BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Roy Reed, author of "Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal," why was he important enough to have a book written about him?
ROY REED, AUTHOR, "FAUBUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN PRODIGAL": In the 1950s, he was one of the most famous men in the world. He was notorious for a number of years and then almost completely dropped out of sight in his last years. And I thought he did not deserve to be forgotten, whether he was a villain or a hero, however you might choose to look at him. Here was a guy who was being forgotten. And it was brought to--I was doing some kind of a magazine article one day in the 1980s; don't remember what the article was, but I needed to refer to Orval Faubus and his age. I reached for my desk copy of "American Biographies," Merriam-Webster, and Orval Faubus was not in there. Now here's a book with thousands of entries, and they did not choose to include a man who had changed the course of history. I was offended by that, and I set to work on the book right then.
LAMB: Born in 1910, died in 1994, but ran against Bill Clinton for governor in 1986.
Prof. REED: Yes, at the age of 70-something. He knew he had no chance, but he cobbled together a little campaign chest and got out on the road, just as he had done in the '50s and the '60s and the '70s. He ran for office a lot.
LAMB: Orval Eugene Faubus--where did the Eugene come from?
Prof. REED: Eugene V. Debs, the great socialist of the early 20th century. Orval's father, Sam Faubus, was a member of the Socialist Party. In fact, he was the main organizer for the Socialist Party in Madison County, Arkansas, in 1910 on through World War I and again in the '30s. He was a dedicated socialist, and Debs was his hero. And he named his first child after Eugene Debs.
LAMB: Who was Eugene V. Debs?
Prof. REED: He was the socialist who ran for president a number of times--in 1912, he ran for president from a prison cell in--during World War I because he had been locked up for opposing the war. But he was a great hero of the left wing in the United States in the early part of this century and, of course, now, like Faubus himself, mostly forgotten but a great figure in American history.
LAMB: Orval Faubus was governor of Arkansas for how many terms?
Prof. REED: Six two-year terms, 12 years.
LAMB: If you were to find him at the moment when he was the most prominent in this country, when would that be?
Prof. REED: 1957 and '58. In September of 1957, he called out the state National Guard to stop the integration of the largest high school in the state of Arkansas, Central High School. President Eisenhower eventually had to send in federal troops to enforce the desegregation of that school. As a result of that action, he became known around the world--Faubus did; hated by millions of people, adored by other millions. But that's when he made his mark.
LAMB: You say in your book that you've interviewed him 75 times.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: For this book.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: When did that start?
Prof. REED: 1988. I wasn't sure that he would want me to write about him. I had worked for the newspaper that he considered his main enemy back in the 1950s and '60s, and I was no admirer of Orval Faubus and he knew that. But when I called him up from a pay telephone one day on the edge of his town and told him that I was gonna write a book about him, a little to my surprise, he said, well, he'd do everything he could to cooperate. And I must say he was very forthcoming in the interviews.
LAMB: Where did you record the interviews?
Prof. REED: At his home in Conway, Arkansas, for the most part. A few times, we traveled together to other parts of the state--up to his home territory in the Ozark Mountains, for example, and here and there at odd places where I would catch him on the fly. But most of 'em were at his dining room table in a fairly modest house in Conway, Arkansas.
LAMB: Seventy-five different times.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: What did you learn about him that you didn't expect to in those different meetings?
Prof. REED: I'm not sure I learned anything that was terribly surprising, except this: that I liked him, in spite of all my instincts, in spite of his politics, which were always repugnant to me, right to the end of his life. In spite of personal things about him that I learned in the interviews, I found that I could not help liking the man. And I suppose that's simply an indication of what a masterful politician he always was, even in his last years.
LAMB: I wanna jump to the end and talk about his personal life first before we talk about the other, because at the end of the book, it just keeps coming, including the fact that, at one point, you say, in spite of being governor of the state for six terms, at one point, he would sign autographs on a piece of paper for 25 cents in order to have money. What was that about?
Prof. REED: He was a broken man at the--during his last years. After he left the governor's office, he had no occupation that he could go back to. He had been a small-town newspaper editor, a weekly newspaper, which didn't make much money at all. After all this fame and acclaim, he suddenly found that he had no income. He went to work at one point as a bank teller in his home county of Huntsville, Arkansas. He ran a theme park that Al Capp had inspired, a dog-patch theme park, for a while. He had various ventures that didn't pay. He was always at the edge of bankruptcy. In fact, at one point, he was in debt several hundred thousand dollars; that largely because of a personal change in his life. He divorced Alta Faubus, a woman he had been married to for 37 years, I believe, after he had taken up with a woman much younger than himself; swept off his feet in a kind of classic love affair of an older man falling head over heels for a younger woman. She turned out to cause great problems for him. She was a very expensive second wife, not in her tastes but because she suffered bad health and ran up enormous doctor and hospital bills. And then he began to get sick, and then the--her children caused problems for him. And all the way around, it was a very expensive marriage. And he was in debt and never really got out of debt the rest of his life until just shortly before he died.
LAMB: And how'd he get out of debt?
