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Philleo Nash Oral History Interview, October 13, 1966

Oral History Interview with
Philleo Nash

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.

Washington, D.C.
October 13, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]



Oral History Interview with
Philleo Nash

Washington, D.C.
October 13, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess

 

[193]

HESS: Dr. Nash, at the end of our last session, we were talking about Administrative Assistants, and we had got down to Raymond R. Zimmerman. Could you tell me a little about him?

NASH: I'd be glad to, Jerry. Ray Zimmerman, of course, is around Washington and you can talk to him quite easily, if you haven't done so already. He's connected with the foundation at "Meridian House" that looks after foreign students coming into this country, and I see him two or three times a year, usually visiting the Cosmos Club, where he and I are both members.

I really do not know where Ray Zimmerman's connection with President Truman originated. When I knew him, he had an office down the hall -- he'd come in as a new Administrative Assistant -- and I understood that his background was management analysis and personnel -- personnel administration -- and this was what he was doing for Mr. Truman rather early, as I recall, in the Truman administration.

We were friendly, and our offices were just around

 

[194]

the corner from each other. I had relatively few business dealings with him. I was not particularly concerned with personnel administration, as such. I was interested, of course, in the Counsel of Personnel Administrators -- whatever they call that body that represents the top personnel people in the Government -- but only in a generalized way. But over one holiday, I think his first holiday in office, Ray got into a jam, and he needed help and he called on me. I was glad to give it to him, it was a rather interesting exercise.

What was up, was the question of doctors in the Veterans' Administration, and what they should be paid, how they should be selected, whether they would be outside the competitive system as doctors wanted to be, as most professional people wanted to be then, and as lawyers were then and mostly still are today; or whether they would be covered in. Now, if they were to be brought within the framework of the competitive system, it would mean quite a serious inroad into the whole Civil Service concept, because it was the end of the war, the Veterans' Administration was obviously going

 

[195]

to grow, huge hospitals, huge hospital construction, great demands for services, a whole new bureaucracy as there was after World War I, but even much, much bigger, and could you preserve the competitive system and still provide the services that were going to be required.

The thing was "hot" enough so that Ray came down to his office on New Year's Day and he called me and asked me to meet him there. When I came in the door, General Bradley, Omar Bradley was there waiting, and later the head of the Civil Service -- well, the main organization representing Government workers at that time -- I don't recall his name, he was a snowy-haired, middle-aged man who died within the past year or two, if I could recall his name you would know it well, he was around for many, many years. Well, it was a tough situation, because the professional Civil Service people and the Civil Service Commission were very anxious to protect the competitive service.

General Bradley, thinking in terms of services to veterans, and the man who was responsible for physician services in the Veterans' Administration, was very anxious to see that the services were provided, and they didn't

 

[196]

think this would happen if the Civil Service rules were strictly adhered to and, therefore, it was proposed that an exception be made; now whether it was done by executive action or by legislation, I don't recall. Since it was a New Year's Day meeting, it must either have involved pending legislation, which could hardly be the case at that time of year, or possibly a mention in the President's message that was then in its final stages. That's a long time ago, and I don't really remember, but the fight was a tough fight and the President ruled against Ray Zimmerman. He did not think that the services would be performed unless this exemption was provided, at least to a degree, and Ray lost, the Civil Service Commission lost, the Veterans' Administration won, and I think this was a good clear case of Truman's native wisdom and shrewdness, practicality, coming through against an application of the rules interpreted very strictly because, I don't think for one minute that between 1945 or '46 -- '47, that's about the time we're talking about -- and, let's say, ten years later, that the thousands and thousands and thousands of hospital beds

 

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that were necessary to take care of the aftermath, the medical aftermath of the war, as far as twelve million servicemen were concerned, could possibly have been handled under the rules of the competitive service, either in quantity or quality. Now this was way outside my bailiwick.

HESS: Did you talk to Mr. Truman about that any?

