Branton discusses school desegregation in Washington, D.C., as well as in other cities. He discusses the groups that civil rights activists targeted when choosing their protest and demonstration methods, and he also weighs the short-term and long-term effects of a handful of these demonstrations. In particular, he asserts that protests in Birmingham led to President Kennedy's advancing of civil rights legislation. Branton also considers whether new persons were then emerging as leaders of the civil rights movement as well as whether civil rights leaders were adopting new tactics. Branton opines that the Civil War resulted from economic and political differences between the North and the South, with slavery constituting a less central issue in the conflict than some believe.
Image: NAACP Attorneys In Integration Case. Original caption: 8/28/1958 - Washington, D.C.: Attorneys for the NAACP are shown. Left to right: William T. Coleman Jr., New York; Thurgood Marshall, Chief Counsel; and Wiley A. Branton, Pine Bluffs, Arkansas. They are due to present arguments before a special session of the Supreme Court in the Little Rock school integration case. Copyright: Bettmann/Corbis.
Image of Branton in classroom is courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.
Audio courtesy of the University of Kentucky.
Wiley A. Branton (1923-1988) was a lawyer and civil rights activist. With Thurgood Marshall, Branton served as counsel to the “Little Rock Nine,” the group of African American students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, when school board members and the Superintendent of Schools sued to suspend the school district’s integration plan. Later, Branton directed the Voter Education Project in Atlanta, where, under his leadership, more than 600,000 black voters registered to vote between 1962 and 1965. Branton was named dean of Howard University’s School of Law in 1977.
Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon typed transcripts created in 1964. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site. Time stamps have been added to aid in this process.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN - WYLIE BRANTON TAPE 1 MARCH 17, 1964
[00:00:05] Warren: This is the conversation, afternoon of March 17th, with Mr. Branton, Atlanta, Georgia.
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.
[00:00:43] Warren: The Journal?
[00:00:46] Warren: What did you think of it?
Branton: Well, of course, my immediate reaction was that Senator Russell is merely trying to supply some argument in the Senate to get everybody’s attention away from the purpose of the Civil Rights bill – that his is purely some far-fetched notion that he, himself, doesn’t really believe in and it’s his contribution to the beginning of the filibuster.
[00:01:20] Warren: Is it a clever one. Does it raise any questions behind that do have relevance for our time?
[00:01:30] Warren: Sociological questions?
Branton: No, very frankly I don’t think that anybody takes Senator Russell’s proposals too seriously. I don’t think that Senator Russell takes it seriously himself. And, because of the fact that it was given at the time and by the man who is leader of the Southern bloc, I don’t think anybody would even give serious consideration to a proposal of that kind.
[00:01:55] Warren: Almost certainly I should hazard, nobody will, but does it raise some of the same human and legal questions that are in the matter of housing renewal and redevelopment programs in cities.
Branton: Oh, yes, yes. It raises – at least focuses attention on 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 matters of school desegregation in the North.
[00:02:35] Warren: These pressures are for the – of the same order then, aren’t they?
Branton: Yes, to some extent they are, yes, they are.
[00:02:42] Warren: Some of the same questions get involved in it. Well, speaking of the school business, what do you feel about the bussing proposal in New York?
Branton: I’m not familiar enough with the bussing proposal in New York to comment on it, other than to the extent that I’m limited by what I’ve read in the newspapers concerning it. I don’t think that that’s sufficient for me, really, to comment on – my knowledge of it is just not that sufficient.
[00:03:25] Warren: This is probably a very unfair quotation. It’s one that Mr. Galamison –on a T. V. interview – he says that, “I would rather see it – the public school system destroyed” than not to conform to his timetable for desegregation or integration. But, he added, “Maybe it has run its course in the public school system.”
Branton: Oh, I couldn’t agree with that statement at all. There’s great deal wrong with the public school system, and 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 public school system in an all-white town. Public education, very definitely, has not run its course. It’s – it’ll be with us for a long, long time. In fact, the trend is away from private schools and more towards public schools, and the idea of destroying the public school system if it doesn’t conform to a certain standard, or to somebody’s time table is foolish. I don’t think that you ought to hold up working on the problem of trying to correct deficiencies where they exist, but at the same time, I think that we need to do all that we can to keep children in school, and I don’t think anything ought to be done to get kids out of schools.
