Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

Selma

UnknownBelieve it or not, I didn’t think about my new year resolutions until a few days after the ball dropped in Times Square. Once again, “the year of the book” tops my list. Here’s hoping that 2015 is the year I finally finish writing the Katzenbach biography. It’s particularly frustrating to sit on the sidelines as debate rages over the new movie Selma and the ensuing controversy of LBJ and his support, or lack thereof, for voting rights. Katzenbach and I talked about Selma and he made it very clear that Voting Rights was a priority for the Johnson Administration with or without Selma.

Like many, I’m anxious to see the movie and glad that today’s generation will have an opportunity to bear witness to the violence that was unleashed on Bloody Sunday – March 7, 1965 – in Selma, AL. There is no controversy about whether the movie portrayed what happened that day accurately, and the two subsequent marches on March 9 and March 21; the latter of which fulfilled the original goal to march from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

One thing is clear, this movie has gotten people talking about history and facts, what biographer doesn’t love that!

John Doar

Today the nation learned that we lost another hero from the Civil Rights Era – John Doar, He worked alongside Nicholas President+Obama+Awards+Presidential+Medals+1o6TF0QDodvlKatzenbach at the Department of Justice and served as the head of the Civil Rights Division during Katzenbach’s tenure as Attorney General. Like Katzenbach, Doar was at many pivotal events in this nation’s fight for equal rights. It was John Doar who escorted James Meredith when he desegregated Ole Miss in 1962, and it was Doar who helped diffuse a tense situation in the wake of Medgar Evans murder a year later. And it was Doar who successfully prosecuted and got convictions in the highly publicized murder case that gripped the nation of three civil rights volunteers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.

A couple of years ago, fellow author and friend, Henry Gallagher, led the charge for John Doar to be recognized for his service to this nation with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Gallagher succeeded in his quest and in 2012 President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Doar. Just this week the White House announced this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and among the nineteen individuals who will receive this honor are Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman posthumously.

While I was fortunate to meet John Doar on several occasions and chat with him about Katzenbach, he was a man of few words. He always agreed to an interview, but actually scheduling it proved to be a challenge and one that I never accomplished.

On this Veteran’s Day while we remember and salute those who have served and currently serve to protect this nation and the freedoms we enjoy, we also remember another a freedom fighter – John Doar, may he rest in peace.

June 11, 1963

June 11, 1963 - Stand in the School House Door

June 11, 1963 – Stand in the School House Door

I woke up this morning and eagerly flipped through the pages of The Washington Post (yes, the hard copy).  I was looking for something commemorating this day, June 11, in history. I didn’t find what I was looking for in the print version so I went to The Washington Post online and found an interesting AP story about Peggy Wallace Kennedy who has spent her life living in the shadows of her father, segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace.

It was fifty years ago today that Wallace came face to face with Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach over the integration of the University of Alabama. The photograph capturing the stand in the school house door is one of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement  (see my post from June 11, 2011) https://sixdegreesofmillicent.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/the-stand-in-the-schoolhouse-door/.

Tuesday, June 11, 1963 started off tense in Alabama. Later that day President Kennedy was forced to mobilize the National Guard to insure that two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were able to register peacefully at the University of Alabama. But as that day turned to night violence erupted shortly after midnight.  Civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot and killed in his own driveway in Jackson, Mississippi as his wife and children looked on in horror.

Their nightmare was just beginning shortly after President John F. Kennedy gave a watershed speech on civil rights in which he equated civil rights as a moral issue for the first time. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution,” said President Kennedy, “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” A year later the Civil Rights Act was passed to do just that, but President Kennedy never lived to see that day nor did Medgar Evers or many other foot soldiers in the civil rights movement. My fear this morning was that history was being forgotten. But by the end of the day I learned otherwise.  To mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s civil rights speech the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library announced the launching of a new website that documents  “the 1963 civil rights narrative … drawn principally from the Kennedy Library archives.” Thus history lives on.

 

USA Today Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

  1. In case you missed it, I had a column in the USA Today over the weekend about Nicholas Katzenbah.  I hope you enjoy !

Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

By Amy Schapiro

Updated 2d 15h ago
Tuesday night, this country lost one of its national heroes. For those who grew up in the ’60s, Nicholas Katzenbach, who was 90, was a household name. For today’s generation, it is a forgotten name. Yet the lives we lead today would be drastically different if it weren’t for the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. Katzenbach was one of the key architects behind that legislation and more.
  • In this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.By Calvin Hannah, APIn this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In some sense, it is ironic that on the day it was learned that an unsung hero of the civil rights movement died, the president of the United States, the first African-American, advocated his support for same-sex marriage — the next battleground for equality.

