Oral History Interview with
Special Assistant for Domestic Operations, Office of War Information, 1942-45, and special consultant to the Secretary of War, 1943. Special Assistant to President for minority problems, 1946-52, and an Administrative Assistant to the President, 1952-53. Later served as Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, 1959-61, and as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1961-66.
June 5, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened October, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
June 5, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Doctor, at the end of our last interview, back in February, we were talking about the Committee on Civil Rights, and as the phone rang, terminating that session in February, I was asking you about a possible minority report to the October, 1947 report of the Civil Rights Committee. I have heard, read, understand, that there might have been a possible report by Dr. Frank Graham. What can you tell me about that?
NASH: Well, I don't particularly associate the possibility of a minority report with Dr. Graham, but your question does ring a very faint bell. There was an instruction from the President, if possible, to avoid dissent and try to come up with the one thing that everybody could agree upon, and we did have to do a certain amount of negotiating in order to get that to come about. Consequently, it is true that there were enough individual or specialized interests on the committee so that there were certain areas that some members felt more strongly about than others, and everybody was interested in giving an accounting of his service on the committee to his
constituency, whatever that might be. I associate one of these particularistic interests with the great civil liberties lawyer from New York, Morris Ernst. In the first place, Morris Ernst wanted a good big section in the report on civil liberties, as opposed to civil rights. In addition to that he is prominently identified, or was at that time, with the theory of disclosure; that the way in which you protect freedom of speech and the right of dissent is that you just make certain that when you speak up you make it clear for whom you're speaking, yourself, or a principal for which you are an agent, and so on. So, as I recall, there was considerable discussion about a section on civil liberties, the, Red issue (this was a little pre McCarthy -- but Joe McCarthy didn't invent that issue), but that was finally ironed out, I think, by a footnote reference. My recollection (this is many years ago now), but I think if you look at the report, you will find that at the appropriate place there is a footnote reference, and this was as close as we came to a dissent. And everybody was satisfied with that.
Now, with respect to Frank Graham, I don't think there was an element of dissent, but I tell you what
there was. At the last minute, he asked for a quotation or some invocation of divine grace or something of the sort, which again I think if we take a look at the report we'll find on a page by itself, just before the text begins -- I'm trying to recall, that's twenty years ago now, but you can easily check it out. Now, my guess would be that the story that your predecessor heard about a dissent and Frank Graham being connected with it, has garbled these two episodes: One is that when they got together for the final session where the report was approved page by page, the final session of the committee, that Dr. Graham pointed out that there was a great human area in which man was left out kind of by himself, and thought maybe that wasn't quite right. I don't think in that group anybody was going to disagree with that very seriously, and it was done and I think Frank Graham wrote something that appeared in there -- just one sentence.
The other one was really more substantial, and there was a question whether the committee should confine itself to the relationship of man exercising his rights in the face of interference from fellow man, as against his rights for interference by arbitrary government
action. And, of course, these are not very clear -- cut, and the report deals partly with the one and partly with the other. But there was a group in the committee led by Morris Ernst that felt pretty strongly about the Red issue and Communists in Government, in other words.
HESS: That was probably the minority report that I had written down under the general heading of the Committee on Civil Rights. This is asking you to remember all the way back to February, but do you think we've covered all that, do you recall?
NASH: About everything on the Committee on Civil Rights? Jerry, it's so far back in our conversation
HESS: I asked about the people who were on the committee. I had understood that you had helped write the report, but you set me right on that.
NASH: That really is not true
HESS: You told me about how you provided office space and helped pick the people
NASH: I helped make the selection, but it was Dave Niles' primary responsibility.
HESS: The cards that I'm flipping now are questions that I did ask last time.
In light of today's action on the invasion of Israel, I went through my cards, and my one card on Israel was down quite a ways, but I thought that perhaps we could just bring that up.
NASH: Incidentally, I left home before the Security Council had reconvened.
HESS: I haven't heard a thing since morning. I've been tied up all morning.
NASH: I watched the session on TV.
HESS: How far has the invasion progressed? Are the Arabs actually on Israeli territory now, shooting and killing?