[00:05:10] Warren: What about problems of integration in a big city like Washington where a very high percentage, and the percentage is increasing daily, is Negro? What kind of an integration problem 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, 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 the desegregation in the Washington school system. Now, as these adjoining areas desegregate themselves, then people who have moved to these areas will 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 housing patterns – that is segregation in housing is so rigid in most communities that for a long time 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 segregated into certain areas and there is 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 about bussing kids in, but which I really don’t know enough about to comment on way or the other.
[00:07:26] Warren: Let’s take a hypothetical case. A woman whom I respect and like a very great deal – and a very, you know, able and learned woman, in this kind of conversation, and I said, “What about Washington?” She had spoken favorably of the bussing system in New York integrated schools. And, I said, “There aren’t enough white children available for public schools to make it significant, no matter how much you bus them.” She said, “Get them from Virginia.”
Branton: Well, of course this would be contrary to all previously established education controls, because Virginia is a separate political entity, a separate school district and everything else. It would have no relationship under present laws to the Washington, D. C. system, and I frankly know of no law that would require children from one state to go to school in another state.
[00:08:36] Warren: What I’m getting at, of course, is this. Where the line of thought in principle 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 only on a purely voluntary basis, that’s one thing – but if you’re talking about something that would have legal sanction, that’s an entirely different question.
[00:09:05] Warren: Russell’s is presumably voluntary – presumably voluntary. This other proposal means – are forcible – bussing from Virginia to Washington, D. C.
Branton: Well, I just know of no legal basis where you could have bussing from one state to another state, or to another entirely separate political division, such from Virginia to the District of Columbia.
[00:09:28] Warren: Well, presume – accepting that, but the state of mind that prompts the proposal. Is that – having a massive shift – by – to bring about certain social ends, whether good or bad – I’m not discussing the nature of the ends.
Branton: Well, Mr. Warren, of course I’m under the handicap of being a lawyer -
[00:09:48] Warren: You’re a lawyer.
Branton: And, since I just cannot make up my mind that it can even work legally, or could be legally enforceable, it is pretty hard for me to even carry my thoughts beyond that barrier.
[00:10:00] Warren: All right. All right. Tell me something about the target of a demonstration and protest in the South – or to whom are they ultimately directed – as to the Southerner, or to create a situation in relation to the Federal government, and Federal interference, or to influence Northern opinion? Or, something else?
Branton: Of course, the targets have varied, depending upon where the demonstration was taking place. Sometimes these targets were carefully thought out in advance. There was a great deal of planning behind them. Sometimes they are spontaneous things. For example, in Greenwood, Mississippi, in the Spring of 1963, when a number of SNIC [SNCC] kids and others were acting in voter registration out there – they were meeting with a great deal of harassment and intimidation down at the registrar’s office. Nevertheless, they did – continued to do what they could to get people carried down there. Then they started getting a lot of threats and harassment from private citizens. The office where they had their headquarters burned mysteriously. Two SNIC [SNCC] officials and a man from the voter education project were fired upon from a passing automobile, and the SNIC [SNCC] kid was seriously wounded by 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. Well, 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 the chief of police for protection against this harassment. When they approached the jail, the major and the chief of police erroneously assumed that this was a protest and a demonstration, and a march on the jail. Actually, they just went in 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 court house and try to register everybody in the group. Nevertheless, they were arrested. Prior to that time, they had no particular goal, no particular target. They just had a genuine concern just to go down and express indignation about the happenings, and to seek protection, but when the police threw most of them in jail – then they decided that the police evidently didn’t want them going down to the court house in large numbers, so they started getting a large number of people and marching to the court house, solely for the purpose of registering. And, they were harassed and intimidated. 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 in that section of Mississippi. And so, the target shifted. I personally witnessed the changing of that target at least three times in the course -
[00:14:07] Warren: You were there? At that time?
