BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Denton Watson, author of "Lion in the Lobby: Clarence Mitchell Jr.'s Struggle for the Passage of Civil Rights Laws." Who was Clarence Mitchell?
DENTON WATSON, AUTHOR, "LION IN THE LOBBY: CLARENCE MITCHELL JR.'S STRUGGLE FOR THE PASSAGE OF CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS": Clarence Mitchell was born in Baltimore and grew up in --well, he grew up in a very staid family. He was poor but still he had a considerable amount of self-esteem. He came out of Baltimore, and in the early 1930s, he got involved with the NAACP. To jump ahead, he joined the NAACP's Washington Bureau in 1946, and, subsequently, became the civil rights lobbyist in Washington for the next 32 years.
LAMB: What do you personally most remember about him? What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear his name?
WATSON: Clarence Mitchell was a very unassuming person, and yet, he was a very powerful person in terms of his own personality, in terms of his commitment to the cause of human justice, to civil rights, to ensuring that all Americans enjoyed the protections of the Constitution and, of course, he was a humanist and a person of pristine integrity.
LAMB: When did he die?
WATSON: Clarence Mitchell died in 1984 in Baltimore. And if you'll look on the back of the book, there is a tribute from Senator Howard Baker to Clarence Mitchell, which was issued on the fourth floor of the Senate. Senator Baker said, "In those days, Clarence Mitchell was called the 101st senator, but those of us who served here then knew full well that this magnificent lion in the lobby was a great deal more influential than most of us with seats in the chamber." And that's where the title of the book came from.
But I'm quickly ahead. Throughout Washington, Clarence Mitchell was known as the 101st senator, and, indeed, initially, my first title for the book was, "Clarence Mitchell Jr., 101st Senator," but I think that "Lion in the Lobby" more or less told the story. It was catchy, though, and there's something much more ringing to that title, even though I very much love Clarence Mitchell Jr., the "lion in the lobby."
LAMB: Here's a picture of Clarence Mitchell. You know what year that was taken, one right here?
WATSON: That was 1957. Oh, yes, that's a very memorable picture. That was taken after the all-night filibuster by Senator Strom Thurmond against the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Senator Thurmond was the only one on the senate floor. He broke an agreement not to filibuster the bill. And Clarence Mitchell -- and for awhile Mrs. Thurmond kept him company up there in the gallery, until she got tired and could not tay the whole course, but Clarence Mitchell stayed the course. And that is he right after -- later on that morning.
LAMB: What was it like for Clarence Mitchell Jr., growing up in Baltimore?
WATSON: He was poor, black. Local Baltimoreans -- for example, Thurgood Marshall, who is now a justice on the Supreme Court, as a civil rights lawyer, working in Baltimore in the '30s -- again, too, starting out in the '30s -- used to call Baltimore "up South Baltimore." In other words, Maryland, as a border state, had qualities of both the North and the South, and yet, its racial practices were very much Southern. Baltimore, at the same time, had opportunities for blacks that -- well, they could do certain things in certain areas without discrimination, fear of reprisals. Like the bus --there was no written law for the buses to be segregated. There was no written law for the courthouses to be segregated, and yet, segregation was practiced as a matter of custom.
But Clarence Mitchell grew up in a very poor family, and yet, he did not know what poverty was. He did not know the meaning of poverty because his parents instilled in him certain values, a sense of esteem, and so he was able to rise above that and to remain above that level of poverty. He also grew up in the church. He was a very, very religious person all through his life. When he died -- when he fell to the floor of his kitchen with from a heart attack, in 1984 -- he had in his wallet a copy of the Constitution. He had just come from church. So those two entities -- those two activities there -- really symbolized Clarence Mitchell's life.
But back to Baltimore. As a youngster growing up there, his parents shielded him from the most dehumanizing aspects of discrimination and racism. So he had, again, that sense of self-esteem and he grew up -- but then he came to realize how segregated Maryland was, when he could not, in 1928, attend the University of Maryland. He had to go outside the state just as his wife had to do -- well, then she was his girlfriend or a friend -- Juanita Jackson Mitchell -- Juanita Jackson at that time -- she, too, had to go to the University of Pennsylvania. Clarence Mitchell went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to get his education. All the blacks, such as Thurgood Marshall also had to go to Lincoln University and many others to Harvard and to Amherst in Massachusetts.
