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1964-03-17 Interview with Wylie Branton, March 17, 1964 RPWCR001:03OH50RPWCR38 01:06:15 Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Branton, Wylie--Interviews X, Malcolm, 1925-1965 School integration Southern Christian Leadership Conference Civil rights movements African American--Civil rights Democratic Party (U.S.) Republican Party (U.S.: 1854- ) Busing for school integration Educational equalization African Americans--Education Discrimination in housing Civil rights demonstrations Civil rights workers--Violence against Violence in the civil rights movement African Americans--Political party affiliation United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Causes Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on slavery Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on race relations Anthropology Civil rights legislation Voter registration Segregation in education Wylie Branton; interviewee Robert Penn Warren; interviewer 03OH50_RPWCR38_Branton 1:|22(6)|42(5)|59(9)|71(11)|86(14)|99(4)|110(6)|126(2)|140(1)|173(7)|181(8)|192(14)|207(10)|220(6)|241(3)|256(7)|273(2)|302(6)|318(2)|335(8)|354(4)|384(7)|399(2)|417(10)|428(9)|449(8)|466(3)|478(14)|520(12)|543(11)|559(2)|586(4)|597(4)|608(2)|630(4)|643(2)|656(5)|678(3)|704(2)|733(2)|763(5)|786(11)|815(3)|829(5)|845(13)|859(2)|874(5)|886(5)|901(1)|916(10)|946(10)|961(6)|987(4)|1010(4)|1044(12)|1057(13)|1069(10)|1084(3)|1101(11)|1128(2)|1139(2)|1168(7)|1186(8)|1210(10)|1247(1)|1269(7)|1283(3) audiotrans rpwcr interview WARREN: This is a conversation the afternoon of March seventeenth with Mr. Branton, Atlanta, Georgia. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: (pause) Mr. Branton, let's pick up something from the morning paper. Did you see the report on Senator Russell's proposal this morning? BRANTON: I saw it in yesterday afternoon's Journal-- WARREN:--yesterday afternoon Journal? BRANTON: Yes. WARREN: What'd you think of it? BRANTON: Well, of course, my immediate reaction was that, uh, Senator Russell is merely trying to supply, uh, some argument in the Senate to get everybody's attention away from the, uh, purpose of the Civil Rights Bill. That this is a purely some far-fetched notion that, uh, he himself doesn't really believe in, and it's, uh, his contribution to the beginning of the filibuster. WARREN: Yes. Is that a clever one? Does it raise any questions behind that, that do have relevance for our time? BRANTON: No-- WARREN:--sociological questions? BRANTON: No, very frankly, I don't think that anybody takes, uh, Senator Russell's proposals seriously. I don't think Senator Russell takes it seriously himself. And because of the fact that, uh, it was given at the time and by a man who is, uh, leader of the Southern bloc, I don't think anybody would even give serious consideration to a proposal of that kind. WARREN: Almost certainly I should hazard nobody will. But does it raise some of the same, uh, human and legal questions that are in the matter of, of housing renewal and redevelopment programs in the cities? BRANTON: Oh yes, yes. It--it raises the, uh, at least focuses attention on the, uh, the problems of the distribution of the racial population within a particular geographic area and these questions have been raised in urban renewal arguments and it's being raised now, in, uh, matters of school desegregation in the North. WARREN: These pressures are of the same, uh, order then, aren't they? BRANTON: To some extent, yes. Yes, they are. WARREN: Some of the same questions got involved in it. Oh, speaking of the school business, what do you feel about the, um, busing proposal in New York? BRANTON: I'm not, uh, familiar enough with the busing proposal in New York to comment, uh, on it other than to the extent that, um, I'm limited by what I've read in the newspapers, uh, concerning it. Uh, I don't think that that's sufficient really for me to comment on. I mean my knowledge of it just is not that sufficient. WARREN: This is probably a very unfair quotation. It's one, uh, Mr. Galamison for a TV interview, he says, "I would rather see it"--the public school system--"destroyed than, than not to conform to [his] timetable for desegregation or integration." But he added, "Maybe it has run its course"--the public school system. BRANTON: Oh, I couldn't agree with that statement at all. There is a great deal wrong with the public school system. I think there's a great deal wrong with the public school system aside from the question of integration and segregation. There's a great deal wrong with the-- WARREN:--is that-- BRANTON:--the public school system in an all-white town. Uh, public education very definitely has not run its course. It'll be with us for a long, long time. In fact, the trend is, is away from private schools and, and more toward, uh, public schools. And the idea of destroying the public school system if it doesn't conform to a certain standard or to somebody's timetable is, is foolish. I don't think that, uh, you ought to hold up working on the problem of trying to correct deficiencies wherever they exist, but at the same time, uh, I think we need to do all what we can to, to keep children in school. And, uh, I don't think anything ought to be done to, to get kids out of school. WARREN: What about problems of integration in a big city like Washington where that, a very high percentage--the percentage is increasing daily- -is negro? What kind of an integration problem, uh, is there? Is it beyond solution or is integration the real point in such a situation? BRANTON: I don't think it's beyond solution. You're going to have these transition periods in any situation. In Washington, of course, you know after the May 17, 1954 decision the city of Washington was one of the first Southern or border cities to go ahead and integrate the public school system. They did it practically overnight. A good many white people moved to the suburbs. They moved over into Virginia and into Maryland and into nearby communities in an effort to avoid, uh, the desegregation in the Washington school system. Now as these adjoining areas desegregate themselves, then people who have moved to these areas are going to have to give some thought to possibly moving again to avoid desegregation, say, over in Virginia or in Maryland where it has caught up with them. I think, however, that, uh, housing patterns--that is, segregation in housing--is so rigid in most communities that for a long time, uh, in the future you will still have a great deal of segregation because of the housing discrimination. Naturally, people have a tendency to send their children to the nearest school, and if people are segregation into certain areas, and there's a school located within that area, and the only people living in that area are of one racial group, then that school is going to be a segregated school, I don't care what you do about it. This, of course, involves to some extent the question which you asked a while ago about busing kids in, but (??) which I really don't know enough about to, to comment on one way or the other. WARREN: Let's take a hypothetical case. A woman whom I respect and like a very great deal, and very, you know, an able and a learned woman. In this kind of conversation, I said, "What about Washington?" She had spoken favorably of the busing system in New York, integrated schools. And I said (??), "There aren't enough white children available for the public schools there to make it significant, no matter how you bus them." She said, "Get them from Virginia." BRANTON: Well, of course, this would be contrary to, uh, all previously established, uh, educational controls because, uh, Virginia is a separate political entity, separate school district and everything else. It would have no relationship on the present laws to the Washington, DC system, and I frankly know of no law, uh, that would require children from one state to go to school in another state. WARREN: What I'm getting at, of course, is this, whether the line of thought in principle that Mr.