Branton: In the course of a week’s time, yes. I went out and represented most of these defendants in court, and then the money for the voter registration activities at that time was being supplied by the voter education project. But, here was a – the target was changed at least three different times in less than a week. It was something that was just entirely spontaneous, and the same thing has been true in other cases, for example – a Negro child may get abused, or a Negro woman in some local store by a white merchant, and as a result of this and the protest over this, somebody might start 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 recall, several months ago, because some people who were engaged in that picketing were charged with having picketed this store in an effort to pressure, or to punish a man who participated on a Federal jury, which considered a civil action against a sheriff down there for damages for the wrongful – the alleged wrongful – death of a Negro prisoner. And then some other people were convicted for perjured testimony in a hearing before the grand jury. Well, these things – one thing can lead to another, and so there’s just been a variety of targets – reasons behind it, who they hope to involve and why. On the other hand, there have been demonstrations that have been carried on 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.
[00:15:57] Warren: What about Birmingham?
Branton: Well, of course, Birmingham – well, I personally feel that the Birmingham demonstrations resulted from the earlier demonstrations in Greenwood, Mississippi. Now, that’s purely a personal opinion -
[00:16:17] Warren: It’s from the Birmingham.
Branton: Yes, I really think that there was desire to conduct demonstrations in Birmingham, to attract attention to a number of problems, in Birmingham.
[00:16:34] Warren: Was there a chance, do you think, to influence Northern capital there that was missed, or was there no chance?
Branton: Of course, I don’t know how expensive the effort was to try and influence Northern capital, but 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 recall, Mr. Roger Blough, I believe, 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 it. Net effect -
[00:17:16] Warren: I think I read it, yes.
Branton: Now, I think that there could have been a great deal more, but Negroes could not do it alone, and it’s something that they would have to have a great deal of help from -
[00:17:28] Warren: name of the white lawyer in Birmingham, who made a speech to this effect Can you remember?
Branton: Oh, I know him quite well. I just can’t think of his name right now. I’ve even corresponded with him. It’s – it’ll come to me in a minute.
[00:17:50] Warren: Yes. There was no backlash for him from that?
Branton: Well, yes there was. That was Chuck Morgan. Charles Morgan.
[00:18:00] Warren: That’s right, Charles Morgan, yes.
Branton: Yes, Chuck was under considerable pressure from people in the community, but this didn’t seem to bother him too much. It’s significant, however, that shortly after making the statement, he left Birmingham, and he’s somewhere in Virginia, near Washington. I understand that he is doing some writing, but he did not remain in the community. And, 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 have been. He didn’t stay there long enough for one to determine fully what backlash might have resulted from his speech. Actually, there were other things than his speech, because he had represented some Negro defendants in unpopular causes in Birmingham, and so there was more to it than just this speech.
[00:19:02] Warren: Just the speech. Of course, the gossip has it several ways about this – the reason for his leaving. This is pure hearsay to me. What have been the effects of the demonstrations in general in the South – not a single effect, but can you sort them out. Sort out the effects and assess them?
Branton: There again they would vary.
[00:19:25] Warren: They’d vary?
Branton: Depending upon the community, yes.
[00:19:27] Warren: Just can’t we sort them out a little bit? What the effects have been?
Branton: Yes, I think so. I would regard Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, and 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, you can’t just write them off as failures, because I think each of them contributed to long-range gains.
[00:20:14] Warren: Let’s sort that out, now. In what way?
Branton: Well, I don’t think that we would have the Civil Rights bill before the Senate today, if we had not had Birmingham.
[00:20:26] Warren: The shock of Birmingham.
Branton: The shock of Birmingham. The shock of Birmingham, I think, and everything that occurred there contributed to the introduction of the Civil Rights bill 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.
[00:20:54] Warren: Have you heard it said, or do you know that the – the riot there after the bombing in Birmingham, was a shock also to the Negro leadership?
Branton: I have heard it said.
[00:21:10] Warren: Does that make any sense to you? Do you know anything thing about it? This possibility of the big blood bath that was there – almost, almost about to occur?
Branton: Now, you talking about the one that following the bombing of the church – or you’re talking about the one that followed the bombing of Arthur Shore’s home? Actually, there was not too much violence, or threat of violence, immediately following the bombing of the church, surprisingly, as compared with the earlier bombing of the – of Arthur Shore’s home.
[00:21:49] Warren: Yes – the first.
Branton: This came as no surprise to me, and although I heard it said that there was surprise, I think that Birmingham is like a lot of other cities, where you have, you know, where you have a large Negro population, and an explosive situation such as they have in Birmingham, and it should come as no surprise that people would want to retaliate. There’s more reason for retaliation in Birmingham than in most major Southern cities, because segregation is more rigidly enforced in Birmingham than in any other major Southern city.
