Interview with Coretta Scott King
QUESTION 36
INTERVIEWER:

THIS IS BIRMINGHAM? I'M SORRY, COULD YOU, COULD YOU FOCUS BACK TO…

Coretta Scott King:

I was prepared for Birmingham. I was prepared for that, because we had waited for the baby to come, and, so Martin could go to jail in Birmingham. Birmingham was the best planned campaign we had ever had, and so it worked very well, ‘cause it was planned quite well. Although the situation in Birmingham, and the segregation there was, was so intense, Martin felt that it was the most segregated city, second to Johannesburg, South Africa, in the world. And he understood that it was going to be, the opposition was going to be tough there. But we were prepared for that. But he wanted to fill the jails, and that's what happened. But what really bothered me, most, was when he went to jail on Good Friday, they did not allow him to make a phone call. And I always got a phone call from him once he went to jail, so I felt better hearing from him. Friday passed, Saturday, Sunday, no call. And that's when I called Wyatt Walker, on Easter Sunday, and asked him if he thought it would help if I made a statement to the press on the way they were being treated. They were being held incommunicado, and that, to say that I was concerned about his safety, because when you don't hear from people, you don't even know what's going on, in jail. And Wyatt said, "I don't—I think what you should do is to call the President." And I said, "You think he'd talk to me?" He said, "Of course, he'd have to." And so I said, "Well, OK, I guess I'll do that, but could you send a note in to Martin. See if you can get a note in, and ask him, tell him what we're trying to do, and get his, his opinion on it." ‘Cause I wouldn't want to do anything to interfere, you know, and he tried all day long, and about night he called, and he said, "They're not even letting the lawyers in now." And he said, "I don't think you have any choice now but to call." So I proceeded to call, and finally you know, I got no response, because I didn't know how to do it. Finally, I said to the operator, she kept saying, "We have no listing for the President, anyone in his family, not for the Vice President." And I said, "There must be someone who can get me to the President." And she says, "What about Pierre Salinger?" And I said, "Oh sure, I don't know why I didn't think about that." And Pierre Salinger was right there on the phone when she called, placed the call, and he said, "Oh sure, Mrs. King, I'll tell the President." I said "I wanted to see him. I wanted to talk to him, rather." Well, the President didn't call right away, but Bobby Kennedy called, the Attorney General, that evening. And he wanted to know what he could do to help, and he complained about the situation in Birmingham, and officials, and how difficult it was, but it would be better after the election took place. But they were going to be sending the FBI in, and that they would check on my husband, and so on. Well, the next day about six o'clock, I got this call from President Kennedy, and when I got the call, of course, I did not realize he was on the phone, because the call was answered downstairs by my housekeeper, the person who was with me. It wasn't my housekeeper, because she wasn't regular, a regular person. It was my temporary help.