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.
October 24, 1966
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
October 24, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Dr. Nash, before we get underway here, I should mention for the record that during the last interview we were both referring to the 1948 volume of Public Papers of the Presidents, and were quoting from it, so, we should mention that. And also, I noticed that the remarks that you wrote for St. Croix are also in the book.
I had asked a question and we got off onto some other things, but how did David Noyes become a member of the White House staff? Why was he brought in?
NASH: You asked me about this the other day, Jerry, and I don't exactly know. Who brought him in or where the initial contact was made, I don't know. I don't know that I've ever heard it discussed. He was very capable and had a very outstanding reputation on the west coast for public relations work with a number of west coast problems, one of which, I think, was the California Citrus Growers Association. I talked to him about this a couple of times, and I think he performed outstanding work for the President in the 1948 campaign.
Of course, he's been close to him since then. Like anybody in the public relations business, he's had some ideas that didn't always pan out and one or two of them, I think, were serious mistakes, which were caught barely in time, the mission to Moscow being the outstanding one.
HESS: That was his idea, is that right?
NASH: It certainly was, at any rate, he thought it was, and now Albert Carr thought it was at the time, and everybody on the White House staff thought it was at the time. Now, once again I didn't take part in these discussions where Dave Noyes brought it forward. I simply say that it was the understanding that this was a Noyes idea.
HESS: Was Albert Carr also thought to be one of the authors of that, or not?
NASH: Well, Albert Carr, and I think I've indicated some uncertainties as to just what he was doing. I've checked my notes as well as my recollection, and he was just down the hall from me and not very far away from John Franklin Carter during the '48 campaign. I now recall that I had quite a few discussions with him,
including the subject of the mission to Moscow. Now, he was brought in by Noyes, and he was a close associate of Dave Noyes, so it's entirely possible that it was his original idea. If so, I don't know it.
HESS: In the book on George C. Marshall for the series on American Secretaries of State, Dr. Robert Ferrell states that, "Two of Truman's speechwriters, David Noyes and Albert Carr, apparently conceived the idea of sending Chief Justice Vinson to Moscow." But I noticed one interesting thing in Carr's own book, Truman, Stalin and Peace, he makes many references to the Vinson mission, but he doesn't say anything about his own possible role in the formulation of such a plan. So, I don't know.
NASH: Well, if it had been my idea I don't think I'd brag about it either.
HESS: Maybe that's why he didn't. You mentioned another area where perhaps Noyes had stubbed his toe, so to speak. Was there anything else?
NASH: No, this is the one I was thinking of. I see what you're getting at. I'm not an admirer of the idea of getting out all those books, some during Mr. Truman's tenure in the White House and some afterwards. I think
they have somewhat tarnished his image. If you're going to do things like that they have to be done superbly and these are just not done that well.
HESS: What books do you have in mind?
NASH: Do you remember that picture book?
HESS: The one entitled Mr. President?
HESS: Wasn't that mainly William Hillman's?
NASH: Yes, but I always had Dave Noyes credited with the idea of it. Maybe I'm wrong. Again, I'm not speaking from firsthand knowledge. I just say that the White House gang at the time thought it was . . .
HESS: They did work quite closely.
NASH: I know that Bill Hillman worked on it. I'm not talking about the execution of it, I'm talking about the concept and the supervision, and I just don't think it was done very well, or that the selections were very good, and that it wasn't in very good taste. And it eventually wound up on the remainders list which is not very good for the presidential image either.
HESS: Did Noyes travel on the train in '48 or did he stay around the Executive Office Building?
NASH: I really do not recall, and bear in mind that I was only on one in '48, only with the President during the campaign at the time of the Harlem speech, and I didn't go up on the train. And they left New York and went out of Kansas City when I went back to my desk in the White House. So, I wouldn't have any direct personal experience with it. Carr was back at home base most of the time. Dave Noyes had an office and I visited with him a couple of times, and I assumed that when he wasn't there he was on the train, but I don't know that.
HESS: On the subject of Noyes, and getting on to speechwriting, do you know if he was connected with the speech that was given in Chicago on October 25? That speech was one that mentioned Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, and in a way, intimated that Dewey was on their same level. It has been characterized by certain authors as the "crudest" speech given by Truman during the campaign. Do you know of any connection?
NASH: No, I just have no knowledge.