[00:22:27] Warren: I don’t suppose that the provocations are really under discussion, you know, that they would know the provocations? Here was a very dire provocation. What about containing such impulses, though? Birmingham is small potatoes compared to what might break loose in Cleveland and almost did two-three weeks ago, or small potatoes compared to a real race riot on the outskirts of Harlem.
Branton: Well -
[00:23:02] Warren: What kind of containment seems possible? Now, it’s non-violence people, the devoted non-violence people, who profess some optimism about this containment, you know.
Branton: Well, of course, I think one of the best things for containment is the employment of Negro police men. 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 – and police officials basically are looked upon with skepticism, even in a white community, when trouble breaks out. But, in the segregated South and especially in Birmingham, it takes on an entirely different picture, at least it’s deeper in terms of the scope and the involvement – or the attitude toward the police office, 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 – where there isn’t even the question of whether or not one of the Negroes was an active integrationist, or an active segregationist. But, in the racial situation, such as we’re talking about now, when the white police man even drives around the street, Negroes look upon him as an invading enemy in their territory, and so there’s this feeling to begin with. Now, the use of Negro police men would eliminate this basic distrust on the part of a police officer, and would go a long way towards containment, such as you expressed a while ago. I think this is the real difference between what could possibly happen, say, in Birmingham, as compared with what could possibly happen in Chicago or in, New York – because even the Negro police men in these other cities have a working arrangement 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 some weeks ago – there were Negro and white police men there side by side, working together to quell the disturbance without regard to whether or not the perpetrators of this disturbance were white or Negro.
[00:25:43] Warren: I wasn’t thinking of the – of containment, by the way, as a matter of merely suppressing disturbance. I was thinking of controlling and channelizing grievances and random violent energies into some more useful and constructive way – say, into legally acceptable demonstrations, or humanly acceptable demonstrations, and other such activities.
[00:26:14] Warren: But many people now are very pessimistic now about the next few months in Chicago and New York – that the summer could be very, very bad.
Branton: I would agree with that and frankly, one of the most disturbing things which has happened recently has been the breaking off by Malcolm X from Elijah Mohammed’s group, and the idea of this rifle club among Negroes, because I do not share the view that you have all of this great body of non-violent Negroes. I think that basically in thousands of Negroes there is this desire to want to resist, or to defend themselves, or to protect themselves against this harassment and this intimidation – and I think that there’s a vast resevoir [reservoir] of people who would, if they thought Malcolm X could really carry through and follow through, probably would join up, but they are probably deterred by the fact that they know that it’s purely a temporary thing and – or that ultimately he cannot win, but I question how many of them would give thought to this in some suddenly developing situation.
[00:27:42] Warren: There was a very astonishing fact, or reported to be a fact, in the Newsweek Survey, which posts in extended form as a book. This fact being that large percentage of the population of Harlem do not realize that the Negro is a minority in the United States.
Branton: Is this because of the fact that there’s so many Negroes up there and they see them every day?
[00:28:08] Warren: Up there, that’s all they see.
Branton: Well, of course, this is something that I -
[00:28:11] Warren: And, this is based on their toll, and also plain ignorance. First, factual ignorance, second, the psychological conviction of seeing no white persons around ever. Except maybe the police that passes in that patrol car. A sense of being the majority group and therefore, not having this – the intimidation of – that a minority may feel vis-à-vis the majority.
Branton: This is something I’ve given very little thought to. I’ve never lived under such circumstances, and I’ve never really talked to anybody who lived under circumstances in reference to this particular point of view.
[00:28:49] Warren: This is stated as a result of the poll.
Branton: Um, hum. I just received a copy of that book the other day from the publisher, because I was one of the persons interviewed when this – when the material for this book was being gathered, and so they sent me a courtesy copy – and I have not had a chance to read it yet.
