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 31, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 31, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Dr. Nash, as the beginning of today's interview, let's go back just a little bit to one of the important events of 1952, and that is to the address delivered by President Truman at Howard University in June. Could you tell me about the background to that speech?
NASH: Yes, indeed. Every President, since the modern era of Howard University, has gone out there to deliver a commencement address, usually to receive a honorary degree, for the last third to half century. President Coolidge was there, President Harding; not President Wilson, I think; President Roosevelt; and at the time we're talking about, President Truman, and it had been announced that he would not run, and, therefore, if he didn't go out at about this time it was going to be his last opportunity and he would end up as the only modern President -- contemporary President -- who hadn't gone out.
One of my jobs was to be in touch with the Nego university people and Howard represented this to me, not
as a political matter, but just as a prestige matter for them and a commitment matter for the President. My recollection is, that by the time this came up, I was doing Mr. Niles' work and rather than make a recommendation to him, I brought it up to Don Dawson and eventually to Matt Connelly and to the President in person. The first discussion I can recall having with the President was in his Oval Office, and I told him substantially what I said just now, that this was the usual thing to do. And, he said that he thought he ought to do it, that he would like to do it, and then it also might offer a major opportunity for a civil rights statement that would represent both his views and would be helpful in the 1952 campaign. You see, this was commencement in the spring of '52 is my recollection.
HESS: June 13th, 1952.
NASH: So, the timing was just about ideal and it was the last opportunity and the last commencement. I've forgotten who was there in the office with us. I don't think there were too many besides the President and myself -- one or two others. I particularly remember his saying, "Well, I'd like to do it, and I think we'd
better put on all the dog, in other words, I want all military aides to come with me, and everybody else."
And, then the question came up, "Well, what about the honorary degree?"
After all, he has to agree to do this if it's going to be done and he said; "Oh, yes," he'd like that.
And, then came the question, "Well, he should wear a hood shouldn't he from one of his other honorary degrees?"
And, at this point, he said, "Well, I think I'd like to take the most Southern that I have."
And, he did actually wear a Florida University hood when he received the Howard hood on top of it.
Now, came the question of the speech, and the arrangements, and so on. Now, on the speech I worked with Dave Lloyd. This was partly my speech and partly his, but I was also instructed to work out the advance arrangements on it, so I worked with the Secret Service on that. But, before we did any of this, I went out to Howard and talked to Mordecai Johnson who was then the President, and told him that I thought I had it agreed that the President would come, it wasn't a final decision, but a good deal would depend upon the arrangements. So,
he turned me over to the marshal of the university, one of the professors who had this title and was in charge of the commencement arrangements, and also Mr. Nabrit who was the secretary, and, therefore, the chief administrative officer, and we went over the grounds and over the commencement programs of the past several sessions in detail. At this point, it breaks down into arrangements, speech and speech content, and the commencement proceedings themselves including the academic procession.
After talking to Dr. Johnson about it, I discovered the following, and I understood I was being sold something -- it was his job to sell me and it was my job to receive the offer -- that previous Presidents had made a "lightning" appearance at Howard University; what the aviation people would call a touch-and-go landing -- come in, made an appearance, made a little speech, and left. Even FDR only came in through the back of the building, went out on to the front, made a brief appearance, and left, so that he was not personally present at the moment of pride for the graduates and their parents, when they are actually handed their diplomas.
Well, I came back to report to Mr. Truman on my
discussions as to the arrangement of the contents. Now, the basic suggestion as to the content of the Howard University commencement speech were actually made by Dr. Johnson, this was not my original concept, nor Dave Lloyd's, nor anybody elses, nor Mr. Truman's. It was what Mordecai Johnson thought ought to be . . .
HESS: Did he give you that in the form of a draft?
NASH: No, no I just sat down in his office -- I knew him very well, I had known him for many years -- and I went to call on him, and I said, "Well, now, I'm trying to sell this to the President and it might be done, and if it were to be done, what do you think would be the right way to do it?"
He said, "The President ought to say three things. He ought to relate the civil rights movement in his program for civil rights to the rising Negro expectations in this country as a whole, but he shouldn't stop there, because this is just part of a rising revolution of expectations throughout the world, and therefore, this ought to be number three in the speech, and this is a commencement type address and it needs saying at this time, and it ought to be said by the President of the
United States." I didn't say "yes" or "no," but I took it home and thought it over, and it made such good sense to me that I told the President that Dr. Johnson had suggested it, so, he characteristically said, "If this is what Mordecai Johnson wants, and it's his commencement, then that's what we ought to do." If we are going to do it, let's do it all the way, let's not be partial about it -- I'm not quoting him on it, I'm just saying, let's not be "chintzy" -- let's do it all.
