Judge Monroe Friedman Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Judge Monroe Friedman

Member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, 1940-52 (chairman 1942-53). Alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention, 1940. Delegate to the Democratic National Convention, 1944, 1948 and 1956. Later a California Superior Court Judge

Oakland, California
March 16, 1970
by James R. Fuchs


[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened December, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Judge Monroe Friedman


Oakland, California
March 16, 1970
by James R. Fuchs


FUCHS: Judge Friedman, I wonder if you would mind starting out by giving me a little of your background; when and where you were born, and your education, and your early career coming up to the time that we are interested in?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in October 1895, and came here with my family, that is my father and mother and my brother and sisters, in 1905 we came to Oakland, California. I graduated from the Oakland High School and the University of California. I had graduate work at the University of Michigan, and I got the degree of Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, and then the degree of Juris Doctor from


the University of California in 1920. In 1917 I went into the Army as a second lieutenant, and in 1918 I was a captain in the Army, infantry, captain of infantry, United States Army, First World War. Later I became a major of infantry in Reserve.

All right, I practiced law here in Oakland from 1921 on. I was admitted to the California bar in 1920. I was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1930. Let's see what that will bring me up to. In 1936 I began to be interested in Democratic politics. I was a delegate to the state convention to start with. Beginning with 1940 I was a member of the County Central Committee for twelve years.

FUCHS: This was what county, now?

FRIEDMAN: Right here. The County of Alameda.

FUCHS: Alameda County.

FRIEDMAN: And I was chairman of the Democratic Central Committee in Alameda County for ten years, from 1942 to 1952. I was an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1940; and I was a delegate in 1944, 1948 and 1956. In 1944 I remember when


President Truman was nominated for Vice President. It looked as if [Henry A.] Wallace was going to be nominated, but the senior member of the Democratic party in this county at that time was Patrick McDonough, who is now gone. But after looking over the ground he said it was Harry Truman who was going to be nominated for the office, and of course he was right.

Now, I remember President Truman in May 1944, I remember attending a dinner in San Francisco where Truman and [Alben W.] Barkley both spoke. Both of them were United States Senators at that time, 1944, in May.

FUCHS: This was the campaign?

FRIEDMAN: That was before. No, that was before the convention of that year.

FUCHS: I see. Why were they out here?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I guess they were out here looking over the ground to see where they were going.

FUCHS: It wasn't on Truman Committee business?

FRIEDMAN: I don't know, they were out here speaking at a


large Democratic dinner in San Francisco. But in those days it was $25 dinners, not $100 dinners, or as they now have -- the Republicans have, I noticed last week, a $250 dinner. This was a $25 dinner.

Now, let's see. In 1944 when I was a delegate, I remember when Truman was nominated. That was the year he was nominated Vice President; and then, of course, I remember in January '45, I went to Washington for the inauguration and there were several receptions. One was given for Vice President Truman at somebody's house on some street there. I can't remember the people who gave the -- it was a large reception with a…

FUCHS: It wasn't Victor Messall was it?

FRIEDMAN: I can't remember the name, but I remember I saw Mr. Truman there at that time and spoke to him. And then of course a few months later he became President. Well, that brings us up to about all I can tell, bringing us down to 1948.

FUCHS: Did you have any relationship with [Robert E.] Hannegan in the years prior to…


FRIEDMAN: Yes, when he came out here. I remember -- the only relationship I had, he was the National Chairman -- I remember he came out here, I remember he always told us that one thing he learned from many years of experience, and that is to keep his big mouth shut. He died at an early age, I think. And of course, I knew McGrath, what was his first name, Harold?

FUCHS: J. Howard.

FRIEDMAN: Howard. Howard McGrath.

FUCHS: You're talking about the National Chairman in 1948?

FRIEDMAN: That's right. He was the National Chairman, United States Senator; he was formerly Governor of Rhode Island, I think.