--that Senator Russell brings up this morning or yesterday, we can find a parallel line of thought on the other side of the question for a much higher motive. BRANTON: Well, if you're talking about something that's, uh, on a purely voluntary basis, that's one thing, but if you're talking about, uh, something that would have legal sanctions that's an entirely different question. WARREN: Russell's is presumably a voluntary, presumably voluntary. This other proposal is means, means of enforceable busing from Virginia to, uh, Washington, DC. BRANTON: Well, I just know of no legal basis where you could have busing from one state to another state, or to another entirely separate political division such as from Virginia-- WARREN:--well, presuming-- BRANTON:--to the District of Columbia. WARREN: Yes. Accepting that, the state of mind that prompts the proposal is that of having a massive shift by, to bring about certain social ends, for the (??) good or bad. I'm not (??) discussing the nature of the end. BRANTON: Well, Mr. Warren, of course, I, uh, I'm under the handicap of being a lawyer-- WARREN:--a lawyer. BRANTON: And, uh, since I just cannot make up my mind that it can even work legally-- WARREN:--yeah-- BRANTON:--or could be legally enforceable, uh, it's pretty hard for me to even carry my thoughts beyond that barrier. WARREN: (laughs) All right, all right, all right. Uh, tell me something about the target of the demonstrations and protests in the South. For to whom are they ultimately directed? To the Southerner, or to create a situation in relation to federal government and federal interference, or to influence Northern opinion? Or something else? BRANTON: Of course, the, the targets have varied, uh, depending upon where the demonstration was taken place. Sometimes these, uh, targets were carefully thought out in advance. There was a great deal of planning behind them. Sometimes these are spontaneous things. For example, in, uh, Greenwood, Mississippi, in the spring of 1963 when, um, a number of SNCC kids and others were active in voter registration out there. They were meeting with a great deal of harassment and intimidation down at the registrar's office. Nevertheless, they continued to do what they could in trying to get people carried down there. But then they, um, they started, um, getting a lot of threats and harassment from private citizens. The office where they had their headquarters burned mysteriously. Uh, two SNCC officials and a man from the Voter Education Project were fired upon from a passing automobile, and a SNCC kid was seriously wounded by a gunshot in the neck. They apprehended three white men charge, two and charged them with the crime. They've never been brought to trial yet. Then somebody fired through the home of, one of the voter registration workers. There was just a series of incidents. So, finally they thought they'd had enough of this. They held a little mass meeting, and decided to march in a body down to city hall, and to ask the mayor and chief of police for protection against this harassment. When they, uh, approached the jail the mayor and the chief of police erroneously assumed that this was a protest and a demonstration or a march on the jail. Actually, they just went with a rather large group to ask about this protection. Before--without even bothering to find out what they were coming down there for, they turned police dogs on them. And then the group announced that they would keep on to the courthouse and try to register everybody in the group. Nevertheless, they were arrested. Now, prior to that time they, they had no particular goal. Uh, no particular target. Theirs was a genuine concern just to go down and express indignation about the, the happenings and to seek protection. But when the police threw most of them in jail, then they decided that, uh, the police evidently didn't want them going down to the courthouse in large numbers, so they started getting a large number of people and marching to the courthouse solely for the purpose of registering. And they were harassed and intimidated. And a group would get dispersed and broken up into smaller groups, and they were arrested if they failed to do so. By the third day, I'm sure that there was a feeling that this had to keep up then to involve the federal government in the situation and in the overall problem of voter registration and denial of constitutional rights and civil liberties, uh, in that section of Mississippi. And so the target shifted. I, I personally witnessed the changing of that target, uh, at three times in, in the course of-- WARREN:--you were there at the time-- BRANTON:--of, of a week's time. Yes, I went out and represented most of these defendants in court. WARREN: Yes. BRANTON: And then the money for the voter registration activities at that time was being supplied by the Voter Education Project. But here was a, uh, the target was changed at least three different times in, in less than a week. It was something that was just entirely spontaneous. And the same thing has been true in, in other cases. For example, uh, a negro child may get abused or a negro woman, say, in some local store by a white merchant, and as a result of this and the protest over this, somebody might start, uh, boycotting or picketing in front of the store and then this can lead to a larger demonstration in the town. This is what happened down in Albany, Georgia, if you will recall, several months ago because, um, some people who engaged in that picketing, uh, were charged with having picketed the store, uh, in an effort to, to pressure or to punish a man who had participated on a federal jury which considered a, a civil action against the sheriff down there for damages for the wrongful, alleged wrongful dead of a, of a negro prisoner. And then some other people were, uh, convicted for perjured testimony in a hearing before the grand jury. Well, these things--one thing can lead to another. And, uh, so, there's just been a variety of, of targets, reasons behind it and who they hoped to involve and why. On the other hand, there've been demonstrations which have been carried on to, uh, to show the--attitude of, say, Northern industrialists, or to try and get Northern industrialists involved. I think some of this was true even in Greenwood, Mississippi. WARREN: What about Birmingham? BRANTON: Well, of course, Birmingham, uh, really, I--I personally feel that, uh, that the Birmingham demonstrations resulted from, uh, the earlier demonstrations in Greenwood, Mississippi. Now, that's purely a personal opinion. WARREN: That's from the Birmingham? BRANTON: Yes. I think there was