Prof. REED: By selling a house that he had built under kind of scandalous circumstances at the end of his term in office as governor. He had, more or less, openly invited people to contribute money to help him build this mansion back up in the hills in the Ozarks. And it was, indeed, a mansion, designed by the premiere architect of that part of the United States, Faye Jones, at considerable cost. And as you might expect, when he sent out this invitation for contributions, the biggest part of the money came from people who had political favors to pay off or to ask for the future. And this caused a scandal. But it was a very valuable piece of property, and he finally sold it for $300,000-and-some-odd and used almost all of that to pay off the debts that had been riding him for 20 years.
LAMB: Before we come back to Mr. Faubus, for a moment, you started your career where?
Prof. REED: Actually, at The Joplin Missouri Globe for a very short time and then next at the Arkansas Gazette, one of the nation's great newspapers back in those days.
LAMB: Where were you born?
Prof. REED: At Hot Springs, Arkansas, which happens, of course, to be the hometown of President Bill Clinton. He and I never knew each other there. He was considerably younger than I was, and we grew up in different eras. But it was--it's a fascinating little old town, kind of a wild spot in the middle of this Puritan Southern Baptist state--open gambling, drinking and carousing and that sort of thing. It's kind of a--but it's--you know, it has--everybody knows about Hot Springs. That's where I was born and grew up.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
Prof. REED: At the University of Missouri at the School of Journalism.
LAMB: And how long were you at the Arkansas Gazette?
Prof. REED: Eight years.
LAMB: Were you there when Harry Ashmore was the executive editor?
Prof. REED: I was, indeed. In fact, Harry Ashmore was the main reason that I wanted to work at the Arkansas Gazette. He was a well-known editor already in the mid-'50s, when I went to work there.
LAMB: And what role did he play in this whole Faubus story?
Prof. REED: He was the main antagonist to Faubus. He was the power center on the other side, what we would generalize as the liberal side, the integrationist side, although it was nowhere near that simple. Harry did not editorialize for integration but simply for obeying the Supreme Court's school desegregation ruling. But that put him on the opposite side of Faubus, and Faubus used Harry as a whipping boy for years. And to be fair about it, Harry used Orval in the same way.
LAMB: Now you graduated from the University of Missouri; you came to the Gazette at--what year, then?
Prof. REED: '56.
LAMB: For eight years.
Prof. REED: For eight years.
LAMB: Until 1964?
Prof. REED: Until the end of '64, yeah.
LAMB: And then what'd you do?
Prof. REED: Went to work for The New York Times as a Southern correspondent covering the civil rights movement. In those days, the Southern bureau of The Times was in Atlanta, which also happened to be the central gathering place for all of the main civil rights organizations, and the main figures of the civil rights movement were in and out of there all the time.
LAMB: When did you retire from The New York Times?
Prof. REED: 1978 or '79. I'm a little unsure. At the end of '78, I believe.
LAMB: Then what'd you do?
Prof. REED: Went to work teaching journalism in my home state, at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
LAMB: You say here on page 214 that, `Although many American reporters were personally sympathetic to the nine Negro students at Central High, most managed a reasonable showing of objectivity in their coverage. The most notable exceptions were the Luce magazines. Time and Life both portrayed Faubus as a witless redneck with no education or refinement.
Prof. REED: Yes. That called to...
LAMB: Let me just ask you, though, wasn't Henry Luce known as a conservative?
Prof. REED: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: How, then, did this work?
Prof. REED: Well, a conservative that did not include race in those days. Richard Nixon was a liberal on race in the context of the times, even though he was conservative on other things. Henry Luce was that same sort of conservative. No, he--Luce did not at all sympathize with the segregationists of the South.
LAMB: So if you go back to that period, you say the press was by and large on the side of integration.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: Did they play a role there in this whole thing, then?
Prof. REED: Well, I believe so, yeah. They brought to the nation's attention this rather troubling development. Of course, there had been other developments across the South as the movement began to gather force. Martin King had already had the Montgomery bus boycott successfully concluded and was already a growing figure in the nation's consciousness at that time. So by '57, the civil rights movement had a pretty good head of steam, but it hadn't really had any great breakthroughs, and especially in the field of school desegregation. That's why Little Rock was significant. This was the first big test of the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision. And the supposition was, this was going to work in Little Rock because it was a moderate upper South town, and so the press took a great interest in it before September on the theory that we're going down there to cover a success story. We're--Little Rock's going to show the nation how a moderate Southern city with a reasonable leadership can make integration work. And then it blew up in our faces, and some of the press found that it was covering quite a different story, a story of rebellion.
LAMB: There were lots of names that popped up in your book that have relevance to today, or at least I wanna ask you about 'em. One is--Jim McDougal's name was in this book.
Prof. REED: Yes.
Prof. REED: Yes, in a very minor role. But even then, Jim McDougal was interested in politics. He was an up-and-coming young politico--or--it had to be in his early 20s at that time; friendly with Orval Faubus, as all of the progressive young Democrats of the state were in the beginning, because Faubus was a progressive.
