Monday, November 1, 1965 - 10:11am - 10:27am
Lyndon Johnson, Roy Wilkins
LBJ Ranch

President Johnson called Roy Wilkins, the Executive Director of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], to discuss the potential appointment of Robert Weaver as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Both Johnson and Wilkins were concerned that naming Weaver, an African American, to the Cabinet-level post could provoke political problems that might interfere with HUD's work.

President Johnson: Hello?

Roy Wilkins: Good morning.

President Johnson: Hi, Roy. How are you?

Wilkins: Fine, sir. How are you?

President Johnson: Pretty good.

Wilkins: I'm glad to hear that. I'm glad to hear that [unclear] didn't get you down completely.

President Johnson: [laughs] Well, they're kind of working on it.

Wilkins: Yeah. Look, Mr. President, on that matter you talked to me about--

President Johnson: Mm-hmm. Talk a little louder. My line's not very good here.

Wilkins: How's this?

President Johnson: Yeah.

Wilkins: I realize, of course, you'll have to act on your own information and what you envisage for the new [Housing and Urban Development] Department, and also, I think everybody ought to realize that this was a JFK promise and no promise by you. However, the expectations were built up by the minority group itself and, perhaps, as you well said, by the man himself. The minority, which is sympathetic and emotional, will probably feel for the man as a symbol of hope even though they may or may not have any warm feelings for him, only great admiration. They'll also view it as a kind of a group setback. Now, I'd be less than frank if I didn't say to you that failure to name him will cost some goodwill, but I think you have a rather fat bank account in the shape of performance and declarations and intentions and sincerity. There will be those who'll say that when the chips were down you didn't come through, and from this office and from me, there'll be some natural criticism, of course. However, all of this it seems to me can be offset in great part, if not completely, I don't expect completely, by naming a very high-type citizen not from the South, but very high type. Because no unknown or second-rater or just so-so can . . . will be accepted as anything except the desire to get around the man. Also, naming the man, as you suggested might happen, to some comparable government position or an offer of that to him outside of the department but not a demotion. And, also, the announcement, of course, that would be routine, I assume, of the high opinion you have of him and his performance and his knowledge in the particular field of housing. I don't know--it seems to me that in ways which may be open to you and occur to you or to the skilled people you have around you, you can get over this high regard point of view coupled with your very, very great hopes for the department and the difficulty of combating the political subdivisions of states and cities and urban communities and . . . and the necessities for a kind of man who will get the department off the ground, or something of the sort. I haven't formulated it that because I don't want it to reflect on the man who was not chosen, but it seems to me that somebody who's smart enough could put it in words that would voice your hopes for the department and some of the obstacles ahead and the reason why you have made the choice you made. If you could get the man you name, that would be ideal. He's above the scramble. You know what I mean?

President Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's right.

Wilkins: He's above the scramble, and he enjoys an impeccable reputation. And everbody knows he's not out for himself or his own prestige. These are all advantages. Now, of course, I'm disappointed, but I realize first of all that there never was any promise by you on this matter, and there couldn't have been or your bill would have suffered the same fate that JFK's bill did.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Wilkins: At the same time, you know, my . . . I tell you I've known the man for 30 years and while his official connection with this association [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] was not what drew us together--it was our personal association that drew us together. And I would have to say something, but I would hope to weigh all the factors.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Wilkins: I'm sure you realize that this kind of decision involves some slipping in affection--

President Johnson: Yeah.

Wilkins: --on the part of the group itself.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Wilkins: But you must have weighed that. You weigh all things.

President Johnson: Let me ask you this: Do you think--where do you think we would be with the group? Would we be an appreciable difference a year from now if we just named Bob [Robert Weaver] now? Just suppose I named him tomorrow, said I'm going to name him, put him in charge of it. Now, what I visualize is lots of trouble.

Wilkins: That's right.

President Johnson: Before his committees. I think his rent supplement's gone down the drain. I think that next November that will cost us and cost us heavy.1 On the other hand, I'd . . . I have to . . . I just really, I honestly, I don't look with much favor on any little kid down in East Texas saying, "Well, I'm dissapointed. He almost did it, but he didn't quite do it."

Wilkins: No, I think . . . I think, sir, if you'll permit me, this is one of the things you'd have to . . . this is what it costs. But it seems to me you're on the right track, if I can say this to you in utter confidence. I think you look a year ahead, you will be in trouble, the department will be in trouble, and he will be in trouble.

President Johnson: And the group will be in trouble.

Wilkins: Exactly so, and I--

President Johnson: The group will really be hurt. I think that I can survive it because I've already had it, and I'm through, and I've just got--but I--nothing what I want.

Wilkins: Exactly.

President Johnson: I just want to do what's right. But I'm thinking about all these little kids that are expecting me to be the savior.

Wilkins: But even so, put that against the fact that a year from now, when the situation becomes impossible and he may have to withdraw, no matter how circumspectly it's done, the group will have been called upon and found wanting.

President Johnson: That's what I'm afraid of.

Wilkins: And I think the first, sharp pain is better than that long, bad aftertaste.