LAMB: Photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Mitchell Jr.
WATSON: That's right, in 1938.
LAMB: Is she still alive?
WATSON: Yes, she is alive, although, right now she is in the hospital paralyzed from the neck down as a result of the fall. But as a measure of her fighting spirit, she is fighting back and struggling to walk again; and it's been quite a struggle for her. She fell down the stairway of her home last November and has been in the hospital since then. But she's coming along fine. Her mind is very, very bright, very strong and she remembers very well. In fact, her memory sometimes, I think, is better than mine.
LAMB: And she still lives in Baltimore?
WATSON: She still lives in Baltimore. Yes, they have had trying times in recent years.
LAMB: When did you first meet Clarence Mitchell?
WATSON: I met Clarence Mitchell in 1971 when I first joined the NAACP staff. Roy Wilkins, who was then executive director of the NAACP, hired me to become an understudy to the then-director of the public relations, Henry Lee Moon. I was hired to to be trained to take over that position. Roy Wilkins gave me carte blanche to travel throughout the country to learn about the NAACP. In that process, I visited Clarence Mitchell here in Washington and again, you had asked me earlier what did I think of Clarence Mitchell. I'll never forget that first visit with Clarence. I came in that day; I was then a junior executive on staff. Clarence Mitchell -- of course, that was in 1971, so he was a very powerful person and very influential person. He was a significant person here in Washington and throughout the country.
So I visited him, and at his office I had to wait for a few minutes for him to come in. When he finally came in, his desk was covered with telephone messages from senators and all these other personages with whom he deals in Washington. He sat down very graciously and spoke with me for around 20 minutes to a half-hour. When we were finished, I said, "OK, thank you so much," and I was about to leave for the airport. He said, "How do you intend to get to the airport?" I said, "I'll just take a taxi." He said, "No, you don't have to do that. I'll take you there." But then I protested and said, "No, but you have all your messages and all your work to do." He said, "No." And he very graciously left what he was doing -- or what he had to do -- and took me to the airport.
And each time, many times, subsequently, when I would visit him, he would do that for me. And so a relationship really developed, and began developing then and and that became a bond. And in the process, I started asking him about the possibility of my writing a book about him. And he indicated that he would be somewhat willing, but, of course, and he had no thought of retiring from the NAACP.
So finally, in 1978, after he had reached his term of retirement or agreement for retirement with the NAACP, I approached him again and asked him and he says, "OK. Fine. I'll work with you." So the trick, then, became for me, just how would I get close to him to work on the book, because then he was returning to Washington. I was still on the staff of the NAACP. So I got a job with The Baltimore Sun as an editorial writer. That gave me a chance to come to Baltimore, and then -- that was in 1979, and I spent the next two years while working as an editorial writer with The Sun, interviewing Clarence, speaking with his wife and his brothers such as George Mitchell and then Congressman Parren Mitchell. They were all very helpful to me. And so that's how I really got started on the book, and got to know Clarence Mitchell.
LAMB: Now you say that Parren Mitchell was his brother?
WATSON: Yes, that's right. He was 11 years younger than Clarence.
LAMB: Congressman from Maryland.
WATSON: Congressman from Maryland, that is right.
LAMB: He's no longer ...
WATSON: No, no, he retired.
LAMB: You do write that there were difficult times for the Mitchells, and recently, one of his sons, or two of his sons ...
WATSON: Two of his sons.
LAMB: ... have gone to jail?
WATSON: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: What happened?
WATSON: The big case there involved the Wedtech. They got caught in that web and they were convicted and sentenced to Lewisburg, but they remain -- they have adamantly maintained their innocence. They were convicted of accepting funds from Wedtech to influence a congressional investigation that was being headed by Congressman Parren Mitchell. And they maintain that there was no way that they could ever have hoped to have influenced Parren Mitchell, and I believe them, because Congressman Mitchell -- they could never have gotten close to him. So I just don't know what the -- I've followed the case, of course, and I know that the case is under appeal right now. And that is a very slow process, so we'll just have to wait to see what the outcome of that is.
LAMB: So the two brothers haven't gone to jail yet?
WATSON: Yeah, they have. Oh, yes, they went to jail -- to Lewisburg. They spent their time there, even though the case was under appeal. And that was one of the things that they said demonstrated the unfairness of the whole case against them. Because even though they had appealed -- or they were appealing the verdict -- the conviction -- they were still required to serve their sentences. So they're now awaiting the outcome of that.