NASH: No, I did not discuss this with the President. Ray was looking for help; he was looking for advice; he was looking for support; and I expect he felt he could get it from me. Now, there may have been -- if I was brought in at that point it would have been because there was a minority groups angle. I don't think there was particularly, and I didn't make a contribution. I thought Ray was wrong.

HESS: You agreed with the President's final stand on it?

NASH: I agreed with the President's final stand. This was sort of an interesting example of the way in which somebody handed an assignment by the President may grope around for people whose advice or judgment he thinks he can rely on, who has some objectivity, maybe some familiarity with the way things are done.

 

[198]

Now, Ray left not too long after that. I don't mean because of this. It was a defeat for Ray, but this was not really why he left. There was a rapid turnover at that time. Mr. Truman was reaching for help and for assistance and he tried people and they came and they went and they passed on and many of them are in public life today. If they did not happen to work out at that particular time, it wasn't a reflection on them.

HESS: I believe he left in March of '47.

NASH: Well, you see, this might have been as early as January of '46, but I don't think so. You see, I am talking about a New Year's Day episode, it's more likely to have been New Year's Day in '47 and, by reference, if he left in March that would be about the way I recall it. Well after all you could hardly be a personnel adviser to the President and take on a thing as important as this, a major personnel policy decision, and lose, and then still feel that your advice would be taken. This is really all I recall of Ray. Very nice fellow, and as I say, we are very friendly when I see him now.

HESS: How about Richmond B. Keech?

 

[199]

NASH: Richmond B. Keech. Now, of course, Judge Keech. Here again, I really don't know what the basis for Mr. Keech's coming in was. I had an office, once again, down the hall from him, in what is now the Executive Office Building. He came in, we saw each other in the hall, we got to know each other; I was an assistant to an Administrative Assistant, he was brought in as Administrative Assistant, I called on him -- you know, made my services available to him if he wanted it. The only -- once again -- one episode.

One of the early events of the Truman administration was the filibuster over the FEPC appropriations. This ended in a compromise in which half the amount sought for was provided by Congress with an understanding, either written or unwritten, I don't know which, that no money would be sought the following year, so there was no appropriation request the following year. In the interim, Congress authorized a pay increase, and as is so often the case, the authorization precedes the appropriation, by quite a bit, and the question was, should the members of the executive branch be provided with these benefits without the specific appropriation. An opinion

 

[200]

was sought from the Comptroller General by the Bureau of the Budget, who decided that Congress having authorized the increase must have intended to appropriate the funds and, therefore, it would not be a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, to go ahead and pay the increase as long as a supplementary deficiency bill was pending. But Congress waited and waited and waited to act on the deficiency bill, and when they got to the deficiency bill, they omitted any reference to the Fair Employment Practice Committee. Well this was one of the agencies for which I was sort of informally responsible, and the day that the appropriations bill was signed and became law, it then became obvious that the Comptroller General's advice would not prevail; that is, the conditions no longer prevailed, it was no good. So, we had to liquidate the agency between the time the bill was signed and the close of business that day, and Richmond Keech was handed the job of supervising this particular thing. Now, technical details were way outside my competence, I didn't have anything to do with that, but I was brought into it because in the list of agencies

 

[201]

was my agency, and we, of course, had to do something to protect the employees, because the effect of liquidating that agency on short notice was to restrict them to the funds that had been appropriated up to that point. Now, since some of those funds had been exhausted in pay raises, which now it turned out were not authorized, even though the Comptroller General had said that he thought it was all right, those employees who were then placed on terminal leave had no means of collecting their leave once the appropriations had been used up. So my part in this was restricted to a suggestion, which ultimately was accepted, which was that we have an understanding with the committees, who probably did not want to deal with a series of individual claims against the Government for compensation due, but not paid, that the next money bill that came up would contain an appropriation sufficient to meet the unpaid obligations, and if this were clearly understood by the chairmen of the committees that no issue would be raised about it because it would be understood what it was for. And this was done and it was also explained to the people over at FEPC, which was my job to take it up with the chairman, and they were not happy about it, but they

 

[202]

accepted it, and everybody got their money.

