Interview with David J. Vann


David J. Vann:

He, he formed a committee called… [overlap]Ok, when Sidney Smeyer returned from Tokyo, he formed a committee made up of senior partners in local law firms, the presidents of all the major manufacturing operations, the presiding judge of the state courts, and other community leaders. There were about 400 in all, and they set about looking at the racial situation in Birmingham. They formed one committee that started meeting and talking with black leadership, they formed another committee to look at organization of government and political structures and political things that might be important. And they decided to ask the Birmingham Bar Association to make a study of what kind of government would be best for Birmingham. In March of 1962, that committee recommended a change of the formal city government. They recommended that they go to the next legislature and get several amendments made to the law to raise the mayor's salary, give him the veto power, give him an Administrative Assistant outside Civil Service. Um, some of the members of that study committee began making speeches at civic clubs, and there would be intermittent stories in the newspaper. I remember in August, as I was driving into work one day, a local radio commentator who worked with WAPI news and ran a talk show at night, and in the morning he would usually do an editorial with some controversial to try to stir up people calling his program at night, he came on the radio and said that uh, all this talk of changing the form of city government was all right but people either oughta get behind the change, or they oughta get behind the government we have, um, it shouldn't be left as an unsettled thing. And I remember saying to myself, you know, he could stay up there on top of the mountain with his radio station and think about somebody going out and getting a petition with 10% of the voters, and I knew what had happened in the past, one group had tried to put petitions out in drugstores, and the plainclothes policemen would just come by and pick them up. Or they'd sent, tried to do it on postcards and they, whoever the committee was lost them, but then I was the chairman of a committee called the "Jefferson County Democratic Campaign Committee" and we had our first reapportionment court order in June and in August we were electing our first new members of the legislature from this county that 10 additional representatives had been awarded by the court. And our committee had been busy promoting this election. So the election was very much on my mind. And I said to myself, "You know, if I could just have a petition booth, across the street from each election place, I believe I could get all the names I needed in one single day." So I called up a member of the committee, Abe Berkowitz, and I said, "Abe, do you really want to do it, I figured out how to do it." And Abe said, "Well, that sounds pretty good, let me talk to some businessmen." He called me back, fairly shortly and said, a committee businessmen would like to talk to you this afternoon. And I said, well how 'bout letting me bring the President of the Birmingham Labor Council. He said, well, they'd just been like to decide what they want to do and then see if they can get Labor to support it. And I said, Well, you're going to need Labor support and you'd better have them in on making the original decision." So that afternoon, I arrived with the president of our Labor Council and we had representative of the Chamber of Commerce, the PTA Council, the Real Estate Board, and I presented my scheme for getting all the names in a single day. And uh, Sid Smeyer was sort of the chairman of the meeting and he immediately said it was a good idea. And…