LAMB: But Clarence Mitchell Jr., whom this book is about, did not know that his sons were going to jail?
WATSON: Oh, no. This was long after Clarence Mitchell had died. Clarence Mitchell died in 1984, and this problem developed -- oh, what year is this now? -- well, at least two years afterwards.
LAMB: Let me go back to something you said earlier --and I know you're right about this -- that Clarence Mitchell was not allowed to go to the University of Maryland, a state school. Why?
WATSON: Because it was a segregated institution, and blacks had to -- first, let's just back up a bit. It was a segregated institution and blacks were not allowed to go, just as the public school system was segregated. They had to go outside. To get around that -- or in an attempt to get around their segregation rule, the state Legislature, at one point, began providing funds for blacks to go outside the state. But this is when Donald Gaines Murray in 1935 won a judgment there in the Baltimore courts against the University, and the result was that the University of Maryland's law school was ordered to admit Donald Gaines Murray. That was the first case in the long struggle that led to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. That was the first, should I say salvo, or first victory in that long and difficult battle. But all blacks, then, had to go outside.
And I might quickly add that despite the Donald Gaines Murray victory, it required a lawsuit by the NAACP to desegregate most of the various schools within the University of Maryland system. So that was a measure of how persistent and entrenched the whole system of segregation was within the system of education there.
LAMB: You say that Juanita Mitchell was a very important part of his life? Where did they meet?
WATSON: They met in Baltimore. Juanita Mitchell -- her mother was Lilly Carol Jackson, who was another major, major civil rights force in Maryland -- Baltimore and Maryland. In 1925 Clarence and Juanita Jackson, they had met in high school. But Lilly Carol Jackson kept them apart due to her very strict requirements or rules about ensuring that her daughters were properly brought up and did not fall prey to these bright, young men. She made sure that they kept to their books. So it was not until after Juanita had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1932, or in 1931, and had established or created an activist organization called the Citywide Young People's Forum in Washington, which was an operation or a group that brought in speakers from throughout the country -- black leaders, white leaders, such as Norman Somerset, W.E.B. Du Bois, the black sage of black history, and Walter White, who was then the NAACP leader, and all those persons to speak and to awaken the black masses there in Baltimore.
Juanita Mitchell was president of the Citywide Young People's Forum, and she brought in Clarence Mitchell as vice president of the Citywide Young People's Forum, and from then on, their relationship just kept getting closer -- growing closer, until finally, they were married in 1938 in Baltimore.
LAMB: You write about a connection between the now justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Mitchell Jr. that goes back to kindergarten. What's that?
WATSON: Thurgood Marshall, as well as Juanita Jackson, came from middle-class families. They grew up there. Thurgood Marshall's mother, as a schoolteacher --public schoolteacher -- taught Clarence Mitchell, but Clarence Mitchell was poor. He was a few blocks away, in a different type of neighborhood, and because Thurgood was a year or two older than Clarence, they really never had a chance to become friendly. It was not until Clarence Mitchell went to Lincoln University that he had a chance to really get to know Thurgood Marshall, and they established a friendship there that lasted through their lifetimes.
Subsequently, of course, that friendship grew, as Thurgood became more involved in fighting or laying out and developing the legal strategies against segregation.
LAMB: They worked together at NAACP?
WATSON: That's right. The NAACP's legal department was established in 1935 by Charles Hamilton Houston, who was dean, or who was previously dean of Howard University Law School. Charles Hamilton Houston was a brilliant -- very, very brilliant black lawyer, Harvard-trained and all of that, and it was he who initially established the framework of the strategy that would eventually lead to the Brown decision. Thurgood Marshall was his protege, and he hired Thurgood Marshall onto his staff. So that was in the early or mid-1930s.
Well, subsequently, Thurgood Marshall became special counsel to the NAACP after Charles Hamilton Houston had left. So he was a staff member, and Clarence Mitchell joined the NAACP staff in 1946, so from there they worked closer together until Thurgood Marshall left in 1961.
LAMB: When did you start working on this?
WATSON: I started working on that in 1979. I worked, researched and -- let's see, five years, I could say, were devoted primarily to research. I left the NAACP staff for awhile and returned in 1982, and again left in 1985 to devote full time to writing that book. And so for five years, as I tease my wife often, that was my first wife.