So, this meant that he would walk -- and I said, "You mean you want to walk in the procession?"
And he said, "Yes."
And I said, "You mean you want to make a speech?"
And he said, "Of course."
And I said, "Do you want to hand out the degrees?"
And he said, "No," but he said, "I'm willing to wait while somebody else does."
And I said, "Do you realize that this means two or two and a half hours?"
And he said, "If we're going to do it, let's really do it."
I said, "Okay, sir."
And that's the way we did it. I then went back to the university and I said, "All right now, we have some very serious problems here. I listened to what you said about what previous Presidents didn't do -- the quick in and quick out -- and the negative impression that they left. Now, here is a President that really wants to take part, wants to take part from the beginning to the end, but," I said, "we've got some security problems, and we've got some timing problems, so, send me to somebody that can make decisions and we'll talk about the whole ceremony."
This was when he sent me to Mr. Nabrit, and the marshal of the university. Then, we sat down and we worked out, we completely revamped the Howard commencement. We worked out a minute by minute timetable, how many minutes it would take for the procession to walk from here to there, and where the seating would be, and we sat the seats up in front of a different building so the President could come in from his car behind the building, walk through, go into a robing room, get out on the platform with a minimum of exposure, and a
maximum of freedom of exit, this is very essential in security. So that he could stay through the whole thing with complete ease and comfort and everything else, and then I told him what a great musical organization the Howard University choir was, and so he asked for them to take part in the festivities -- this is fairly traditional -- so it wasn't very difficult to do, and he especially asked for them to sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
So, we worked out every detail of it on a minute by minute by minute by minute schedule. Now, in the meantime, Dave Lloyd and I were working on the content of the speech, and once the President had accepted the idea that we would talk about civil rights, domestic aspirations of people, and the submerged peoples of the world, as related to point 4 and all that, then, it was, I think, fairly clear what we had to do, and Dave really was the principal speechwriter on this. I worked out the arrangements, and all that, and I made my contribution and I'm sure my language is in there, but Dave made a very, very big contribution.
HESS: Did you get together with the President over the wording of the address?
NASH: Oh, yes. This one he went over in greater detail than almost anyone I had been connected with. On the other hand, as you can see from the previous things I've told you, when he got to a civil rights speech, he wanted to know what was in it in detail personally, more than almost any other kind. Oh, yes, we went over that more than once with him. Bear in mind, however, that David Lloyd had been an Administrative Assistant for a couple of years, I was by this time his senior aide, as far as point of service was concerned, he had confidence in us, and we understood him, and we understood his way of thinking and his way of speaking, and had had a good deal of experience in casting things in his words, as well as expressing his philosophy.
HESS: In your files at the Library, in the particular folder on the Howard University speech, there are several drafts. Draft number one and four are marked with your initials, drafts number one and three are marked with "DDL," which of course is David Lloyd, and the fourth draft is marked "combined," also, so as you have said, it was a collaboration between the two of
you, and also, in that folder is a very interesting clipping marked from the Star, which is probably the Evening Star here in Washington, of June the 14th, 1952, the day after the speech and I want to read just a couple of paragraphs from this.
From Senator Lehman, Democrat-Liberal, of New York
came high praise for the address. He described it as
'a great speech, a statesman-like pronouncement,' and
he said he would make use of it at the Democratic
'I'm on the Platform Committee of the national
convention,' Senator Lehman added, 'and I'm going to
cite this speech and fight for strong, specific
platform planks for a FEPC law with teeth in it.'
Which gives rise to the question, sir, when you are working
on these speeches, are you aware at the time that such
a speech might have important effect on influencing the
NASH: Of course. Of influencing legislation, of influencing the opinion, of molding attitudes, and this is one of the principal means by which presidential leadership is exercised. The presidential speeches, like presidential messages to Congress, letters, interviews, press conferences, executive communications, are one of the numerous means by which the President communicates with
the public, and without this communication leadership would be impossible. Now, the commencement address is a June phenomenon as a rule, in the case of Howard University, which is the only federally supported university, and is a direct outgrowth of the efforts to elevate the social and economic standing of former slaves after emancipation, you have a unique forum. This is the Negroes' own university, no matter what others may say or think, this is the way they feel about it, and have for a very long time. So that when the President goes, he's obviously only going to go to one place one time during his term of office. The President wouldn't go twice to Harvard nor twice to Howard, and for the same reason, if you've done it once, that's enough, the next time you go some other place.