[00:29:14] Warren: How much have the demonstrations broken the – in the South now – the old apathy, fatalism, cynicism – 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 which I’m most familiar with, although the demonstrations there grew out of voter registration, and while it’s true that there’s 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’s 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 a breakthrough against fear. And, this, of course, a lot of times what people write off as apathy is due to a lot of other things, other than what is really apathy. Some of it is due to fear. Fear on the part of Negroes that they are going to suffer some economic or physical retaliation because of their participation in certain things – whether it’s in voting, or in trying to eat at a lunch counter, or moving into a certain neighborhood, or many other things. And, Greenwood, Mississippi, is a major breakthrough against fear. 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 court house to brave the insults and everything else that goes along with it in trying to register, and so it’s through no fault of their own that they are not registered. They, at least, went through the motions of trying to get it.
[00:31:26] Warren: What happened in Montgomery – this is the end of Tape 1 – the conversation with Mr. Wylie Branton. See Tape 2.Collapse
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon typed transcripts created in 1964. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN – WYLIE BRANTON 3/17/64 Tape 2
Warren: This is tape 2, of conversation with Mr. Wylie Branton, continue. I was asking you a moment ago, or about to ask you whether the situation in Montgomery – is it apathy that prevented the congregations from allowing, or the F. C. L. C. to use a church for a rally, only a year, or less than a year after the Montgomery demonstrations? Among these churches that refused, being the one previously the church of Mr. Abernathy.
Branton: Of course I have no knowledge of that particular situation. I’ve been into Montgomery on several occasions – mostly, of course, just going to Federal court over there, and checking on our voter registration. I am familiar with similar problems which have occurred in other communities – a similar occurrence 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 where the ministers were willing to allow the use of these facilities. Of course, the difference between Greenwood 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 make use of their churches and this does seem rather surprising, because you would think that if these ministers left their churches in good faith and with good relationship, that they would 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 S. C. L. C. came in to meet.
Warren: It was not – it could have been fear, we presume, as it was in Greenwood.
Branton: It could have been easily have been fear, and it could not – it could have 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 or repudiation strike you as a reason for this?
Branton: I don’t think it would be apathy under any circumstances, no, I don’t.
Warren: Or 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 a fear of a church bombing, a fear of a cancellation of an insurance policy by the insurance company, or fear of harassment or intimidation from local officials, if the use of the facilities were made available to S. C. L. C. I don’t think it would 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 violence?
Branton: Well, I don’t think there’s much temptation in any change in leadership in any direction.
Warren: I don’t mean that persons who are now leaders changing their minds. I mean a new type of leader come in to grasp a new situation – and to seize leadership. Malcolm X, for one, and his drift toward violence.
Branton: Well, you have – you have a tendency – and there is a tendency on the part of local people to become leaders overnight, such as Reverend Galamison in New York and the man with the rent strikes in New York, whose name I don’t recall at the moment. These people get a lot of publicity because of their involvement in a particular situation, but I think that their leadership is confined for the most part to the local community and to the problem which they are connected with, and that there is nothing to indicate that these same people are likely to project themselves very widely into other areas of concern or of controversy.
Warren: In Mississippi and in Alabama do you see any indication of a new air of violence, in even local leadership?
Branton: No, I do not. In fact, I see an air of the lessening of violence in most of Alabama.
Warren: I’m referring to – among Negroes themselves.
Branton: Yes. 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 any tendency or attitude toward violence in Alabama, by Negroes.
Warren: … Mississippi?
Branton: I have not seen enough to convince me that there’s any lessening of it in Mississippi. This does not mean that there has been any increase in the attitude. The thing that alarmed a number of people recently was a statement attributed to Charles Evers, the brother of the slain Medgar Evers, in Nashville. This created quite a bitter feeling over the state. I subscribe to two or three Mississippi newspapers and I noticed the Greenwood, Mississippi, Commonwealth – a white newspaper – ran an editorial, condemning Charles Evers for this statement, but even though Charles Evers, subsequently, repudiated the statement, or said that it was taken out of context, I have seen nothing in the Greenwood Commonwealth that would indicate that they have ever bothered to straighten the story out.
Warren: The story was written by a Negro reporter. He wrote the story. I have on what seems to be very good authority, that he was called in, I understand, by the editory [editor], before it was printed, and said, “Can you, as it – stand on this story as written?”
Branton: Has there been any comment by the newspaper, which carried the story, since the repudiation by Charles Evers.
Warren: Not that I know, not that I know.
Branton: Um, hum.