LAMB: It's published by Morrow.
WATSON: William Morrow and Company of New York is the publisher.
LAMB: And underwritten by the Ford Foundation?
WATSON: The Ford Foundation helped me considerably in that. In fact, without the Ford Foundation's help, it would not have been written. The Ford Foundation gave me an initial grant in 1981 that enabled me to leave The Baltimore Sun so that I could write a couple of the initial chapters in order to find a publisher. After I wrote the chapters I went back to the NAACP national staff as director of public relations, and in the process found a publisher, eventually, which was William Morrow, and then I went back to the Ford Foundation and then I got another -- a two-year grant, which was, well, a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation to devote full time to writing the book. And I left the NAACP again in 1985, and just kept on writing. Of course, it took me longer than the two-year duration of the grant to write it, but without that grant from the Ford Foundation, or without the two grants, really, the book could never have been written.
LAMB: What do you want to happen because of this book?
WATSON: For me, this is the bible of the struggle for civil rights laws. The book is more than twice the contract length that was originally stipulated in my contract with William Morrow. Because of that, and because the book was so long, William Morrow for awhile tried to get me to cut it. And for 19 months, we were at an impasse. They said they just weren't going to publish the book because it was too long, until finally, last year -- last spring -- they said, "OK, we'll go ahead and publish it."
I say that to emphasize a point that I believe fully: that this work -- that the message of the struggle for the passage of civil rights laws -- had to be told in its entirety. Sure, I had to cut apart a portion towards the end; I had to cut 150 pages from it. Those 150 pages deal with the struggle to enforce the laws, starting in 1966. But that's another --in fact, to me in many ways, that's even more important than the struggle for the passage of the civil rights laws, because it really shows just where the difficulties now lie as far as enforcing the civil rights laws that are concerned. The initial focus of the movement -- civil rights movement -- was directed at the South -- the whole system of Jim Crow in the South. And, of course, that was a moral outrage. And it was comparatively easy -- not easy; I'm comparing that now to the struggle to enforce the laws. But the struggle to pass the laws, well, it was possible to generate a lot of support from moderates, from conservatives, for that.
But when we came to the struggle to enforce the civil rights laws, then it became obvious that the opposition -- a considerable amount of opposition -- was from the North. For example, Congresswoman Edith Green of Oregon -- she was one of the primary supporters of the only effort for the passage of civil rights laws. She supported Clarence Mitchell in some crucial battles. For example, in 1964 in the struggle -- 1963, '64 or '63 -- in the House over Title 7 of the Equal Employment Title of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when the motion was offered to amend Title 7 with the provision that extended the coverage to include sex, that was done -- in other words, segregation was barred on the basis of race, creed, religion, national origin. And then that title was amended to include sex -- to extend it to sex. And that was done, really, to kill the bill, because it was felt that there would have been a lot of opposition to that. Clarence Mitchell said, you know, "OK, fine. No, that will not kill the bill." He supported family; he knew what the strategy was, too, and that was to defeat it. But Congresswoman Green, very supportive of the whole measure and what Clarence Mitchell was doing, opposed the title. But finally, Clarence Mitchell and the others were able to bring her around to it and say, "No, let's fight to include that and to defeat the opposition."
But subsequently, Congresswoman Green became one of the key opponents of Title 6. The whole provision's there to cut off funding for schools where discrimination was practiced and the whole question of school busing. And others from throughout the North joined her quite a bit. Senator Biden was one, from Delaware. He was very much against busing, and things like that. The whole focus shifted from the South to the North because of the enforcement of the laws.
LAMB: You suggest that Clarence Mitchell, while being a lobbyist for the NAACP, did not make very much money.
WATSON: No, he definitely did not. Up until the time I joined the NAACP staff in 1971, his salary was something like $26,000. Roy Wilkins kept salaries low because ...
LAMB: Who, by the way, was Roy Wilkins?
WATSON: Roy Wilkins was executive director of the NAACP. He was the premier leader -- the most influential civil rights leader -- throughout that period and highly respected. His integrity, too, was beyond question. Of course, the organization -- the NAACP -- throughout its entire history has had to struggle for finances merely to pay the salaries and to keep its program going. So to survive, Wilkins, of course, kept down the salaries. He kept down his own salary so as to keep down the other salaries of other executives. So at that time, Clarence Mitchell was part of this, and he was not really thinking in terms of his financial rewards as such. He was thinking in terms of his mission there in Washington. He was amassing his wealth in the realm of history, in a realm of human rights, in a realm of human dignity. That was his constitutional justice. That was Clarence Mitchell's mission, and it was not until shortly before he retired from the NAACP that his salary was raised to something like $35,000.