HESS: Do you remember anything about that speech?
HESS: All right. On your speeches, you helped some on writing the rear platform speeches, is that correct?
NASH: There were so many of them, several hundred.
HESS: In your files, of which I have a xeroxed copy of the shelf list here, it mentions the Grand Rapids and Flint, Michigan ones. I was wondering if you could tell me just how were those speeches written?
NASH: I told you last week that I would take a look at my chrono files, but I didn't do it, but I have no separate, distinct recollections of those after all these years, at all. I'm sure that my chrono files would have whatever rough work I did on it. I could tell you in general what happened with those rear platform speeches. George Elsey was aboard the train and he had a looseleaf book, and in it was a page, or actually a little folder, a ring binder, for each stop. And background material was accumulated in that folder, using standard sources: the Government agencies were asked to tell about work in progress that would be of interest to the community; the research group at the Democratic National Committee was charged with going back to the WPA manuals, and various writers' projects, to get lore; the committee was also responsible
for getting in touch with the politicians in the neighborhood to make certain that all the necessary mentions of people were there, and that they were invited on the platform and all that.
Now, when it came to whipping this together into something that the President could use, this was George Elsey's primary operation, and he was on the train, made every trip, was there continuously, and was just tireless and indefatigable on the whole thing. It was an amazing output of energy and talent, which everybody respected, but I particularly, because I know what hard work this is. Various formats were experimented with. I've talked to George about this at some length. They started out with a short format, about three pages, double-spaced and paragraphed. If the President wasn't tired and he preferred just to page through the background material and then speak off the cuff, he could do that. But if he was tired, it if was the end of the day, if he'd had a lot of visitors, or he had just been talking to somebody and just really hadn't had time, then it was necessary to have prepared material in order to cover the situation.
As the campaign went on, and everybody got broken in more and more, from the President on down, there was a good deal less reliance on the three pages of formal English, partly, I imagine, just through sheer desperation. The work piled up, and they got further and further behind, and there had to be revisions on the major speeches, so they just couldn't keep up. That was the point, I think, where very short, sharp sentences that were hardly more than reminders of subject matters and lists of names and events were thrown in, and this turned out to be the best way to do it, because it was enough of a reminder for Mr. Truman and then he took off in his own natural style, which is a very good style, very communicative style, very pithy, it's short, to the point, very terse, and oftentimes, more than colorful, but very dramatic in his presentation. Well, after this discovery was made, then the objective from there on was to recapture that flavor and make it possible through the format for other speeches that didn't have to be written out full length and released as a text for other occasions. The experiences of the '48 campaign proved invaluable in later years. This is, as I say,
secondhand from George Elsey, as I pointed out, I was not on the train.
HESS: This gets us pretty well up to the . . .
NASH: I came across one interesting thing in my papers while I was sorting them over the weekend. Charlie Ross wrote a piece for Collier's magazine, you know, "How we won the '48 election." Of course, basically, he credited the President with it; nobody else could have done it, nobody else did do it, which is entirely correct. But I had torn the pages out of Collier's as a souvenir, and I discovered on rereading it that he credits both George Elsey and me with having written a number of the speeches. I did some, as I told you the other day, but this indicates some that I don't remember. Or, maybe Charlie was just being generous. He was a very generous man.
HESS: Well, you did work quite hard on the Harlem speech, is that right? Is that what we're up to now?
NASH: Well, I guess so.
HESS: I think so. Tell me about the Harlem speech, the background of it . . .
NASH: Well, of course, this is a long story. This was almost entirely my effort, so I don't have any trouble
recalling the details on this one. It was clear from the beginning of the campaign that there would have to be a major speech on civil rights before the end. My feeling, which may have been communicated in the written memo, or may just have been passed on verbally to Niles or Clifford, or both, was that the President should be silent, so to speak, on the subject, leaving everybody wondering and guessing until right up to the end of the campaign.
HESS: Which was done.
NASH: Which was actually done. At that time then, say the Friday or Saturday before the Tuesday of election day, that he should then make a major appearance and hit it very hard. I started preparing drafts for this speech well in advance. I remember going over them with Carr, with John Carter, and just about everybody else that I would have normally have checked with on a matter of this kind was on the campaign train. So I kept putting drafts into the pouch.
