Nicholas Katzenbach: Civil Rights Then and Now

Question: What was your relationship like with civil rights leaders?

Nicholas Katzenbach: We had, in a sense, a very good relationship with the civil rights leaders, but the civil rights leaders were always critical of what we were doing and always felt we weren’t doing enough. I think they were quite right in taking that view, but we couldn’t figure out how to do what it was that they wanted us to do or that that was in the interest of the country to do it. We did a great deal, but the answer had to be legislation. You had to have not the president, not the Attorney General involved in this, not even the Supreme Court with the Brown case and so forth. You really had to have the Congress and the people behind this. You weren’t going to get anywhere until that happened, and that was what we were trying to do, and thanks to Dr. King and the many people that worked with him in those peaceful demonstrations that he had, thanks to television for showing what the local sheriff’s offices and police officers were doing. Finally, people said this is wrong, and we were able to get that legislation, not by Democrats but by Democrats and Republicans working together.

Question: What was it like working with Dr. King?

Nicholas Katzenbach: Difficult at times. He was a great leader and deserves enormous credit for what he did. We wouldn’t be where we are today, we wouldn’t have succeeded in the ‘60s without the leadership of Martin Luther King. He was difficult only in the sense that her wanted you to do what he wanted you to do and you couldn’t always do it.

Question: Do Americans understand their own history?

Nicholas Katzenbach: I don't know what Americans’ understanding of the Civil Rights Movement is. If I had anything I wanted to correct, it would be this: the abuse of Blacks in this country started long before the Constitution, with slavery. We couldn’t resolve it in the Constitution. We couldn’t resolve it with the Civil War in 1860’s. It continued to be a blemish on this whole country. And what was important to get people to understand in the ‘60s, and it’s still important for people to understand today, that civil rights is not doing something for African-Americans. It’s doing something for all of us, because it is building a society that doesn’t have stupid prejudices, that can listen to other people, that can tolerate differences. That’s the country we have then, and that’s the country we should be.

Question: Where do you see civil rights today?

Nicholas Katzenbach: I think we have made an enormous amount of progress, but we’ve also driven, there’s a lot of bias that still exists, and there’s a lot of inequality that still exists. The black middle class has done very well, and so that you, you know, you see movie actors, you see judges, you see lawyers, you see business people, you even see some CEOs, and that’s all good, but you also see far too many African-Americans in jail, far too many African-Americans unemployed, and we have to do something, have to continue to do things that try to lift the bottom, to get it closer to the middle.

 

Recorded on: 10/22/2008

The man who worked with, among others, Dr. King, talks about his memories of the time and whether we are living "The Dream."

Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Keep reading Show less

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

(VL.ru)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
Keep reading Show less

Water may be an inevitable result of the process that forms rocky planets

New research identifies an unexpected source for some of earth's water.

Surprising Science
  • A lot of Earth's water is asteroidal in origin, but some of it may come from dissolved solar nebula gas.
  • Our planet hides majority of its water inside: two oceans in the mantle and 4–5 in the core.
  • New reason to suspect that water is abundant throughout the universe.
Keep reading Show less