LAMB: When he died, was the family broke?
WATSON: Just struggling, they're just barely able to make ends meet .... So that's been their lifetime. For example, let me just back up quickly. Juanita Mitchell throughout her lifetime, too, because she was a lawyer, and she was in charge of the NAACP's legal programs throughout the state, and she dedicated her legal talents to that struggle. And many times what she would do would be to send the most lucrative cases to other lawyers to encourage them to work with the NAACP while she did without. In other words, that was the type of self-sacrifice that guided them. This rule for self-sacrifice was inculcated into them by Lilly Carol Jackson, Juanita Jackson's mother, who said that her education and her skills were a trust or her to use them for the freedom of her people to obtain the freedom of her people. And so this is the type of mission -- this is the type of sense of mission that guided them throughout their lives -- both Clarence Mitchell and Juanita Mitchell.
LAMB: You tell a story about Clarence Mitchell early in his life when he sat down next to a white woman in some kind of a public gathering, and she said some rather startling things to him.
WATSON: "I ain't sitting by no coon tonight." That was her words to him. This was at Druid Hill Park. Again, this shows the sort of dual personalities of Maryland's segregation practices in the '30s -- or in the early years of the '20s, '30s. Clarence Mitchell, as a young man -- as I had said earlier, he grew up not knowing what segregation was all about. And he went to an open air concert at the Druid Hill Park in Baltimore to enjoy some fine -- I guess it was a classical music -- a symphony orchestra there. And without realizing it -- or without thinking, he saw a vacancy by someone -- by a woman, and he just went and sat down. She was just another person to him because he had grown up in an integrated neighborhood -- it was poor but integrated. Again, that was the duality of segregation in Maryland.
And suddenly, this woman jumped up in a rage, wild rage, and really started carrying on. And as I relate in the book, there is a gentleman who was sitting behind him -- a white gentleman, too, reached over and patted him on his shoulder and said, "You did very well in that situation, young man," and so it was things like that really reassured him about people, about the decency that is within people and that he had to look for that. He came to expect that type of decency before he really thought about racism or any adverse reaction from any person. So he always approached a person -- senators, congressmen on the Hill -- with a sense that he could appeal to their humanness.
LAMB: Did he tell you that story as you were gathering information on the book?
WATSON: It came through one of my very first interviews with him.
LAMB: What impact did it have on him? Did he tell you in the interview?
WATSON: Yes. It showed him that it was always possible to find decent people.
LAMB: So in other words, he reacted to the white man behind him instead of the woman who ...
WATSON: Exactly. That is perfectly so. And that is how he always functioned on the Hill.
LAMB: Now you keep using in the book the word "conservative" and applying that to Clarence Mitchell Jr. Why?
WATSON: He was conservative to the extent that he believed in the system. Clarence Mitchell did not want to overturn the system. He wanted to expand opportunities within the system that would be inclusive of his people -- of all African-Americans. That was his goal. He felt the Constitution was a document to be treasured, that it was next to the Bible, that he treasured the most. So he wanted to include all Americans within the protections of the Constitution, and he worked in that vein. And that, to a considerable extent is to be very conservative.
He believed in working and trying to reach people by reasoning with them. He did not believe, again, in non-violent demonstrations, such as Martin Luther King believed in and King's philosophy was based on the whole principle of non-violent demonstrations, on non-violence. Clarence Mitchell, by the same token now, believed in self-defense. He was a very, very strong believer in the right of self-defense as was provided under the Constitution.
But again, here, too, his other differences with King, because King was a moralist. King approached the civil rights movement from the position that civil rights were a moral issue. Clarence Mitchell and the NAACP -- that is, Roy Wilkins and all the others within the NAACP -- believed that the struggle was a constitutional issue. So there he adhered very closely to the Constitution, and the whole structure of the law his whole life -- his whole efforts were geared to getting laws to protect the rights of blacks under the Constitution.
LAMB: You say that he died with a Constitution in his pocket. When did he start carrying a Constitution, do you remember?
