Interview with Burke Marshall
QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

THE REACTION AT JUSTICE, AND THE WHITE HOUSE, TO THE TRAGEDY IN BIRMINGHAM…

Burke Marshall:

The—there was a feeling of real bitter outrage at the killing of those four little girls—church bombing and of course there was an enormous reaction in Birmingham. The president asked me to go down there and I went down there immediately. When I got to Birmingham I found—I thought I was in a city under siege. There—the black community had set up guards to prevent people from coming into it. There were afraid. They didn't know what would happen, they were afraid the Klan had gone wild. And that they would come in with other violence. So that you had to go through a cordon, in order to get into the black community. When I got there, I called Martin King immediately, who was there, and arranged to meet him. He was in a house in the black community. The Bureau didn't want to take me there, because there were no black Bureau agents, and driving white, cop-looking people, driving into the black neighborhood at that time, [ were ] sort of like an act of war. So that Martin King, or somebody, Arthur Shores, somebody there, arranged for some black civil defense workers, who were acting as sort of guard, to come get me, at my hotel, and I they gave me a white helmet, and sort of shoveled me down in the back seat, so that my face couldn't be seen, and drove me into the neighborhood, into the house where, I think it was John Drew's house, where Martin was staying, and then we had a long meeting about what to do. The president had choices to make, that were important choices, should he do something militarily? The city might explode, and it would be possible to do something militarily. Martin King, I think, favored that notion at first. I was against it, because I knew that it the military came in, they would declare martial law. And blacks, as well as whites, would be confined to their houses, nobody would be able to protest anything. And having the military run a civil rights movement is a terrible step to take, if it can be avoided. The president did move some troops down near Birmingham, as sort of a symbolic gesture, of federal force, if the state authorities didn't behave themselves. And then, of course, the other thing that we could do was get the Bureau out in full force. Now the Bureau, I think, knew who did that bombing. It certainly turned out in the end that they knew who did that bombing. They, they never gave us the Civil Rights Division, they never gave the Department of Justice a case to prosecute, or identified to the Civil Rights Division the person that, that did the bombing. He was eventually prosecuted by state authorities. That was a terrible event, a terrible event, because of its cruelty, its futility, its senselessness, and everybody in the administration felt that, just the same way that everybody, at least every sensitive person, civilized person, in Birmingham, white as well as black, thought. It was horrifying event.