a, I really think that there was a desire, uh, to conduct demonstrations in Birmingham to attract attention to a number of problems in Birmingham. WARREN: Was there a chance you think to influence, um, the Northern capital there that was missed, or was there, was there no chance? BRANTON: (pause) Of course, I don't know how extensive the effort, uh, was to try and influence Northern capital. But, uh, I know that there was some effort in that direction. I don't think that it was as extensive as it should have been. If you will recall Mr. Roger Blough, I believe-- WARREN:--yes. BRANTON: Issued a statement saying that he didn't see where his company should become involved in this. I don't recall his exact words but that was the net effect of it-- WARREN:--I think I read that. BRANTON: Yes. And I think that there could've been a great deal more but negroes could not do it alone, it's something that they'd have to have a great deal of help from--from friends in the North-- WARREN:--what's the name of the, uh, white lawyer in Birmingham who made a speech to this effect? Can you remember? BRANTON: Uh, oh, I know him quite well. I just can't think of his name-- WARREN:--yes-- BRANTON:--right now. I've even corresponded with him. It will come to me in a minute. WARREN: Yes. There was no backlash from that for him (??)? BRANTON: Well, yes, there was. That was Chuck Morgan, Charles Morgan. WARREN: That's right, Charles Morgan, yeah. BRANTON: Uh. Yes, Chuck was under considerable pressure, uh, from people in the community but, uh, this did not seem to bother him too much. It's significant, however, that shortly after making the statement he left Birmingham. And, uh, and he's somewhere in Virginia near Washington. I understand that he's doing some writing but, uh, he did not remain in the community. Of course, the best test of whether or not there was any backlash would be for him to spend a little time in that community to see what the real effect would've been. He didn't stay there long enough for one to determine fully, uh, what backlash might've resulted from his, his speech. Actually, there were other things than, than his speech because he had, uh, he had represented some negro defendants in unpopular causes there in Birmingham and so there was more to it than just his speech. WARREN: Of course, the gossip has its several ways about this reason he was leaving. This is pure hearsay, hearsay to me. What were the effects, have been the effects of the demonstrations in general in the South? What--not, not as in a single effect but can you sort them out, sort out the effects and assess them? BRANTON: There again, they would vary-- WARREN:--they vary-- BRANTON:--depending upon the community. WARREN: Can we sort them out a little bit? What the effects have been-- BRANTON:--yeah, I think so. Uh, I would, I would regard, uh, Albany, Georgia. And Birmingham, Alabama. And, uh, well, at least those two I would regard them as immediate failures in terms of net gains for the local community. And, yet, on the other hand, uh, you can't, uh, just right them off as failures because I think each of them contributed to long range gains. WARREN: Let's sort that out now. In what way? BRANTON: Well, I don't think that we'd have the Civil Rights Bill before the Senate today if we had not had Birmingham. WARREN: The shock of Birmingham? BRANTON: The shock of Birmingham, and I think the shock of Birmingham, uh, and everything that occurred there contributed, uh, to the introduction of the Civil Rights Bill in the, in its form--in the Congress. I don't think that the Kennedy Administration had in mind introducing the Civil Rights Bill when it was introduced except for the shock of Birmingham. WARREN: Have you heard it said or do you know with the, the riot there after the bombing in Birmingham was a shock also to the negro leadership? BRANTON: I have heard it said. WARREN: Does that make any sense to you? Do you know anything about it? This possibility of, of the big bloodbath that was there almost, almost about to occur? BRANTON: Now, you're talking about the one that followed the, uh -- WARREN:--bombing-- BRANTON:--the bombing of the church or are you talking about the one that followed the bombing of Arthur Shore's home? Actually, there was not too much, uh, violence or a threat of violence immediately following the bombing of the church, surprisingly-- WARREN:--yeah-- BRANTON:--as compared -- WARREN:--I think (??)-- BRANTON:--with the earlier bombing of, of Arthur Shore's home-- WARREN:--the first. BRANTON: This came as no surprise to me and although I've heard it said that there was surprise, I think that, uh, Birmingham is like a lot of other cities where you have a, a number of, uh, you know, we have a large negro population in an explosive situation such as they have in, in Birmingham, and it should come as no surprise that people would want to retaliate. There's, there's more reason for retaliation in Birmingham than in most, uh, major Southern cities because segregation is more rigidly enforced in Birmingham than in any other major Southern city. WARREN: I don't suppose that the provocations are really under discussion, you know, that they would know the provocations. And here was a, uh, very dire provocation. What about, uh, containing such, uh, impulses though? Birmingham is small potatoes compared to, uh, what might break lose in Cleveland, or almost did two weeks ago. Or small potatoes compared to a real race riot on the outskirts of Harlem. BRANTON: Well-- WARREN:--what kind of containment seems possible? Now, it's nonviolent people, the devoted nonviolence people, (??) profess some optimism about this containment, you know. BRANTON: Well, of course, I think one of the, one of the best things for containment is the employment of negro policemen. This is something that you do not have in Birmingham as distinguished from most major Southern cities and as distinguished from just about all of the Northern cities. WARREN: Yes. BRANTON: And, uh, police officials basically are looked upon with skepticism even in the white community when, when trouble breaks out. But in the segregated South and especially in Birmingham, it--it takes on an entirely different picture or at least it's--it's deeper in, in terms of the, the scope and the involvement or the attitude toward the police officer because people in a place like Birmingham do not look upon the police as their friend or ally under any circumstances whatsoever, unless it involves a crime by one negro against another negro and where there isn't even the question or whether or not one of the negroes was an active integrationist or an active segregationist. But in the, in the racial situations such as we're talking about now, when the white policeman even drives down the street, negroes look upon him as an invading enemy in their territory. And so there is this feeling to begin with. Now, the use of negro policemen would, uh, eliminate this basic distrust from the part of a police officer. And, uh, would go a long ways toward, um, the containment such as you expressed a while ago. And I think this is the real difference between what could possibly happen, say, in Birmingham as compared with what could possibly happen in, uh, Chicago or in, uh, New York because even the, even the negro policemen in these other cities have a working arrangement, uh, with their white fellow officers and so far as I've been able to ascertain--and I saw some scenes from the Cleveland situation which broke out several weeks ago-- WARREN:--yes-- BRANTON:--there were negro and white policemen there side by side working together to quell the disturbance without regard to whether or not, uh, the perpetrators of this disturbance were white or negro. WARREN: I wasn't thinking of containment, by the way. As a matter of, of merely suppressing disturbance-- BRANTON:--um-hm-- WARREN:--I was thinking of controlling and--channelizing (??) grievances and, and random violent energies into some, um, more useful and constructive ways, say into, uh, legal, legally acceptable demonstrations or human acceptable demonstrations and--other such, such activities. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: But many people now are very pessimistic about, say, the next few months in--Chicago and New York. (??) the summer could be very, very bad. BRANTON: I would agree with that and frankly, one of the most disturbing things, uh, which has happened recently, has been the, the breaking off by Malcolm X from, um, Elijah Muhammad's group and the idea of this, uh, rifle club among negroes because I do not share the view that you have all of this great body of nonviolent negroes. I think that, uh, basically in thousands of negroes there is this desire the want to, to resist or--to defend themselves, or to protect themselves against this harassment and this intimidation. And I think that, uh, as a vast reservoir of people who would if they thought Malcolm X could really carry through and follow through probably would join up. But they are deterred by the fact that they know that it's, it's purely a temporary thing or that ultimately he cannot win. But I, I question how many of them would give thought to this, uh, in some, uh, suddenly developing situation. WARREN: There was a very astonishing fact or quoted to be a fact in the Newsweek Survey which is supposed to be (??) in an extended form as a book. This fact being, uh, that a large percentage of the population of Harlem do not realize the negro is a minority in the United States. BRANTON: Is this because of the fact that there are so many negroes up there-- WARREN:--they--they are -- BRANTON:--and they see them every day-- WARREN:--that's all they see-- BRANTON:--well, of course, this is something that I-- WARREN:--and this is based on their poll-- BRANTON:--yeah. WARREN: And also plain ignorance. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: First, factual ignorance and second, the psychological conviction of seeing no white persons around ever, except maybe the police passing in a patrol car. A sense of being the majority group and therefore not having this, the intimidation of--that a minority may feel, vis-a-vis the, the majority. BRANTON: This is something I've given very little thought to. I've never lived under such-- WARREN:--yes-- BRANTON:--circumstances and I've never really talked to anybody who lived under such circumstances in, in reference to this particular point of view-- WARREN:--this is stated. This is stated as a result of the poll-- BRANTON:--um-hm. I just received a copy of that book-- WARREN:--yes-- BRANTON:--the other day from the, uh, the publisher because I was one of the persons interviewed -- WARREN:--yes-- BRANTON:--when this, when the material for this book was being gathered so they sent me a courtesy copy and I've not had a chance to, to read it yet. WARREN: How much have the demonstrations, uh, broken the--in the South now--the old apathy, fatalism, cynicism? BRANTON: Uh. WARREN: How much has been accomplished that way? How could we assess that in, say, Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia? BRANTON: Well, now, in Greenwood, Mississippi, which is the place I'm most familiar with, although the demonstrations there grew out of voter registration. And while it's true that there is very little that we can actually point to and say that this is something which was gained as a result of these demonstrations--and, of course, there is continued discrimination at the registrar's office, so we haven't been able to point to successful registration as a result of it. But knowing the Mississippi situation as I do, I chalk Greenwood demonstrations up as a major victory and breakthrough against fear. Uh, and this, of course, a lot of times what people write off as, as apathy is due to a lot of other things other than, than what's really apathy. Some of it's due, due to fear. Fear on the part of, of negroes that they're going to suffer some economic or physical retaliation because of their participation in, in certain things, whether it's in voting or in trying to eat at a lunch counter, or moving into a certain neighborhood, uh, many other things. And Greenwood, Mississippi is-- [Pause in recording.] BRANTON: I think it's also a major breakthrough against what might truly be apathy because even though we were unable to get very many people successfully registered, we did send more than two thousand negroes down to the courthouse to brave the, uh, the insults and everything else that goes along with it in trying to register. So, it's through not fault of their own that they're not registered. They at least went through the motions of, of trying to get it. WARREN: Well, what happened, uh, in Montgomery--excuse me (??). This-- [Pause in recording.] WARREN: This is the end of tape 1, the conversation with Mr. Wylie Branton. See tape 2. [Tape 1 ends; tape 2 begins.] WARREN: Continue on-- [Pause in recording.] WARREN: I was asking you a moment ago, about to ask you, what's the situation in Montgomery? Is it apathy that, uh, prevented the congregations from allowing, uh, the SCLC use a church for a rally only a year or less than a year after the Montgomery demonstrations? Among these churches that refused being one previously, uh, the church of Mr. Abernathy. BRANTON: Of course, I have no knowledge of that, uh, particular situation. I've been into Montgomery on several occasions but mostly, of course, just going to, uh, federal court over there, checking on our voter registration. I am familiar with similar problems which have occurred in other communities. A similar occurrence, uh, took place in Greenwood, Mississippi, where as a result of the demonstrations in Greenwood and the large number of arrests and the official policy of harassment and intimidation on the part of both the city and the county, individual negro ministers were afraid to allow the use of their churches for mass meetings for several weeks. There were one or two small churches, uh, where the ministers were willing to allow the use of these facilities. Of course, the difference between Greenwood and, and Montgomery, I would think would be the fact that in Montgomery you had people who formerly had pastored in Montgomery wanting to come back and, and make use of their churches. And this does seem rather surprising because you would think that, uh, if these ministers left their churches, uh, in good faith and with, uh, a good relationship that, uh, they'd have no difficulty in getting the use of this church to--hold their meeting. In discussing a question like that though, one would have to know the background of what was taking place in the community at the time that SCLC came