WATSON: I don't remember, but that became a practice of his for a very long time. He did it for a long time. I guess it just became a part of him. He just had it there all the time. Because he started doing that from the early part of the struggle in an effort to refute efforts or arguments by Southerners such as Senator Sam Irvin -- another constitutional expert from North Carolina -- to refute whatever claims they may have to the constitutionality of segregation -- because you have to remember that once segregation was constitutional as a result of the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision by the Supreme Court in 1896. So Clarence Mitchell had to figure out ways, just as Thurgood Marshall -- while Thurgood Marshall was also fighting through the courts --to refute the claims or the positions of those who would maintain that segregation was a constitutional issue, that it was just and so forth. He had to do that. And to do that, that was his flag. The Constitution was Clarence Mitchell's flag.
LAMB: This may sound flip, but who was Jim Crow?
WATSON: Jim Crow was an old -- it's similar to apartheid. It was a system of segregation as it was practiced in the South. It was an extremely rigid situation or system in which you'd have water fountains designated for whites, water fountains designated for blacks, toilets -- similar things as toilets and waiting rooms in bus stations and all of that. The whole civil rights movement -- well, the student activities, the student demonstrations in the 1960s, starting from 1961 -- were specifically directed at the most obvious forms of Jim Crow, such as the requirements that blacks had to ride in the back of a bus and they could not use white waiting rooms in Montgomery and wherever else. That whole system -- that's Jim Crow. That was the US version of apartheid.
LAMB: Did you ever know what the origin is of the name Jim Crow?
WATSON: Right now it slips me -- I did look it up, but I'll have to go back to that --for the moment it slips me.
LAMB: Go back to Clarence Mitchell Jr.'s lobbying techniques. What were they? You say he was a conservative man, carried a Constitution around in his pocket, didn't believe in violence, was the 101st United States Senator. How did he work the Congress?
WATSON: Clarence Mitchell began working the Congress by finding lawmakers --congressmen -- lawmakers in the House and in the Senate who were willing to work with him. In the early '50s, it was a very, very lonely struggle for him, and one of his key supporters then was Adam Clayton Powell, the black, very colorful congressman from Harlem in New York. Adam or Congressman Powell would introduce what became known as the Powell Amendment, which was a provision to bar discrimination in the spending of federal funds. And that was a very simple provision, and yet, it was like a red flag to so many people, simply requiring or simply maintaining that there should be no discrimination in areas or in programs where the federal dollars were spent. Powell was one of those at whom Clarence Mitchell worked. Others were Emmanuel Celler -- Congressman Celler, also of New York -- Senator Hennings from Missouri, Senator Lehman from New York, Senator Ise from New York and many others like that.
He would work with these people and develop -- later on in 1956, he started developing what he called bipartisan coalitions or committees in the House and in the Senate. Those are groups in which he would get lawmakers across -- both Republicans and Democrats, to work with him on civil rights measures. And so he would there appeal to them. He would appeal to them on the basis of factual evidence. He would -- for example, now he started to refute the Southerners, their arguments. For example, when the NAACP would testify or charge that there was certain aspects or certain features of discrimination being practiced in the South, the Southerners would deny that and say that that is not so. So Clarence Mitchell and the NAACP -- and the leadership conference, I might add, at this point, which is a coalition of religious, civil rights, civic and other organizations that the NAACP founded to work with in a political process of seeking civil rights laws -- they would work to bring pressure or to enlist support within the Congress, and they would do that with the help of a considerable amount of factual evidence.
Joseph Rauh , for example, who was Clarence Mitchell's lobbying partner throughout the years, starting from early '50s, specifically, but even earlier on, he was a founder of the Americans for Democratic Action and Clarence Mitchell's lobbying partner throughout the key years there in Washington. And they would work diligently, just gathering facts, compiling the evidence and presenting it to the various committees at hearings. And so as I started to say just a moment ago, Clarence Mitchell developed the strategy or the practice of bringing in people from the South who had suffered discrimination to testify at these various committees -- before the Judiciary Committee and all the other committees -- about the extent of discrimination and segregation in the South.
LAMB: You have a picture here that I want to show the audience of two former United States senators. One has been dead for some years, Everett Dirksen, and the other is still alive and was US ambassador to Japan for a long time. Everett Dirksen, the father-in-law of Howard Baker, who you quote on the back of this book that you used that quote to get "The Lion in the Lobby." What role did Everett Dirksen play in the civil rights movement?