As Robert Kennedy‘s deputy attorney general, it was Katzenbach whom the Kennedy administration relied on to craft legislation and quell crisis after crisis. Katzenbach was the ranking government official dispatched to represent the attorney general, and the president, when James Meredith enrolled at theUniversity of Mississippi.

The following year, it was Katzenbach who was sent to another college campus to enforce the integration of theUniversity of Alabama by two African-American students, James Hood and Vivian Malone (who would later become the sister-in-law of current Attorney General Eric Holder).

Reflections by Holder

The impressions that Katzenbach made on a 12-year-old Holder were everlasting. “When I became deputy in 1997, Nick Katzenbach was a person who by then, I never met, but whom I knew from history,” Holder told me during an interview last year. “One of the things I always do as I take these jobs is try to think about who my predecessors are and what they do well. … As I thought about what I wanted to do as deputy, I wanted to be a force beyond simply making sure that the ship was running on time, and I took that from the experience of having seen (Katzenbach) playing such a pivotal role in a historical event.”

The photo of that historic confrontation — between a short and stocky segregationist governor, George Wallace, and a tall balding government official, Katzenbach, has become an iconic image of the struggle for civil rights. On that hot June day in 1963, Wallace planned to seize the opportunity to highlight himself and his cause. But what he didn’t expect was to be upstaged by a 6’2 man who called it like he saw it — “a show.”

Katzenbach always called it like he saw it. He didn’t mince words; he was a straight shooter, and he accomplished something few others can say. He was the rare individual who was trusted by rivals Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was part of Bobby Kennedy‘s inner circle, and later succeeded Kennedy as LBJ’s attorney general. For Johnson to appoint a Kennedy man in the position spoke volumes about Katzenbach. Katzenbach was his own man, guided by the principles of the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, he was beside himself over the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even in his later years, he never lost his love of the law.

His father’s footsteps

In pursuing the law he emulated his father, who was the state attorney general of New Jersey and died when Katzenbach was just 12 years old.

Katzenbach endured his own struggle for freedom when he was shot down in a B-25 over the Mediterranean and spent 27 months as a POW during World War II. While he was stymied by the confines of prison, he maximized his time by reading hundreds of books, including legal tomes, so he could return to the U.S. and earn his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He accomplished both.

When Katzenbach wanted to work for the Kennedy administration, he turned to Yale Law School classmate Byron White. Katzenbach’s eyes were set not on the Department of Justice, but rather the State Department. Ironically, that is where Katzenbach ended his government career. In what was considered a surprise move by President Johnson, Katzenbach went from being attorney general to under secretary of State under Dean Rusk. With the passage of the civil rights legislation, Katzenbach was ready to take on a new challenge, the Vietnam War. He was a dove among hawks and groomed many future statesmen such as Richard HolbrookeAnthony Lake and Lawrence Eagleburger, who all worked for him.

I recently asked Katzenbach about the stalemate in Congress due to unwillingness to compromise. He replied, “Compromise assumes, I think, a certain rationality and a willingness to postpone, not necessarily give up. I never tried to convince the Southerners to stop discriminating and vote for civil rights. But with everyone, I was willing to explain why we wanted a provision and what we thought it would accomplish.”

He did the same when a proposal or amendment wasn’t favored. As he said, “These discussions often exposed a misunderstanding that could be cured. Our language could be interpreted in ways we did not intend.”

This nation will certainly miss public servants like Katzenbach who valued the art of understanding and compromise.

Amy Schapiro is author of the forthcoming biography Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, which will be published next year.

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Living Legends: Black History Month

The program read “Living Legends of the Civil Rights Movement,” but it just as easily could have been called “Living History.” So many people came out to hear Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton moderate a discussion with civil rights leaders Rep. John Lewis and Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, that there was a line down the block outside Busboys & Poets where the event was held on Monday night, February 27, in honor of black history month.

All three panelists were activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC) in the 1960s. They talked about a time when “the south was terrorist territory.” They shared some of the atrocities, including a man who had a kidney problem and stopped at the only bathroom for miles to relieve himself. He got no relief. Instead, he was shot in the back and killed. It was a white only bathroom.

Norton, Lewis, and Bond talked about Bloody Sunday in Selma, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the March on Washington, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. For two plus hours, the crowded room was spellbound as history came alive. In order to accommodate as many people as possible, bleachers and chairs were added to the stage behind the speakers. What was encouraging was that so many of those faces were young. And in the audience itself was an older crowd which included a former Time magazine journalist who covered civil rights in the 1960s, former SNCC members, and even a Freedom Rider, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

The evening ended with a Q&A and one of the questions was about Obama. Rep Lewis said that “the election of Obama was not the dream; just a down payment.”