LAMB: Another one--and this is on page 225. It says, `The crowd was egged on by invective from strategically placed leaders.' Quote, `"I hope they bring out eight dead niggers," one leader shouted. The Reverend Wesley Pruden of the Citizens Council was more circumspect. He limited himself mainly to quiet words of assurance to the members of the mob, although once when the crowd rushed to the barricades, he raised his voice, "That's what we gotta fight, niggers, Communists and cops."'
LAMB: A couple questions. The Reverend Wesley Pruden--that name is familiar in this town now--the name is. Is it any relationship to the editor of The Washington Times, Wesley Pruden?
Prof. REED: Yes. This man in the book is the father of the man who's the editor of The Washington Times.
LAMB: What role did he have to play in this whole thing, and what about that language I just read? How much of that went on in those days?
Prof. REED: The role of the father, you mean?
LAMB: The role of the father and in the language you...
Prof. REED: Yes. Oh, yes.
LAMB: ...'cause you're quoted often--or, you quote people often using those words.
Prof. REED: Yes. The--the Reverend Pruden was one of the top two or three leaders of the segregationist organization called the Citizens Council in the city of Little Rock. He was a powerful speaker. He had the gift of being able to move crowds. And whether you like it or not, that language was the language of the day when you're--when a segregationist speaker was trying to move a crowd. Incidentally, that language is taken directly from old files of the FBI, which did a very thorough investigation of the trouble at Little Rock.
LAMB: What role did the FBI play in this whole period down there during 1957?
Prof. REED: A very important role. When Faubus called out the National Guard, he justified calling out the Guard on the grounds that he was preventing violence, that he had had advance information that there was going to be bloodshed at Central High School; that there were caravans of armed men heading for the city, armed to the teeth; that the stores around Pulaski County had sold unusually large numbers of pistols, knives and other weapons to young white boys and black boys that they intended to use against each other in the school.
The FBI investigated that claim of impending violence and found it to be essentially without base at all. There was no unusual sale of knives. Even the leader of the state Citizens Council, a man named Jim Johnson, told me for the book, `There were no caravans. We made the governor believe that there were caravans, but there weren't any.' The FBI established that all of this pretext for calling out the National Guard was simply not true.
LAMB: In your research on this, I also suggest that your wife played a major role in this book and helped you transcribe 200 tape-recorded interviews.
Prof. REED: Yes, and I think if she had known at the beginning how much work that was going to be, she simply would have put her foot down and refused, and I couldn't blame her. That's an enormous amount of--if you've ever transcribed a tape-recorded interview, as a reporter, I used to do it a little bit, and it's tedious, hard work. And, yeah, the book simply couldn't have been done without this, because otherwise, I'd have had to spend thousands of dollars, maybe $10,000 or $20,000 paying to get these things transcribed. And for a book of this sort, there simply is not that kind of money available.
LAMB: This book was originally done in 1997, hardback.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: Still available hardback and also now in paperback. Who did it?
Prof. REED: University of Arkansas Press at Fayetteville.
LAMB: You know how many they printed in all this?
Prof. REED: Oh, I used to have that figured in my head. Not very many. Maybe 3,000 altogether.
LAMB: How did it do?
Prof. REED: Well, it's--they've about sold out. You know, John Grisham would be proud of it, I guess. He'd--I guess he sells that many books in about--what?--30 minutes when one of his comes out. Yeah.
LAMB: You said earlier you had 75 interviews with Orval Faubus and then another 125. What kind of people did you try to seek out? And were there family members? Did any of the wives talk to you?
Prof. REED: Absolutely. Members of his family--I interviewed all of them that I could find who were still alive; traveled as far as California and Washington state to interview his sisters, one of whom, incidentally, turned out to be very critical of her brother for what he had done at Central High School. His former wife Alta spent many hours with me and was very helpful. His then-present wife, Jan Faubus, spent a lot of time talking to me. I sought out a-in fact, it was no trouble at all to find enemies of Faubus who were eager to talk about him, old colleagues of his who had been in his administration, old political friends of his, personal friends. I tried to get all shades of opinion about the man.
LAMB: His first wife, Alta, it's 37 years--is she still alive?
Prof. REED: She is, indeed.
LAMB: What did she have to say about him after he left for a younger woman?
Prof. REED: She was still in love with him, and that was clear in everything she said, although she was terribly bitter about the way she'd been treated, naturally enough. And oddly enough, although she couldn't stand the second wife--I think really hated her--when Orval eventually married a third time, Alta, the first wife, and the third wife became very good friends and, in fact, sat together at his funeral as sisters might.
LAMB: And the second wife was murdered.
Prof. REED: Murdered, yes, in Houston.
Prof. REED: Elizabeth, yes. Yes. She...
LAMB: And did Orval Faubus move to Houston, at one point, in this whole process?
Prof. REED: He did. After he had left office and had been out of office some years and his life had begun to fall to pieces, partly because of this second wife, he simply felt he had had all the humiliation that he could stand in his home country, and she had had enough of it, and they just pulled up almost in the dead of night and moved to Houston, where he worked for a while in public relations work, but it was a miserable time.