WATSON: Senator Dirksen was an extremely colorful person -- very, very colorful, very brilliant, and of course, he was sassy and a prima donna in his own right on the Hill. He liked to be quoted. He enjoyed being quoted. And he became the minority leader in the early '60s during the period when the struggle for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act really began to unfold. Senator Mansfield, of course, was the majority leader, he was a Democrat.
Senator Dirksen, in the struggle for the '64 Civil Rights Act, played a particularly crucial role, given the fact that his support was essential to the passage of that law. Clarence Mitchell, earlier on, had begun working with Senator Dirksen and he knew him quite well. But he was also a very difficult person to work with, as Clarence Mitchell discovered, and as I relate in the book. So in 1963, following the death -- that's November, 1963 -- following the assassination of President Kennedy when President Johnson became president -- I guess it was January of '64 -- President Johnson met with Clarence Mitchell and Joseph Rauh to begin the development of a strategy to really go all-out for the passage of what was then called the Kennedy Civil Rights Bill.
Clarence Mitchell pointed out to President Johnson that President Johnson was the only one, really, who was capable of working with Senator Dirksen. They had developed a quiet alliance across the lines of the parties -- across partisan lines. And they respected each other and supported each other, quietly. So Clarence Mitchell -- there's a picture there in the meeting with Johnson, Joseph Rauh where on the table, as Clarence Mitchell explained it to me, there was a list of names there that Clarence Mitchell submitted to President Johnson to request that he work with those senators, because those were senators that only President Johnson, with all his experience and knowledge of the Senate, as a leader of that institution early on, could do only by himself. And Senator Dirksen topped that list.
So later on that year, in 1964, Senator Dirksen, as the minority leader, held the key to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and it required a lot of courting by Senator Hubert Humphrey, also of Minnesota, who was very, very capable and astute, a very sincere person. It was he who was able to work very, very closely with Senator Dirksen. And, of course, President Johnson, still in the background there, worked with him, too. But they were able to bring him around, until finally, they came up with what was known as the Mansfield-Dirksen compromised civil rights bill, which then became law -- became known as the 1964 Civil Rights Act upon final passage.
LAMB: Another interesting connection: Senator Howard Baker went on to become the majority leader in the Senate. He was the man responsible for bringing forth the name of Ben Hooks to be the first black FCC commissioner. And now Ben Hooks is head of the NAACP. What's happened to all of these people through the years when it comes to the issue of race? Howard Baker, Republican from Tennessee, was he pro-civil rights?
WATSON: He was very pro-civil rights throughout the years and a liberal from Tennessee. He supported the various issues there during the later struggles to strengthen the civil rights laws. Clarence Mitchell, of course -- by his own words, it is clear that he knew Clarence Mitchell quite well and respected him very, very strongly. So Clarence Mitchell knew him.
And the fact that he was instrumental in getting Ben Hooks, executive director of the NAACP -- but before he became executive director of the NAACP -- appointed as the first black of the Federal Communications Commission -- this shows just where Senator Baker's heart was as a liberal. So that's the type of -- it's more than a resolve -- it's a commitment. We still find that among senators such as Senator Kennedy in the House and many others, who in later periods, had worked quite closely with Clarence Mitchell. You have it with Senator Moynihan, who also admired Clarence Mitchell very much.
LAMB: The reason I ask that is just a blanket question: can you determine by the party from which a member of the House or Senate comes from, where they're going to be on civil rights? And can you determine if they're conservative or liberal, where they're going to be on civil rights?
WATSON: That's a very good question. Clarence Mitchell, in his early work there on the Hill, learned that he could not go by labels as far as lawmakers were concerned, whether congressmen or senators. He discovered that to find out where a senator or a lawmaker really stood on an issue, he had to approach them and try to enlist their support. For example, Clarence Brown Sr. of Ohio -- he was a conservative, nominally, and, in fact, on many positions, he was conservative. But Clarence Mitchell found by talking to Congressman Brown that he could obtain his support on civil rights measures in the House, especially. For example, in 1957 Congressman Brown's support was crucial on the House Rules Committee to get around Judd Smith then.
LAMB: Judd Smith was from Virginia?
WATSON: From Virginia.
LAMB: Head of the Rules Committee.
WATSON: Of the Rules Committee -- he was chairman of the Rules Committee. And subsequently, Congressman Brown in 1964 was again also very, very key to Clarence Mitchell's success in getting the '64 civil rights bill through the Rules Committee again -- and to final passage.
