Interview with Maynard Jackson

OK, so, thinking about that question I put to you, do you feel you were destined to run for public office?


Well if I was, it was a realization that came late. I, um, am descended from three generations of Baptist ministers, and if anything I felt I may have been destined to go into the ministry. In fact, I think I had almost decided to do that before my father died when I was 15. I had gone to Morehouse when I was 14, as a freshman on an early admissions program for the Ford Foundation, ah, Scholarship, and, ah, he died when I was 15, and, um, luckily I was surrounded by the value system that my father and mother felt was important. I decided not to go in the ministry, and I began to think about what I could do to apply what I felt were certain talents, in another direction that might have a similar benefit. And I decided to become a lawyer, because I could use the skills then as a lawyer to change the law. To make things better that way, and did so as an attorney for the poor for many years. Ah, people, friends of mine in Cleveland where I waited tables in the late '50s, and sold encyclopedias door to door tell me that, um, they remember my saying then that I intended to run for mayor of Atlanta. I have no recollection of that. But what I will tell you is that, um, whatever may have been my feelings early on, I've always known that I was destined for some sort of public service, whether it meant elected office, or in the ministry, or at the bar, as an attorney, some way trying to use the skills that I had, and the value system that I was taught by my family, to change things for the better for those were the most oppressed. And lo and behold, um, Bobby Kennedy, I mean King, was shot and killed, John, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed, and was buried the day after my first child was born, Brooke, my daughter Brooke. She was born April the 8th of 1968, so she was two days old and I went from the hospital to the grave. And I spent three days thinking about what I was going to do with my life, and decided that politics, although not perfect, was the best available non-violent means of changing how we lived. And that's when I know I decided to get into politics. But I thought even then I thought I would take a long time to phase into it, two, three, four years. I wanted to build a law firm, and, um, lo and behold, less than two months later after declining to run for the state house, and telling a group of neighbors that I would not do that, they left, I sat down to watch the Democratic returns from the California primary, and saw Bobby Kennedy shot to death. Well, when that went off, finally, early in the morning hours, the news, the late news, had been delayed and came on, announced that Herman Talmadge, then the U.S. Senator from Georgia, was going to run the next day, that day, really, was the last day to qualify, June the 5th of 1968 for the U.S. Senate, and apparently nobody was going to oppose him. So I went to work that morning, and I resigned my job and spent all day borrowing $3,000 for the qualifying fee. And ran for the U.S. Senate. That was twenty years ago, and I was 33 years old. Twenty years ago and I'm forty years old of course today. But, I can, I know that I can chart my decision back to when King was shot and killed.


OK, let's cut.