Monday, January 3, 1966 - 10:15am
Lyndon Johnson, Thurgood Marshall
White House Telephone

President Johnson: Yes?

White House Operator: The Solicitor General, 9-0.

President Johnson: Hello?

Thurgood Marshall: Good morning, sir. Happy New Year.

President Johnson: Fine, Judge. Glad to hear you.

Marshall: Look, rumors are running around again about the chairman of the [Federal] Power Commission.1 And I'd heard a little way back that they were considering Ralph Spritzer, who was my top assistant when I first got here, and I told them, "Please, let him stay a little while." But I didn't know whether the information had been given that--I'm perfectly willing--I'd love to see him get it. I mean, he wouldn't . . . we can work it out here without him.

President Johnson: [with Marshall acknowledging] Mm-hmm. Now, I haven't given it any serious thought, Judge. There's been some folks that have suggested him. One or two of them thought he had a background that would be reasonably good, but just between us, I haven't given any serious consideration to it. I haven't--not to my knowledge, haven't even met him.

Marshall: Right. Right.

President Johnson: And he's been surfaced and nearly anybody that gets surfaced, I get enough opposition to him.

Marshall: [Laughs.]

President Johnson: And in about five minutes the only thing I’ve been hearing is that they're talking about him and what's wrong with him now. And so . . .

Marshall: Uh-huh. That's normal.

President Johnson: [Laughs] So, my guess would be that it'd be highly unlikely, but I don't know. We might come around to it and see.

Marshall: Right.

President Johnson: I'm trying to find someone with regulatory experience--

Marshall: Oh, I know.

President Johnson: --with a judicial background, with a progressive viewpoint.

Marshall: Mm-hmm. Right.

President Johnson: And I would like to find someone that's not owned by either the gas companies or the ADA.2

Marshall: Boy, that's tough. That's really tough.

President Johnson: And I don't know . . . I've got a very serious problem over in the Urban Affairs department.3

Marshall: Oh, boy. Yes, yes.

President Johnson: [Speaking over Marshall] And that's given me a lot trouble.

Marshall: Yes, yes.

President Johnson: I . . . I don't know--

Marshall: It's going to be a real problem.

President Johnson: I have a feeling that we'll have to get into it. Whitney [Young] is . . . there's some conversation about him for either the top place or one of the minor ones.4 There's a good deal of feeling that Bob Weaver ought to be given a chance.5

Marshall: Yes, sir, there is.

President Johnson: I rather like Weaver. If it were just up to me and just my personal association, I rather think I would give him a chance.

Marshall: He'd be good.

President Johnson: Most of the folks take the position that he's not going to be able to do as much for the negro as others would--

Marshall: Wow.

President Johnson: --and that he's not a man that is imaginative and has the initiative that's desired in this new, tough job.

Marshall: He's a good administrator, though. He's terrific. But I don't know about that idea point.

President Johnson: I think he's a good man.

Marshall: Yeah, yeah. I certainly do. One hundred percent in my book. And I've known him all the way back to [Harold] Ickes, when he used to be with Ickes way back.6

President Johnson: What did he do with Ickes?

Marshall: He was with original housing, you know when we had the federal housing? 

President Johnson: Yeah.

Marshall: He was in Ickes' office.  He and Bill Hasty(?) was in the solicitor of the Interior.

President Johnson: Uh-huh.

Marshall: And the two of them were the early ones on housing.

President Johnson: Tell me, Thurgood, what would you do if you were in my place? Would you appoint him?

Marshall: Yes, I would. Honestly. And he's 100 percent reliable, that I know. I certainly would.

President Johnson: I'm giving thought to another fellow that's not for this place at all, but for another rather top spot that has to be confirmed by the Senate.

Marshall: Mm-hmm.

President Johnson: And he's this boy that's just named ambassador to Ghana--[Franklin] Williams.7

Marshall: Oh, Frank Williams.

President Johnson: And that used to be over in the Peace Corps.

Marshall: Yeah, oh, I knew him. He used to work for me.

President Johnson: What's your evaluation of him, just between us two? What's his strength and what's his weakness?

Marshall: He's got all the imagination and brain that you want. His ambition is a little too much for him.

President Johnson: Mmm. 

Marshall: When he was with me, I--well, I ended up one time and I just explained to him as a Dutch uncle, I said, "Frank, I know what you're shooting at. You're shooting for either my job or Roy Wilkins’s, and so far as I’m concerned, you better start shooting for Roy's because you can't take mine, you're not man enough."

President Johnson: [Laughs.]

Marshall: He's that kind of operator, and he somehow fouled up with the Peace Corps. I don't know how, but he did over there. But as for ability, he's really tops. He's very good.8

President Johnson: Well, now, can I tell you something without your discussing it with a human?

Marshall: Why, certainly.

President Johnson: What would you think about him taking [Sargent] Shriver’s place at the Peace Corps?

Marshall: Terrific.

President Johnson: They recommend him, not Shriver, but the boys that know him over there think that the bureaucracy over there. They like him because he's imaginative and he's attractive and he's acceptable to Latin America and to Africa--

Marshall: Right!

President Johnson: --and to the non-aligned countries. And he's personable, and he's got an attractive wife, and he works at it.

Marshall: Mm-hmm.

President Johnson: And Shriver's got to give up one of the two, and he's begging everyday to get out.9 And I want somebody that will give me a good image and—

Marshall: I would put Frank there without any hesitation because there his ambition would take over.

President Johnson: Yeah, yeah.

Marshall: He doesn’t have to worry.

President Johnson: That's right. He would have realized it.

Marshall: He would have reached his point. And he can come up with more ideas in a minute than most people I know of. And they're darn good ones.