NASH: I don't know who is invading whom. I really don't. Apparently, there was some kind of an air battle in which some planes were downed on both sides, and the Egyptians, at least, say that bombs were dropped on Cairo, or on an airfield near Cairo. The last I heard the Jordanians had occupied a portion of the United Nations headquarters in Jerusalem, and U Thant had demanded -- made some rather strong suggestions to King Hussein to get them out of there. The next thing I heard the Israelis said they had occupied it and were going to give it back, so I don't exactly know what the status is. But there has been active fighting on at least three fronts. Who moved in on
whom I don't know.
HESS: To go back many years what are your recollections on the events leading up to the recognition of the State of Israel? A great big question.
NASH: Yes, it sure is. Well, this was a major decision by Mr. Truman, and one to which he was led very directly by Dave Niles, my boss. He did ask me to do some writing chores, but there was plenty of manpower in the State Department on that, although I'm sure they regarded Dave as a good deal of an interference.
It was, of course, well known that the partition was just about the only answer, once the British had made up their minds to withdraw from the mandated territory. So, the question was, where will the partition lines be drawn. From the standpoint of American Jews, reflecting, I'm sure, the interest of Jews inside of Palestine, the real issues was, "What about the Negev?" This of course is in the southern desert, the tip of which is Eilat, and the existence of that port is what caused the Egyptians to close off the Gulf of Aqaba.
You see, Dave Niles' interest and mine, obviously had to be from the standpoint of the domestic interest.
We were not trying to do the State Department's work, nor were we playing politics with a very important world issue, but I think Dave felt that there were a great many people in the State Department and in the Defense Department who were very fully briefed on what other countries of the world thought about Palestine, or who were very well briefed on exactly what would happen to our petroleum supplies in the event of real disaffection in the Arab countries. But there were not very many people -- except what Dave and I were doing just by ourselves -- who were prepared to tell in an authoritative way what the American people or important segments of the American people thought about Palestine, namely, American Jews and their friends. This, after all, was rather an embarrassing commitment in terms of international politics. It was a commitment that grew originally out of desire on the part of the British in World War I to harass the Turks, so that if they promised British Jews a national homeland, as they did in the Balfour Declaration, and then sent Lawrence and other guerrilla leaders out to cut rail lines and interfere with the Turks from behind, this obviously advanced the cause of the Allies in World War I, and the outgrowth of this was the collapse of the Turkish
Empire, the rise of the Arab countries, and at the same time the demand by Jewish people in England, supported very much by Jews in this country, by our Government, by President Wilson, by resolutions in Congress and so on, that the national homeland should be made real.
So this country had a long history of support for the world Zionist movement, that is for the Zionist aspirations with respect to a national homeland in Israel, not necessarily for the creation of the State of Israel, but for the Zionist objective of a homeland. And we did not partake in any of the machinations that went on with Arab leaders in the Lawrence type of guerrilla warfare. Consequently, we were and still are uncommitted as far as the Arabs are concerned. And we have a commitment of some forty years standing so far as the Jewish people are concerned.
Now, in the time between World War I and in the years after World War II, the Arabic, the Moslem countries is the proper word -- the countries that belonged to the Arab League -- have become important to us for an entirely different reason, having to do with the world reserves of petroleum, and the Defense Department gets very concerned about this. Secretary Forrestal and Mr. Niles
had quite a few rather hot discussions about this subject, and there were certainly a number of people in the State Department who felt that Mr. Niles was playing domestic politics and that there was little merit in his view. Mr. Truman was rather disinclined to be scared by stories about a holy Arab war. He rather thought that having a supply of petroleum would be about the same whether -- in other words, it was a business deal and that whether we were great political friends of the Arabs or not . . .
HESS: If we had the money, they would sell it.
NASH: If we had the money and they had the oil we would find a deal. So he just wasn't very much impressed by the so-called Defense argument. And Dave in particular always thought that the people who talked about a jihad, and I saw that word in the papers this morning the holy war of Muslims -- were just sucking their thumbs and reporting on the flavor, that this expressed their personal preferences and maybe some prejudices too. So, he, I'm sure, had some strong psychological reasons of his own for seeing to it that such presidential action as he had anything to do with, would be taken care of in line with what he thought were the President's own
personal interests, convictions, and so on. Accordingly, in 1947, wasn't it, was independence -- it was '47 and not '46. It seems to me '46 is more like it. Well, at any rate, the official United States position was that we supported international trusteeship, and this was what our representatives in the very early sessions of the United Nations, this was the position they supported under instructions from the President. This did not satisfy the American Zionists and they were very angry at Mr. Truman about this. They wanted to go much further. They were for independence and consequently there was an area of judgment that the President was free to exercise.
