newspapers when I was a boy never said that he couldn't walk. There was a real conspiracy of silence on the situation, etiquette conspiracy, but nevertheless a conspiracy and when he walked on his braces, leaning on James' arm, and of course, he was a fair distance away, you know, a couple of hundred feet, it was a real shocker to me.
HESS: Well, that's more or less due to his polio. I've understood that he was fairly sick that day, you know, just physically sick.
NASH: The day of the '45 inaugural?
HESS: But I don't know.
NASH: Of course, I had been very active in the 1944 campaign. You see, I was working for Jonathan Daniels. He was knee-deep in politics, as his position called for him to be. I was
in it because I wanted to be and not for any other reason. The question of RDR's health had of course been a major campaign issue although pretty much a sub rosa one, and he was put to the ordeal, just before election of making that long tour of New York, through the rain with a change of clothes in a garage and so on, which he insisted upon in an effort to make it clear that he was in good health and was vigorous and all that. So, while I was aware of this problem as a political problem, I was in no position to make an evaluation of it, because I didn't have any personal contact with him, and I most certainly did not receive any impression of poor health, weakness, approaching death, or anything like that on the 20th of January, 1945, although he was only a few months away from his death. But I was taking part in discussions with Jonathan and others of the political nature of the issue, and in all the conversations that I had with him and with others on the White House staff at that time, I had no indication from them that they were doing anything other than making the true nature of his vigor and health available to the American people.
HESS: What were your duties during that '44 campaign?
NASH: Well, I didn't have any official duties. I was on detail
to the White House from OWI so that anything I did I couldn't do officially. Unofficially, Jonathan Daniels was the head of what President Roosevelt called the "Instant Reply Committee." And he said, if you recall, that he was not going to campaign in the usual sense, but that he would see to it that any distortions of the opposition were promptly corrected. Jonathan, and Dave Niles, who was later my boss, and Jim Barnes, the Administrative Assistant to FDR, were the three members of the "Instant Reply Committee," and Jonathan set it up. What I did, was at the close of business each day during the campaign, I simply scooped up from the newstickers in the OWI newsroom, any and all copies of any speeches that were coming out from the opposition, and I put them in my pocket, and I jumped into a taxi, and I went over to the White House, with my own money and my own time, and there Jonathan and I sat down and went over the teletypes, line by line, and we got the research started that would straighten the record, and we quite frequently had the corrections on the wire before the speech had been given.
It was a very, very simple technique. And it was amazingly effective. Everybody thought that we must have
a spy over in Republican headquarters and we didn't. All we had was one newsticker.
We might say that Mr. Daniels and I were rather anxious to see to it that some policy corrections were made and that these policy corrections did not hurt the standing of the President of the United States, who wanted to succeed himself, and sometimes under that sort of pressure you can get things done that appear to be impossible the year before.
HESS: What policy corrections did you have in mind?
NASH: WAVES, SPARS, WACS; basically integration in the armed services. This was the big race issue in 1944.
HESS: You mentioned that you did not meet with Mr. Roosevelt, but did you know his views on this subject?
NASH: Well, I can quote Jonathan Daniels. You see, we had received these indications that I told you about in my previous discussion with you about the mounting race tension in certain communities, and I passed this on, of course, to my superiors in the Office of War Information, and they didn't have any place to take it and they wrung their hands and they said, "Well, we're not in race relations business, what do we do," and I was young
and idealistic and maybe didn't have too much sense and I carried these things all around town and eventually to Jonathan Daniels at the White House, and he knew what they meant, and he received them and he took them to FDR.
And after some of our forecasts turned out to be quite accurate with respect to Detroit and Los Angeles, for example, and after we had been of some service in the case of threatened riots in Washington, D.C., our standing at the White House was considerably enhanced, and it was at that point that the regular liaison was set up, and I was asked at that point to submit a memorandum which would contain my views as to what ought to be done.
I recommended the formation of an inter-departmental committee to be headed by Jonathan Daniels as a personal representative of the President. Jonathan received this recommendation but he was very cautious about the formation of any kind of public body by Executive action which would have the effect of creating a responsible instrumentality of Government without the power to carry out its decisions. And then, secondly, which would inevitably be a target for demands for action, for
remedial and corrective action, the target of hostility from those who thought that there shouldn't be any action at all, who thought that the Federal Government should do more or should do nothing at all, and which would bring the conflict closer to the President instead of further away from him. Accordingly Jonathan developed a very ingenious idea which turned out to be quite effective, which was that there should be kind of a "Maypole" committee; the committee itself never actually met. Various people were appointed to it at the direction of the President from various departments, and they all reported to Jonathan, but they reported to him at times and places of his choosing, and he never chose to have them all in one room together at the same time.