My philosophy in preparing the speech, other than to put it as close to the President's own natural method of expression as I could, knowing that there wouldn't be much time for extensive revision, was to make it very
clear that he was speaking as a moralist, as what the oldtimers would have called a "moral philosopher," not as a politician, or administrator, or as a candidate. In other words, he was speaking as President more than a man seeking office. He was not to be concerned very much with his opposition or his opponent, and since this was in many respects the great hidden unknown of the '48 campaign, it seemed to me that it had to be very powerful, but that it would be even more powerful the more it was phrased in nonpolitical, nonpartisan terms without any pettiness whatsoever. In other words, he was to be concerned with principles and not with procedures.
In addition, this was -- the occasion that had been provided as a forum was a meeting of the Council of Negro Clergymen. This was all handled as part of the New York advance. I'd been looking for a major occasion for a full twenty minute speech. It just wasn't possible at the Madison Square Garden appearance and the Brooklyn Academy of Music appearance. That took up the two nights that were available before he went west for a final appearance Monday night, and since Mr.
Truman wouldn't campaign on Sunday, then that meant Friday and Saturday and Monday and then that was it. Well, I kept polishing these drafts and finally we got up to number six, as I recall. Each one I put through to the train, in the pouch, without hearing anything, without getting any inkling back as to whether the tone was right, or wasn't right, or whatever. I think we were already up to late afternoon or evening of Friday, and the time that had been set was in front of the public high school at Dorrance Brooks Park, an elementary school, not a high school. Across from City College, and Dorrance Brooks, of course, was the first Negro serviceman killed in World War II. He was a gunner's mate at Pearl Harbor, and this park was named for him, and it was appropriate in many respects in terms of a true Negro hero. The public school offered opportunities for a backdrop, of platforms to be erected in front of it, suitable connections for electricity, and security people, and so on.
Now the security people were very much worried about this appearance. No President had ever made a stop at Harlem before. They may not have even driven through the streets. It was regarded as an unsafe area.
They did pour on very large numbers of security people.
Well, late in the day on Friday, I had a phone call from George, "We're
up here in New York. We're at the Roosevelt. We have to rewrite the
Brooklyn speech. Everything's in a mess in Paris on the UN Assembly,
they're meeting on the partition of Palestine on what terms the mandate
will be released, and so on, and whether the Negev will be included or not
is being debated and it's very serious, and George Marshall is there, and
we have to rewrite the entire speech and that's all anybody has time to
do. We'll all be up all night. We had planned to take a look at the Harlem speech tonight.
have time to look at it, you're the only one that knows anything about it, that's even read it all, so Clifford thinks you'd better come up overnight and be prepared to talk to the President about it in the morning."
So, I scooped up what copies of the speech I had, thinking that they might even have lost those and got up to New York, arriving at about 5 o'clock in the morning. I don't recall exactly how I got up, I think probably on the last train that leaves Union
Station. That's about the only way I could have done it at the time. Anyway, I got over to the hotel. I could hardly get through the lobby. The situation over Palestine was so tense that the Zionists were holding an overnight vigil. There were groups of Jewish war veterans and some young Zionist people that had really filled the lobby shoulder to shoulder. They were praying and singing, and at regular intervals, about fifteen minutes, calling the President's suite to demand an answer as to what he was going to do about the U.S. position before the UN in Paris.
Everybody in the presidential party had been working all night on the speech, and I started taking those calls as soon as I got in at 5 o'clock. I went right up in the elevator and they had even forgotten to make me a room reservation, but I didn't get a chance to sleep anyway, so I went into George Elsey's office and started taking these calls. Somebody had to talk to people. Everybody else was exhausted and was catching a little nap.
The President's program called for him to have breakfast, then meet on the speeches for the day, including the drop-in at Harlem, but there were many
others, twelve or fourteen others. Then to shake hands with the party workers in the New York headquarters, then to get into a motorcade which had, I think, about a hundred motorcycle policemen at its head with their cutouts taken off, and go up along the river, the west side drive, and all the way up to Yonkers, and back through the Bronx, stopping off in Harlem, and coming back to the hotel about 3 o'clock; lunch in the Bronx and a 2 o'clock rally for ten minutes at Dorrance Brooks Park. Well, the President adhered to the schedule fairly well, but he was running a little bit late, so breakfast was delayed, and the meeting in the dining room of his suite was somewhat delayed, and finally we all got in there. It was a good sized group, and it was little bit hard to recall exactly who was there. I was somewhat surprised to find Eddie Jacobson there. I guess my surprise at that is perhaps why I recall his name. I think there must have been a dozen of us. I really do not recall who all the others were. Of course, George was there, Clark Clifford, I'm sure Niles was not. That's really all I recall. Mr. Truman sat at the head of the table and said, "Well, what is
this one all about?"