If certain forces were working for partition, and the official United States position was for trusteeship, then the trusteeship might or might not be acceptable either to the United Nations as successor agency to the League -- might or might not be acceptable to whatever government came out of the withdrawal. The British were determined to withdraw no matter what, and they had announced they were going to, and the date was well known, and all sorts of proposals were being made as to what to do, and the partition was just the most practical one in face of the circumstances. The United States didn't think it could support it -- honor, for example, some of President
Roosevelt's promises to the Arab countries during World War II, the latter part of it especially. So, this was a case of people doing what they felt they must do for themselves in Palestine at the moment of the British withdrawal, and it was not a case of the United States creating a new country, but a people creating it for themselves while we were supporting something else, really an extension of the mandate concept with the former mandated territory becoming a trustee country under the United Nations. I don't know whether this would have been acceptable to the Arabs or not; it certainly was not to the Jews in Palestine, or their world organizations or their friends in this country. So it was known that they were going to proclaim a new country. The United States was supporting trusteeship, but the UN wasn't acting on that any faster than they're acting on the cease fire declaration this morning. Accordingly, Dave as a practical, not a theoretical operator was interested in the President's reaction to the actualities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The actualities were that on midnight of a certain day, a country proclaimed its independence, and it didn't do this because of any view of anyone in the State Department, or
because of anyone's views in the Defense Department, or because of Mr. Niles or Mr. Truman's views. They did it because they themselves chose to take their own destiny in their own hands at that moment in history.
Well, Dave knew it was coming, so did everybody else, and he simply had ready a statement by the President, which was in fact a recognition of the existence of the new and independent country. It was the kind of thing that anybody could have done. I have no recollection of having worked on the drafting of that statement myself, although Dave was not a wordsmith. But actually, it seemed so unimportant as to how it was worded that I don't even recall that. It might have come out of the State Department or it might have come from several other places.
HESS: The spring of 1948?
NASH: The spring of '48? Well, of course, the thing was very, very tense. By the election of '48 in the fall, General Marshall was in Paris and this was where the UN was meeting, the Assembly was meeting at that time, and under debate was the question of the Negev. So, this was a very hot issue in the election of '48. I've a story to tell you about that in a minute, but you know you wouldn't think a thing like this could slip away from you in a
matter of years.
HESS: I believe it was the spring of '48, but I am not sure.
NASH: Well, it doesn't really make much difference. The famous thing was that six minutes after the thing was proclaimed in Tel Aviv, Mr. Truman had issues a statement, and I don't suppose there was ever a time when such an important action was taken with so little debate and discussion in one of the executive departments, because he had made up his mind what he was going to do a long time before that and he simply went ahead and did it. This was a part of a total package which was primarily intended, I think, the facts being what they were, and the American public's attitude being what it was, to gain the maximum personal and political advantage for the President out of a situation that he didn't create, and which he didn't have much power to alter. But it was perfectly clear what the American public wanted and expected. We simply took action that was in accordance with that line, and the rest of that package, of course, and a prompt state visit by Dr. [Chaim] Weizmann and an opportunity for him to stay in Blair House, as a guest of State, with the flag of the new country flying there and so on . . . you look a little puzzled.
HESS: No, I was getting ready to ask a question about Eddie Jacobson, Mr. Truman's longtime friend from Kansas City, and I just wondered how much influence he had on the President's thinking about Jewish matters, since Mr. Jacobson was Jewish?
NASH: I just don't have any firsthand knowledge of this. I've understood that it was a good deal. But that's something that I've understood only. I know about Dave's assignments for the President, I know what he was handling, I know what he wanted to do and why and so on, and I know that Eddie Jacobson was in and out of the White House all the time, and I have heard that on matters of this kind, Mr. Truman used to ask Eddie what he thought. And he was a lot more concerned with what Eddie thought, than he was with what the experts in the State Department thought.
HESS: There was a time when Mr. Weizmann was in the. United States, and the President, as I understand it, did not necessarily want to see him, and Eddie Jacobson implored the President on the grounds of their old friendship if he wouldn't see him and I wondered if that was close to the '48 election?
NASH: Well, I just don't know anything about that episode.