FRIEDMAN: And United States Senator, and in 1948 he was the National Chairman. He would send us letters and telegrams all the time, but it looked very, very bad for President Truman.

I remember the convention in 1948, which was a very worried convention. They didn't think that


Truman was going to be re-elected. And I remember it was 2 o'clock in the morning when he got up to speak, and he just put that convention on fire at 2 o'clock in the morning, all tired out. He gave them new spirit.

Well, we came back here and the raising of money was very tough. One of the things you need for the campaign -- I haven't been in any campaigns now for a dozen years, I've been on this bench for eleven years.

FUCHS: That takes you out of politics.

FRIEDMAN: Oh, yes, it does, and I have refrained from it because I feel that that's what we're supposed to do, and I do.

But in 1948 it was very difficult to raise money. It was very difficult to get any action. We'd call a meeting together and we'd turn up twenty to thirty people. And then I got a telegram saying that President Truman was going to stop over here in Oakland and make a speech.

So, I called my little group together. I was County Chairman. I said, "What are we going to do, the President will come here, we'll turn out thirty-forty people, it's terrible. We'd better get a small hall


because it's better to pack a small hall than it is to have a large place and have it half or two-thirds empty."

So, we decided we're going to get a hall that maximum would hold eight hundred people, and then we figured we'd work hard and get that place filled. Of course, we could take the auditorium, the auditorium theater, which holds two thousand people. Or we could take the auditorium arena which holds about six thousand people; but we were afraid to do that because we were afraid that we wouldn't have any audience and it looks terrible. So, finally I struck on the idea, " Let's have it in the park, because you don't even -- if there's only a few people, it won't matter because nobody knows. The park is dark and the lights are all on the bandstand where the speaker is."

So, we had it at the park and the amazing thing was this: The Oakland Tribune, which is a very conservative paper and Republican paper, reported as 15,000 being there. The FBI, who of course came here, reported 20,000.

FUCHS: This the Secret Service you mean?


FRIEDMAN: Yes. The Secret Service, not the FBI. The Secret Service people who came here in advance, and worried me about what we had to do for the protection of the President, they estimated 20,000. And the San Francisco Examiner estimated 25,000. So, we could say that there were not less than 15,000 people there and a very enthusiastic audience. That was on September the 19th, 1948, on a weekday night. And from then on I began to see hopes that there might be some chance of carrying California, but Alameda County we figured was pretty tough to carry.

Well, in the campaign he carried Alameda County by 17,000 votes out of a total of approximately 250,000 votes cast, which is a very small margin, and peculiar as it may seem, that's exactly the amount that he carried the state by. The whole state of California he carried by about 17,000. So, he got all of California's votes, which of course was less than we have now, but it was a sizeable electoral vote.

Well, now, let's see, what else can I tell you. Oh, I remember the train they came on. It was described as a gamey train. Do you know what a gamey train is?

FUCHS: What did they mean by that?


FRIEDMAN: G-a-m-e-y. The reporters on there and all the visitors, they needed a bath. It was gamey. Have you ever heard of that expression before?

FUCHS: Well, I've heard it in regard to game you know, or meat, tasting gamey, you know, strong…

FRIEDMAN: Well, that's exactly the way these…

FUCHS: They smelled strong.

FRIEDMAN: The first thing these reporters did, and everybody else, was to run to a hotel to get a bath because that's what they needed badly.

FUCHS: Well, now you had joined the train…

FRIEDMAN: At Sacramento.

FUCHS: At Sacramento.

FRIEDMAN: He spoke from the rear of the train there to, oh, maybe six, seven hundred people, it was in the afternoon, he was coming down to Oakland. He stayed that night I believe at the Army terminal. I'm not sure exactly, but he did not stay at the hotel. Arrangements had been made for purpose of security.


FUCHS: You mean he stayed on the train in the terminal?

FRIEDMAN: No, I think he had some kind of accommodations at the Army post. Maybe not so, or…

FUCHS: I hadn't heard that.