Consequently, you had the liaison, the interdepartmental liaison, that was necessary for effective coordination, but the coordination was in the hands of the Administrative Assistant to the President, and that was the technique that we used through the rest of the war, and I think probably it still continues today, even with the existence of the Equal Opportunity Commission.
However, you started me on this line of discussion
by asking whether I had any personal knowledge of the views of FDR. Personally, not. As I indicated earlier that I went through the war without having any face to face contact with him. He was very much occupied of course with very important matters, and the closest I got to him was Jonathan. However, Jonathan did tell me that he brought my ideas to FDR after the disastrous Detroit riot, and after prompt action, including alert intelligence as to what probably was about to take place, and what the tension level was, had averted a similar disaster in Washington, D. C. And at that point, Jonathan quoted FDR as saying "We can't have this sort of thing going on in wartime. Do whatever you have to do to put a stop to it, to get the situation under control, and I will back you up all the way. You have a green light."
So, from there on, we operated with that as a mandate. It was merely a verbal instruction, of course. And my part of it was very simple, Jonathan just said, "Just don't make any mistakes."
HESS: Does this take care of all the positions that you had before you started in the White House?
NASH: Well, I suppose so.
HESS: When was that? When did you start at the White House?
NASH: Well, you see, the war ended, of course on VJ Day, on August of 1945. At that point the Office of War Information was terminated. By this time, Harry Truman had succeeded FDR, and he had no reason to be familiar with any of our operations.
Shortly after FDR's death, I got a new boss. Jonathan became Press Secretary and, in fact, was the nominal Press Secretary at the time of FDR's death, and as you probably know, there is long-standing resentment because Steve Early stepped in and took over the Press Secretary's functions at the time of FDR's death, much to Jonathan Daniels' discomfiture. When Jonathan took over news, Dave Niles was handed the race relations assignment. He had been on the "Instant Reply Committee," and I had come to know him there, and I knew him by reputation, but he and I had never worked together on minority group matters. I began to report to him and we became close friends and ultimately I went through the entire seven years of the Truman administration as his assistant, and I took his place when he died.
The succession of Truman to Roosevelt brought quite a few problems because Mr. Truman had no basis for knowing whether he would want to continue it. Whether he had the desire and the will that Roosevelt had had, and with the expiration of the War Powers, whether there would be the wherewithal, because we had relied extensively on the Title II of the War Powers Act, and eventually, you had the power of seizure, which we used in the case of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit situation, and of course, it provided all the constitutional basis that you might need for any preparatory or precautionary action, so you really had the institutional setting for the politics of prevention. But with the expiration of the War Powers Act, you don't have presidential seizure, then what do you have? If you don't have that possibility, then you don't have any of the other things that are covered under it, and therefore, you have -- well, a situation like that at present. You've got a wage guideline; but you have no means of making it stick except presidential prestige, and if that's used up, you've had it, which has just happened.
Well, we didn't know what Mr. Truman would want, and he didn't know us. Soon after the changeover we were
all asked to submit memoranda as to what we did in our particular offices. Dave Niles submitted the memorandum for our office and then we waited to see what would happen. I had assumed that I would go back home. I thought it rather unlikely that the combination of a new President and the expiration of the War Powers would make a viable situation for our operation and I had really no other excuse for being there. At the same time I was somewhat distressed about the situation, because we conducted quite extensive research and were anticipating at this point a renewal of the wave of violence that swept over the country at the end of World War I. The race riots in World War I were not wartime, but postwar. And therefore we anticipated although we had had two years of success in violence control, we didn't have much optimism about the postwar.
After our memoranda were submitted explaining what we did and how we did it, and I, of course, prepared a memorandum for my part of it, but I don't know what was done with that, and I do not know what Mr. Niles submitted to the President, but the upshot of it was that we were both asked to stay. At this point, I had to make
a decision. It was 1946, my father had died and we had a problem with the family business, and I had assumed that I would go back and look after that, but I wanted to stay in Washington and I wanted to stay on with Mr. Truman and I was anticipating much more acute problems in the postwar that we had had during the war, and less to do with, and therefore, I wanted to be on hand. So, I made an arrangement, which had Mr. Truman's approval and understanding, consent, that I would go on leave without pay to go back into my business in Wisconsin at will, and from time to time, and subject to that would stay on and report to Mr. Niles. So this was the beginning of a long and very pleasant association with Mr. Truman.
HESS: It started in 1946.