I don't know of any time that Mr. Weizmann was in this country that President Truman did not see him, and I do not know of any time where he did not want to see him
Now, if you recall, when you get a little bit later into the fight for Israeli independence, and if you recall they got the Negev by fighting for it. The United Nations did not give it to them. They were invaded by their Arab neighbors, and when the fighting was over they had the Negev. They were just tougher, militarily, and then the question was, were they going to be permitted to hold it or was it going to be taken away from them. That was what the issue was about in the UN. This was where Ralph Bunche, you know, got to be a great hero.
HESS: Won the Nobel Prize.
NASH: Won the Nobel Prize. Now, there was a point at which we adopted a position, a stance, somewhat similar to what we're talking today, which is that the maintenance of peace is more important than the issues, and therefore we put an embargo on the shipments of arms to both sides, that is to Israel, and to all of the Arab countries. And this was most unsatisfactory to the Jewish people here. They didn't like it at all. Now, all I can offer
you is speculation. If at that particular moment in history with the Stern Gang conducting acts of terrorism, the Haganah conducting guerrilla warfare, and our posture being one of "We've got to get a cease fire and get some peace," at that particular moment, if Mr. Weizmann had shown up in Washington or New York, I can conceive of it being rather embarrassing to have an official visit. It would not preclude an off-the-record visit, although I don't know that such took place.
HESS: Well, does that pretty well cover the subject of Israel?
NASH: Oh, I promised to tell you another story. I may have it on another tape, so I'm possibly repeating myself, Jerry.
The weekend before election in 1948, General Marshall was in Paris; the question of the boundaries that were going to be set was up for discussion; the Israeli army had taken the Negev, and this goes beyond the old mandated territory, so the question was, were they going to be allowed to keep it, legally. They were going to keep it, all right, but the question was, were they going to keep it with the consent of the UN. And something happened,
I've forgotten just exactly what, on, let me see, the Friday before election. See, there was a big weekend planned in New York. That was the weekend of the civil rights speech, and that's what I brought up. But there was also a rally in Queens, the Madison Square Garden rally and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Brooklyn Academy of Music was a speech about Israel and independence and so on. Clifford was working on it and when I brought up the civil rights speech, the situation in Paris at the UN had become so tense they had to completely rewrite the Brooklyn Academy speech. So, that was done overnight on Friday, and that's why nobody had a chance to look at the civil rights speech. And that's why George Elsey called me up and said, you know, "You better come up."
HESS: That's why they were so busy.
NASH: Yes. They worked all night on this, and did it. In the lobby of the Hotel Roosevelt when I got there at about 5 in the morning, having come up after midnight from Washington with that civil rights speech, I had to work my way through the lobby where demonstrators were sitting in the lobby demanding to know -- it was a Jewish youth group, as I recall -- demanding to know what
General Marshall was doing in Paris. And when I heard on the TV this morning that a group was on its way to sit in in the entry chamber of the UN General Assembly, I was reminded of that. It was very similar.
HESS: The next card I have here is on the Committee on Government Contract Compliance. Shall we take up that general subject?
NASH: The history of that is that we decided, Dave and I, and then Dave took it up with the President and the President agreed that following the civil rights message of 1948 that there ought to be three or four areas of concentration. The Committee on Civil Rights had made certain recommendations, as a matter of fact, there were a dozen recommendations, major recommendations. And some effort was made to put all of these into effect. Some called for legislation, others could be done by executive action. But we felt that the President had to make a record of those where he was particularly responsible personally. That is as Commander in Chief, so that was obviously about the military; as the Chief Executive of the executive branch, this was where
Government contracts came in, and then in the District of Columbia; in the District of Columbia his hands were more or less tied because of the decision that the franchise was even more fundamental on the District of Columbia than equal rights on the racial basis. So, we went ahead privately to encourage some of the private groups to do something about civil rights in the District of Columbia. And the outgrowth of that was that little pamphlet, "Segregation in the Nation's Capital." This was privately done, but the White House hand was in it. I worked with those groups very closely and Dave kept in touch with the development of the pamphlet.
