Interview with John Seigenthaler
QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

ONE MORE QUESTION. GOING BACK NOW TO THE KENNEDY CAMPAIGN -uh- in 1960. UH, CAN YOU TELL US BRIEFLY AS SOMEBODY WHO WAS ASSISTANT TO BOBBY KENNEDY THEN –UH-UH- THE TELEPHONE CALLS THAT TOOK PLACE -UH…

John Seigenthaler:

Of course, the first call from -uh- the President to the King family -uh- really -uh- shook the country. It's amazing looking back on it that a telephone call uh from President Kennedy –from Sen—then Senator Kennedy to -uh - the family of -uh- of Martin Luther King would have been controversial, but it was and I was working in the headquarters and immediately we began to get feedback from campaign managers in Southern states saying this was a major mistake. You're blowing the South with -uh- with this sort of activity. Stop it. Or advise us. I think the one exception -uh- was Griffin Bell of Georgia who asked for a little advance notice on those calls, but in effect, said -uh- "I think you're doing what's right and we're going to carry Georgia." And of course, we did. A few days later, the Attorney General -uh- maybe -uh- a day later, the Attorney General was still concerned because King was still held in jail without bail. As a lawyer, it rankled him. Uh, as a citizen, it upset him. Uh, and as a person involved in the political process -uh- he worried about whether he shouldn't do any… something in addition to what the President had done. I remember -uh- the morning driving into the airport, talking to him about whether he should call the judge. By the time he got on the airplane, I was convinced he was not going to call the judge. The middle of the afternoon, a report came through on -on- from the Associated Press saying that the judge reported that Robert Kennedy had made this call to him. Uh, knowing what I thought I knew, I told the Press Secretary, Roger Tubbie, -uh- to deny it. Within a few minutes, Robert Kennedy called in and said "Yes. I called him -uh- to tell you the truth, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. And finally, I just felt that I had to call him and tell him what I thought. And I did." So I rushed in and told -uh- Roger to cancel the -uh- denial. Uh, he felt passionately -uh- about -uh- about the wrong -uh- misdemeanor offense, -uh- no bail being granted. I mean, Martin Luther King was - was no - no threat to -uh- to anyone. It was clearly, he was a political prisoner in every sense of the word. And the Attorney General felt - then the campaign manager - felt that.