NASH: It started in 1946. The actual due date was, I think, July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. I think what you'll find if you check it out is that from the time of the closing of the wartime agencies, and then the succession of Truman for Roosevelt, that studies were made looking to see whether the system of details from the executive agencies to the White House
could not be cleaned up so that there would be a White House office with a White House budget and get it out where it could be looked at and reviewed and be on the table. It corresponded to the clean housekeeping that Mr. Truman prided himself on. Now, whether this was done in that short period of three months or whether it took that plus another year, I don't recall. At any rate I stayed on the payroll of the successor agencies to the Office of War Information. For awhile, I had the interesting title of deputy assistant director of the Interim Office of International Information for Long-Range Planning, or maybe it was short-range planning. At any rate, it was just a slot from which I was detailed to do my work at the White House, and then eventually when this was all cleaned up, I went on the staff as a special assistant in the White House office.
HESS: A question on that, what were your main duties?
NASH: At this point, of course, the whole Office of War Information activity was cleaned out and my duties were to assist Dave Niles, and anybody else I was assigned to, he was my supervisor, in the handling of correspondence of the President, draft legislation, messages to Congress,
any other communications of the President, primarily in the field of race tension, race relations, minority groups, but not restricted or limited to that. As a matter of practice, Mr. Truman, as I say, was a clean housekeeper. Dave Niles was the minorities man. Within that area, Dave, because of his wide contact with the Jewish community, was primarily concerned with Jewish affairs including the Zionist movement and all domestic aspects of that problem, and because I had been primarily concerned with race relations, I kind of took over the "Negro-white" thing, also, however, also from time to time, American Indians. Trust Territories of the Pacific, although only in certain aspects of it, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico; statehood for Hawaii and Alaska; and on assignment at various times, conscientious objection; immigration-nationalization; refugees -- we used to get memoranda from Bill Hassett which I think expresses our area of responsibility, Niles' and mine -- Niles with me assisting him -- better than anything else, "The Department of National Headaches."
HESS: That's what he used to call your department?
I have a question, Doctor. Who was Charles J. Durham?
NASH: Well, I'm sort of amused that you would ask at this point. Charles J. Durham is "Jack" Durham. He's still living, retired now, he has a place out in Virginia. He's a conservation writer and he was the information officer for the President's Committee on Civil Rights. He was probably the last member of that committee, which was paid out of presidential funds, to be on the payroll. He had to be assigned somewhere and I assume that's why he is shown here as being assigned to David K. Niles, deceased, which means he was assigned to me. Now, I wasn't aware of his being around in any capacity as late as December 9, 1952, because that is quite late.
HESS: That's just a month before the end of the Administration. This is a list that I found at the Truman Library, and I wondered where he came in, if he was . . . [ See Appendix for copy of list ].
NASH: He hadn't been around to my knowledge for almost five years. This is a terribly out-of-date list now. Maybe he was still on somebody's payroll. At this point, I think he was working as information officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
HESS: At that time?
NASH: Yes. Now, he and I together worked out the distribution plan for the report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights, but you see that goes back to 1947 or '48. So that was very old at this point.
HESS: All right. Back to your earlier duties. What was the first big thing that came up after you started in at the White House? What was your first major duty?
NASH: Well, the first big thing -- two things came up right away, and it was the outcome of these that made me decide to go to the end of the road with Mr. Truman, wherever that might lead us.
In the first episode, the wife of Congressman Powell was denied the platform at Constitution Hall; and if you recall, there had been a previous episode, a very famous one, in which Marian Anderson was denied this platform in the Roosevelt administration, and this looked like sort of a recap of the same thing. Now, no matter how you figure it out, a jazz pianist is not Marian Anderson, but the principle seemed like a pretty good one to us. When she was denied this platform, there were a lot of requests, calls for action, and so on, what about the tax exemption, what was the President going to say about this; and it was
turned over to me.
Frankly, I thought I would just feel the situation out a little bit. How will this President react to this kind of thing? So, I prepared a draft letter in which one paragraph was rather strongly worded. It referred to the denial of the platform to artists of unacceptable racial identity by our late enemies in Germany -- I didn't draw the comparison, but even to mention this in a presidential letter is pretty strong. I showed it to Dave, and he said, "Well, let's find out." And we put it through. Before we could even get an answer back it had been released and was on the air. So, I pricked up my ears and my blood pressure went up and I said, "This is my kind of guy."
This was just a small episode, but it showed which way he was leaning, which way he was inclined.
The next thing was of much greater importance. It had to do with the War Agencies appropriation for -- the war was still on -- I may be mixed up in my timing, this may have come a little bit later, I don't know which came first.
But the War Agencies appropriation, which was up to
that point the largest appropriation that the country had ever had before, close to 100 billion, was held up for about three weeks by a filibuster, and the filibuster was over $250,000 for the Fair Employment Practice Committee, which was a presidential committee. I handled that for the White House. It provoked a tremendous controversy; a huge controversy. The very idea of letting a thing of this magnitude hold up the money for the war! Of course, it didn't, really, because the last year's appropriation went on, but it did stall it. It eventually resulted in the death of the committee.