in there to meet. WARREN: It was not, uh, it could've been fear, we presume, as it was in Greenwood. BRANTON: It could very easily have been fear and it could not--it could've been fear growing out of some new situation which had developed within that year or some situation which had just developed a week or two prior to the opening of this meeting. WARREN: But neither apathy nor repudiation strike you as a, uh, a reason for this? BRANTON: I don't think it would be apathy under any circumstances. No, I don't-- WARREN:--nor repudiation. BRANTON: I don't think it would be repudiation. I think it would be, in Montgomery without even knowing the additional facts, I would be inclined to say that there was fear of a church bombing, a fear of the cancellation of an insurance policy, uh, by the insurance company, a fear of, uh, harassment or intimidation from local officials if the use of the facilities were made available to SCLC. I don't think it'd be either apathy or repudiation. WARREN: Shifting a little bit, how much temptation do you think there is now toward a new type of leadership entirely, a leadership that aims at, uh, violence? BRANTON: Well, I don't think there's much temptation in, uh, any change in leadership, uh, in any direction. WARREN: I don't mean the persons who are now leaders changing their minds. I mean by a new type of leader come into, to grasp a new situation and seize leadership. Malcolm X, for one, his, uh, drift toward violence. BRANTON: Well, you have, uh, you have a tendency, and there, there is a tendency on the part, uh, of local people to become leaders overnight such as Reverend Galamison in New York and, uh, the man with the rent strikes in New York whose name I don't recall at the moment. These people got a lot of publicity because of their involvement in a particular situation but I think that their leadership is confined for the most part, uh, to the local community and to the problem which they are then connected with. And there is, there's nothing to indicate that these same people are likely to project themselves, uh, very widely into other areas of, of concern or of controversy. WARREN: In Mississippi and Alabama do you see any indication of, um, new era of violence in even local leadership? BRANTON: No, I do not. In fact, I, I see an era of the lessening of violence in most of Alabama. WARREN: I'm referring to--among negroes themselves. BRANTON: Yes. WARREN: Yes. BRANTON: I can't quite share that same attitude in Mississippi. I think that there's an attitude of that would lead one to believe that there is a lessening of, of any tendency or attitude toward violence in Alabama by negroes. WARREN: (??) Mississippi? BRANTON: I, I have not seen enough to convince me that there's any lessening of it in Mississippi. WARREN: Um-hm. BRANTON: That this does not mean that there's been any increase in, in the attitude. The thing that, uh, alarmed a number of people recently was a statement attributed to Charles Evers, a brother of the slain Medgar Evers-- WARREN:--in Nashville-- BRANTON:--in Nashville. This created quite a bit of feeling over the state, uh. I subscribe to two or three Mississippi newspapers and I noticed that the Greenwood Mississippi Commonwealth, a white newspaper and an editorial condemning Charles Evers for this statement, but even though Charles Evers subsequently repudiated the statement or said it was taken out of context, I've seen nothing in the Greenwood Commonwealth which would indicate that, uh, that they rarely (??) ever, ever bothered to straighten the story out. WARREN: The story was written by a negro reporter. He wrote (??) the story. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: Uh. I have on (??) some people with very great (??) authority-- BRANTON:--um-hm. WARREN: And he was called in, I understand, by the editor before it was printed and said, "Can you have some stand on this story as written?" BRANTON: Has there been any, uh, any comment by the newspaper which carried the story since the repudiation by Charles Evers-- WARREN:--not that I know; not that I know of. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: I was stuck with it and, of course, I had an interview with Mr. Evers which was, uh, quite contrary to this statement two days later. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: So, I had to investigate, see what (??), you know, doing. BRANTON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. WARREN: But there are some, uh, people who, um, in the--I mean Mr. Lawson, for instance, went on tape the other day, said to me, uh, said, that this was not--this kind indiscretion was not at all improbable. BRANTON: Well, I don't think so. I don't think it's at all improbable. WARREN: This was an indiscretion and carried away in some moment and that he is under great strain naturally. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: And he is, has also stated in print since then that he's armed. BRANTON: That he is? WARREN: Um-hm. Which was two days (??) ago. BRANTON: Um-hm. This isn't surprising at all. It's just surprising that he would admit it publicly. WARREN: Yes. Well, I mean that--I don't speak with an air of condemnation. (laughs) BRANTON: Yeah. WARREN: It may be very poor judgment but it's, uh, it's very human. BRANTON: Well, uh, following the, uh, the trouble in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 because I was the chief counsel for the negro school children in the Little Rock case, I found-- WARREN:--yes, I remember. This-- BRANTON:--I found it necessary to--be armed for several months for my own self protection because the town that I lived in was some forty- five miles south of Little Rock, and I was constantly being harassed and intimidated. And I discussed it with the, uh, chief deputy sheriff and some others who had no hesitancy about suggesting that I arm myself for my own self-protection. WARREN: The question is different, uh, if one is in, uh, defending oneself as oneself and taking the position of social responsibility, uh, for a particular movement, a particular philosophy, perhaps. BRANTON: Oh yes, now, when you say that Mr. Evers, for example, is armed I assumed to just, from the mere statement that he's armed solely to protect himself, to defend himself-- WARREN:--himself-- BRANTON:--in view of the fact that his brother was assassinated and-- WARREN:--his brother was armed, too, I'm told, and kept arms handy. BRANTON: Uh, he kept them handy. I doubt seriously that he was armed at the time of the, uh, shooting. WARREN: I don't mean he carried side arms. I don't mean that. I don't know. I'm not implying that. BRANTON: No. WARREN: What, uh, but there are other people in the, in the negro movement who (??) if you have a weapon in the house, say, a squirrel gun, go out and get rid of it so they don't have any at all around. BRANTON: Well, I don't think many people have gotten rid of guns on that account. WARREN: Well, my authority, Mr. Lawson, he knows a case of this and this is what (??) he said-- BRANTON:--where people have gotten rid of guns? WARREN: Yes, if you have, have a sporting rifle of some kind around you, dispose of it, to get, you know, be clean. BRANTON: Well, I don't know if anybody who, uh, I know, uh, who has gotten rid of guns or rifles around their home. WARREN: Yes, around the home I'm talking-- BRANTON:--no, I, in