Warren: I was stuck with it, and of course, I had an interview with Mr. Evers, which was quite the contrary to this statement, a few days later. So I had to investigate and see, you know, to – what the ….was doing. But there ar [are] some people who in the, Mr. Lawson, for instance, you know, on tape the other day, said to me that this kind of indiscretion was not at all improbable.
Branton: Why I don’t think so. I don’t think it all improbable.
Warren: It’s indiscretion, and carried away at some moment – and if he is under great strain, naturally – and he is – has also stated in print since then he is armed.
Branton: That he is?
Warren: Um, hum. About three days ago.
Branton: Um, hum. This isn’t surprising at all. It’s just surprising that he would admit it publicly.
Warren: Yes, well, now, I mean this is – I don’t speak with an air of condemnation. It may be very poor judgment, but it’s very human.
Branton: Well, following the trouble in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, because I was chief counsel for the Negro school children in the Little Rock case, 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 from Little Rock, and I was constantly being harassed and intimidated. And, I discussed it with the chief deputy sheriff, and some others – who had not hesitancy about suggesting that I arm myself for my own self-protection.
Warren: The question is different if one is defending oneself as oneself – and taking the position of social responsibility, for a particular movement – a particular philosophy, perhaps.
Branton: Oh, yes. Now, when you say that Mr. Evers, for example, is armed, I assumed just from the mere statement, that he’s armed solely to protect himself – to defend himself, 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: He kept them handy, but I doubt seriously if he was armed at the time of the shooting.
Warren: I don’t mean he carried side arms. I don’t mean that – I don’t know. I’m not implying that.
Warren: But there are other people in the Negro movement who have a weapon in the house – their squirrel gun, and have gone out and gotten rid of it so they wouldn’t have any at all around.
Branton: Well, I don’t think too many people have gotten rid of guns on that account.
Warren: Well, might have to argue with Mr. Lawson. He knows a case of this in -
Branton: Where people have gotten rid of guns?
Warren: Yes, if he has a sporting rifle of some kind around – you dispose of it, and get you know, be clean.
Branton: Well, I don’t know of anybody who – I – who has gotten rid of guns or rifles around their home.
Warren: This – around the home, I’m talking about.
Branton: No, I – in the practice of law, I have represented a number of people who have been charged with illegal possession of weapons, but most times these were people who had made a practice of carrying a pistol, either on their person, or in their automobile. I know a number of people who have ceased to carry weapons in their vehicles, or on their persons because they didn’t want to be charged with the illegal possession of guns, but I, frankly, know of nobody who has gotten rid of a gun that they had at home.
Warren: Well, then, you’re …. , except Mr. Lawson was saying that there was a number of people who wanted to carry the principle of non-violence so far that there could be no possibility of, you know, of this weapon being even at hand, in case of a crisis – or to be suspected of having arms available.
Branton: Mr. Warren, I have no facts or figures to substantiate the statement which I am about to make, but 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 have put these guns in their homes as a means of self-protection, or self-defense only, because of a great fear that somebody might go overboard one night, or one day, and come out to do them harm. And, I think, that this far outweighs the number of people who might have gotten rid of a gun because of some theory of non-violence.
Warren: Well, that’s my guess.
Branton: And I think that’s true among both white and colored people.
Warren: Let’s turn to the Civil War for a moment.
Branton: Um, hum. A little bit before my time.
Warren: Little before your time – 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 interpretation of the Civil War. I have Frederick Douglas – is here before me, now. Or shall I leave that – read that one first?
Branton: No, I have never felt that the Civil War was a war which was fought to free the slaves, or that there was any big issue over whether or not slavery should be tolerated. I’ve always felt that the War came on because of economic and political disputes and that slavery, slavery was really a side issue. And, that – while you had a number of sincere abolitionists, that this was not begun as any great moral issues at all, and the freeing of the slaves was a necessary act of war on the part of the President, who felt that unless he did free the slaves – that the North was just going to be licked. And, of course, you had a number of abolitionists who were pushing for this anyhow, and I think the two forces just merged. And, I think that the development of it – there’s a great moral issue is something that really followed the actual conflict. Even now, I detect a shifting attitude on the part of the 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.
Branton: And they are getting away from the use of the words Civil War altogether in the South.
Warren: How do you read Lincoln’s character and Lincoln’s motives?