LAMB: Who murdered her?
Prof. REED: A drifter from Florida who had a history of assaulting women, of finding a way to get into the house with a woman alone, sexually assaulting her--but this was the first time he had committed murder. He probably had no idea that this was the, as it happened, estranged wife of Orval Faubus.
LAMB: What about this--was it the suicide of Farrell? And who is he?
Prof. REED: Farrell was Orval's only surviving child. He and Alta had just this one son. There were other babies, but they were stillborn. He was a lawyer and had a lot of personal problems. He became addicted to prescription drugs and eventually took an overdose and did away with himself at the age of--well, late 30s.
LAMB: And what year was that?
Prof. REED: In the late '70s. Yeah. Before the second wife was murdered.
LAMB: And how did Orval Faubus then get married for the third time?
Prof. REED: He went into hiding practically for about a year after the death of Beth. He was still very much in love with this woman, even though she had treated him miserably, and--but he--you know, he couldn't help it -- but after she was murdered and after his very close brother died and after a sister died and after his son committed suicide, he became a kind of a hermit and went up to his house and just hid out. When he finally got back out of the public view, he started making a speech here and there. And at a gathering for single people, he--I guess he was lonely again. He...
LAMB: Parents Without Partners, I think. Something--yeah.
Prof. REED: Something like that, yeah. This young, red-haired, rather pretty woman snapped a picture of him and struck up a conversation--a very lively young woman. And one thing led to another, and they ended up married and fairly happily, for the most part, although there were some very rough spots, even in this marriage.
LAMB: And she was 30 years younger.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: And then what happened once they got married to his health and to her health?
Prof. REED: After a few years of relatively good health, he came down with prostate cancer, which eventually got into his bones and killed him. She developed breast cancer and was very sick at the time he died, even though she managed to care for him right up t--literally until the last instant of his life. And she outlived him for a year and then died of cancer.
LAMB: You say it almost near the end of the book that, `In instinct and style, Faubus was probably more like Richard M. Nixon than any other public figure of recent history.' Why?
Prof. REED: These were terribly proud men who suffered, I think, from maybe a little too much dignity and they were a little too protective of their dignity. Their upbringing had been similar in some ways. Both had had mothers that they adored. In fact, Faubus used to talk about his mother as a kind of an angel. Nixon, of course, did much the same thing. Nixon got in office by lying about his opponent for the US Senate out in California. Faubus got into office by lying about his attendance at a left-wing college in the '30s. In personality--there were similarities. Even to facial tics, they--you--everybody remembers that kind of phony smile that Nixon could put on for the camera. With Faubus, it was not a smile but a phony grimace that he had a way of twisting his mouth around that was so obviously not sincere. And over and over, I thought of Richard Nixon as I got to know Faubus better.
LAMB: Well, you mentioned the Commonwealth College.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: Where is it?
Prof. REED: Well, it's dead, but it was--in the early part of this century, it was in Mena, Arkansas.
LAMB: Now we gotta stop here, by the way.
Prof. REED: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: You know why. Mena has been in the news for the last several years.
Prof. REED: Oh, yes. It was the center of all kinds of conspiracy theories about the CIA and drug dealing. And Bill Clinton--God knows--I guess is supposed to have had people killed at Mena Airport. I don't know. The whole nutty conspiracy business centered at Mena, Arkansas--as you say, it's been in the news for years.
Well, two, three generations ago it was in the news for another reason. It was the home of this left-wing college that was originally founded by socialists from California. Eventually, it was taken over mainly by the Communist Party. It lasted 10 or 12 years altogether and had quite a distinguished history in some ways. It...
LAMB: Where is this picture from, by the way?
Prof. REED: That picture was--that's a relic of--that's one of the buildings that was left after Commonwealth was put out of business by the state of Arkansas. The buildings remain, and it's now a kind of fabulous farm again, a horse farm. But that picture, `The People Rule,' there was supposed to be a hammer and sickle buried in the concrete in front of one of the houses. But it was a very interesting place, and Faubus ended up as a student there.
LAMB: How long was he there?
Prof. REED: According to him, when this first came to light publicly, he was there a matter of days, maybe a couple weeks. I finally got him to admit that he was there for a full term, from February through May.
LAMB: Why didn't he want to admit it?
Prof. REED: He was being beat about the head and ears with this Commonwealth College experience during his first campaign for governor in 1954. His opponent, the incumbent governor, a man named Francis Cherry, had found out that Faubus had attended this left-wing institution and raised it as an issue in the campaign, suggesting that Faubus was probably subversive, maybe a Communist. And it was a very effective issue for a while.
LAMB: You say that a small number of alumni became famous. Lee Hays and Agnes "Sis" Cunningham went on from Commonwealth to join Pete Seeger in the founding of the Almanac Singers. Hays wrote the words of the song "If I Had a Hammer" and other folk ballads. You go on to talk about--that Roger Baldwin, who was the executive director and founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, was the founder of all this?