the practice of law I've represented a number of people who've been charged with the illegal possession of weapons but most times these were people who make it a practice of carrying a pistol either on their person or in their automobile. I know a number of people who have, uh, ceased to, uh, carry weapons in their vehicles or, or on their person because they didn't want to be charged with the illegal possession of guns, but I frankly know of nobody who's gotten rid of a gun that they had at home. WARREN: Don't get me mistaken (??) except Mr. Lawson was saying that there are a number of people who wanted, uh, to carry the principle of nonviolence so far that there'd be no possibility of, you know, of this weapon being even at hand in case of a crisis, or at least suspected of having arms available. BRANTON: Mr. Warren, I have no facts or figures to substantiate the statement which I'm about to make, but, uh, I'm of the opinion that far more people in the past few years have purchased or secured guns and put in their homes than have gotten rid of guns. And they put these guns in their homes as a means of self protection or self defense only because of the great fear that somebody might go overboard one night or one day and come out to do them harm. And I think that, that this far outweighs the number of people who might have gotten rid of a gun because of some theory of nonviolence. WARREN: Well, that's my guess. BRANTON: And I think that's true among both white and colored people. WARREN: Um-hm, yes (??) Let's turn to the Civil War for a moment. BRANTON: Um-hm. A little bit before my time. (both laugh) WARREN: A little bit before your time. (both laugh) A little before mine, too. How do you, interpret the moral issue in the Civil War, if any? BRANTON: Well. Are you talking about my personal view? WARREN: Your personal, your personal interpretation of the Civil War. I have Frederick Douglass here before me now--(laughs)--because I read that one first. BRANTON: No, I, uh. I have never felt that the Civil War was a war which was fought to free the slaves or that there was any great issue over whether or not, uh, slavery should be tolerated. I've always felt that the, uh, the war came on because of, uh, economic and political disputes. And that slavery really, slavery really was a, a side issue. And that while you had a number of sincere abolitionists--(coughs) --that this was not begun as any great moral issue at all. And the freeing of the slaves was a necessary, uh, act of war on the part of the President who felt that unless he did free the slaves that, uh, the North was just going to be licked. And, of course, uh, you had a number of abolitionists who were pushing for this anyhow, and I think that the two forces just merged, and I think that the development of it as a great moral issue is, is something that, uh, that really followed the actual conflict. Even now I--I detect, uh, a shifting attitude on the part of, uh, of Southerners and Northerners who no longer want to refer to it, for example, as the Civil War; they want to call it now the War Between the States. WARREN: Yes. BRANTON: And they're getting away from the use of the word Civil War altogether in the, in the South. WARREN: How do you read, uh, Lincoln's character and Lincoln's motives? BRANTON: With mixed feelings because as a, uh, as a youngster I was exposed to, uh, a fairly good, uh, library in my grandparents, um, home. And I read a number of, uh, books about Lincoln. And whereas a good many kids might have come up with the idea that, uh, Lincoln was a great friend of the negro people and wanted so much to abolish slavery and whatnot, I am still influenced by my early readings, readings about Lincoln which took place even before I actually studied history even in, in high school. And I've, I've not even bothered, uh, subsequently to, to find out whether or not, uh, there was good authority for the statements which Mr. Lincoln is quoted with. I recall one, for example, he, he's alleged to made a statement that if there was a young, white maiden on a beach, and there was an alligator or crocodile approaching from one side and a negro approaching from the other, he'd assumed that the crocodile reach her first, or words to that effect. WARREN: I remember that. I don't know how well substantiated that was. BRANTON: I don't know whether or not this is substantiated, uh, by any competent historian or not but I, I must admit that I had a rather, uh, I've had a rather mixed feelings about Mr. Lincoln because of these early--(coughs)--earlier readings. I do know that regardless of what his attitude may have been, uh, prior to the Civil War that, uh, certainly after the Civil War he, uh, he seemed to recognize the contribution of negroes in helping to, to win the war. And, uh, is responsible for much of the favorable attitude which developed toward negroes during the period of Reconstruction. WARREN: This remark is made in, after the Emancipation Proclamation to a committee of negroes, three negroes who came to the White House to express appreciation. This is a passage from it. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: "Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss. This difference, this physical difference, it is (??) advantage to us both. Dot. But for your race among us there cannot be a war although many, many engaged on either side do not care for you or one way or the other, it's better for us to be always separate." And there's others, others (??). As he was a, uh, a racist, as we would say. BRANTON: Yeah, well (??) he, uh-- WARREN:--but now, and I was talking about this with--two (??) eminent historians lately and they both said, "Well, you couldn't find a man in the country who wasn't a racist." BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: Or in Europe. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: What I'm getting at is this, two things: there's been a vast change in the climate of opinion on this matter, hasn't there-- BRANTON:--oh yes-- WARREN:--in a hundred years? BRANTON: Very much so. WARREN: How do we account for that change in the climate of opinion? There's a racism now, an, an active racism--I don't know how you estimate it but certainly aren't what they were in 1865. BRANTON: Well, of course, I, there--there are a number of factors which would contribute to this changed attitude. We must think of the number of, uh, immigrants who have come to this country, uh, subsequent to 1865. Uh, at the time that Lincoln made this statement you must realize that, uh, the majority of the negroes in this country were right out of slavery. There had been no opportunity for them to prove themselves in any field. And as you get to know people and see that, uh, that they can do things, that they can contribute to the growth and development of the country--you naturally have a, a changed attitude. WARREN: A plain record of achievement, (??)-- BRANTON:--that's right, yeah. And we, we've noticed this, for example, in Africa almost overnight. I recall when I was studying geography, uh, concerning Africa, uh, everybody was carrying a spear in his hand practically, and we were subjected to the Tarzan movies and whatnot, or else we'd get some missionary who'd come back and show us the naked people of Africa. And now we look around, and we've got these, uh, African diplomats arriving on jet planes and getting out wearing Brooks Brothers suits and carrying attache cases. Uh, conducting themselves in a manner befitting an English gentleman. And, uh, people are already changing their attitudes toward a whole continent solely because of the picture and the image which they are subjected to now. WARREN: Plain achievement (??)