Interview with Roger Wilkins
QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell me what your, what your response was when the President, when the report was issued and he basically didn't do much to celebrate the findings?

ROGER WILKINS:

I was astonished at what a terrific job that commission did. Um, they worked very hard, they were serious, and hey issued an extraordinary report that said all the things that I would have wanted said. And it was a mandate had the President chosen to take it and say, "By God we didn't know how serious the problem was. There is racism in this society, it is deep, and since I have said that I am going to be the President who finishes what Lincoln started," he could have use that as a springboard for more social action. Instead, he refused even to have the commission come over and present it to him**. And basically he ignored the report and that was the end of Johnson and me, really. I wanted to quit. Randy Clark, who was the Attorney General, persuaded me not to quit on the ground that if I quit they would probably appoint somebody who was awful in my job, and on the ground that I was his closest friend in the department and he really needed me around. So I stayed but I made a speech that I made sure got into the New York Times attacking the president. And that did get on the first page, front page of the New York Times and the President did read it and the President never spoke to me again while he was President and I worked for him, which was the way we both wanted it.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, stop.






ROGER WILKINS:

When we got to King's apartment, it was after midnight. Ah, there were troops on the street, the guard was rolling up and down the street, and there will still kids who were challenging the guard, breaking windows, throwing rocks, and throwing molotov cocktails. Ah, we went up to the top floor, knocked on the door, and Andy Young opened the door and it was amazing, because the place was packed with people and the, the heat from the place just hit you and it was hot outside anyway. And the people were everywhere in the place and they were all kids, males, and they were the kind of kids that everybody hates. They were young, Black street kids. Ah, and they wanted to go out there and throw rocks and they were gang leaders and King was preaching non-violence to them. And they would ask questions, and King would repeat, King would talk, they would ask questions, he would repeat. This went on for hours as the two emissaries from the President of the United States stood in a corner. Um, the place was just suffocatingly hot, but King took time until he had reached every last mind and was sure that none of these kids was going to go out and get himself killed. Only at that point, did he let them go and then wake up his wife and give us coffee and begin his conversation with us.

INTERVIEWER:

Great, thank you. OK, now--