Prof. REED: Yeah.
LAMB: Upton Sinclair was on their advisory council?
Prof. REED: Yes. H.L...
LAMB: Why did it die?
Prof. REED: H.L. Mencken was a friend of it.
LAMB: Yeah, but H.L. Mencken was not a socialist.
Prof. REED: No--no, he--no. No, God, no, he was all the others--but he-- you know, he was a great free speech man. And as the authorities began to try to shut the place down, all kinds of famous people, including Mencken, came to the support of Commonwealth.
Why did it die? Was that your question? It died because the government shut it down. This was in the early days of the Red Scare --well, no, this was one more Red Scare that we'd gone through in this country. You know, the famous Red Scare of the teens, World War I, when the Socialist Party was practically put out of business. They imprisoned people. The Alien and Sedition Acts was still a, you know, big--were laughed out of existence, finally. But the...
LAMB: Is that what put Eugene Debs in jail?
Prof. REED: Yes, yes.
LAMB: What did he actually go to jail for, and...
Prof. REED: Opposing the war. And this was thought to be a violation of this very restrictive kind of fascistic law that had been on the books forever, the Alien and Sedition law.
LAMB: Do you remember who pardoned him?
Prof. REED: No. No. Do you?
LAMB: One of the presidents pardoned him. No, I was just trying to remember. It was either William Howard Taft or...
Prof. REED: I think it had to be after that, because he was in prison during World War I.
LAMB: Could have been Harding. Could have been Harding.
Prof. REED: It could have been Harding--could have been. Very unlikely, but yeah.
LAMB: Well, no, it was an--whatever it was, it was an odd thing.
Prof. REED: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: I mean, I'm sure our viewers will let us know which one.
Prof. REED: But these--this same kind of sentiment came to life again, this anti-Red sentiment, during the '30s, and it built up against Commonwealth College in that part of the United States so that the state government finally, under a terrific pressure from the right, moved in and shut it down.
LAMB: Well, you start off by telling us about Sam Faubus' father, and then you talk about Commonwealth College, and this is all on the left and the Socialists. But you end up telling us he was a right-winger.
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: So what was he in the end?
Prof. REED: As far as he had any true belief, I think he became a right-winger. He was not in the beginning. He--I doubt whether he had any deeply held political convictions. He respected his father's socialism and agreed with a lot of it. It was obvious even as a man in his 80s, he still had good things to say about certain parts of the socialist platform and with great appreciation, could recite the words of a speech that he had heard 60--70 years before from an old socialist about how the capitalist system preyed on the weak and the poor. And he could talk about all that with great sincerity and, I think, with approval.
On the other hand, after he was governor and after he became a symbol of segregation, more of this willy-nilly, he fell in with that crowd and I think, had to justify his actions and, day after day, began to talk like a right-winger and, I think, finally began to believe what he was saying.
And toward the end of his life, he supported Republicans. For ex-- gave quiet help to Richard Nixon in his campaigns, and Ronald Reagan was a great favorite of his. One of his personal friends toward the end of his life was Gerald L.K. Smith, the famous anti-Semite and hell-raiser of--on the right wing. So I think he became a true believer. He hated the idea of the '60s, the hippies and the protest movement, and that cemented this right-wing streak in him.
LAMB: Who is this, and is this the man that eventually ended up running Arkla?
Prof. REED: That's the man. His name is W.R. Stephens, Witt Stephens, as everybody in Arkansas knew him. He was the one of the great buccaneers of American finance and not terribly well-known outside of Arkansas.
LAMB: What was Arkla?
Prof. REED: Arkla was a natural gas company. Witt got his hands on Arkla at a kind of fire sale back in the '50s and saw a chance to make some money using all kinds of questionable deals, but mainly relying on politics. By then, he was a political friend of Orval Faubus, and he had a particular scheme that he wanted to put through the Legislature to legalize a certain policy that gas companies could use. Never mind that the Supreme Court had said that you can't do this, Witt got the Arkansas Legislature to pass it.
LAMB: Is this the same company that Mack McLarty, who was President Clinton's first chief of staff, went on to run?
Prof. REED: Mack McLarty, years later, became the president of Arkla gas company, long after Stephens had left the company. And--well, he maintained an interest, but he--Witt went on to bigger and better things and kind of turned Arkla over to other people. But that's the same company, yes.
LAMB: Orval Faubus' relationship to dogs.
Prof. REED: I--excuse me, I wouldn't want to leave the--that hanging there, a suggestion that Mack McLarty was a tool of Witt Stephens or a corrupt figure in any way, because when he was running--when McLarty ran the company, it had become a different kind of organization altogether. And as far as I know, he was completely above board and honest in the way he ran that company.
LAMB: For that matter, because we talked about it earlier, can you draw that Reverend Wesley Pruden's son would think the same way he did about integration today? I mean, is that...
Prof. REED: I...
LAMB: We were talking about all these different areas and...
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: ...different people.
