Interview with Nicholas Katzenbach


Nicholas Katzenbach:

Just before the, the Montgomery, the Selma to Montgomery march, uh, George Wallace sent a telegram to the President asking for the troops to be federalized so the federal government would pay the bill. At that time, I was testifying with respect to the Voting Rights Act at night, before the House uh, Judiciary Committee. And in the middle of my testimony, as I was talking there, the, the clerk said, uh, you know, with the microphone on, which I don't think she realized, uh, "President Johnson wants to talk to you on the phone." So I asked the chairman if I could be excused a minute, and everybody was laughing and I went and talked to him. And, and he asked me what to do, he said read it on the ticker, and I said wait until you get the telegram. Went back, continued my testimony, she comes around again, President wants you on the phone. So I went, and he says, "I have the telegram now." Uh, and he read it to me and, and I said, "Well, I think you should answer it and said you're gonna federalize the troops." And he said, "Will you dictate an answer for me?" So he put a young lady on there and I dictated an answer for him, went back, continued to testify. Clerk came around again and said the President wants you on the phone, so back I went to the phone, President Johnson said, "That girl didn't take dictation, [laughter] can you do it again?" So I dictated another telegram. That was how the troops came to be federalized in the federal service because the Governor had requested it saying he was unable to, to uh, to protect the marchers. In point of fact he was just unwilling to pay the money.