Of course, you're hoping to have an influence on the platform, well, that -- isn't the only thing that you have in mind -- far from it -- this is the molding of public opinion via the presidential utterance, which is the basic power of the Presidency. It isn't just to issue orders so that the laws will be faithfully executed, it is to alter attitudes so that people will want to
obey the laws, as they ought to be followed faithfully, and if necessary to carve new ground.
HESS: Still a little more on the civil rights plank. Do you think that it had a direct influence on the civil rights plank?
NASH: Well, I don't know. I really don't. In 1952, the question of who would be the Democratic candidate was uncertain until the last minute. Of course, we expressed our views as to what ought to be in the plank. And every succeeding civil rights plank had been stronger in modern times, certainly since the time I've been in Government, they should be, they ought to be, and they were, and in 1952 was no exception. I wouldn't take Senator Lehman's words too literally. After all, statements like that of the Evening Star, by practicing politicians, are made in order for the speaker, the signer of the letter, to get in on a good thing. If he had been able to command that much attention himself, he would have done it without any assistance, so when he says, "This will have a profound effect on the platform," like any other loyal staff member, I was looking after Mr. Truman's interests, and secondarily, attempting to
to move public opinion in the direction of his convictions and his commitments in previous Democratic platforms commitments, and his campaign commitments, and everything that he stood for, worked for, and had lived for during the seven years that I had worked for him. And this was approaching the end of the career, and here was a chance to make, as in 1948 in Harlem, a philosophical utterance that would be definitive for its time. Well, you don't necessarily think about a campaign platform at that time, I was thinking about Mr. Truman's place in history, and also, about the forward march of the whole revolution of the minorities in this country, a peaceful revolution, but no less revolutionary because they were moving towards more nearly full participation, and when Mr. Truman became President they were on the defensive and when he ended his Presidency, they were not on the defensive, and this was the great contribution to civil rights . . .
HESS: Civil rights forces?
NASH: What do you mean?
HESS: Who was not on the defensive?
NASH: Negroes. Negroes and their friends. Negroes as a
minority were on the defensive, that is, you had to defend your right to go to school, to live in a house of your own choosing, to occupy a job that you were qualified for, to walk into a restaurant, to go and get your hair cut, to buy a meal or a drink, or anything else in Washington, D.C. when Mr. Truman became President. You still had segregated restaurants, even in the Government buildings, some of them, in 1945 , and we eliminated those one after the other, and Washington itself became the major arena of conflict in this which is primarily a Federal responsibility. It was a crying shame that this should be the case, and it was not the case, when Mr. Truman left office, it was the proponents of segregation, not integration, who were on the defensive in 1952, but this was the direct opposite of what was the case when Mr. Truman became President. I regard this as a major transformation and one which is frequently overlooked, but it wasn't overlooked by Mr. Truman.
HESS: Well, that is a subject we want to cover a little bit later. Was one of the main cases in there the Thompson Restaurant case?
NASH: Yes. This was a very famous case in the District
of Columbia, of course, in which a friendly court test was made of a ruling held by the corporation counsel of the District of Culumbia commissioners, the Government of D.C., that one of the post Civil War civil rights enactments of Congress which provided for equal accommodations in the District of Columbia, had been repealed by implication when the D.C. code was enacted and reference to it was omitted. This was a rather tortuous interpretation of the law, and many people thought that it would not be upheld by the courts, but there is only one way of coping with an erroneous opinion from the D.C. commissioner and that's to test it in the courts, so a group with which I was in touch -- not seeking advice from me, they simply wanted to know what was going on -- did agree upon a court test. And by arrangement, a group of Negro people went into a restaurant and the manager complained, and the police were standing by and they made arrests, and the lawyers were standing by, and everybody was charged, and then there were appeals, and so on, and it was rushed through the appellate route in order to get a judicial ruling on what to me was a rather obvious interpretation of a law -- I have been
in Government a few more years than I was at that time -- and I realize that many times administrators, and the general counsels of administrators, if they can fall back upon the judge, would rather do so than grasp the nettle with both hands and make the same ruling that they are in effect asking the judge to make, and therefore, excuse them from the necessity of facing the issue.