Prof. REED: Yes. I don't know the son. He and I have worked for the same newspaper, but at different times, the Arkansas Gazette. I have a good bit of regard for him. Back in the days when he was a reporter, he was known as an imaginative and creative sort of fellow and a good, hard-working reporter. I disagree with just about everything that his newspaper here in Washington does in its coverage of Bill Clinton and its--in its editorial stance, and it's a very conservative stance. I have no reason to think that he--that young Wes Pruden is a segregationist. I simply don't know.
LAMB: Sometimes here when we--the comparison is just to show people...
Prof. REED: Yes, yes.
LAMB: ...you know, connect to the past, and I don't--we leave some of these things dangling...
Prof. REED: Right.
LAMB: ...from time to time. The dog--you say that in his most successful autobiography that he wrote, meaning Orval Faubus, that he devoted nine pages to his dog McCreedy.
Prof. REED: Yes. Yes, a dog that he had sort of inherited from his troubled son after the son was too drug-addicted to take care of it. Orval loved dogs all of his life. He told me once about having to shoot a dog in other circumstances, a dog that some neighbor had abandoned. And Orval took it in and then Orval had to go off somewhere, and there was nobody to take care of the dog. And in those days, the honorable thing to do was simply to destroy the animal. And all these years later, it troubled him that he had had to take that poor dog out with a shotgun and shoot it.
McCreedy--McGreedy was in some ways the love of his life, if you discount the abortive love affair with Elizabeth Westmoreland. Of all the dogs he had--and he had a lot of them--McGreedy was his favorite. The dog went with him everywhere in the car. And one day he had to go to town in the car, wanted McGreedy to stay behind; McGreedy wanted to go, ran after the car, got under the wheel and was run over and killed. And it broke Orval's heart, literally broke his heart. He never got over that.
He told me in an interview very late in this process, when we were talking about his political past mainly and how you'd act--he--I never got him to admit that he had ever done anything wrong in politics. He had a justification for everything, every move he had made. And he volunteered this one. He said, `People sometimes say, you know, if you could live your life over, what would you do differently?' He said, `I know at once what my answer would be. If I could change any one thing, it would be the instant when I ran over that little dog. I would change that.'
LAMB: Going back to the 1957 Central High School event, a number of things I want to ask you about that, including the fact that, as a result of all this, you say that the Gazette lost something on the order of $6 million; they lost 1,000 subscribers a day for 30 days, 30 percent of its circulation. This is all when Harry Ashmore was taking a strong position for integration. How did that happen? Why did people abandon the Arkansas Gazette?
Prof. REED: There was an organized boycott by the segregationist movement, a very successful campaign, as it turned out. The Gazette was an easy target because as passions were stirred in the white community, even people who were not born haters, even people who were not vicious in their racism, you know, the kind of garden variety racism that most white Southerners in those days needed somebody to be mad at during this episode. And the Gazette made a very convenient target for their anger.
And so when the Citizens' Councils--the statewide Citizens' Council put out word we should boycott this newspaper and boycott the advertisers who spend money in that newspaper and cut off your subscription to that newspaper, it succeeded very well for a while. Now the paper--I should point out the paper never actually went into the red. That loss of $5 million or $6 million was money--that was revenue that didn't come in that would have based on ordinary expectations but didn't because of this--and it went on for the better part of a year, more or less successfully.
LAMB: Who owns the Arkansas Gazette today?
Prof. REED: God. The Arkansas Gazette is dead. It was bought out by the Gannett Corporation, for which I have no use. And if you'd give me enough time, I would tell you why, but that's not why we're here. But they effectively killed this fine old new--the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi River, ran it into the ground because they sent in a bunch of hotshots who thought they knew more about running a newspaper than the local people.
They eventually gave up on it and sold it to the competing newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat, owned by a family named Hussman, a young Walter Hussman who simply outwitted this huge media chain at every turn. And he bought the Arkansas Gazette and merged it with the Arkansas Democrat, and the surviving paper is now known as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
LAMB: Orval Faubus first elected governor in 1955?
Prof. REED: Elected in '54, took office in '55, yes.
LAMB: '57 is the moment we're talking about, September 1957, Central High School. What's the circumstance?
Prof. REED: The schools of the south had been, as you know, ordered to desegregate. It was proceeding at molasses' pace. Little Rock had a school superintendent named Virgil Blossom who had come up with a voluntary plan of desegregation. It was very cleverly drawn and cynically, designed to keep segregation, for the most part, for years to come by token integration of this one school. And then after years, it would proceed to the junior high level, then to the elementary level. This plan had been tested in federal court and approved. Virgil Blossom made hundreds of speeches to civic clubs around the town, promoting the plan. The general opinion in public was that it was going to succeed because there was no way it could fail.
Everybody seemed--there was no organized opposition until just weeks before the opening of school. And then the Capital Citizens Council, which was a small organization, only maybe 500 members at the outside, began to agitate. They brought in Governor Marvin Griffin from Georgia, a very well-known segregationist official, to speak at a rally, and he whipped up the crowd. And there were other developments along the line. Faubus began to get nervous. Faubus had kept hands off and, from all indications, was going to have nothing to do one way or the other with the integration of Central High School.
