Interview with Harry McPherson
QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

How did the President react to the Watts riot? Did he see it as an affront to his Civil Rights record and programs?

HARRY MCPHERSON:

Well, he was dismayed. I wrote--

INTERVIEWER:

I'm sorry, can you begin with "President Johnson?"

HARRY MCPHERSON:

I'm sorry. President Johnson was dismayed by the Watts riot and by all the riots that followed. I wrote a speech for him.

INTERVIEWER:

I'm sorry, I need you to answer just in terms of the Watts Riot, in terms of our chronology.

HARRY MCPHERSON:

President Johnson was dismayed

INTERVIEWER:

Start again, I was talking

HARRY MCPHERSON:

President Johnson was dismayed by the Watts riot. I wrote a speech for him on the morning after the riots. He was to address several hundred people on the south lawn of the White House, people who had come from all over the country to talk about equal employment opportunity. Um, I wrote a very tough speech, saying that the violence of the looters and rioters in Watts was really no better than the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, that it was an anti-civil violence that would provoke a violent reaction and would end up, um, crippling the efforts that we were trying to make in the field of Civil Rights and improvement of Black life. President Johnson made the speech that I wrote and that made the news, but he went on, on that same occasion, and made another speech, one that he, um, felt in his heart, and he made it extemporaneously, and he said conditions are so bad in some of these cities that it's small wonder that people riot and until we learn how to do things better in this country for the millions that are living in poverty in the cities, then we can expect more of this. "So it's your job," he said to them, always giving his audience a job to go do, "to, um, go out and try to make some real changes in employment conditions in the cities." That speech wasn't included, but, ah, in the news accounts, because it wasn't put out to the press, but, um, he was, um, as, um, hurt, as hurt, as mystified, as troubled as he could be by the riots. He sent Ramsey Clark, the attorney general, out to Los Angeles.