Interview with Harris Wofford
QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

GOING BACK NOW TO THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, CAN YOU GIVE THE BACKGROUND OF, AND TELL THE WHOLE STORY THAT LED UP TO THE FAMOUS PHONE CALL IN OCTOBER OF 1960 BETWEEN KENNEDY AND CORETTA KING, AND JUST… I GUESS WE JUST NEED WHAT HAPPENED EXACTLY. AND IT SEEMS TO ME, LOOKING BACK ON IT, IT'S ALMOST A SERIES OF COINCIDENCES. THERE ARE SO MANY LARGE COINCIDENCES AND IT'S AMAZING TO ME THAT THAT ONE EPISODE COULD HAVE SUCH A HUGE EFFECT.

Harris Wofford:

The… the story of the calls to Mrs. King and to the judge, first by the candidate John Kennedy, and the second by the campaign manager, Robert Kennedy, ah, is full of accident and ah, irony in that… in that, first of all, King didn't want to be arrested in Atlanta at that time. He really thought that it would better not to have a racial crisis during the election campaign. And he had wanted to be meeting with Kennedy somewhere in the south. And negotiations had gone on for a Kennedy-King meeting. But each time something went wrong. King said, "Well, I'll also have to invite Nixon to meet with me," and ah, Kennedy would say, "Well then why should I go all out on a limb to you know, risk my southern support if you're then going to meet with Nixon. And the… the meeting that had been almost scheduled in Miami, ah, got cancelled and King had to be in… had no excuse for not being in Atlanta. And the student—sit-in students were starting the sit-in of Rich's Department Store. And King who had not really wanted to be part of it and wanted to have a reason to be away, didn't have a reason to be away. So he joined it and he got arrested. And the whole country was then galvanized, not just by the arrest of King, but by the fact that the judge then sentenced him to six months on a hard labor gang… gang because he had had a previous arrest for driving with an out-of-state driver's license. And it was a horrible…it was a shocking sentence. Ah, and it…it went like waves across the country, and particularly ah, among black people in this country. But I think the whole American people realized that that was an absurd sentence. And so the question then was, what would you do about it? And we drafted initially a very strong statement that Kennedy liked ah… opposing what had happened to Dr. King and calling for his release. And then the Governor of Georgia called and said, "Look…