LAMB: And he was in his second term?
Prof. REED: Yeah, midway through his second term.
LAMB: Let me make one other connection. Virgil Blossom came from Fayetteville?
Prof. REED: Fayetteville.
LAMB: And there's another famous name in all this, the owner of the newspaper the Northwest Arkansas Times. Where was that?
Prof. REED: In Fayetteville, where the university is, it was owned by the family of Senator J.W. Fulbright. His mother was the owner of that newspaper...
Prof. REED: ...at this time.
LAMB: And who was the brother-in-law of J. William Fulbright? Opened the Fayetteville schools to integration first, in a sense.
Prof. REED: Hal Douglas. Yeah, and the first school district in the South to integrate its schools after the Supreme Court decision was Fayetteville and went off very peacefully. Nothing--no problem.
LAMB: And then what was the Southern Manifesto?
Prof. REED: The Southern Manifesto came in 1956, a year before the events of 1957. And in my opinion, this is when the real massive resistance took hold in the South. The Southern Manifesto was a document drawn up by some of the more rigid segregationist members of the United States Congress. Strom Thurmond was prominent this. The manifesto said, in effect, that the Supreme Court decision ordering school desegregation was illegal.
LAMB: This was '54, the Brown vs. the Board.
Prof. REED: The '50--Brown vs. Board. It was illegal, unconstitutional, misreading of the law and history, and ought to be resisted by every lawful means.
LAMB: Did J. William Fulbright sign that Southern Mani...
Prof. REED: He did indeed.
LAMB: He signed it in spite of the fact that his wife was calling for integration.
Prof. REED: His mother.
LAMB: Or his mother, I'm sorry.
Prof. REED: Mm-hmm. That's right, because Fulbright and even--all but a handful of Southern senators and representatives signed this manifesto because the pressure to sign built up to the point where it would have been political suicide not to sign it. Fulbright signed it with a great reluctance and only after getting it altered in its language to modify it to some extent. Brooks Hays, a famous liberal of the time, president of the Southern Baptist Convention back when it was a liberal organization...
Prof. REED: He was a congressman, and he had to sign it. And he hated it, and he regretted it the rest of his life, but--the pressure, yeah.
LAMB: But to go back to the Central High School event--and one of the things you point out in your book is you say that Dwight Eisenhower--was president then--was more of a segregationist than Orval Faubus?
Prof. REED: I believe that. Of course, I did not know President Eisenhower; I never went hunting with him in Georgia on the old slave plantations. I don't know. But from things--from history I've read, from biography of that, I'm pretty sure that he, in his personal belief, was more nearly a segregationist than Orval Faubus. Faubus was not a segregationist. He was an--he was simply not.
LAMB: So Virgil Blossom says, `We're gonna integrate Little Rock Central High.' What--and when is it that Dwight Eisenhower federalizes the National Guard?
Prof. REED: Don't hold me to the numbers, but about three weeks after the opening day of school that year. Faubus called out the guard the night before school opened.
LAMB: September 2nd.
Prof. REED: Yes. And things rocked along in a kind of limbo for about three weeks. There was an abortive meeting between the governor and the president up at Newport, Rhode Island. They had to get Ike off the golf course to come to this meeting. And they thought they had an agreement. Well, Eisenhower apparently thought he had persuaded Faubus to go back home and use those same state guardsmen to protect the nine Negro children.
Faubus' view of it is that they had no such agreement; that, in fact, he felt tricked by Eisenhower's attorney general, Herbert Brownell. He thought he had talked the president into agreeing to a delay, to give time to cool off. Delay was what Faubus was angling for in the beginning, delay; that's what he really wanted more than an explosive confrontation. But Brownell told Eisenhower, `No, you can't give a delay. That's not in your power. This is a court decision and has to be carried out.'
But Eisenhower finally had to call out the troops after there was violence; nobody killed, but a good bit of very troubling violence in the streets and around Central High School. Segregationist mobs came to forcibly keep the nine black children out of the school; succeeded. The assistant police chief, one of the great unsung heroes of our time, a man named Gene Smith, had to spirit these kids out from the basement of the school in unmarked cars with their heads down so the mob couldn't get at them.
LAMB: The black kids?
Prof. REED: The black kids, yeah. They were about to be killed by this mob, and he got them out at the last minute. Anyway, the violence had reached the point where there was simply a breakdown in law and order, and the president had to send in the 101st Airborne from Kentucky to restore order.
LAMB: By the way, you mentioned Gene Smith. He went on to be mayor. And then what happened to him?
Prof. REED: Not mayor; he became police chief and, within a very short time, found his own life in such desperate circumstances, partly because of the pressure he had been put under from segregationists. Old friends of his who were segregationists began calling him a traitor, called him at home. He took to drink; he was always bad to drink, as we say in the South, and it got worse. He became a drunk and eventually, according to one source, actually threatened to kill Orval Faubus in a fit of anger one night, and his wife stopped him. But one night, got out his pistol and shot his wife and then, after pacing the floor the rest of the night, put the gun to his own head.