HESS: We will cover that a little bit more when we got to that particular subject, and I have some questions on Ralph Bunches attitude about that and on a few others , but back to the campaign -- the 1952 campaign -- let's go through this chronologically, now we had started that . . .
NASH: I think we could probably close out the Howard commencement. There is a story in connection to that, that I may not have told you about, even if I have, we'd better get it in the record here.
We completely reorganized the Howard commencement. The Howard commencement is one of the major social events for the Washington Negro community. The elite of Washington attended it, of the Negro community. It was a very, very big thing and it goes back into the shadow of history,
going clear back to the days when the newly freed slaves and their descendants were housed on what is now the campus of Howard University, as refugees.
HESS: Was that established by the Freedman's Bureau?
NASH: Yes. And I happen to be a dissenter, as I am on many things, on the Freedman's Bureau, I think it was one of the greatest contributions to social betterment of the American Government in its whole history, and if it had been permitted to continue instead of being abolished, as it was in 1876 , you would have cut fifty years off the period of social and economic advance of the American Negroes. And, one of the things that I tried to do in the Indian Bureau was to make it as good as what I thought the Freedman's Bureau could have been if it had been allowed to continue, and by and large, the same forces that cut off the Freedman's Bureau cut me off from the Indian Bureau.
HESS: What forces were they?
NASH: Oh, the cowboys on the frontier. Minority-majority relations in this country are fundamentally a battle between those who would like to have but don't have yet, and those who have but haven't had it long, and are
afraid that somebody might get it away from them, and you can't be head of the Freedman's Bureau or Commissioner of Indian Affairs, even though they are separated by almost a century, without standing up for the people that you are supposed to be responsible for. And when you do you run right up against the rancher, the cowboy, and his friends in Congress, and they don't like this kind of competition.
So, economic development is desired by peoples of minority, and it is opposed, covertly rather than overtly, by some of the representatives of the majority, who were not unknown to have positions on the committees of Congress.
HESS: Anything else on Howard University?
NASH: I wanted to tell you the little story. We reorganized the whole thing, we moved it around, changed the time table, tightened up all the social events, the music, and the speeches, and the diploma handing out, and every other part of it, but at the same time giving every single person who was participating in this, his father, son, daughter, nephew, niece, professor, graduate student, a Ph.D., M.A. faculty member, B.A., B.Sc., nursing
graduate, whatever it might be, a chance to have that little moment in the sun with the President of the United States looking on. It took two, two and a half hours -- and the sun was getting down and it was pretty chilly by the time he left. Now, this was longer than any President had ever stayed anywhere, I think, of this kind, that I know of -- it's usually quick in and quick out, and when I got all through, Sterling Brown, professor of English at Howard, who was a great philosopher-poet, walked up to me and said, "Philleo, I want to thank you for the finest commencement ceremony we have ever had in the history of this university. This is the first time we ever got out before dark."
HESS: The others had been a little bit longer.
NASH: Much longer. A couple of hours longer.
HESS: Anything else on that?
HESS: Going through your files, the first thing I find, of course, is the Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, was there anything else -- do you have any other thoughts on the '52 campaign before we reach the Labor Day speech?
NASH: I guess not. After the convention in ' 52 , where I attended with the President, if we haven't covered that, we should somewhere along the line. We were all waiting, and standing by, and Mr. Barkley had been nominated -- or been proposed on Monday and by Tuesday night was out of the picture. On Wednesday, Mr. Stevenson called up and said that his friends had finally prevailed on him, and it wasn't until that point that the President even felt that he could go and that some of us should go with him. So, I was included among those, and delighted to be included, and we had the excitement of seeing ourselves take off on a television screen, inside the plane. We watched ourselves lifting off TV was fairly new then -- it was quite exciting, and we had a short flight to Chicago, and a fast ride downtown, and immediately went out to the International Amphitheatre, and we had been provided with the necessary identification so those who didn't have specific duties (and I didn't have any specific ones) , were given complete freedom of the place. And it was a welcome opportunity to me to look around and see what was going on above the surface and below the surface of the convention, one that
had been quite tumultuous. Dave Lloyd, Charlie Murphy, and myself, and some others who had come out, had seats in the box right behind the rostrum in the place where the President was to appear, and then later Governor Stevenson. That was a great vantage point. I particularly remember Sam Rayburn's bald head as we looked from above, plastered about a quarter of an inch thick with pancake makeup, so it wouldn't shine. They don't have to do that anymore, but in those days you did.