So, Clifford signaled to me that I should do the speaking, so I just said, "Mr. President, I brought up a draft of a speech on civil rights for the Harlem rally."
And he said, "Well, I've been waiting for a long time to get this taken care of. We should have done it sooner." I didn't, of course, argue with that. He said, "Let's see what you've got." So he read it all the way through once without stopping, read it aloud, paragraph by paragraph. And when he got through he said, "Well, anybody who isn't for this, ought to have his head examined." I don't think he meant the speech particularly. I just think he meant the subject of civil rights and so forth. There was then some discussion, and I've forgotten just who took part in it, but there were the usual "nervous Nellies" who said, "Well, you know, we're in very close elections in Tennessee, and Kentucky, and the border states and so on, and we have to do this and so on. " And the President just rode them all down and said, "Of course we have to do it. We should have been doing it all
along. It doesn't make any difference."
And this led him then to discuss the only thing that eventually wound up with any substantive change. I didn't want to close the door on partisanship completely and therefore, I had written in a very mild reference. I'd said referring to the work of the Civil Rights Committee, that what they showed us how to do was to have unity. "Many people speak of unity but it's the work that's done for unity that really counts." This of course was picking up the Dewey theme of "unity," but trying to convert it to our own purposes, but again in a very broad sense. Well, Mr. Truman didn't think very much of that. He looked at me in a very kindly way and he said, "I can see what you're trying to do." But he said, "Unity is basically a weak concept." He said, "It isn't only the way Mr. Dewey's been handling it and has been talking about it. We should be doing what's right even if we can't be united about it. And this speech is about what's right. So it doesn't make any difference about unity." So then various people suggested other words and there wasn't time to make much of a change. I've forgotten who came up with the idea of freedom. I
might have myself, maybe somebody else did it. It doesn't make any difference. "That's fine. That's a good word." So you have a rather incongruous sentence the structure of which is repeated four or five times about what the Civil Rights Committee showed us was how to have freedom in this country. "Many people talk about freedom, but it's the work that's done for freedom that really counts." Well, it's an 0. K. sentence, but it doesn't make the same kind of sense in the context that the other one did. I'm sure that he was right. He usually was in matters of that kind. In the first place, it was his speech, but even if it had been the other way around, he made a suggestion for a good change.
But after the meeting broke up, and Charlie Ross, who was one of those present, then said, "Come on, Philleo, you and I have some work to do." So we rushed out to the typist, broke the thing up into pages, and gave it to them to cut stencils, while the President went down to shake hands with the workers. Well, I kept after the girls and picked up the stencils and things of that kind. They'd been typing all night long on these
revisions of the Palestine speech. They were just dogtired.
We finally got it done, in pieces, and Charlie said, "I'm going down to the communications center," in the headquarters there, "to get this run off. You go out and get into my car so we can go out to the rally together." So I did. And it didn't come and it didn't come and it didn't come. I finally went back inside because the motorcycles were starting up by this time with their motors going, and the Secret Service was getting antsy and they said, "Look, the President's going to be here in a minute and we're not going to sit here and wait." So I went down there and found Charlie Ross running the mimeograph machine himself. All the mimeograph operators were in line shaking hands with the President. Charlie ground the thing through the stencil himself. Well, he finally got them out. The stuff was all, you know, wet and smeary, and kind of an amateur job. He took a sheaf and broke it in half, gave me half, and he said, "Give this to the number 2 press bus and I'll give it to the number l." We had two press busses.
So the newsmen were all there waiting for the President
to come up from shaking hands and get in line and start the motorcade. And we just barely made it. The President was out and in his car, and we did actually hold them for a minute or so, and I knew Charlie was hurrying up the stairs, and I had thrown my batch in mine and he was coming along and was going to throw his batch in the press bus and he threw them in, the doors closed, he jumped into his car, which was the next in line, and we started out.
