Interview with John Seigenthaler


John Seigenthaler:

Well, looking back on it right now, it would seem a simple matter for the Federal Government to simply march in and say, uh, to the FBI uh, make sure these people get on the bus and make sure the bus gets through and we'll reinforce that with Marshals or troops or whatever. Uh, it was not quite that simple, I mean, states rights were still asserted and uh, all sorts of legal theories were being uh, suggested - a theory called interposition - which seemed to put the state government between the Constitution and uh the Federal Government. Um, but Patterson uh, simply was not available, was holding out, didn't want to meet with us. Uh, that was our impression. One report was that he was in a boat off the Gulf Coast and couldn't get back from Mobile to see us, uh, during that period, Bull Connor uh late one night uh simply took him out of jail uh, had a motorcade, took him back to the Tennessee line - dumped him on the other side of the Tennessee line. The movement had a network of uh, of information that was uh so heavy that by the time Bull Connor got over the Tennessee line, the movement had cars waiting for him they almost beat him back to Birmingham. Um, by the time, um uh, the next morning rolled around they were once again trying to get on a bus they were back in jail. Finally, Gov. Patterson did agree to a meeting and I went down from Birmingham to Montgomery to meet with him. Uh, went into that uh, antebellum uh building that is the State Capitol there. He uh, had me into his office, had his whole cabinet seated around uh, this great conference table.** Commissioner of Safety was a man named Floyd Mann, he was a bright, articulate, tough minded uh police officer -and Gov. Patterson lectured me for the better part of half an hour at times pounding the table telling me how, uh, these outside agitators had to get out of that state that this state was not uh about to uh permit the Federal establishment to move in and to assert the rights of those people that this was an Alabama matter that I in fact was an intruder, and he made it clear that uh, that uh, we thought we were going to use the Federal power against the State power, that, uh blood would flow in the streets. He made that statement at one point in the conversation. The cabinet sat there in silence and listened to the lecture, uh, a few of them smiling, a few nodding encouragement to him, but Floyd Mann stoic and solid uh, and reserved, at one point, um the Governor gave me an opportunity to respond and I said that my duty as a Federal Officer was to inform him that if the state could not protect citizens of the United States, either in the cities, or on the highways, that it was a Federal responsibility and that we were prepared to assert it, but that we hoped we would not have to. He said he was not sure that safety, safe conduct could be given to these uh agitators as he called them. Floyd Mann then broke in and said, "Governor, as your chief law enforcement officer, I assure you if you give me the responsibility, I can protect them." That was the first breakthrough.** Uh, Patterson and Mann and I then had a little colloquy about how that protection could be worked out. It seemed to me to be a break and I moved in on it. In retrospect, I'm sure Patterson expected that it would come, at any rate, he gave Mann orders to protect them from city limits to city limits.