Interview with David J. Vann
QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

WELL, THEY WEREN'T QUITE ALL OVER BECAUSE AT THAT POINT IT DID CAUSE SUCH AN INTERNATIONAL STIR, AND CERTAINLY IN WASHINGTON, IT CREATED SUCH AN EMBARRASSMENT THAT I BELIEVE BERT MARSHALL WAS SENT IN TO NEGOTIATE SOME SORT OF A PEACE BETWEEN THE BUSINESS LEADERS AND THE BLACK COMMUNITY, AND YOU WERE PART OF THAT NEGOTIATION.

David J. Vann:

Well, shortly after that, I got a call from the Vice President of Sears and Roebuck, asking me if, and they had a store downtown, if he thought I could put together a black committee, to meet with a white committee, and would I undertake negotiations? And I called Arthur Shores, and I said Arthur, I can get a white committee, can you get a black committee? And Arthur had been one of the principal civil rights lawyers here for many years, called me back shortly and said yes, I can get a committee. And that night, we began meetings. And instead of two groups of people snarling at each other, you had a group of people from the white community, and a group of people from the black community, and we all knew we had a problem. This was our city, and we had to find some way to resolve it. We had Bert Marshall, who had been sent to Birmingham about that time, sitting in on our meetings, representing the President of the United States. We had, uh, um, the executive secretary of the new mayor, sitting in our meetings representing the new government, we had businessmen that represented the business power structure of the city. And so we began analyzing, now what are your problems, what are our problems? We've got to recognize, one, that we don't have a government, we've got two governments, neither of them can be effective. Uh, We've got to find a way to work this thing out within private sector formats.** And as soon as the — and, by the way, Dr. King's representative in the meetings was Andrew Young, now the Mayor of Atlanta. So, uh, as soon as we reached that point, which was during the first night, they went back to talk to their people, and the next morning I met with black, with white business leaders of downtown. They convinced King that instead of talking about schools and parks and black police officers and other natural things that the black community wanted, that they – they had to start talking about, that the black people spend the same amounts — spend the same kind of dollars downtown everybody else does, and talk about the signs, the black and white signs on drinking fountains, on dressing rooms, um, talk about employment of black people in the businesses where they spend their money. And King began, in his — he had a— every night, they had a sort of a pep rally kind of meeting at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where King would be the major speaker, after a series of — of warm-up speakers. And over a period of only a few days, the tone of demands shifted to things that the business community could deal with. Uh, I would meet with the white businessmen and try to explain the format. And we began to look at the things, uh, they had already made an agreement, some time before they hadn't been able to carry out, take down the signs, and they prevented from doing so, because Connor let them know he'd arrest them, it they took the signs down. On employment, they began to look at the people they had working for them, and one man said, well my chief tailor is a black fellow, and he's been working with my customers for years, they would think nothing of it if he all of a sudden appeared selling instead of just tailoring. And someone else said, well I've got an employee that I could promote, and so I ended up, I think I had seven stores, that had — could work in some immediate black employment.