Of course, it was the biggest story of the day. The next morning the speech on Palestine would be bigger, but for the day, it was an afternoon story, and it was the civil rights story of the campaign, and they had been waiting for it, and it was going to be petty close to an hour-and-a-half before the first one of those newsmen could file a story. They were furious, but we couldn't help it. You could see -- you could almost see those busses vibrating with rage, because they wanted to get out and file that story. Well, we didn't stay anywhere long enough to file a major story, other than just a bulletin, until we stopped for lunch somewhere in the Bronx in the Grand Concourse, a hotel, a ladies luncheon.
And then they had a chance to file their stories, and we all had a chance to wash up and eat, and then we got into the cars again, and the first stop was Dorrance Brooks Park.
When we got there the first thing I saw was this tremendous crowd. I found out afterwards they had started gathering at 10 o'clock in the morning, four hours before, and there were very few seats, it was almost entirely a standing crowd. The police estimate, as I recall, was about sixty or seventy thousand. I would think that this was correct without any exaggeration for political purposes, because Dorrance Brooks is a good sized park at the intersection of some streets in Harlem. And it was just about solid with people right up to the CCNY fence , and then as far out on either side as you could see until the buildings began to converge. The hillside back of CCNY was sprinkled with students who had placards and signs: "Give 'em hell, Harry," "Pour it on, Harry," the usual thing for the campaign that had become commonplace by that time.
The ministers were gathered on the platform and were ready to receive the President, and I did not, of course, go up on the platform. I was working. I wanted
to make sure that the platform arrangements went all right, because the platform wasn't really quite big enough for all the guests that wanted to be on the stage with the President the first time he was in Harlem. I wanted to see that, you know, that they were properly taken care of, or if they just had to stand around in this big crowd that they at least had some attention paid to them. So I had my back to the crowd and when it was time for the President to get up and speak, after they'd had the ruffles and flourishes and invocation and a rather lengthy prayer, I heard -- there was applause -- and then I heard the CCNY students saying and shouting, "Pour it on, Harry," "Give 'em hell, Harry," and then all of a sudden the cry wasn't being taken up by anybody and it was sort of fading away, and then they felt they didn't have any support for what they were saying, so they became silent, and all of a sudden, there was a big crowd, but a silent crowd.
Well, this is rather ominous, rather .frightening. I had my back to the crowd and I just wondered whether I'd been wrong in urging that this be done and that the
people who said it wasn't safe were right, and the whole platform was ringed by row after row of these guys with the Secret Service badge for the day on, who had been brought in from all over: Security Service, Immigration and Naturalization and all that, customs inspectors, and everything else. So, I finally turned around and faced the crowd and then I saw why they were silent, it wasn't ominous. Almost everybody in that crowd was praying, either with his head down or actually was kneeling. They were quiet because they were praying, and they were praying for the President, and they were praying for their own civil rights. And they thought it was a religious occasion.
So that was my first real face-to-face indication of the depth of feeling that the people who were most intimately concerned with civil right had about Mr. Truman , and I think ought to have served to a good many people as an indication of what was going to happen with the Northern Negro vote -- well, with the Negro vote, because there wasn't much Southern vote in those days.
HESS: Let me just put in something right here. It's a
clipping I found at the Library from your files. It's on this same subject. It's from the Chicago Sun-Times. It's by Carleton Kent, dated November 17, 1948, after the election. I will just read a little bit of this. It says:
Truman Campaign Highlight
Every time I hear casual or cynical (or wishful Southern) doubt expressed over President Truman's earnestness in campaigning for enactment of his civil rights recommendations, I like to remember the Harlem meeting.
It occurred the Saturday afternoon before election, at an open-air stand around which scores of thousands of New York Negroes had been praying and singing for hours as they waited the President.
The occasion was to present Mr. Truman the annual medal awarded by a Greater New York committee of Protestant Negro ministers -- and to afford him a sounding board for an appeal for Negro votes.
That's the main part, but what Mr. Kent says in this article, is that it appeared to him to be a religious meeting, rather than a political meeting.
NASH: I remember that clipping very well. Carleton Kent -- of course, he's still around town, you know. I see him every once in a while. Well, he had the mood of the occasion all right.
Mr. Truman then went back to the hotel to rest up a little bit and get ready for the big event of the evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I did not ride back with Charlie Ross. My friend, Ted Poston, who was then working for the New York Post, as he still does, had arranged to have drinks with several members of the Negro press at the Hotel Theresa, which is not far from Dorrance Brooks Park, so I went with him to sit down and talk over what had happened and give them background so that the interpretation would be helped along as much as possible over the weekend.