HESS: It was the best thing that could be done at the time.

NASH: It was the only thing to do, there wasn't anything else to do. Congress under no circumstances would have appropriated money -- they were very mad about FEPC at that point, and they had made a hard and fast agreement that if Congress chooses to authorize a pay raise and does not appropriate for it, there isn't a thing in the world that anybody can do. Except that if you work and you are not paid then you have a legitimate claim. So, everybody got off -- you know, more or less without damage -- or relatively without damage.

HESS: Well, we'll come back and touch on FEPC; we'll hit it quite hard one of these days.

NASH: Well, this is just one of the little untold FEPC stories. Well, other than that I had no particular dealings with Mr. Keech. I think he was somewhat interested in District of Columbia affairs and then not long after that he was nominated for the bench.

HESS: He's been there ever since?

NASH: He's been there ever since. And I think the other day I saw reference to him as Chief Justice of what

 

[203]

will be the . . .

HESS: District court?

NASH: Well, I'm just not sure. It's the panel of district judges for the District of Columbia. He may be in an appeals judge by now.

HESS: How about Donald Dawson?

NASH: Donald Dawson was a very interesting man and a very good friend to me over quite a period of years. Don Dawson had been the personnel director at RFC. He had also been in the Air Force, a major I think, and personnel administration was his field, and Mr. Truman was very much in need of a personal assistant on matters of personnel administration and the presidential appointments. So he brought over Donald Dawson from the RFC, and it was about this time that he left his job, for all practical purposes. When do your records show that Don came in?

HESS: August the 5th of '47.

NASH: You see I actually had the position of assistant to David K. Niles as Administrative Assistant.

HESS: Now, Mr. Niles officially left the last of May of '51, but he hadn't really fulfilled the job there for

 

[204]

quite some time. How long I don't know.

NASH: Well, it was well over a year. I mean he was so far out of things that I was moved into his office, but as long as he was alive

HESS: He just wasn't physically able to do the job.

NASH: He was physically unable to do the job, but as long as he was alive and knew what was going on Mr. Truman just was not about to fill that job, but the work had to be done and I just moved out of my office and into his, at the President's suggestion, at about that time. On the other hand, I was not an Administrative Assistant, and therefore, there was supposed to be somebody between me and the President, the President was very careful about the structure of his office, and I was assigned to Don Dawson, so Don then became my boss and I had a daily session with him -- from about 1950 or '51 on. This was more formal than it was functional, in the sense that Don said, "Well, I'm not an expert in your area -- you just have to have somebody to report to, and I just want to know what you're doing," and so on.

Actually Don was very helpful to me. He had good judgment, good experience and I talked over almost all

 

[205]

the things I was doing or thought ought to be done with him, and then he said what he thought and usually okayed what I wanted to do, but many times he was successful in changing my view of things.

HESS: A thought occurred to me. After the time that Mr. Niles was sick was there anyone that you relied upon in particular for advice on Jewish matters? Now, up until this time, you had been more or less in charge of Negro affairs, is that right?

NASH: Negro affairs were primarily my business and Jewish affairs and matters connected with the state of Israel, ensuing on the partition of Palestine were Dave's. No, I would say that I continued to operate primarily in the field of race relations, civil rights, Negro affairs, that insofar as anybody had the direct responsibility, who was reporting to the President, it would be Don. Don, however, didn't feel as though he could thread his way in this tangled area and, therefore, he was rather inclined to ask me. But you see, the big decision had been made. Once the President made up his mind to agree to the partition of Palestine; to give up the battle for U.N. Trusteeship; to recognize the new state soon after

 