LAMB: Another surprise is in your book you suggest that maybe FDR -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- was not as interested in civil rights, say, maybe as General Eisenhower was.
WATSON: That's true. The commitment by presidents towards civil rights was very -- somewhat progressive. President Roosevelt -- his fame towards human justice, towards civil rights in that era really stemmed from his work on the New Deal -- from his establishment or promulgation of these many programs that were meant to rebuild the economy -- the national economy -- and to help whites, but in the process of doing so, blacks also benefited considerably.
There were many whites within who headed various agencies, the alphabet agencies --many such as Harold Ickes, who was one of those other liberals who worked very well with whites. But subsequently we had President Truman, who succeeded President Roosevelt, and he came from Missouri, and he was much more sympathetic and supportive of the civil rights struggle. And he issued the first executive order to desegregate the armed services, and so, started that process. He also established a very, very crucial committee. That was the president's committee on civil rights in 1947. That was a committee that really placed the government fully on the side of the struggle for civil rights, and it established a whole context of programs -- of approaches -- to civil rights legislation that were later on incorporated into the bill that became the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
But the Civil Rights Commission which was established by President Truman, was a watershed in that regard. And then, of course, President Eisenhower -- he did not support the 1954 Brown school desegregation decision, but he very forcefully maintained that there should be no discrimination or segregation where the federal dollar was spent. He believed that fully with all his heart, and he supported that. He was supportive of the effort to end segregation in the District of Columbia.
It was under President Eisenhower that the armed services were fully desegregated in 1954. So President Eisenhower did serve a very, very, beneficial function -- role in the struggle for civil rights laws. And, of course, the 1957 Civil Rights Act that was engineered by his Justice Department, Attorney General Herbert Brownell, who worked very, very closely with Clarence Mitchell in that regard.
President Kennedy was another step ahead, in that he electrified the nation in terms of his human rights pronouncements, and, of course, he believed in executive order and he had ran into problems with the NAACP because he did not fully support the effort for the passage for civil rights legislation. But nevertheless, eventually, it was Kennedy who introduced -- who sent up that bill -- that very comprehensive civil rights bill in 1963 to Congress, and President Johnson had the historical opportunity, unfortunately, due to the tragic incident involving the assassination of President Kennedy. He succeeded him and made the Kennedy civil rights program one of the major items of his agenda to carry forth in the spirit of President Kennedy.
LAMB: When Clarence Mitchell retired from the NAACP as their chief lobbyist, was it a happy time?
WATSON: No, it was not. The NAACP's politics -- well, the NAACP is a very political operation -- institution. It is political in terms of its external activities, in that it was a giant -- it was a mighty political machine -- during the peak of its effect--of its effectiveness in the '60s -- '50s, '60s.
And it is also very political, internally. And Clarence Mitchell was the NAACP. That was his organization. He died loving the NAACP. But in 1975, '76 there became an effort to get Roy Wilkins to retire. And as a nasty battle developed over Roy Wilkins' retirement, Clarence Mitchell came out in support of Roy Wilkins against the board of directors -- the NAACP board of directors. So there was that bitter battle there. And after Roy Wilkins retired in 1976, Clarence Mitchell, of course, would have been the logical successor, but because of his support for Roy Wilkins, he was not given that opportunity to succeed Roy Wilkins.
And, two years later, after Ben Hooks was hired -- Ben Hooks came on in 1977, in January, 1977 -- Clarence Mitchell remained for another two years in the Washington bureau and then left the NAACP. He retired to Baltimore, but it was really not a full retirement for him, because he became very active in other activities in Maryland. He became a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Maryland, which had once barred him from admission to that institution. He also became very involved in the city of Baltimore through the good graces of then-Mayor Donald Schaefer, who appointed Clarence Mitchell to several committees and got him involved in many other activities. Senator Charles Mathias also appointed Clarence Mitchell to his Judiciary Selection Committee.
And so Clarence Mitchell was a very, very busy person. And I might say, ironically, that his not having been able to become executive director of the NAACP, by the same token, gave him a chance -- or gave Maryland a chance to really get to know Clarence Mitchell.
LAMB: The name of the book is "Lion in the Lobby," and the author, Denton
Watson, our guest for the last hour. Thank you for joining us.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.