HESS: What was their impression of the President's appearance that day?
NASH: They thought it was tremendous, and caught the full meaning of it, the full impact, right away. This was a one-issue press, these are one-issue specialists, and they don't need any help in interpreting exactly what's going on, but I knew they'd want to know, how come, and why wasn't it done sooner, and is this the
only one, and what about it, and how is it related to the Executive orders; in other words, they wanted background information that they could work into their stories.
Now, of course, this was basically too late, the Negro press being a weekly press, for them to get these interpretations out in such a way as to influence their reading public, but one of the things that I found out later doing research for the Office of War Information in 1943-44, is that those who read Negro papers also read the national press, the dailies or other weeklies, or both, and it is not so much that they are looking to the Negro press for the news that is not in the other papers, although this is true in part, but when they see something in the daily press and then see it again in the Negro press, then it acquires a reality that it didn't have up until that time. Psychologically it's a reinforcement. So I was thinking of the long haul, and of the support that Mr. Truman, when elected, would need from his public, which I wanted to have be as close to a hundred percent for him as I knew how to devise it. So, we had had a very carefully planned out strategy for many years, and this was to be the
culmination of it, and I didn't want that lost on the Negro press. So rather than ride back with Charlie Ross and talk over what had been a great day and a moving experience, I stayed, you know, to keep on working. Afterwards, I took a taxi back to the hotel.
Everybody, of course, was exhausted from the night's work, and then the day's work, and was resting getting ready for the night appearance, and the start of the trip to St. Louis and then on to Independence, the final broadcast being from St. Louis Monday night. So I hadn't had any sleep either, but I was still pretty steamed up, so I was just walking down the hall when along came Mr. Truman. He had been working harder than anybody else, but he was lonesome, he was looking for somebody to talk to. So we talked about the meeting and he said, "Well, that was the high point of the campaign. That was emotional, that was really from the heart." So, we talked a little bit more about what it meant and so on, and then he went on down the hall. Well, I went in the motorcade that night and then I think we stopped in briefly at a rally
in Queens, so as to touch every borough at least once, and then backtracked down to Brooklyn and he made the big Jewish speech for the campaign. And all the difficulties had been resolved by this point and it was a fine speech, magnificently received, and then everybody took off for the train, and my recollection is that I stayed overnight and went back the next day in a leisurely way to Washington.
My work was done then and I just waited for the returns. Of course, I would have dearly loved to have gone out to Independence and wait for the returns out there, and John Carter and some others did, but I was accustomed to staying fairly close to my desk, it was that kind of a job, and so I did.
Actually, election night, Eben Ayers and I were the only two that were around the White House. We had the run of everything to ourselves. We had the President's office with a TV, and the press office with a teletype, and a White House car, and the White House staff to bring us sandwiches and coffee, so we had a pretty good time.
HESS: To go back a bit, I've a couple of questions on the
Harlem speech. Were there any other reasons why you didn't think that the President should make any civil rights statements before this time? You mentioned about the Negro press?
NASH: Well, this is a matter of timing and how you handle reactions pro and con. Obviously, you're going to get an adverse reaction to any presidential speech on civil rights from the people who don't believe in it. Who are they? They are small town people; they are not urban people for the most part (this is before the days of the white backlash); you had resistance to change but you didn't have resistance to change what has already taken place in front of your eyes; frontlash maybe would be the word for it. At any rate, it just had resistance.
This is small town, not urban; consequently, whether you're talking about the South, which is definitely anti, the Midwest, which at that time, by measured polls, had about as many against as for, the broad areas of support for civil rights are in the great industrial states, that is: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Michigan, Illinois, California. After that you can practically forget it. You're dealing with neutrality or you're dealing with outright opposition.
Now, before, we accomplished this public relation result of a real change in the climate of opinion and arrived at the awareness, that is, from creating a -- from a situation of resistance, a change in the direction of civil rights, to a demand that there be a change, and not just on the part of a few enthusiasts, but for the more broadly based and broadly supported demand for a change.