[206]

it had been created; to do the ceremonial thing, such as receiving President Weizmann in the White House and having him be a guest of State at Blair House and all of that, then the basic policy matters were pretty well settled, so it wasn't very difficult to operate for the President personally in that field. Oh, there were delegations, there were groups of people that thought they ought to be heard or be permitted to go and volunteer and get a lot of things connected with the Stern Gang, the Haganah, and so on, a lot of controversial matters, but they didn't involve policy. There was an arms embargo on both sides, with the Arabs and the Israelis, in the interest of peace in the Middle East. Well, the extreme Zionist groups didn't agree with this. The smaller groups of anti-Zionists or non-Zionist Jews didn't agree with it either, but for different reasons. All that was necessary to perform for the President in this area was to know who they were and to thread your way among them so that when the correspondence came in, or a request for a speech or some remarks, that nobody would make a mistake, so this I did, but I did it under Don

 

[207]

Dawson's general direction.

HESS: What is the background of the President's decision to recognize the partition?

NASH: Oh well this is a most involved and complex story.

HESS: Shall we hold off on this?

NASH: We can hold off on it but since you've asked the question it is in the record at this point, I mean, the general answer is that the British had reached a point where they did not think they could continue their presence in Palestine. Therefore, they desired to give up the mandate, and rather than arbitrate a civil war -- in fact do what we're trying to do in Vietnam -- to get out.

Another question is, if you get out -- and they were going to get out on an announced date -- what do you then do? The position we adopted publicly, the recommendation of the State Department, our position at the UN, the President's statements, were all designed to lead to a United Nations trusteeship, in other words, you would replace the mandate to Great Britain from the old League of Nations with a trusteeship arrangement under the United Nations. But this was unacceptable to the Jews in Palestine, to the Zionist groups throughout the whole world, particularly in this country but in other

 

[208]

countries as well, and -- I don't know this from first-hand -- it was probably not acceptable to the Arabs in Palestine, or to their friends in the Arab league either -- although I'll have to check that with historical documents, but this is my recollection and my impression now. If this is the case, what can you do?

The solution that was proffered by the Jewish agency for Palestine, which under the mandate was in effect the Government -- at least the Jewish portion of the Government -- their proposal was partition, and so they simply announced that this is what they were going to do, and the mandate would terminate by the withdrawal of the British at a certain moment and they were prepared to proclaim the existence of a new government and a new state, you know one-millionth of one second later, and they simply announced this is what they were going to do, and they didn't particularly care what anybody else did about it. They felt they were able to maintain themselves, which they were, and therefore, Mr. Niles' advice to the President had been all along that this was the fact and that we should accept and recognize this fact, and that the proposal for trusteeship was

 

[209]

unacceptable in Palestine itself and, therefore, nothing would come of it, and nothing did come of it, and the President did recognize the existence of the state four minutes after it was proclaimed.

HESS: Now this was in 1948, is that correct?

NASH: Yes . . .

HESS: May . . .

NASH: . . . before that wasn't it? Either early '48 or late '47. I've forgotten . . . ’48, yes.

HESS: This is when we recognized the State of Israel? May of '48.

Did the name Abraham Feinberg come into this?

NASH: Of course, Abe Feinberg is a well-known businessman in New York; a great friend of the President's; a great friend of Dave Niles; one of those who founded Brandeis University, and he was in and out of the office, more or less continuously. He had no exceptional role that I was aware of.

HESS: But he was in the White House quite often?

NASH: On friendly come and go terms.

HESS: Well, we got off on that by talking about Donald Dawson.

NASH: Oh yes. Now, let's go back to Donald Dawson. So in the --

 

[210]

well somewhere around about 1950 and I don't remember exactly -- I reported to him and I found him thoughtful, friendly, capable. Marty Friedman was his assistant on personnel matters. He is a Washington lawyer with Oscar Chapman -- Chapman and Friedman -- and we had very good and friendly relationship between the three of us. I don't have anything to offer other than that. By this time I was a reasonably independent operator, but structually there had to be somebody to report to and Don was that person and a very satisfactory relationship from my standpoint.