Two things were important: One was the way in which the new President handled it, and he made it very clear that he was going to use his influence to see that the FEPC had an appropriation and that the filibuster did not succeed. He simply invited us to tell him what was necessary, whom he needed to call, what public statements had to be made, what letters had to be written; and once again, Mr. Niles was largely keeping the contact with the President on it and not me. But I was keeping track of the daily debate and the maneuvers in the Congress,
and also the incoming correspondence of complaints and telegrams and so on, and subjecting them to analysis so that we would get a rough idea of how important it was politically. Eventually, we did get the appropriation and settled on a compromise for about half the money, which was quite a blow to the FEPC.
Then one year later that was curtains, and I particularly recall that on that day, one year later, the Bureau of the Budget called our attention to the fact that if we did not act promptly that the then head of the FEPC would be subject to the Anti-Deficiency Act, because he'd be spending money that hadn't been appropriated. So we had to liquidate the agency in about four hours, which was done by Executive action. And then the assets were turned over to the Treasury and great injustices were threatened on certain people in the FEPC because Congress had approved pay raises, but had not appropriated the money, all across the Government.
The Comptroller General ruled that it was all right to pay the pay raises, anticipating the action of Congress because it was reasonable to assume that Congress having authorized them would make the necessary supplemental
appropriations. The only thing is, they specifically left out FEPC when this was done. Consequently, we had to have a rollback on FEPC, and that was why there was such short notice on liquidation. If all of a sudden, their terminal pay was going to use up everything they had on hand we had to close them out that day. Subsequently, we were able to get an understanding through the treasury with members of the Appropriation Committee and money was put in to make the payments to the people, including their pay raises, because by this time it was a dead issue. The agency wasn't going to carry on anymore, and Congress didn't care to conduct a vendetta. But that was a pretty close call and could have had tremendous repercussions in the Negro community. This was their agency.
HESS: During this time, how was the congressional liaison carried on through David Niles' office? Did you talk to specific Congressmen on the Hill?
NASH: Our agency was primarily liaison with the organizations in specific subject matters and Dave would be in touch with Congressmen in his areas on a personal basis. I would be in touch with Congressmen and Senators in my area, again
on a personal basis. But our contacts with the Hill were not necessarily very frequent. We did not have a centralized congressional liaison at that point. Jim Barnes, ex-Congressman, was still with us, and he was our primary point of contact. He didn't stay very long.
HESS: No, he left in July of '45.
NASH: All the time that I was at the White House with Truman we conducted our own congressional liaison in our own areas to the extent that we deemed it necessary, and advisable, and so on. It was always an official liaison arid, of course, you'll learn in a job like that if you last, to be very careful not to step on other people's toes.
HESS: On this official liaison, how was that carried on, through whose office, and by whom?
NASH: Well, primarily, I think you're talking about a seven-year period now. The general counsel, of course, Special Counsel, Clark Clifford, and then Charlie Murphy, were particularly responsible, and then a group of assistants came along at a later date, but it seems to me that this was several years later. There was Colonel, later General Maylon -- see that's '49-51, and Joe Feeney, who is,
of course, around town now.
HESS: They came along later in the administration, in the second administration.
NASH: And John Carroll, who was here quite briefly. You know, of course, who was Senator Carroll.
HESS: One last question for the day, Dr. Nash, how did you get on the White House staff?
NASH: Well, as I indicated in some of my earlier discussions on this tape, while I was in the Office of War Information, we developed by ordinary research techniques, measurements of race tension that indicated action that ought to be taken to prevent violence, and we couldn't find anybody to do anything about it, and I was peddling these memoranda around town, and finally reached the Office of Civilian Defense, where Jonathan Daniels was then one of the assistant directors, just as he was transferring to the White House. So I called on him in his White House office, which was so new that it wasn't even set up yet, and told him what we were doing and left him the memoranda, and he knew what they meant, and he was interested. So he began to work with us in the Office of War Information on an information-gathering basis, and then ultimately
that was formalized in the way of a detail, which lasted until FDR's death, continued, but under new auspices, because it was passed on from Daniels to Niles and then with the end of the war, the whole thing was regularized by creating a White House staff out of those people who were there on detail who were desired to be retained for this purpose, which happened to include me.
HESS: You were there on detail through the Office of War Information until the time that the White House absorbed your duties and you were just taken right on in.
NASH: That's right.
HESS: Thank you, that clears up a couple of these dates for me, I kind of worried where you were in the interim between the time Mr. Truman came in and then this in 1946. So that clears it up. Shall we quit for today?
NASH: Let's. I think that's enough.
HESS: I think so.
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