Incidentally, it appeared, came out just on election day in 1948. We had come forth with an Executive order that covered the military. There was strong pressure for a FEPC, particularly as we got into the Korean war. Nobody felt that this was feasible in this context, but I felt there was something that could be done, that would actually be more effective, and which embodies an idea that the original FEPC had had, but where they were thwarted. And that was that the powers to secure compliance by Government contractors with the nondiscrimination clause, was a very potent force, because the larger
the percentage of the economy that goes to Federal procurement, the larger portion of that economy you were making nondiscriminatory, if the nondiscrimination clause is enforced. It it's present and not enforced, then you have a tool you're not using, and you're justifiably criticized. So, it seemed to me, that the liberal forces, as sometimes happens, were tilting at the wrong windmill. They wanted an FEPC, because fair employment had become such a strong symbol in the civil rights movement, we had attempted to deal with the U.S. as an employer by going back to the original powers of the Civil Service Commission. We had dealt with the U. S. in the military, where we were asking the military to do what we were asking private employers to do.
And there remained the question of private employment, but in supply of Government procurement. Even at that time that was around -- Government procurement was in excess of ten billion a year, and that was twenty years ago, direct procurement. And both the first FEPC and the wartime FEPC had been unable to use this weapon, because the Comptroller General held that the clause was advisory, not mandatory. In the face of that, the first two FEPCs felt relatively helpless. Then when you add to
this, the legislative history of the FEPC -- that it had been put out of business by a congressional refusal to fund it in 1945 or '46, it seemed to me that the liberal forces wanting an FEPC and even wanting to reawaken old issues such as the FEPC transit matter and its employment record, that they just couldn't forget the old battles instead of moving on to new ones.
So, we got ready and did the homework, the legal work and so on, to make certain that we could create a committee for the enforcement of Government contracts, that we could legally pay for it, and that its decisions would have some force and effect, and did not call it FEPC. And it didn't deal with private employment, only with contractors who were making an agreement with the Government where nondiscrimination was a condition of doing business. Well, it took a long while to get it out because it was a very touchy matter. Again, as sometimes happens, the liberal groups were so strong in their demands for an FEPC that some people were afraid that this was too mild and that this wouldn't satisfy them. I was more interested in results than I was in satisfying anybody. Not that I was opposed to it but I felt that we had greater obligations. And such weight as I had went to a suggestion that when the
right time had come we would simply issue this thing.
Well, we did issue it at Key West. It was approved on the beach at Key West, and was read over the telephone by Joe Short, then the President's Press Secretary, from the beach to the Key West White House press room. And then we went from the beach, full of sand and salt water, and in our bathing trunks we held a press conference and I answered questions from the press about the Government contract committee, what it was supposed to do in its relation to FEPC and so on. The importance of this, of course, is that from that day to the present, that committee has never been dead. It's the ancestor of the current Equal Opportunity Commission, after 1952 the Republicans simply reissued the same Executive order, and the tradition was established that the Vice President would be the chairman of the Government Contract Committee.
In the Kennedy administration the order was again rewritten, and reissued and all of this was not substantially changed because that was all that anybody could do under the law. You could rework it, you could rename it, you could change the preamble but you couldn't change the essence of it, because we had gone as far as
you could go without additional legislation.
Now, of course, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the necessary legislation was provided, but in the Equal Opportunity Commission you have a number of functions put into it that are considerably more involved than the original contract compliance function. And then it has lost some, too, as it did when the Community Relations Service was set up separately. But the kernel of it for over fifteen, in excess of fifteen years now, has been the power of the Federal Government to name the terms on which it will do business with its suppliers. This is a very, very potent instrument if it's properly used.
HESS: What were the problems in staffing the committee?
NASH: The Government Contract Compliance Committee. Well, I have to have my memory refreshed on that. Oh, yes. All right, well, we can go right down the line.
Well, Dwight R. G. Palmer was picked for chairman for a couple of reasons: First, in the old FEPC, he had been one of the large manufacturers who was very much of a cooperator with FEPC, the General Cable Corporation of which he was the president during the war and also at this time, had an outstanding record of race relations in its plants. We often cited a number of
things that they had done in the General Cable Corporation plants, to make fair employment possible and workable. And as an industrialist, a Democrat, and a successful fair employment employer himself, he was a natural for chairman, and I worked with him very closely from 1950 to '52. And we became very good friends and still are. I think very highly of him.
Jim [James B.] Carey, of course, was the -- obviously you've got to have some labor, some public and so on, members on, a thing of this kind, and in order to fund it, it seems to me that we started out in the Government Compliance Committee by paying for it as an interagency or interdepartmental committee. And, therefore, we had to have some Government agency people represented on it. Jim Carey, at that time, was pretty much the CIO's man on race relations, the "Mighty Mite," you know, he was small, a great liberal within his labor organization, especially in the field of race relations.