Well, small towns, whether they are Northern rural, Southern rural or Southern urban, are much slower to be reached by the mass media, and they are slower to react. But the civil rights advocates living in urban industrial centers are quick to get news and quick to react to it. Well, obviously then, if you are managing something on behalf of the President, the President can't do things like this, but his staff can for him; by timing this statement very close to election, you do nothing to hurt the impact of the people who are predisposed in your favor. But some of the people who
opposed may not even hear about it, or if they hear about it they don't react to it. If they don't hear about it in depth for a few days . . .
HESS: By the time they react, the election is over.
NASH: The election's over. So, this is, you call it news management or news manipulation. I mean, this, it seems to me is what a President's public relations staff is for.
HESS: You mentioned that at the time the President read your speech, did he make a statement that he wished he had some civil rights statements before then?
NASH: Oh, well, he was just saying that he didn't have time to think in terms of detailed tactics like this. He was just expressing a typical Truman visceral preference. You know, "I'm for this; where's it been?"
HESS: He thought it was a pretty good idea.
You mentioned that Eddie Jacobson attended a meeting with the President and some of his advisers, and, of course, the President made several references to U.S.-Palestine relations that day. Did Eddie Jacobson give the President very much advice on Jewish matters?
NASH: I just don't know. In this particular case I don't know.
In general, Eddie Jacobson was very important to the development of Mr. Truman's personal attitude towards the State of Israel. Eddie was a Zionist.
Dave Niles, in whom the President had placed a lot of reliance, was, of course, talking this and talking out of both personal conviction, belief in the essential rightness of it, and the rightness for the President in terms of domestic politics. In other words, Dave's attitude, I'm sure, was like mine on civil rights. What's good for the country is good for the President, and what's morally right for the country is the best kind of politics. In Dave's view the people who were opposed to the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel, were moved by considerations that were essentially nonmoral. They were thinking about oil for the Navy, or they feared an Arab holy war, or they had read their military textbooks and they were convinced that the borders of the proposed state were indefensible.
Dave didn't pretend to be an expert in any of these areas; he just said that, "The President has a lot of
people telling him about oil, and military advice, and this isn't my job. My job is, in the first place, to help him find what's right, and also, since everybody's telling him what other people are thinking, to keep him in touch with what the American people are thinking about this. These are the only two areas that I have to be concerned with, or I intend to be concerned with."
Of course, Dave was right, because the experts were worried about the oil in the Middle East, but the flow has never been interrupted. And they were worried about the holy war, and there wasn't any, and there was a war, which the Israelis called a war of liberation, and the aggressors in this war were soundly trounced, so they didn't have the military capability that a lot of people thought they had. In all these, it wasn't a question of Dave putting himself up as a rival expert, but simply saying, "This isn't my area of concern, even if these things are true, although I don't think they are; there are certain other things that are much more important and are within my area of competence, and here I'm going to tell the President what I think
he should do."
Now, Eddie, of course -- I say "Eddie" as though I knew him very well. I don't, but everybody called him Eddie, and we all knew he was around all the time, and an old business partner of Mr. Truman's; was an intimate of the White House and had ready access to the President. I never found myself, that Mr. Truman was very likely, really to consult too many people about anything. He was ready to listen and he soaked up what he wanted of it, and he let the rest of it just roll off of his back. He made up his own mind. Eddie did not take part in the discussion of the Harlem speech. He sat in the corner of the room. He just was there, just present.
HESS: But he did see the President quite often on Israeli matters, is that right?
NASH: He saw the President quite often, and Dave Niles' feeling was that he represented to him quite faithfully the views of American Zionists.
HESS: Well, back in our fourth interview, you mentioned that you had a story about Charlie Ross and the Harlem speech, and that's the one you've already covered?
NASH: That's the one I just told you.
HESS: That's fine, good.
On the Negro voting strength, was it thought in the White House, or by yourself, that there were any political leaders in the Negro bloc that were thought to be able to deliver "X" number of votes from the colored people?
NASH: Well, my experience with the Negro voting habits goes back to 1944.
You see, Negroes were slow to switch from the party of Lincoln. They did not vote substantially for FDR in 1932 . They began to vote for him in 1936 . The vote increased somewhat in '40, and began to reach landslide proportions for the first time in 1944. This was where I got my first experience at the art of announcement timing, because from the White House we could control the rate at which certain decisions about Negroes in the Armed Forces, for example, WAVES and SPARS, minor things, really, in the conduct of