HESS: Now, he had a little trouble with the RFC a little later on. Did that cause him any particular difficulties with his job in the White House?

NASH: Well, it was very embarrassing to him. I always thought it was very much unjustified but it is the kind of thing that can happen in public life. He had been at RFC, and somewhere after that time -- he had been in the White House quite a while -- he went to Miami and stayed at the Saxony. The Saxony had been built, at least in part, with an RFC loan and when he left after a few days and it was time to pay his bill, well he attempted to pay it and they said, "Oh, no, we

 

[211]

won't accept the money, you are a guest of" -- whatever his name was, I don't remember his name -- it was the owner. Well, I think the fact that he was Sax . . .

HESS: George Sax.

NASH: . . . George Sax. Well, it's kind of hard to make people take a check if they don't want to do it, so he returned and that was the last anybody heard about it until it broke into print sometime later. As far as I know, that is all there ever was to the story.

HESS: Let's move on here. Okay?

NASH: Sure.

HESS: What about Frederick J. Lawton?

NASH: Fred Lawton was a career employee of the Bureau of the Budget. My recollection is he had a brief period as Administrative Assistant and then, of course, he was Director of the Budget and had the number two or the number three job in the Budget, too, for awhile, then went over to the Civil Service Commission. You look puzzled. Do your records not show that he was ever Deputy Director of the Budget?

HESS: No, all I have down here is what he was in the White House.

NASH: Oh, yes.

 

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HESS: Now, I knew that he was Director of the Budget, but I didn't know what other posts he had over there.

NASH: Well, my memory may be faulty. At any rate, those are the two things that I associate with him -- well, three things -- the Budget, Administrative Assistant to the President, and member of the Civil Service Commission. I had various dealings with him in all three capacities, and he was an outstanding career civil servant and he had the career Civil Service approach to everything that he did. I worked with him, among other things, on the order that created the Fair Employment Board within the Civil Service Commission, and he was a thoroughly competent technician, a fine human being and I see him around town once in awhile today.

HESS: That's fine. How about David Stowe?

NASH: Dave Stowe. Of course, Dave is in business in Washington now. Labor relations, arbitration, and contract administration. David came up from U. S. Employment Service, and then was in the Bureau of the Budget handling labor and other related portions of the Federal budget, and came into the White House staff as an Administrative Assistant from the Bureau of the

 

[213]

Budget, is my recollection. Again, he had an office down the hall from me. I saw quite a bit of him; visiting, lunch and other times.

My first direct dealings with him were in connection with the wetback problem. Dave called me in one day and he said, "Here you are handling race relations. I've got a group that is much more discriminated against than anybody you're dealing with and here's the story," and so on, and he told me what he had been doing. And, he got into it because the President was particularly disturbed over the reports that in order to get the fruit and vegetable crops harvested in Texas and Arizona, the immigration laws were being flouted with the knowledge of the Immigration Service and with the assistance of the United States Employment Service, where the state agencies were literally backing up trains to the border, non-approved, I don't want to say disapproved, but non-approved migrants were streaming across the border and being helped into the trains and being delivered to their prospective employers. This is, of course, a long, long-standing issue. It is the same one that Willard Wirtz has been working

 

[214]

on, he's working on it for the same reason. The President said he thought it ought to be cleaned up. He thought the crops ought to be harvested, but somehow it ought to be regularized.

So, Dave characteristically approached it in a very direct way. He said, "What we need is a treaty. We ought to have an agreement with the government of Mexico, whereby it will be understood that these people are to come across under these conditions. You can't do it under the immigration statutes, but you can do it under exceptions, you can do it with a treaty."

So, he went down and negotiated the treaty. The treaty provided for a number of protections that were very much needed, as to housing, health, education, safety in transportation, various prerequisites; guarantees of payment and return, and so on. And the thing was regularized, and it did meet the problem in the fields; it did so in a legal and proper way and it did a great deal to upgrade the living conditions of the migrant workers in the Southwest. It was a great public service in my opinion.