Branton: With mixed feelings, because as a youngster I was exposed to a fairly good library, and – in my grandparents’ parent home, and I read a number of books about Lincoln, and where as a good many kids might have come up with the idea that 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 which – about Lincoln, which took place even before I actually studied history, even in high school. And, I’ve not even bothered subsequently, to find out whether or not there was good authority for the statements which Mr. Lincoln is quoted with. I recall one for example. He is alleged to have made a statement that if there was a young, white maiden on the beach and there was an alligator or crocodile approaching from one side and a Negro approaching from the other, he as soon 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 by any competent historian or not, but I must admit that I had a rather – I’ve had rather mixed feelings about Mr. Lincoln, because of these earlier readings. I do know that regardless of what his attitude may have been, prior to the Civil War, that certainly after the Civil War he seemed to recognize the contribution of Negroes in helping to win the war and is responsible for much of the favorable attitude which developed towards Negroes during the period of the Reconstruction.
Warren: This remark is made ij – 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. “Whether it is right or wrong, I need not discuss. This difference, this physical difference is a disadvantage to us both from ….. but for your race among us that there could not 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 other –other: Lincoln ….. as he was – a racist, as we would say.
Branton: Yes, well, he -
Warren: But, now I was talking about this with quite a few eminent historians lately, and they both said, “Well, you couldn’t find a man in the country that wasn’t a racist!” “Or in Europe.” What I’m getting at is this – the two things. There’s been a vast change in the climate of opinion on this matter, hasn’t there? In a hundred years.
Branton: Oh, yes, very much.
Warren: How do we account for this? Change in the climate of opinion? There’s a racism now, an active racism – I don’t know you would estimate it – but they certainly aren’t what they were in 1865.
Branton: Well, of course, there are a number of factors which we would contribute to this changed attitude. We must think of the number of immigrants who have come to this country, subsequent to 1865. At the time that Lincoln made this statement, we must realize that 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 you see that they can do things and that they can contribute to the growth and development of a country. You naturally have a changed attitude.
Warren: Plain record of achievement, is that the same -
Branton: Yes, yes, and we’ve noticed this, for example, in Africa, almost overnight. I recall, when I was studying geography concerning Africa, 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 would come back and show us the naked people of Africa, and not we look around – we’ve got these African diplomats arriving on jet planes and getting out, wearing Brooks Brothers suits, carrying attaché cases, and conducting themselves in the manner befitting gentlemen, and 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 – well, say, even ten years ago almost.
Warren: What about anthropology?
Branton: In what way?
Warren: Just the study of anthropology is a new study, it’s happened the last twenty-five – I said -
Branton: Well, these have all been – I think, 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 to Negroes, and in that – that also brings out something that perhaps should have commented on in the answer to the previous question about this changed attitude.
Warren: That’s what I mean.
Branton: People are so mixed up now, and for example, in 1865, you could look out there and you saw nothing but almost pure black faces. People who had the features of the people who had been actually been brought over from Africa. But, you look out into an audience now of Negroes. It’s a rare thing for you to find anybody who even looks the part of somebody who had come right out of West Africa, because people are just all mixed up. Races are all mixed up, and this cannot help but result in a changed attitude.
Warren: And there are so many different kinds of Negroes in Africa.
Branton: This is true.
Warren: Something that we’re going to name Negro, but actually as a distinct as an Englishman and a Chinaman, in their qualities as well as complexion.
Branton: That’s right – this is true. Yes, and they’re suffering – these self-governing countries now, suffering from some of the very same problems within their own country – growing out of these differences – that make some of our differences over here look very minor.
Warren: Yes. What I’m getting at here in a way, is this changed climate of opinion that has happened in my time – not going to back to ’65. From the time I was able to vote – it’s very hard now, if you take an educated Southern boy, who been to a good school, good college, to find, if pressed, he will not say, “Sure. I believe in equal performance of the races.”
Branton: Well, I can refer you to a changed attitude that is even a shorter duration than say, during your lifetime or during my lifetime. I came to Atlanta in January of 1962 to set up the voter registration project. At that time the Georgia legislature was in session. A mixed group of 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 spectators. Then they started picketing out in front of the capitol and the legislature passed some emergency legislation to prohibit picketing on state property. Now, that summer, there was a big increase in Negro registration here in Fordham 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 had been serving on some committees before the Senate opened, apparently was sufficient to bring about a change in 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 in and sit in the gallery and sit wherever they darned pleased and there were no signs, saying White or Colored. And, the issue of segregation in the State capitol became moot, just one year later – but which we point back to the power of the ballot, helping to bring that change.