Governor Stevenson made a great speech but in it he made one of those remarks, which was later to be so much a part of the 1952 campaign, but which astonished those of us who had been writing for Mr. Truman's prairie style for several years. He said that the Republicans suffered from political schizophrenia. And Dave Lloyd looked at Charlie Murphy and Charlie Murphy looked at me and I looked back at Dave Lloyd, and one of the three of us, I don't remember which, said, "It's a great joke to those that can understand it."
Now, I, myself, think the 1952 campaign, by
Governor Stevenson, was of course, the first use of television in the national campaign -- it was brilliant, it was communicative. He built up support as he went along, he didn't have support at the beginning. He was handpicked end more or less coerced into it by Mr. Truman. I'm sure from just the standpoint of his own personal political fortunes, he would have been better off if he had taken his second four years as Governor of Illinois, which I'm sure he could have had, and had then made the first race in 1956 and would have been ready to go in '60. But President Truman didn't think so, and he held the whip hand, and he used it. So -- I thought the picture of Adlai Stevenson that came through in the 1952 campaign was one of the best of all the campaign projections that I can think of. There was always that little touch of the quip that is just a little bit over the head, and I tell it not in derogation of Mr. Stevenson, but to indicate the difference in concept and style between Mr. Truman's staff, and that which they would have been expected to do for Mr. Stevenson -- well you would have had to start all over again.
HESS: Aiming at a different audience.
NASH: Well, aiming at a different audience, writing for a different projectile -- different vehicle. The content would be the same but the style and everything else would be different. Of course, Governor Stevenson did very much of this for himself, as I saw later in the ' 56 campaign.
Now, as far as the '52 campaign is concerned, we went out and we took part in the convention, I was due to go back to the hotel with the presidential motorcade, and after the nomination of Governor Stevenson, we waited two, two and a half hours, while Mr. Truman and very close political associates, very high leaders in the Democratic Party, consulted as to the vice-presidential nominee, and this went on until pretty late in the morning -- I think it was 2 o'clock, maybe 3, before the motorcade left the International Amphitheatre and went back to the hotel. As far as Mr. Truman was concerned, he and others had come to an agreement, and it was all over, and my recollection is that he took off around 5 o'clock in the morning, and went back to Kansas City.
HESS: Were you in on those discussions?
NASH: No. I was waiting outside.
HESS: On the subject of Mr. Stevenson. Why did he bring in Stephen Mitchell as his national committee chairman?
NASH: Well, this is very understandable. Mr. Mitchell had been Adlai Stevenson's political manager in Illinois, and this is completely customary -- a presidential nominee has a political manager whom he trusts -- whose competency is evaluated and who has been successful or he wouldn't have gotten along as far as he is, and he should be in charge of the party apparatus.
HESS: What was his relationship to the other members of the Democratic National Committee, was it very good?
NASH: I don't have any special inside knowledge on that. Mr. Truman wasn't happy about it, but that's . . .
NASH: Well, because he had worked for quite a long time to get Frank McKinney named as the national committee chairman, and he hadn't been able to do it, and then when he was able to do it, McKinney was in a rather brief period and then he was quickly replaced at the behest of the nominee. Now, on this Mr. Truman was just plain wrong. He didn't
have any right to dictate the chairman of the national committee in the last six months of his Presidency, he gave up that right when he decided not to run again. Well, Mr. Truman wouldn't have stood still for one minute and let somebody else do this to him in 1948, so it is just part of the human element.
HESS: The candidate picked his own man, and Mitchell was Stevenson's man.
NASH: The candidate always picked his own man, of both parties -- any number of Presidents -- you can go back in history as far as you like. If it were me, I'd do the same, and if it were somebody else, I'd expect him to do the same.
HESS: The other day, we mentioned some friction that arose between the two parties because of the itinerary. Were there any other things that caused friction to come between Mr. Truman and Stevenson, or the two camps?