President Johnson: There's one thing caused me to bring Thurgood [Marshall] off and prepare him. I think that--I got a note from Abe Fortas, said he'd finished a case the other day and said, "By God, he was brilliant."2

Wilkins: Is that so?

President Johnson: Oh, it just--it wasn't a civil rights case. It was something else.

Wilkins: I understand.

President Johnson: But said it was--said, "You would have been the proudest man in the world if you could have heard the argument, and all the justices talking about it." Abe told me confidentially.

Wilkins: I understand.

President Johnson: But that's what I want to do. I want to build him up where he's impenetrable when he becomes a Supreme Court justice.

Wilkins: Yeah.

President Johnson: I've never told him I'm going to appoint him, don't know that I am.

Wilkins: Yeah.

President Johnson: But he's damn sure going to be qualified.

Wilkins: Good.

President Johnson: They can't hold him up in the Senate on the ground he's had no experience.

Wilkins: That's true.

President Johnson: Now, that's what I want to avoid here. On the other hand, I want to avoid more than you ever had any idea you wanted to avoid, the feeling that I have any bigotry in my system.

Wilkins: No, I don't think that'll--I don't think that'll be it. I think, Mr. President, it'll be simply a feeling of sharp disappointment. But I don't think it'd be [the phone clicks momentarily] hello?

President Johnson: Yeah. Yes.

Wilkins: It can't be called bigotry.

President Johnson: No, but I just think about all the folks that don't know, the uninformed, and they are just very likely--they can't see a year ahead. They can't look at the MacMillans [sic] and the Appropriations Committees down the line.3 They can't even see what [J.] Lester Hill [D-Alabama] will be forced to do and so forth.

Wilkins: Yes.

President Johnson: And I'm afraid that they'll just say, "Well, when he got down to the mustard, he just couldn't cut the mustard. He just had too many grandpas that used to own slaves."

Wilkins: Yeah. Well, I don't think so. At least . . . I will say this to you, I will do everything I can. In the very difficult personal position I'm in, I'll do everything I can to see that that kind of thing does not get far where I can hear it.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Wilkins: Now--

President Johnson: I'll bet some of our friends, Roy, there's one boy that, I don't know how well you know him, he feels rather strongly that this fellow we talked about [Laurance Rockefeller?] is the best person for it because he just thinks that he'll do so much on a higher plane that we couldn't do any other way, and he is the . . . he's the best civil rights man I've really had, this boy [Richard] Goodwin.

Wilkins: Yes. Well, this man you talked about it unassailable.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Wilkins: Impeccable.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Wilkins: And not only from a family standpoint and the money standpoint in the family, but from his own personal pursuits in building up this, that, and the other. He's nobody's . . . you couldn't--nobody from Alabama could quarrel with him. Nobody from Mississippi could quarrel with him. And nobody from New York could quarrel with him. And neither black nor white could quarrel with him.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Wilkins: That's the advantage of him.

President Johnson: Well, we've got problems both ways, and I see your evaluation. I think it's very fair. And it's what I wanted. It's subjective. And I see the problem that you'd have. And I know how a lot of people would feel by it. On the other hand, I think if we don't go that route, we just have to get the best. I have no idea that this man would be--could be compelled to take it. I really don't know how to go about him. I think I just--I guess the best thing to do is just call him and ask him to come down here.

Wilkins: Yes. Yes, by all means. Mr. President, I want to repeat once more: You have to get the best man. And if we don't happen to have the best man, then we'll just have to keep on trying until we get the best. [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Had you ever thought if we didn't get him, what about [Walter] Reuther?

Wilkins: Walter?

President Johnson: He's got the brains. Now, he'd be so damn controversial, but he's sure got the ability.

Wilkins: Yes, he's got brains. I don't know what he knows about cities.

President Johnson: Well, he's deeply interested in them and he can--he could really slash into them. But he would really--he would be . . . you can imagine how controversial he'd be.

Wilkins: Very controversial. Very, very--

Telephone line clicks.

President Johnson: Roy, is there any other Cabinet post that is peculiarly fitted to our problem? Do we have any outstanding folks that are like Thurgood would be for the [Supreme] Court?

Call disconnects and dial tone is heard.

President Johnson: Hello?

White House Operator: Are you flashing?

President Johnson: I've been cut off completely.

White House Operator: Oh, just a moment, sir.

Long pause while President Johnson waits for the operator to reconnect the call.

White House Operator: I'm trying to get him right back for you, Mr. President. Could I call you or--

President Johnson: All right.

White House Operator: I'll call you right back?

President Johnson: All right.

White House Operator: Thank you.

President Johnson hangs up the phone. A long pause follows.

White House Operator: Mr. Wilkins?

Wilkins: Yes.

White House Operator: Hello? Hello?

The recording ends before the call is reconnected.

  • 1. Johnson is referring to the 1966 midterm elections.
  • 2. Abe Fortas had been sworn in on the Supreme Court the previous month, on 4 October 1965.
  • 3. Johnson was presumably referring to Senator John McClellan, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.