President Johnson: Now, he's just been made ambassador to Ghana. And we sent his papers over, and they've accepted him, and he's getting ready to go in the next week.

Marshall: Well, I would unhesitatingly say "yes" without any doubt. And I mean, everything that I have that would recommend against him would not in a position like that. He would--

President Johnson: Yeah. Well, what you have is just a little balance and just to hold your feet on the ground a little bit.

Marshall: Well, the point is once he gets what he wants, I think from there he'll drive like mad. And he'll drive everybody under him, too. Because he puts in a real day's work. He's terrific. I think he'd be good. Yes, sir.

President Johnson: Tell me about this fellow that's your assistant over there. What are his strong points?10

Marshall: While he was--started with Power Commission in the legal staff and stayed there quite awhile, and then he's been over here for 10 or 15 years. And every man on the Supreme Court goes out of his way for his legal ability. I mean, everybody from the Chief Justice down. He is a terrific administrator with ideas and his real leaning is in power. That he really knows, and he's terrific. And I guarantee you nobody could own him. You just can't own him, he's not the owning type. And he's had that background in the Power Commission. And that's hard to get somebody with, you know, the actual back--governmental background in power.

President Johnson: Does he get on with people reasonably well?

Marshall: No trouble. No trouble. Well, I've never--I haven't had one inch of trouble since I've been here, and everybody else said the same thing. He gets the work done and there's no problems at all. None. And he's absolutely good. I would hate to lose him. But, I mean, at 22 years in government he's beginning to look, you know, around for something. But, if--he doesn't have the stature you're looking for.

President Johnson: OK, well, I’ll be talking to you. You got any suggestions, things we ought to be doing in this negro field that we're not? I see that they say they're getting very disillusioned with Johnson.

Marshall: Well, I'm going to get together with some of them within the two week period and try to find out what's going on. I'm having great difficulty in finding out what they want. Not that I'm going to suggest it—

President Johnson: The two things that I wish they would really do, could help me and help them more than anything in the world, if they could get two or three real able men like Roy [Wilkins] and—

Marshall: Whitney.

President Johnson: --and Whitney [Young] and maybe [Martin Luther] King or somebody, to go to these foundations and say, "Now, fellas we've got to have some help. We've got to have some money." And make Ford and Rockefeller and Carnegie and some of them put up some money. And then organize like they never organized a march before in their life to register peopl. And then every place that they haven't got a register that they need one I'll put one there and keep 'em up all night with a lantern if I need to.

Marshall: Right.

President Johnson: But I can't go out there--

Marshall: No.

President Johnson: --and yank a fella out of bed and pull him in. And they don't understand that. And they say, "Well, [U.S. Attorney General Nicholas] Katzenbach's not doing nothing." Now, Katzenbach's the best friend the negro's got in this government, I think.

Marshall: I know. I know it. I told them the last time I met with them that there was nothing in the Voting Bill, the Constitution or anyplace else that required the Attorney General to go down into the bayous and pick up a negro in his Cadillac and take him to vote. That wasn't in the bill. That wasn't his requirement. It was our requirement to get 'em outta there. And they got a little hot about it, but I told them. That's what they're waiting for. And I, of course, can cuss them out, but I mean it's a little difficult for some people to do it, and recognizably so. But they know the record I've had. And now I told them I would like to talk to them again within two weeks after the first of the year. Now, what they're going to come up with, I don't know. But, they're not--they're all right to holler at Katzenbach and all, but they're not doing it with reason.

President Johnson: No. And he's a good man and he's—

Marshall: Sure, he is.

President Johnson: And we ought help him, and that's the way they could help him. They would shore up a—

Marshall: Well, [Stephen] Currier is supposed to get together 250,000 [dollars]. A hundred from him and a hundred from one of the big foundations. I think it's Ford.

President Johnson: Who's supposed to?

Marshall: Stephen Currier.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Marshall: And it's something over 200,000 [dollars]. That's the money that's supposed to come up for [unclear] those boys. That's what I understand. And--uh no, it's the Field Foundation and Currier. But we need more than that. And if they want me to go to some of these foundations, I could do it.

President Johnson: Thank--

Marshall: I'll see what I can do. I'll--in the next two days.

President Johnson: Do that and give me a call. Bye.

Marshall: Will do. Thank you, sir.

  • 1. The Federal Power Commission, formed in 1930, was charged with regulating electrical power and public utilities on behalf of the Federal government. It was later renamed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • 2. The ADA, or Americans for Democratic Action, is a national liberal political activist organization.
  • 3. Johnson is referring to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
  • 4. Whitney M. Young, Jr., was the executive director of the Urban League.
  • 5. Robert Weaver was ultimately chosen and became the first African American member of the Cabinet when sworn in on 18 January 1966.
  • 6. From 1934 to 1938, Robert Weaver had been an adviser to Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes.
  • 7. Franklin H. Williams had been confirmed by the Senate as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana on 20 October 1965. An African American, Williams had been counsel to the NAACP and had most recently been US Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
  • 8. In July 1963, after having served as special assistant to the director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, Williams had been named as the Peace Corps' regional director for Africa. "Peace Corps Director for Africa is Selected," New York Times, 20 July 1963. With the death of US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson, under whom Williams had served, Arthur Goldberg was named as the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and brought with him a new team. Williams was replaced by Representative James Roosevelt of California. Williams had let it be known that he was shopping around for government employment and hoped to return to the Peace Corps. Raymond Daniel, "Goldberg Brings Own Touch to U.N.," New York Times, 27 August 1965, p.27.
  • 9. Shriver was Director of the Peace Corps as well as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.
  • 10. Johnson is referring to Ralph Spritzer.

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