Warren: In Memphis, Tennessee -
Branton: But the fact that a Negro was elected was not sufficient to make them 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 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 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 that never had any previous dealings or experiences with 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 – 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, all the way around on the racial question. Mississippi has fewer registered Negro voters than any of the states in the South.
Warren: It’s got five per cent [percent], or something. It’s a handful.
Branton: That’s right. It’s a lower – it’s 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 an election. And, I think the whole idea is focused toward the problem of trying to involve the Federal government and everybody else in doing something to remove the discrimination which exists so that Negroes can freely register.
Warren: This is way of dramatizing – by making a protest, and by contesting the election.
Branton: This is true.
Warren: Of a white candidate. This would give a ground of refusing a seat to the elected – the presumptive, elected candidates from Mississippi.
Branton: This is correct – but might force the State government and local registrars to change their attitude and to start registering Negroes.
Warren: Clever tactic, isn’t it?
Branton: Yes, and frankly there’s some legislation on the books which could prove rather interesting, because it has never been tried which gives people the right to challenge an election, where any group of people were denied to right to vote. And, I think what they plan to do is to appoint registrars and under this – 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 other election, it might well be that they are able to get more people in a certain political sub-division 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 a background in studies concerning Robert E. Lee to really have much to think.
Warren: He was an emancipationist.
Warren: The slave didn’t believe in slavery.
Branton: This much I have read.
Warren: I’m sure.
Branton: I just really, other than his position with the Confederacy and all, I just never have 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 are a very interesting pair. What about Jefferson? What do you think of him. Thumbnail.
Branton: Very frankly, 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 great student of history – back in my high school and college days, it was something that I just read but didn’t form too much in the way of opinions about men. I formed opinions on matters of principle, but very little opinions with reference to men. I was more interested, and have always been interested in opinions regarding current leaders.
Warren: Yes. It leads us to certain – it leads me to reflect on the march in Washington, lined up to the Lincoln Monument in a …., you know – curiosity – or interest -
Branton: Such as?
Warren: Well, here’s a racist, whose monument – this march on Washington lines up winds up in celebration.
Branton: Well, except that -
Warren: …..the symbolic values to real – to historic values of somethings [some things].
Branton: Well, this is true, but to the vast majority of Negroes there is this feeling that Lincoln was the Emancipator, and that Lincoln is the hero of the Negro freedom movement – 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 true.
Warren: We want to – a lie that serves – 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 live in that time, they work in that time, you see. Limits proposed by their society and all this …. I’m not trying to make out, you know, a ….. course. The point, you know, that se ms [seems] to be is that it seems important for the world not to make all its heroes simply false heroes – uninformed – heroism uninformed.
Branton: Well, I think that is true among the vast majority of Negroes – that they are uninformed. There’s a sort of a popular feeling 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. And even now there are Negroes who are Republican because Lincoln was a Republican and Lincoln freed the Negroes. And, of course, we know that the majority of Negroes today are Democrats. No question about it.
Warren: As of 1932.
Branton: Well, actually since 1946, since Smith versus Allright [Allwright] decision, outlawing the white primary in the South. That’s when you had your big development, because prior to that time the Negroes could not 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 the Republican ticket. And -
Branton: Yes, and of course, too, this was true also even though they had the right to vote in the Democratic primary in the North, I have not looked at any figures which would compare it, but I’m of the opinion that the majority of the Negroes voting throughout the North were probably more inclined to vote Republican, except in certain local elections. Even today, a vast number, I don’t know how the percentage would run, but a rather large number, of your Negro business and professional people, who are fifty years of age and older and probably Republican. Throughout the country.
Warren: They are?
Branton: Yes. And this town is a very strong Republican town among Negroes.
Warren: Well, a lot of Catholics are Republicans too, when they get rich.
Branton: Well, that’s true. That is true.
Warren: It’s a point of security.
Branton: Yes, that’s true.
Warren: So, maybe a whole circle then for certain Negroes.
Branton: But, the followers and the poorer people have shifted to the Democratic party.Collapse