LAMB: There's a book you referred to more than once in this autobio--or biography of Orval Faubus. It was by Sheriff Marlin Hawkins of is it Conway County or Cunvo…
Prof. REED: Conway County.
LAMB: "How I Stole the Election"--or "Elections," I guess. "How I Stole the Elections."
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: Why the reference to it in this book?
Prof. REED: Because it was widely believed in Arkansas that Marlin Hawkins was the most successful election thief in the state; that if a statewide candidate for office needed a few more votes, they could go to Marlin and say, `Marlin, what would it take to get me another 500 votes and put me over the top?' And Marlin would magically produce the votes. Nobody really knew how he did it, except Marlin and his cronies. But there was not a whole lot of doubt that he really did vote dead people.
And it--you know, so when he wrote his memoir, he simply decided to capitalize on his own reputation and gave it that title, playfully he maintained because he insisted that he never stole any elections; he simply gave the voters what they wanted, and--and they insisted on keeping him in office and voting the way he wanted them to vote.
LAMB: Well, looking back at it now--that was 1957?
Prof. REED: Yes.
LAMB: We're about 42 years later or 41 years later. What are the circumstances in Little Rock today?
Prof. REED: Little Rock in regard to the race issue, I assume you mean, and school desegregation--Little Rock now...
LAMB: And politics.
Prof. REED: ...and politics --Little Rock now is very like dozens of other American cities: troubled; the public school system in a kind of a mess, struggling; integrated--has been for a long, long time. It was integrated before Faubus left office, more or less successfully as--you know, in the context of the times. But never really--it's been under federal court order almost continuously for all these 41 years, like a lot of other cities. It's--you can't say that integration has succeeded very well there, just as it has not succeeded in a lot of other places, which, of course, is not at all to suggest that the attempt should not have been made. It was the right and proper thing to do. It caused a lot of trouble, a lot of angst, and it still does.
Politically, Little Rock is back to more or less what it was before Faubus: moderately progressive, a very pleasant place to live. Our son lives there and wouldn't live anywhere else. It has good restaurants, good live theater, believe it or not. It has a...
LAMB: Where do you live today?
Prof. REED: We live in the farming community of Hogeye, near Fayetteville up in the Ozarks. But Little Rock is a--it's an OK town. I like it a lot. It's had a few rough years here being the epicenter of all political evil in the United States as it's portrayed, which, of course, is utter nonsense; it is not. And the people who've been targeted are, for the most part, decent, well-meaning people.
And Arkansas not only is not the most corrupt state in the country, as it's been parade; it probably wouldn't even rank in the top 10. You know, I could name half a dozen. New York is more corrupt. Rhode Island--I was in Rhode Island for a while this spring. You know, if you want political corruption, go study Rhode Island. Louisiana has never been free of corruption since the days of Huey Long and before. Arkansas, for all the efforts of some people to corrupt it, never has been very corrupt and still is not.
LAMB: And explain why eventually Orval Faubus endorsed Jesse Jackson for president.
Prof. REED: I'm not sure that I can explain it satisfactorily, except that he was quirky and he liked to keep people off balance, Faubus did. And I think he truly was taken with some of the things that Jackson was saying back there. I forget the year when Jackson...
Prof. REED: Yes. And he liked what Jackson had to say because Jackson is a kind of populist of the sort that Faubus was in his early years. And, of course, it cost him nothing to endorse Jesse Jackson, and it got some attention for a while. And I don't know what Jackson might have thought of the endorsement. I simply never heard whether he appreciated it or not.
LAMB: Now in this book--you know, sell it for just a moment here--what's new, different, unusual, that's not anywhere else that you've seen about either Orval Faubus or Arkansas or these segregationist politics?
Prof. REED: I think Orval Faubus, in the American mind, as far as he's remembered at all, is thought to be a raving segregationist on the order of George Wallace before Wallace repented, back--you know, back there with Leander Perez and Ross Barnett and all those old enemies of civilization, as they were thought to be. And Faubus is simply lumped in there with the rest of them.
Faubus' sin was not that he was a segregationist, but that he was cynical and that he was opportunistic and that he was the consummate politician who dealt with pressures in the way that politicians always do. And he finally gave in to the pressures of the moment and, as we said, then catered to the mob instead of to good sense. And I think my explanation of how he came to do that is valuable history, and this country ought to pay attention to that and maybe be a little more indulgent with our politicians. We've come to think of politics as evil and smelly, and we have no patience with politicians because they compromise. Well, of course they compromise, and they sometimes compromise on principle.
Faubus did, but he was not an evil man. He was not an evil man. He was simply a man caught up in events and overtaken. And I--you know, I wouldn't to excuse what he did. He made a terrible mistake. He did the wrong thing.
LAMB: Roy Reed is the author of this book. He used to write for The New York Times and the Arkansas Gazette. Orval Faubus, six times governor of the state of Arkansas, died in 1994. Here's the book, "The Life and Times of an American Prodigal." Thank you very much for joining us.
Prof. REED: Thank you.
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