FRIEDMAN: Well, maybe not. Maybe I'm not -- I can't quite -- memory sometimes plays faults, and since I didn't see him there, so I can't say exactly.

FUCHS: Did you meet him on the train?

FRIEDMAN: Yes. I met him on the train in Sacramento and -- with others. I mean, as Herb Caen said, "I was lower in the hierarchy, although perhaps higher in the lowerarchy." So, you see I wasn't important enough to be one of the hierarchy, you see.

FUCHS: Now, had you met him before when he was here in '44?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, just met him as casually, but I don't think he knew me. But at this time I got acquainted with him a little bit, so the next time I ever saw him he knew me, although I don't know if he could remember my name. But I always make it a business when I meet somebody of that type, to tell them my name so that he


won't be stumbling around, and usually I remind them when I met them, so that he'll have some basis from which to talk. It isn't fair to do that to a man who, as President of the United States, meets so many hundreds of thousands of people. Its a little too much to expect him to know people.

Well, let's see, what else?

FUCHS: Do you recall any of the conversation, any anecdotes or anything humorous or anything at all that might be…

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know that old one about staying out of the kitchen. Of course, you've heard that many times, I'm sure.


FRIEDMAN: I remember him saying something about it that night.

FUCHS: Oh, is that right?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, somebody said to him something about "the newspapers are panning you pretty hard." He said, "You know, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. "I've always remembered it, because I've applied it -- I have quoted it many times when somebody


said to me, "My, that trial that you had must have been a tough one, and you received some criticism."

I said, "You know, as Harry Truman says, 'If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen'."

Now, let's see, any particular…

FUCHS: Is Alameda County normally Democratic or Republican?

FRIEDMAN: Well, it voted for [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. It didn't vote for [Adlai E.] Stevenson. This last election, I think it voted for [Richard M.] Nixon with a little extra -- little vote, but I'm not sure. I don't follow it as closely as I did. In those days I could tell you exactly how every county voted; I can't do that anymore.

FUCHS: Were there any particular issues that you thought were responsible for the votes in the campaign?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I think his appeal to his -- I remember his strong appeal to the effect -- I think it was the 80th Congress that he constantly condemned -- that they were anti-labor, anti-racial, anti-everything, that was his play. Now, the great thing that happened here in this county, I was amazed how all these elements all turned out to do something for him. Labor…


FUCHS: Do you think labor was a big factor here?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, yes.

FUCHS: The fact that the Taft-Hartley Act had been passed over his veto?

FRIEDMAN: That's right. Now, see I've forgotten that. I remember now, the Taft-Hartley Act had been passed over his veto. That was very strong. I remember the fact he had vetoed the McCarran Act and they passed it over his veto. I'm not -- you must check all these things because I, when I make these statements I'm not -- I may not be accurate.

FUCHS: Memory does strange things.

FRIEDMAN: McCarran was in connection with the immigration law. That was one of the things. Labor -- and then of course, you remember that in 1947, I think, there came out that report of the committee that he appointed concerning the position of the Negro and desegregation in the armed forces. That came in his first term, I think.



FRIEDMAN: All these things. We have in this county though, a twenty percent black population. It's the largest percentage of any county in the state. Not the largest number.

FUCHS: I didn't realize that.

FRIEDMAN: Not the largest number, but the largest percentage. One of the reasons is that this was originally, you see, the home base of many black people who worked on the railroads. This was the end of the railroads. So, many of them made their homes here, and their children and grandchildren are here. In addition to that, large numbers came from the South after the First World War, some did. And after the Second World War, and during the Second World War many of them came here to work in the shipyards. So, anyway, we have a comparatively large percentage, comparatively, of black people in our county. The city of Oakland has over thirty percent black, and the city of Berkeley has, reportedly, forty percent black, but the entire country, including South County, San Leandro, Hayward, Fremont and those cities, don't have so many, so that