Interview with Harris Wofford


Harris Wofford:

Ah, Governor… Governor Vandever. The Governor of Georgia called and said, "Look, you know, I'll get the son of a gun out of… out of jail if you won't issue a public statement. Believe me, I'll get him out." And Kennedy, so Kennedy called me and said, "Look, we can't issue the statement because what we want is to get him out, and the Governor says he'll find a way to get him out." So there was no statement. But then the government… the Governor dragged his feet. Whether he was going to do it, or not really going to do it or how long, nobody knew. And day after day the question was, what would you do? And Kennedy having promised not to issue the public statement was sort of locked for those days. And the idea came to ah, me and… and backed by some… by Louis Martin and others in the civil rights campaign that why shouldn't he just call Mrs. King. She was pregnant. She was very anxious. She had been on the phone to me telling about how worried she was, and the thought came, why can't Kennedy at least just call her and say, we're working at it, we're going to get him out. You have my sympathy. A personal direct act. And we then said, you know, how do we get this to him? He was out in the field. He was in… um, I think in downstate Illinois then. And um, we couldn't get through. Nobody would answer us. And finally we called Sargeant Shriver and said, "Look, you know, here's an idea, but you know, nobody wants to hear us from the civil rights section right now, because we'd been bothering them too much. And he said, that's a wondeful idea. You know, hang up. I'll get to O'Hare International Inn where Kennedy is for another hour and a half and I'll put the idea to him. Shriver got there. He looked around, he saw the… the strategists of the campaign, and he said, if I bring it up it'll never go through because the… the wise guys will all have reasons why it shouldn't be done. So he waited until Sorenson went off to work on a speech and Salinger to meet the press, and O'Donnell went into the bathroom and finally Shriver said to Kennedy, "Why don't you just call Mrs. King. You wanted to know what you could do. Give her your support and sympathy."