NASH: Well, I think if there were some elements of friction, I don't really think they're serious. I think they were elements of irritability, and I only know about it from Mr. Truman's side, I do not know about it from
Governor Stevenson's side, but I must say that I am rather sympathetic with Governor Stevenson on this one. The President was on his way out, he wanted to retain control of the situation, he felt that he could have put Stevenson over if Stevenson had been willing to play with him early in the game, so he entered the campaign with this feeling of frustration, that we'd lost six months, this may be the main six months. You see, he really thought he could do in 1952 for somebody else what he had done for himself in 1948, but he had an unwilling candidate. He had somebody at the end of a string who had to be dragged along, as he looked at it -- "I could do it if it wasn't for this" -- and then when he tried to do these things he either got no response, or a partially negative response that caused him to feel as though he was interfering to a degree, and since this is in fact what he was doing, why it increased his irritability. He was right in the decision. Stevenson was the man, but he was asking of him, you see, a career sacrifice of major proportions.
HESS: Governor of Illinois.
NASH: Well, he gave up Governor of Illinois for a crack at a war hero -- it was wrong -- after all, I can understand
Adlai Stevenson's reluctance. If he made a mistake perhaps it was only in acquiescing.
HESS: Were there any things that you think Stevenson could have done to have won in 1952?
NASH: No. I think this was a splendid campaign, under the circumstances. He gave the most of what he had. I think it was a brilliant use of television, and bear in mind, that between 1948 and 1952, you went from the train and the radio to the airplane and TV. This was a bigger transformation in the art of political campaigning than took place, I would say, since the formation of political parties in the 1830s. After all, Lincoln had a train, and Truman had a train; Truman had radio and Stevenson had TV.
HESS: Let's get on to some of the speeches. In your files in the folder on the Milwaukee Labor Day speech, the folder contains newspaper clippings, but I didn't see a draft in there, did you work on the Labor Day speech?
NASH: No. I had nothing to do with the speech. At the time -- of course, Labor Day is the traditional opening of the campaign, and the two biggest labor towns in the country are Detroit and Milwaukee -- the two solidest
labor towns. So, number one goes to Detroit, Truman picked Milwaukee, he was deliberately subordinating himself, but he was still making his effort on launching it in a secondary role, but still a major one.
Consistent with my understanding with Mr. Truman -- I still had business problems -- I was in Wisconsin in the cranberry business in the summer of 1952. I was reporting to Don Dawson at that time. I got a call just before Labor Day, you see, I had gone out there after the convention, but before the campaign had actually begun, to try to look after things in my business, and also get some vacation. And I got a call from Don Dawson who said, "Well, things are not going well in Milwaukee, and I would like to suggest that you -- well, this is your state, and you have handled this type of problem before, and go down there and look it over."
So, I got the names of the people from him who were responsible. Andy Biemiller was one Congressman, and Clem Zablocki was the other, they were, of course, involved. And it was a Labor Day appearance at the Milwaukee arena, and therefore, Jake Friedrich was
involved as general secretary of the Milwaukee Federation of Labor. You see, this was before the merger, the CIO was still separate, so this was basically an A. F. of L. show. I didn't know Jake Friedrich up until this point, and this was one of the great experiences of my life, knowing Jake Friedrich. Here is a self-educated, self -- made intellectual. Not only a great gentleman, but a great lover of ideas, of the spoken and the printed word, one of the gentlest of people, and one of the toughest in an issue of principle. He is the only man I know who has an honorary Ph.D., which he has earned. When Gaylord Nelson was Governor he made him a regent at the University of Wisconsin, and this is a man that probably never went beyond the sixth or seventh grade. This could only happen in Milwaukee. He's a great human being, a great personality.
Well, he was in charge of this arrangement, so Don had been in touch, and it looked to him as though there was a big danger of initiating the 1952 campaign, from President Truman's standpoint, with a repeat of the disaster at Omaha of 1948. The Milwaukee arena is one of the largest indoor -- or was then -- one of the
largest indoor things under roof without a pillar that you could get, that holds 14,000 people when it's full, and there is not, within that space, there is not a single column or anything else to obscure the view. Fourteen thousand people on a holiday night in vacation country at the end of summer is not something to be looked upon lightly.
HESS: It's a pretty tall order.
NASH: It's a very tall order, and what worried Don was that when he called out to these people, he was getting a very easygoing assurance. They said, "Well, don't worry, it will be all right," and so on.
And Don said, "Well, you know, this is when I begin to worry, when they say don't worry. Go down there and check it out for me, will you?"