-- BRANTON:--the whole image of Africa was one of somebody carrying a spear prior to-- WARREN:--yeah-- BRANTON:--say, even ten years ago almost. WARREN: Yeah. What about anthropology? BRANTON: In what way? WARREN: Just the study of anthropology, it's a new study that's happened the last fifty years. BRANTON: Ah, well, these have all been--for the most part I think there's maybe, as best I recall from news articles, there's just one or two exceptions. Most of them have been quite favorable, uh, to negroes. And then--that also brings out something that perhaps should have commented on in the answers to the, to the previous question about this changed attitude. WARREN: That's what I mean. BRANTON: People are so mixed up now. Uh. And, uh, for example, in, in 1865 you could look out there and you saw nothing but almost pure black faces. Uh, people who, who had the features of the people who, who had actually been brought over from Africa. But you look out into an audience now of negroes, uh, it's a rare thing for you to find anybody who, uh, even looks the part of somebody who had come right out of West Africa because people are just all mixed up. Races all are mixed up, and this cannot help but result in a-- WARREN:--and there's so many-- BRANTON:--changed attitude-- WARREN:--different kinds of negroes in Africa. BRANTON: This is true. WARREN: Something that (??) name negro-- BRANTON:--that's right. WARREN: But actually it's--as distinct as an Englishman and a Chinaman. BRANTON: This is true. This is true. WARREN: -- in their qualities-- BRANTON:--yeah-- WARREN:--as well as the complexion-- BRANTON:--yeah, and they are suffering, these, uh, self-governing countries now are suffering from some of the very same problems within their own country-- WARREN:--like Tutsi -- BRANTON:--growing out of these differences as that, uh, makes some of our differences over here, uh, look very minor. WARREN: Yes. What I'm getting at here in a way is this changed climate of opinion, that's happened in my time. Not going back to '65. BRANTON: Yeah. WARREN: From the time I was able to vote. It's very hard now if you take an educated Southern boy who'd been to, you know, a good school, a good college. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: To find, if, if pressed he will not, uh, say, 'Sure, I believe in--in equal performance in the races.' BRANTON: Well, I can, uh, I can refer you to a changed attitude that is even, uh, of a shorter duration than, than, say, during your lifetime and during my lifetime. I came to Atlanta in January of 1962 to set up the Voter Education Project. At that time the Georgia legislature was in session. A mixed group of, uh, white and negro students went down to observe the working of the legislature. And they insisted on sitting together. They were ordered to separate so that the negroes would go to the negro section of the gallery and the whites to the white section. When they refused to do so, they were all arrested. They were taken to jail and when they got out of jail, they came back and tried to sit-in. And they closed the gallery to the, uh, to spectators. Then they started picketing out in front of the Capitol. And the legislature had passed some emergency legislation to prohibit picketing on state property. Now, that summer, there was a big increase in negro registration here in Fulton County and throughout Georgia. The federal court struck down the notorious county unit system. There was reapportionment of the State Senate. And that summer a negro was elected to the Georgia Senate. Then in January of '63 he took his seat; the first time a negro had been elected in more than fifty years. The mere fact that a negro had been elected to the Georgia Senate, and the fact that he'd been serving on some committees before the Senate opened apparently was sufficient to bring about a change on the attitude of the people who run the building over there, knowing that they would get the support from the legislature, that every racial sign was taken down. And one year later, people could go and sat in the gallery and sat wherever they darned pleased, and there were no signs saying "White" or "Colored." And the issue of segregation in the, uh, State Capitol became moot, just one year later, for which we point back to, uh, the power of the ballot as helping to bring about that change. WARREN: Memphis, Tennessee. BRANTON: But the fact that a negro was elected was not sufficient to make them, uh, take down these signs, just by itself. I think ultimately it would have been. But I really think that because Leroy Johnson was the kind of person and had the kind of personality that he could get in there and work with the senators and was, uh, accepted he was able to say to them, "Well, this is ridiculous to have this sign up here." And one senator saying it to another. I'm, I'm sure that he has opened up a lot of doors and has helped to remove some barriers. And he's changed the attitude because people have come to know him. And there are a lot of legislators who never had any previous dealings or experience with, uh, that caliber of negro. WARREN: What about the possibility of, possibilities in this situation of having two candidates from Mississippi for Congressional seats? BRANTON: I don't think there's much chance of them winning out there in, uh, is that what you're talking about? WARREN: Yes. And if they don't win, then what about the protest? BRANTON: Well, Mississippi is the worst state in the Union, uh, all the way around on the racial question. Um. Mississippi has fewer registered negro voters than any of the states in the South. WARREN: It's about five percent or something (??). BRANTON: That's right. It's, it's a lower, there's is even a lower percentage of negroes registered. You have less than thirty thousand negroes registered in the whole state of Mississippi. They can't possibly win the election. And I think the whole idea is focused toward the problem of trying to involve the federal government, uh, and everybody else in doing something to remove the discrimination which exists so that negroes can freely register. WARREN: This is a way of dramatizing by making a protest, by contesting the election-- BRANTON:--this is true-- WARREN:--of a white candidate. This will give a ground for refusing a seat to the elected candid--the presumptive elected candidates from Mississippi. BRANTON: This--this is correct. But it might force the state government, uh, and, and local registrars to change their attitude and to start registering negroes. WARREN: A clever tactic, isn't it? BRANTON: Yes, and, uh, frankly, there is a, there's some legislation on the books, uh, which could, uh, could prove rather interesting because it has never been tried, which, uh, which gives people the right to challenge an election where any group of people were denied the right to vote. And I think what they plan to do is appoint registrars. And--under this, uh, their own registration system to get people to try and