Interview with Courtland Cox


Courtland Cox:

OK. The mo—, the, the, the Democratic Convention at Atlantic City ah was a very important turning point for the SNCC people and I think for the civil rights movement in general. Because I think up to that time, the, the people in the civil rights movement had not come so, so face to face in a, in a bold situation with naked, with power. And, and, in a sense that I think we was unknown beforehand, in terms of national sense. I think the SNCC people and the CORE people and the people from Mississippi were used to the whole question of guns and violence and petty politics in, on a state level, and dealing with that. But we always were, were able to appeal however ineffectually to the federal government and they did their little thing even though Hoover was a racist and had number of FBI agents who were racists down there. But what happened in Atlantic City was that we went through all the processes that the Democratic Party said one had to go through in order to be credentialized though the white from Mississippi went through none of the processes and violated all of them. So the question was, was the democratic going to obey its own rules or whether it's going to favor those whites who had been in the party all the time. Now the Credentials Committee would make a decision as to who would be able to represent the state of Mississippi on the floor. And, and so that, so that the presentation was being made by both groups. Now what happened was that the Mississippi freedom democratic party in that environment in 1964 had a tremendous sympathy among white liberals, the block community, the church community, and the person who seems to, to, to symbolize that, that, that thrust from Mississippi was Miss Fanny Lou Hamer. Now Miss Fanny Lou Hamer spoke on television and was being very effective in terms of her presentation of what was going on in Mississippi and so forth. And what Johnson did at that time when he knew that she was on and he, she was beginning to ruin his congress, he called the TV stations and preempted in the middle of her speech, literally preempted in the middle of her speech the air time and he spoke about, I think it was he spoke about his trip to the hospital or some other foolishness—his beagles, some, something that was inconsequential. OK. What happened after that was that when Johnson saw that there was some motion and, and things were moving, he began to, to get his, his act in motion. He called Humphrey up and he told Humphrey, Hubert, if you want to be Vice-President of the United States, you've got to stop these people from Mississippi. Hubert Humphrey called Kastenmeyer, Reuther, Walter Reuther from the AF of L—I mean UAW, and a number of other people and said to them, these people got to be stopped. You know, my pre-my getting the Vice Presidency depends on it. Reuther called Martin Luther King and a number of other civil rights movement people and told them I get—he told King in particular, I gave you a hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars last year; if you don't stop these people from Mississippi you will never get another dime from me. So you had that kind of environment. So, so what began to happen was that, that it looked that, that, as if the, the, Democratic Party as a whole would in fact vote to credentialize the whites from Mississippi even though they violated the laws. But it was clear that if we could get eleven of the 110 delegates, 10 percent of them, to, to vote that the Mississipians had a valid case it could be brought to the floor, for the entire convention to vote on it. And Johnson knew that in fact if that happened, then you know it was all down hill in terms of quote his convention. Ah so what Johnson did is he got a, a, at that time a Negro congressman to, to ah, to quote, befriend the group. And we had ah a session, a strategy session in the ah, in the convention hall, deep in the bowels of the convention hall we were ah strategizing; Miss Hamer was there, Edith Green from ah Oregon, ah a number of, Bob Moses was there, ah Donna Moses, a number of people who were essential actors in the discussion. We were meeting and discussing about what strategies we would involve in terms of doing number of things. And so one of the things we knew when we got there were we had eleven votes to bring out of, a minority report. So what happened was we were going over the names and we had the list of the names because we felt that we could, you know these people were solid. What happened was the Negro congressman asked us for the list, asked Bob Moses for the list of the names. And Bob did not want to give it to him. And I said to Bob, do you think this man is going to steal the list of names, why don't you give the man the list of names? And the, the this Negro congressman said, yes, I want to give this list of names to Chairman Lawrence, Governor Lawrence from Pennsylvania and I want to show him we have the strength to, you know, to, to pull a minority vote on the house, on the floor of the Democratic Convention. Therefore they have to make concessions to the Mississippi Democratic Party.



Courtland Cox:

OK. I think, we, we…OK, so Bob Moses was still distrustful of the promise by this congressman to in fact act on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was very reluctant and I must say in my ignorance I pressed him to give the list so that he could show that we had some, some clout in the situation. Well, ah, Bob gave the list reluctantly to the congressman and what happened next was something unbelievable. Every member, every person who was on that list, every member that credentials committee who was going to vote for the minority, got a call and said your husband is up for a judgeship if you don't shape up, he won't get it. You're up for a loan here, if you don't shape up, you won't get it. And you began to see how hard, I mean how things worked in the real world. I think that, that although we were used to, to, to Mississippi and to the, the beatings and so forth, I think you had a polarized situation where there's the good guys and the bad guys. I think in this situation, you—there was no good guys; you just saw naked power and self interest and therefore, I mean you had no allies except those people that you came with. I mean everybody including, I would say, including ah including a number of people in the civil rights movement, a number of people in the religious community, a number of people in the liberal community, all came out and tried to, to blunt the thrust of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to take its rightful place as the lawful delegation from Mississippi. I think it had a profound impact, impact, as, on many of us to see that kind of working relationship going.