So, I called them up and asked for a meeting and drove down and got in. I was a little bit late getting down there, I underestimated the time it took to get to Milwaukee. Andy Biemiller was there, Jake Friedrich was there -- gee, I don't know his first name [Otto] Jirikowic, he's an oldtimer in Milwaukee labor movement and many others, whom I relied
upon in my own political activities in Wisconsin, on my own behalf, in years afterwards, whom I got to know that day for the first time. This was a real entree into certain aspects of Wisconsin politics for me. You understand it was a nonpartisan appearance. It was a Labor Day celebration.
Well, I just put it to them directly the way it was put to me. The President's advisers have called me to tell me that they don't have any doubt as to the ability of this event to raise money, and that the tickets will be sold, they have every confidence, but we are not going to launch a 1952 campaign successfully if we don't have a crowd, and what is being done to get up a crowd. So, they said, "Oh, well, Mr. Nash, you don't know Milwaukee, you don't have to worry about this, we'll take care of it." And we sent thus and such a block of seats to thus and such a local, and so on and so on and so on.
And they outlined it all to me, and I said, "Well, obviously the money is going to come in, but you know, what about the warm bodies?"
"Oh, well, don't worry, they'll all come. They'll
all bring their wives and children. Everybody in Milwaukee loves a show."
I said, "What's this about a show? The President isn't a show."
"Oh well, we're going to have vaudeville acts in connection with the President."
I said, "Well, you're not while he's here, you're not. He's still the President of the United States. You can put the vaudeville on after he leaves, and not before he comes either."
"Oh well, we don't know about that -- oh my goodness they won't come -- they would come for the vaudeville but not for the President," and so on.
Well, then I knew we really had a problem, so I reported back that we were indeed in trouble and that it could readily result in raising all the money that was wanted, but a black eye for the campaign, a black eye for the President, and a lot of embarrassment for everybody. So, Don Dawson asked me what I thought we ought to do and I said, "I'll go down and you come out and anybody else should come out and we just go around, and we'll tell them -- we have to sell this thing ourselves,
we'd go out to the union meetings, and we say all right you've bought your tickets, that's very nice, now what else are you going to do. We are talking about Harry S. Truman, the greatest friend labor has had in the White House since anybody can remember. This is his last appearance, and it's Milwaukee and it's Labor Day. Are you going to present him with a bunch of empty seats, or are you going to present him with some enthusiastic handclappers that are out there to pay tribute to a great labor President?"
And they said, "Well, you know, that's right."
And we spent two weeks there. Don Dawson was there, I went to work with the Secret Service, I worked with the communications, I worked with Don, I went to my own friends in the party, the party couldn't help too much on this, and my acquaintance with the Milwaukee labor movement was largely derived from this 1952 session where I was just with them all day, every day. Just pounding on them, pounding on them, "What are you going to do?" So, then I met the train when he came out -- this was a train trip -- and took the President down to the suite. I was in effect handling the advance
by this time. Don was there, and Don had experience that I couldn't possibly equal, and he was in charge, but it was a Wisconsin situation, and I was from Wisconsin. This is one of the things about Don, he would let somebody do that. Of course, I didn't know, even up to the end, what was going to happen. But we filled practically every seat in that place, just about 14,000 people, yelling, and cheering, and kicking, and stamping, and everything else -- it was a great political rally, and I was far too busy doing the advance to have anything to do with the speech.
HESS: But you and Donald Dawson were the two staff members that were there at that time?
NASH: Don was in charge and I was assistant, and then, I went back on the train, and I had not had too many experiences of the campaign train, because my jobs had always been as anchor man, and then that one experience at Harlem that I told you about, then I was already in Wisconsin, I did the advance for Milwaukee.
HESS: Did you come straight back to Washington that time?
NASH: No. No. They came back though Ohio. There was a series of stops -- let's see -- we left about 11 or 11:30 that
night, and went down through Chicago, out through Indiana, all without stopping, and then early in the morning had our first stop, I think, in Cincinnati, and then on through the Ohio River Valley, and through West Virginia, stopping at a number of whistlestop appearances through the day in eastern Ohio and West Virginia, and then down into the Union Station, about 9 or 10 at night.
HESS: All whistlestops, is that right, no major speeches?
NASH: And here, I had no duties, I was just riding.
HESS: A pleasure trip that time.
NASH: A pleasure trip that time.
So, I went out among the crowds, and listened to the sound and looked at the arrangements, and talked to people, and got a sense of how it was going over.
HESS: Were you asked to do this, or did you do it on your own?
NASH: You mean was I asked to check it?