Interview with Harris Wofford
QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

OH, OK, SO WHAT WAS THE WHOLE DILEMMA THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WITH ACTUALLY ENFORCING NOT JUST THE SAFETY OF THE FREEDOM RIDERS, BUT THEIR RIGHT TO INTERSTATE COMMERCE, I MEAN TO INTERSTATE TRAVEL?

Harris Wofford:

Looking back I think there's no question but that the administration and the Justice Department was initially slow in moving to protect the Freedom Riders. I think they underestimated the ah, likelihood of violence. They overestimated the ah, likelihood of the local police protecting the Riders. They accepted promises from the local police that were not fulfilled. They didn't have the information that J. Edgar Hoover had, that he kept from the Attorney General, that violence was being planned, which J.Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. knew. And the first days they were slow. Thereafter as… as the… as films of… as films of the… of the events show, the Justice Department moved in to the point where the Attorney General in the end was calling the Greyhound Company and insisting that Mr. Greyhound get the bus and get these riders through. And full federal force was used to protect them in the end. But the beginning was slow. In the same way I think the administration initially talked about the inability of the federal government to carry out police powers in local areas. Partly in order to make the local police accept their primary responsibility.

[tone]

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

TONE CAMERA ROLL 8, TAPE ROLL 5

Harris Wofford:

When… when… when thinking about delays in the use of federal power and the argument that Robert Kennedy and Burke Marshall made that there isn't federal police power that policing in this country is really left—the first responsibility, to local police forces. Ah, I think, you've got to note that it was a real problem to get police enforcement of civil rights going throughout the south so that you didn't always have to send in federal marshalls or federal troops. But it's also a fact that though the… Kennedy stressed that need for local enforcement, in the end, time and time again they used federal power. Maybe in some cases they… they waited a little too long. But in Mississippi and Alabama in places all over the south federal power including federal troops got sent in.