Dowdal H. Davis. I saw him just the other day, a Negro, and I'm trying to think just what he was doing then -- a newspaperman, maybe. That seems about right.
HESS: Was he from Kansas City? Was he from the Kansas City Call?
NASH: Yes, I think that's right. I think he was from the Kansas City Call. Mr. Truman was anxious to have -- we always had representatives of the Negro press on these things and this seemed a good chance to bring in -- somebody that . . .
HESS: I think he was the owner and publisher, perhaps one or the other of the Kansas City Call, a Kansas City colored newspaper.
NASH: I think that's probably right.
Irving Engel was a very prominent member of the New York Jewish community, a great liberal. I think he was the head of one of the Jewish organizations, Commission on Race Relations, or Commission on Community Development, or something of that kind. I haven't seen him much in the last few years, but I used to see him regularly. He was a great friend of Niles, and his organization position would make him a natural for membership on a thing of this kind.
Russell Forbes. There my memory draws a blank.
Mike Galvin -- I can visualize him. Oh, he was Under Secretary of Labor, of course.
Oliver Hill, at that time, had just been elected to the city council of Richmond, Virginia. He's an
NAACP lawyer down there, a Negro, a very fine fellow, very bright fellow, and one with a good acceptance in a Southern community, and yet a fighter. I see him every once in a while. He doesn't change.
Everett Hollis I: can't identify.
George Meany, of course, is the George Meany.
Boris Shishkin was the A.F. of L.'s, sort of, gadfly.
HESS: He keeps popping up every now and then.
NASH: Yes -- race relations. A very nice fellow.
John Small was on it from one of the Government agencies, I've forgotten which.
Oscar Smith, probably also. This looks to me like just enough Government people to pay for the Committee. That was their principal function.
HESS: In the report, "To Secure These Rights," the civil rights report of October 1947, the recommendation was made that a unit be set up in the Bureau of the Budget "[t]o review the execution of all Government programs and the expenditures of all Government funds, for the compliance with the policy of nondiscrimination." Was this the first time in the Truman administration that such a suggestion for something on the nature of the Government Contract Compliance was brought up?
NASH: Well, you see, I think you misread the meaning of that statement in the civil rights report. The purpose there was not to deal with contracts, but with Government grants of all kinds. This raised the issue, a very sticky one even today, twenty years afterwards, of whether you ought not to withdraw social security grants, land grant college grants . . .
HESS: In other words, when it says, "all Government funds" it means all Government funds.
NASH: That doesn't mean contracts, it means direct expenditures, indirect expenditures, contracts, awards, allocations, the whole business.
HESS: I see.
Doctor, on the subject of the Government Contract Compliance Committee, not too long ago, I received a letter from Barton J. Bernstein, professor at Stanford University, whom you know, and he had a few questions that he wanted me to ask people when we were discussing the particular subject of the Government Contract Compliance.
NASH: Before you ask the question, let me say that Mr. Bernstein called on me here in this office, oh, eight or nine months ago now. I talked to him for a couple
of hours and after that he wrote me a letter in which he asked me some direct questions. And I thought the questions were loaded and I concluded at that point that the best thing to do was not to reply. I regret that because I think there ought to be open exchanges of views and information between scholars and administrators, especially for those of us who have scholarly backgrounds. But until I gain more confidence in Mr. Bernstein's objectivity as an historian, I don't think I'll reply to questions loaded or unloaded, and these are rather loaded.
Now, what did he ask you?
HESS: The first question was one that you've already covered to a great extent, but it is: "What caused the delay in creating the committee?"
NASH: Well, that's worth a one minute answer. The delay was caused by the necessity to find a formula that would stick, that would stick in the law and that would be effective, in view of the fact that some of the best lawyers in the country, Southern Senators in the Congress of the United States had attempted to tie us up in knots. You don't get out of something like that overnight.
So, this was the basic cause for it; the second one, of course, was the insistence of the ADA and some other liberal elements that there be a recreation of the FEPC, and the feeling on the part of some of us that this would invite a head-on collision with the Senate, would probably cast a doubtful legality on all the actions of the committee, and if you made it too much like FEPC, then under the terms of the rider to the Appropriation Act of 1946 whatever you did would be illegal the minute you did it, and consequently a chairman who would take the presidential assignment under those circumstances, would automatically prove that he knew so little about it, that he wouldn't very well qualify.