HESS: Did you ever talk to Mr. Truman about the Mexican

 

[215]

workers problem?

NASH: I don't recall having any personal conversations with Mr. Truman other than the passing kind. No, this was Dave Stowe's bailiwick.

One of the reasons I was the longest surviving White House assistant was that I didn't take things up that were in somebody else's department. I didn't expect them to take up things that were mine without talking to me about it, and I didn't expect to take up things that were known to be their bailiwick. In other words, I looked after my affairs and assumed that they were able to look after their own, which they usually were. If they weren't they didn't last very long, and if they were they were well able to do it without any interference from me. So I talked to Dave about it, Dave Stowe, and Dave Niles and others repeatedly and, of course, I was delighted to see that progress was being made in this area because this had been a longstanding minority group problem in the Southwest.

HESS: Still having problems today.

NASH: Of course. So, Dave was really the minority groups

 

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man in that field, but it was dealt with as a labor problem, not as a minority groups problem. Now it had another aspect, of course. Part of this was a desire -- that is part of this problem arose out of the desire of the A.F. of L. farm workers to get a minimum wage, and to get some organization, and some better conditions of work in terms of hours and wages for migratory workers whether they were of Mexican origin or other, in the Far West. Now, they were looking for improved policies, a stronger position all the way through. They were never too happy with the agreement. What they would have liked was what Secretary Wirtz is doing now; that is no Mexican nationals coming across the border, and higher wages and more employment for their own people, the American workers -- American nationals. Now, the problem, of course is, as Mr. Wirtz is finding out, can you accomplish both purposes and not waste fruits and vegetables or cause food prices to rise and so on . . .

HESS: Can you get all the tomatoes picked, and all the strawberries picked, and things like that.

NASH: He succeeded in part and I was delighted incidentally

 

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to work with Willard Wirtz on it in later years, you see, because when I was Indian Commissioner, when this program was announced, that is the treaty had lapsed, it was not going to be renewed, and the Labor Department was satisfied that the demands of the A. F. of L. farm workers organizers could be met, and the things that you are talking about wouldn't take place. Well, this meant a big opportunity for American Indian migratory workers. So as Commissioner, I put my people on it right away and we worked very closely with the Department of Labor in the crop season of 1965 -- I assume that this continued in 1966 after I left. I know that we provided about 11,000 American Indian farm workers in support of the Wirtz program through the state employment services.

HESS: Were these from the West?

NASH: Oh yes. Well, they were from all over. The Dakotas, Montana, very heavily from Arizona, New Mexico, a few from Oklahoma, and the Pacific Northwest.

HESS: What were the main type of agricultural products that they helped with?

NASH: Cantaloupe, in the Colorado River, which was one of the first crops to come on in the winter; lettuce, tomatoes,

 

[218]

asparagus in California. But you see in California the growers were fighting this, therefore, you couldn't get any cooperation out of the California State Employment Service. Sugarbeets. Pretty well took care of the sugarbeet situation all over supplementing the normal migratory working flow with American. Indians. And then, the Pacific Northwest, to a lesser degree, fruits, hops -- the big ones are sugarbeets.

HESS: Well Dave Stowe was John Steelman's assistant for quite some time wasn't he?

NASH: That's right. Did he come into the Bureau of the Budget from that conciliation service when Steelman was there, or economic stabilization or what?

HESS: I'm not sure. He was deputy to Steelman from '47 to '49; then he was Administrative Assistant on his own from '49 to '53, so it was probably before then -- it was probably before,'47, when he came in there.

NASH: Then I may have spoken wrongly about his connection with the Bureau of the Budget. But I think that you will find that he . . . well, it doesn't make any difference. He had excellent Budget connections.

HESS: How about George Elsey?

 

[219]

NASH: George Elsey. I saw George on the plane just the other day.

