Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Katzenbach’

University of Alabama

Today I’m heading to Tuscaloosa to speak at the University of Alabama’s Memorial Service for Nicholas Katzenbach which is being held today, June 11, the 49th anniversary of the stand in the school house door. If you are a new blog follower check out my post from last year about this historic confrontation and the lengths the federal government went to insure that the University of Alabama was integrated. Tune in tomorrow to read about the memorial service which was planned by the students inspired by Katzenbach’s life.

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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In Memory of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach

Today is a day the I’ve been dreading, but knew would come. Even though Nicholas Katzenbach was under hospice care the news of his passing last night is still hard to bear. I spoke to him on the phone recently and he sounded strong, the way I will remember him.

As a biographer it’s tricky confronting the end of your subject’s life. I didn’t want to be an intrusion and just wasn’t sure where that line is drawn. Should I call? Should I visit? Should I write? Should I give them their privacy? I still don’t know the answer.

Katzenbach is much more than the subject of my next book, and, in fact he has become an important part of my life, as is the subject of any biographer.  Their lives start consuming our own. The significant days in his life dot my calendar. If you read this blog regularly you’ve noticed that – January 17 (birthday), February 23 (shot down over the Mediterranean), and June 11 (the stand in the school house door).

And, now today, there is another date to add to the calendar – May 8th, but that date is already etched in my mind. May 8th is also the anniversary of the death of another important person in my life – my grandmother.

Right now what gives me solace is that the broader public is learning what I already know, that Katzenbach was a national treasure whose life was intertwined with some of the most historic events in the latter half of the twentieth century from the struggle for civil rights to the Vietnam War and everything in between – The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Cuban Prisoner Exchange, Ole Miss, the Stand in the School House Door, the swearing in of LBJ, the Warren Commission, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the Pentagon Papers, the Pueblo, and so much more.

While I’ve already written the ending to my book, Katzenbach’s life now has an end too.

In some sense there is an irony 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.

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a perfect marriage, but if there is it was the marriage of Lydia Phelps Stokes and Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach who were married for 65 years. She is feisty and ever bit his intellectual equal, not an easy feat. My sympathies go out to Lydia and the rest of the Katzenbach family.

Green Eyes

On February 23, 1943, seven men crammed inside a B-25 bomber for a routine sea search over the Mediterranean. Only one man knew this wasn’t a routine mission, but Major Ivan Ferguson didn’t share that information with pilot Capt. Leonard Eddy, a school teacher from Nebraska; Lt. Nicholas Katzenbach, the navigator; Lt. Frank Hawkins, the co-pilot; Lt. Perry Pickett, the bombardier; Sgt. Milo Taylor, the radio operator, or Sgt. Hank Schave the gunner.

The Green Eyes crew took off on a crystal clear day from a base in Tunisia. At the time, the ground war was focused on the Battle of Kasserine, a key supply route through the Atlas Mountains in Central Tunisia. While the Allies fought the Germans on the ground, the Green Eyes crew took to the air and headed east searching for a supply convoy. They found one, and it was huge – fourteen ships in all.

As they swooped down to attack, the second wave of three bombers missed the signal. There were only three bombers remaining and one was quickly shot down leaving Green Eyes and their wingman to attack alone. They were successful, hitting the targeted convoy below. “It looked like the Fourth of July,” remembered Katzenbach, as he described watching the ammunition barge explode.

Katzenbach didn’t have much time to bask in the glory before Green Eyes was hit. As the bomber plummeted to the sea, Eddy miraculously maintained control of the plane which softened the blow as they made impact. To Hawkins, it still felt like they hit a “brick wall.”

All seven men survived the crash and floated on the Mediterranean Sea in life rafts for two days before being rescued by the enemy. For Katzenbach, that moment marked the beginning of his 27 months as a Prisoner of War. He was only twenty-one years old. Today he is ninety.


USS Pueblo

Have you ever heard of the USS Pueblo? It was a Naval ship on an intelligence gathering mission sailing in international waters near the coast of North Korea on January 23, 1968, but it masqueraded as an oceanographic research ship. That cover did not fool the North Koreans. Forty-four years ago today, the North Koreans captured the USS Pueblo and took the 83-man crew hostage.

The Pueblo’s mission was assessed beforehand and determined to have ‘minimal’ risk. Thus the ship was not properly equipped to fend off an attack. Instead, the Pueblo crew was instructed to start shredding and burning the hundreds of pounds of classified material on board. The smoke from the burning paper only incensed the enemy more and they started firing upon the Pueblo killing one and injuring several others.

North Korean ships surrounded the Pueblo, boarded the ship, and tied-up and blind-folded the crew. They brought them to Pyongyang for what was the beginning of an 11-month hostage ordeal. After nearly a year of negotiations between the United States and North Korea, the Pueblo crew was freed two days before Christmas; something that was important to President Johnson in the waning days of his administration.

And, of course, there is a Katzenbach connection. The Pueblo incident was among the many international crises he dealt with as Under Secretary of the State Department. As you guessed, there will be more about this in the book…


Happy 90th Birthday

Betty White isn’t the only one who is turning 90 years old today, so is Nicholas Katzenbach. Seventy years ago, Katzenbach celebrated his 20th birthday by enlisting in the Army Air Corps. Anxious to see action, he volunteered for Navigation School – the fastest way to the front lines. He saw action in North Africa and on February 23, 1943 he was shot down over the Mediterranean Sea and spent the next 27 months as a POW during World War II. Today we salute him. Happy 90th Birthday!


Dismissed without Merit

Lead litigator Tom Barr seen here with the NYT from January 9, 1982 announcing the IBM case was being dismissed without merit

In 1982, the U.S Government announced two landmark anti-trust decisions that dominated The New York Times front page thirty years ago today. The headline was, “U.S. Settles Phone Suit, Drops I.B.M. Case; A.T.&T to Split Up, Transforming Industry”.

In one day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the resolution to two antitrust lawsuits against corporate giants. In the first case, AT&T settled with the government by consenting to break up Ma Bell and divest itself of 22 Bell phone companies, transforming the telecommunication industry. That landmark decision blunted the news that the Justice Department was dropping its thirteen year antitrust lawsuit against IBM. The case was dismissed “without merit” by Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division, William Baxter.

The lawsuit was filed in 1969 on Nicholas Katzenbach’s 47th birthday in the waning days of the Johnson Administration. Weeks earlier Katzenbach announced that he would be joining IBM as its General Counsel. Little did he or his successor, Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who filed the case, realize that this case would span five presidential administrations from Johnson to Reagan. Nor did Katzenbach realize that he would spend much of his time at IBM fighting the very institution he used to lead.

From the onset Katzenbach and Tom Barr, the lead litigator of IBM’s defense were adamant that IBM had not violated Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the heart of which focused on preventing corporate monopolies. Barr worked for what many considered the premier corporate law firm in the country – Cravath, Swaine & Moore – which IBM already had on retainer prior to the suit. By the end of the lawsuit the Cravath approach to the IBM case served as the gold standard in complex corporate litigation and it gave rise to some legal giants including David Boies who most recently represented the NFL owners and the NBA players in their respective lockouts. In the meantime, computer giants such as Apple and Microsoft (the latter of whom faced its own government antitrust lawsuit led by Boies), have risen as IBM’s foothold on the computer industry has waned. The marketplace (a point of contention during the lawsuit) changed dramatically during the thirteen years the case dragged on, and has changed even more in the thirty years since it ended.