So, the delay then was caused by the need to find a satisfactory formula and to do it in an unpressured way.
HESS: Second question is, "Why the halfhearted earlier attempts?"
NASH: I don't know exactly what . . . this is what I mean by a loaded question, "Why the halfhearted earlier attempts?" Well, then, you've got to start and look for some halfhearted attempts. I don't know any -- any
time you have a new idea or a new tool it's the outgrowth of many different efforts to find a workable solution to a difficult problem.
For example, in the District of Columbia alone, there are memoranda in the record, which propose that the licensing power of the Commissioners be used to insure nondiscrimination and integration. For example, in restaurants, restaurants are licensed, well, rather than argue about the status of a law going back to 1870, why don't the Commissioners simply say that beginning January 1, next year, we won't renew licenses unless we get some indication that people will comply with the policy of nondiscrimination. Well, the problem with this, of course, is it's one thing to lead and another thing to get people to follow you. This is not the purpose of licensing, which is basically for reasons of health and law and order and revenue and a lot of other things, where you have to add the other element. It's easy to add the other element if the times are already with you; if they're not, then you'd better watch out that somebody doesn't challenge you and create a situation where you can't make it stick.
So, this may be the kind of halfhearted attempt, that is discussion of various techniques. Bear in mind that the idea of using contract compliance goes back to the very first FEPC, in words, to 1940, so that it was already a decade old by the time Professor Bernstein is talking about.
Now, those were halfhearted, yes. And Mike [Malcolm] Ross, you'll find, refers to those in his memoirs, All Manner of Men. It was through Mike Ross and my liaison with his committee for the Office of War Information, that I became aware of the inspection possibility as an instrument for gaining compliance with a Federal policy, once it was perfectly clear what the Federal policy was. I don't think Professor Bernstein adds much light, you know, when he just says those were halfhearted. Were they halfhearted because they were deemed inadequate or imprudent or something, I don't know.
HESS: Question number 3: "Why was there so little pressure on FHA to change its lending policies which effectively guaranteed residential segregation?"
NASH: Well, this is another loaded question. It is true that FHA was one of the agencies that was very difficult to deal with on the subject of nondiscrimination. And
all you'd have to do is to look at the controversy over the open housing statutes to see that not only the housing industry, but the country as a whole, is a little bit less inclined to go along on the subject of open housing than they are on anything else. In other words, the neighborhood in residence is a little bit closer to the guts of life than the job, or fighting together in the armed forces and so on. In addition to that, FHA is pretty much of an industry agency, and the people that are brought into that agency are industry trained and industry-oriented. The lending agencies are the most conservative of all agencies when it comes to the values associated with segregated housing, or segregated anything.
There wasn't, in my opinion, very much point in going over FHA's lending policies, until the procedures that represented instructions to the work force had been cleaned up in the FHA manual.
Now, Frank Horne, who was the head race relations man at Housing and Home Finance before it became a department, who is now with Mayor Lindsay in New York, and I went to work on those regulations at the White House long before the period that Professor Bernstein is talking about it. So when he says why did everybody
wait so long, one of the answers is to be found in a place like Chicago.
Here you have a tremendous Negro ghetto, you've got big slum areas that need cleaning up, and we had Urban Renewal Authority beginning in what, about 1950. So, comes the question of condemning the land, acquiring title to it, demolishing the buildings and then putting up more modern buildings, but you're not going to eliminate the congestion of the slum unless you have less occupancy per acre than you had when you started. Consequently, to some extent, slum clearance is people clearance and in Chicago, the fact of the matter is there wasn't an alderman who wanted any of those people from the south side in his ward. It has created some very bad public housing. Those high-rise monstrosities along the edge of what used to be Bronzeville and still are, except they are just multi-storied in glass.
HESS: They always remind me of grain elevators.
NASH: Yes, well, they are terrible places to live. They're just better than what they used to be. And this is the answer. Now, when you're struggling with problems like that, I think to go at the indirect thing of FHA just doesn't make very good sense.
Frank Horne was successful in getting the FHA regulations changed.
Professor Bernstein and others like him, who have never had the responsibility of running an agency, apparently don't see why it is necessary to change the instructions to people before you blame the