George Elsey was a graduate student at Harvard. He was working for an advanced degree in history with Sam [Samuel Eliot] Morison. As a naval historian, Professor Morison thought the best way to write naval history was to get his young historians into the service. So, George being of the right age and marital status was sure to be put into uniform very soon, so he didn't wait to be drafted, he volunteered, and not to anyone's surprise he turned up as a junior officer in the Map Room of the White House. So, during the war, he just did his duty there and was the soul of discretion, as he is now and always will be, I'm sure.

HESS: Who was in charge of that Map Room?

NASH: Oh, I'm sure I don't know. This was an operation I had nothing to do with, this wasn't any part of my business.

When I knew George he was still in uniform; he'd come in as an ensign, I think by this time he was a Lt. (jg.). Clark Clifford had come in as Naval Aide

 

[220]

or Assistant Naval Aide, I've forgotten which, and the Clifford function as speechwriter and policy formulator was already developing, and he recognized in George Elsey a talent and a willingness for hard work -- he did about three times as much work as anybody else would ever think he was capable of doing, let alone doing -- and he drafted George, and George wrote many of the speech drafts, in the most critical period. He was young, he was intelligent, he was hard working; was a great contribution and a great service.

Well, subsequently George became an Administrative Assistant, and performed magnificently, but somewhere he stepped on somebody's toes. I don't know whose. I do know that Mr. Truman felt that George was going to hurt himself if he stayed where he was. Mr. Truman was very close to him and regarded him almost as a son. So George became Averell Harriman's assistant.

HESS: In the Mutual Security Agency?

NASH: The Mutual Security Agency.

HESS: That was in 1951.

NASH: And he continued there -- of course, I'd worked with him on speech drafting, in many areas, and always where

 

[221]

civil rights was involved, but when there were speechwriting chores to be done, and other areas too. Let me see, it was fairly close to the end of the administration that George left. Where did he go when he left Averell Harriman?

HESS: I'm not sure. Now he went over there in 1951.

NASH: But your records don't show what happened after that?

HESS: No. He stayed there for quite some time.

NASH: Oh, well, I think all the way through -- I think right close to the end. Maybe in 1952 or even '53. At any rate, he is now assistant to the president of the Kellogg Company, an international engineering firm, and when I came back from the Middle West last week he was on the plane, he had been out to Boulder to make a speech.

HESS: We'll get into some of the speeches in a separate category here. We'll probably touch on your relationship with him in speechwriting.

NASH: Well, we were, and are, very close -- a very outstanding man to whom the country and Mr. Truman really owe a great deal.

HESS: How about Stephen J. Spingarn?

 

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NASH: Steve Spingarn was an Assistant General Counsel at the Treasury when he was brought over for special duty -- I think in the early months. of 1948. The special message that went up on February 2nd was being drafted, and George Elsey and I worked on that, but it was originally proposed that legislation would go up. An omnibus civil rights act was prepared with a number of titles, covering everything from fair employment all the way through. And it wasn't known exactly what would be done with that but in order to be ready, the legislation was prepared and Charlie Murphy had the general responsibility for preparing the legislation, and he thought well of Spingarn and, of course, Spingarn, because of the Joel Spingarn -- Arthur Spingarn relationship with the NAACP, was really more or less of a natural choice; very capable lawyer, a very good background in this area, and he worked on the legislation at the same time that George Elsey and I worked on the special message.

HESS: Now, why was it decided to send a special message instead of proposed legislation?

NASH: It wasn't instead. Originally, it was proposed that there would be a special message and legislation that

 

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would go up as an executive communication at the same time. Well, you know, "Dear Mr. Speaker, I submit herewith." I don't know exactly what happened -- I can surmise it. The message, of course, was a very strong message; one that in the atmosphere of those days was deemed very far out and bound to cause a great commotion and disturbance, and my impression is that the congressional leaders asked that the legislation be held in abeyance.