go down and register first with the regular registrar, and when they can't, come and register with them. And if enough of these people register under this system and vote for the candidate in the other election, it might well be that they're able to get more people in a certain, uh, political subdivision voting for this negro candidate than the total number of votes cast in the official election. And if so, they might be able to at least form the legal basis of challenging the right of this other person to be seated. WARREN: Ingenious, isn't it? BRANTON: Yes, it is. WARREN: What do you think of Robert E. Lee? BRANTON: I don't have enough of, uh, enough of a background in studies concerning Robert E. Lee to really have much of an opinion. WARREN: He was an emancipationist. BRANTON: Yes. WARREN: The slave, he didn't believe in slavery. BRANTON: This much I've, I have read, um. WARREN: I'm sure. BRANTON: Um, I just really, other than, uh, his position with the Confederacy and all, I, I've just never given it much thought one way or the other. WARREN: It makes an interesting problem, doesn't it? BRANTON: Yes, it does. Yes, it does. WARREN: Lincoln and Lee, uh, a very interesting pair. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: What about Jefferson? What do you think of him? BRANTON: Uh. WARREN: Thumbnail. BRANTON: Uh, very frankly, I, uh, I have very little in the way of opinions concerning most of the earlier leaders of our country. Now this may seem surprising. I've been more actively involved and interested in current leaders. And while I was always a, a great student of history, uh, back in my high school and college days, it was something that I just read but, uh, didn't form too much in, in the way of opinions about men. I formed opinions on matters of principle but very little opinions with reference to, to men. I was more interested and have always been interested in, uh, opinions regarding current leaders. WARREN: This, it leads us to certain, uh, leads me to reflect on the March on Washington. BRANTON: Um-hm. WARREN: That winds up at the Lincoln Monument (??), you know, curiosity. Or interest. BRANTON: Such as? WARREN: Well, here's a racist whose monument this, this March on Washington winds up in celebration. BRANTON: Well, except that-- WARREN:--just the symbolic values to real values, to historical values type of thing. BRANTON: This, this is true but to the vast majority of negroes there is this feeling that, uh, Lincoln was the emancipator. And that, uh, Lincoln is the hero of the, uh, negro freedom movement. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Now, I'm not trying to make. BRANTON: Now that is of the older leaders. Now-- WARREN: --we're up against a question of what constitutes historical utility, you see, that now in history. BRANTON: This is--this-- [Tape 2 ends; tape 3 begins.] WARREN:--and as a matter of fact, see I'm an admirer of Lincoln. I'm not saying "damn Lincoln" because of that. I say if a man lives in their time, they work in their time, you see. Limits proposed by their society and all this--I'm not trying to make, you know, a (??) out of this. BRANTON: Yeah. But, but there is a feeling-- WARREN:--it's important to know, it's important for the world not to make all these heroes simply false heroes, uninformed, having heroes uninformed. BRANTON: Um-hm. Well, I think that is true among the vast majority of negroes, that they are uninformed. Uh, just, there is a sort of a popular feeling, uh, among older leaders who frequently used to say because most negroes for a long time were in the Republican Party, as you probably know, and there was this old attitude, 'Lincoln was a Republican. Lincoln freed the negroes, therefore I'm a Republican.' WARREN: Yeah, that was-- BRANTON:--a Republican. And even now there are negroes who are Republicans because Lincoln was a Republican and Lincoln freed the negroes. And, uh, of course, we know that, uh, the majority of negroes today are Democrats. No question about it. WARREN: As of 1932. BRANTON: Well, actually since 1946. Since Smith v. Allwright decision outlawing the, uh, the white primary, uh, in the South. That's when you had your big development because prior to that time the negroes could not vote in the Democratic primary, and the only thing they could vote in was the general election, and since they couldn't vote in the Democratic primary they voted, uh, the Republican ticket. And, uh. WARREN: South? BRANTON: Yeah. And, and, of course, this, this was true also even though they had the right to vote in the Democratic primary in, in the North. I've not looked at any figures which would compare it but I'm of the opinion that the majority of the negroes voting, uh, throughout the North were probably, uh, more inclined to, to vote Republican except in certain local elections. Uh, even today a vast number--I don't know how the percentage would run--but it's a rather large number of your negro business and professional people who are fifty years of age and older are probably Republican. Throughout the country. WARREN: They are. BRANTON: Yeah. And this town is a very strong Republican town among negroes. WARREN: Well, a lot of Catholics are Republican too when they get rich. (both laugh) You know. BRANTON: That's true. (laughs) That is true. WARREN: It's a point of security (??). BRANTON: Yeah. That's true. WARREN: You know, maybe a whole circle then for certain negroes. BRANTON: But, uh, the, the followers and the poorer people have shifted to the Democratic Party here in this town. [Tape 3 ends.] [End of interview.] Wylie Branton was an American lawyer and civil rights activist. As a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he pushed for the integration of the University of Arkansas and eventually attended law school there. He was the chief counsel in the case of Cooper v. Aaron in which he represented the Little Rock Nine who integrated Little Rock's public schools. In this interview Wylie Branton begins by discussing school integration and bussing. He describes the importance of quality public education and the relationship between segregation in education and housing discrimination. Branton explains the spontaneity behind some of the demonstrations in the South and discusses violence against civil rights workers in places such as Greenwood, Mississippi. He describes the results of demonstrations in Albany, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama and describes the view of violence among civil rights workers and the precautions some civil rights workers take for protection such as carrying guns. Branton discusses Malcolm X's leadership and expresses the opinion that more people might join his movement if they felt that he could succeed. Branton also discusses historical issues and provides his personal views of the causes of the Civil War. He describes how American attitudes regarding racism and segregation have changed in a short time and refers to the discipline of Anthropology and recent desegregation legislature in Georgia. In addition, Branton provides his opinions of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas Jefferson. Branton concludes the interview with an explanation of his view of the political affiliations of African Americans and their involvement with both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Civil Rights