Interview with Thomas Atkins

Can you comment on the brief period of time in the spring of '76 when the federal government was flirting with the idea of supporting a challenge to Garrity's order. Was that a time of crisis for civil rights lawyers, where you part of the mobilization that pressured the federal government?


By 1976, busing was a nationwide code word for, ah, "keep the niggers in their place." We knew what it meant. They didn't have to tell us what it meant. We knew what it meant, all right. So people could run racist campaigns without making racist statements. All they had to do was to say, "What ever else I want, against busing." Everybody knew what they stood for, OK. Louise Day Hicks ran for years on the slogan "You know where I stand." We knew where she stood. She was trying to stand on our neck. In 1976 you had Gerald Ford in the White House. Ah, he wound up there by accident and increasingly people thought he was an accident. But he was the President. And he was trying to bring the country together but he also wanted to stay there. He sort of liked it, you know. And he wanted to run for reelection. And it was at about the time that he was getting his campaign put together and Democrats were running around the country calling each other names as they always do, that one of the many appeals in the Boston School Desegregation Case wound its way up to the Supreme Court. And the issue presented to a Supreme Court that had not yet ever accepted an appeal dealing with the Boston School desegregation issue was whether it should accept this appeal. The Supreme Court does not have to accept an appeal. We did not want the Supreme Court to accept the appeal. We thought that it would be the wrong message to send. It would encourage people who had, who had committed themselves to the position of never, never, would the constitution make me change my view on public schools. And we thought it would be the wrong message to send. Whatever your, your position was on the issues, we thought this symbolically was the wrong message to send. So we organized under, primarily under the leadership of Clarence Mitchell, who was then the NAACP's long time lobbyist, head of its Washington Bureau and affectionately known to many as the, the 101st Senator. Ah, Clarence Mitchell, ah, knew Gerald Ford from years and years of working with him. And he put together a meeting with the President, including Attorney General Edward Levey. At that time.