HESS: Back to the message. Why was such a strong message worded and sent to Congress at this time?

NASH: Oh well -- partly a policy decision and partly a political decision. I don't think policy and politics are very far separated at any time and especially not in the field of human rights.

HESS: Especially early 1948.

NASH: In early 1948. You had had a committee, and the committee made a study, and there had been these terrible events, people being murdered in the daylight, and so on, and the country is very aroused, and parades going up to the Lincoln Memorial, and "I will have a commission," and the commission made its report, and then comes the question

 

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of what are you going to do about it.

So originally it had been proposed that following the report it would be dealt with in the State of the Union message, but this seemed inadequate, and I think it was inadequate. So it was concluded that here would be a special message, but it had to be done right away, and therefore, it was done right away. Well, we worked on it all of January, but we did some work on it before that.

HESS: Was the fact that Mr. Wallace was starting to make sounds like a political candidate at this time given any consideration?

NASH: If it was, it didn't take place in any conversations with me. The point is that for every vote that Mr. Wallace could bring off on one side you had another one that was being drained off on the other side by [Governor J. Strom] Thurmond, the Dixiecrats generally, so, no, I think this was -- the times called for it and this was part of Mr. Truman's philosophy, you know "The Buck Stops Here." There eventually comes the time when you've got to cut bait and start fishing.

HESS: On the subject of J. Strom Thurmond; was it thought that coming out with such a strong civil rights stand would cause a split in the party, as ensued at the convention?

 

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NASH: I don't know of this from any personal conversation, but it seems to me fairly obvious that that would happen That it was likely to happen but it was -- if it didn't happen, if your interest in unity is so great that you wouldn't do it, then you forfeit your right to leadership. I don't think anybody was better aware of this or more fully aware of this than Mr. Truman. To Clark Clifford, I think was a moral matter -- you have a moral imperative -- you have to do it.

HESS: You think Clifford wanted to do it because he thought it was right?

NASH: I certainly do -- I heard him say so.

HESS: What do you think Mr. Truman's view on that was? Do you think he thought it was politically expedient or do you think that he took the moral view?

NASH: I think he took the moral view and not the political view.

HESS: Did you ever hear Mr. Truman make any statement along that line?

NASH: Not at the time of the decision that you're talking about. Now, I've already told you what he said when I brought up the Harlem speech on civil rights which

 

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was that . . . ?

HESS: No, we put that off.

NASH: Oh, did we put that off?

HESS: You mentioned that and we'll get to that when we get to the speeches.

NASH: Well, you never know exactly when it may come up so I'll say that I did not have any conversation with Mr. Truman about the strategy of 1948; that is, a special message or a part of the State of the Union message, or anything like that. All I know is, that a decision was made, not in my presence, that a special message would be devoted to it; that this should go all the way with the committee and should not pussyfoot on anything that the committee recommended. So you had a strong recommendation from the committee, and you had a strong recommendation from the President, even going to the drafting of the necessary legislation, but at this the congressional leaders balked. Do I know what went through Mr. Truman's mind with respect to the politics of it? No. All I know is that when it was up for discussion later and we were through the convention, and we were campaigning, then he said, "I've been wondering when we were going to talk about

 

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this." I had written a speech which rather stressed unity and he took the unity out and he said, you know, "It's more important to be right than it is to be united."

HESS: Party unity?

NASH: Country unity -- not party unity -- country unity. And he said, "Unity is a weak concept. Mr. Dewey has been talking about unity. I want to do what's right even if we can't be united on it." But, I think the "we" of that was with the country rather than the party.

HESS: Was this part of the Harlem speech?

NASH: This was in the last minutes at breakfast, revising the final element of the Harlem speech.

HESS: We'll cover that a little more when we get up further along.

NASH: And that was the first discussion I had with Mr. Truman personally on the subject.

HESS: Well, that's Stephen Spingarn when he was first brought to the White House in February of '48. Was that more or less of a trial period do you think?

NA