This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limits the amount of materials that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contacat the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
University of Florida
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
MANATEE COUNTY BUSING CRISIS
Interviewee: Oscar Blasingame
Interviewer: Benjamin Houston
Date of Interview: April 20, 2000
MANATEE COUNTY BUSSING CRISIS
Oscar Blasingame, a native Floridian and a University of Florida alumnus with a law
degree from Stetson University, shares his thoughts on his role as an assistant U.S.
attorney during the Manatee County Schools bussing crisis of 1970. On page 1, Mr.
Blasingame describes his educational background and how he ended up working for the
federal government along with John Briggs, another U.S. attorney. On page 2, he
describes his duties as a lawyer for the government, specifying that he hardly dealt with
civil rights work. He also details his role in the Claude Kirk campaign, also noting (page
3) that Florida was mostly a Democratic state at that time. He details the effects of the
state's Democratic majority and how Kirk affected the situation on pages 12 and 21.
On page 3, Mr. Blasingame clarifies the chronology of the bussing crisis starting with his
retrieval of the school superintendent, Dr. Jack Davidson, from his home in Bradenton.
The media's involvement (pages 4 and 6), the presence of fire marshals and law
enforcement (pages 5-8), and Blasingame's resultant responsibilities (page 9) are all
treated. He acknowledges his presence in Kirk's hearing and shares his opinion of Al
Butler on page 11, but more importantly, Mr. Blasingame details how Kirk put on a big
show during the hearing. He continues to share on pages 12-13 how the media viewed
Kirk, following it with anecdotes concerning the hearing, Lloyd Hagaman (Kirk's aide),
and Ted Mack (Judge Ben Krentzmen's court reporter).
Mr. Blasingame offers his impressions on Krentzmen (pages 14-15) and also mentions
his opinion of the Nixon administration with regard to civil rights (16). Unlike his fairly
positive opinion of Krentzmen, Mr. Blasingame criticizes Kirk (page 17) for the way he
handled the Manatee situation (21-22) as he pins some of Kirk's mistakes on the
governor's advisors (26). He goes on to compare Krentzmen and Kirk (18). Mr.
Blasingame shares his personal views on bussing (page 19), continuing with anecdotes to
illustrate how one can simultaneously be a Republican and support civil rights (20).
Pages 22-23 details Mr. Blasingame's impressions of the media and fire marshal's role in
the situation, concluding that the bussing crisis was a moderately significant (24)
situation and that race relations were barely affected by the incident (25).
Interviewer is Benjamin Houston
Interviewee is Oscar Blasingame
H: It is April 20, 2000. This is Ben Houston, and I am in the law offices of Mr. Oscar
Blasingame. Are you a native Floridian, Mr. Blasingame?
H: And you grew up where?
B: In a little area called Mandarin, Florida, south of Jacksonville on the St. Johns
H: How did you find yourself coming to law school?
B: I had been in several businesses from the summer of 1960 when I graduated at
the University of Florida to late 1966. I was getting married, and I was not getting
anywhere much, so I decided to go to law school.
H: You graduated from Stetson University with your law degree?
B: Yes, in June of 1969.
H: And you went immediately to work for the federal government?
B: I started in a temporary job as a research clerk, which was a summer job but
they were very short of assistant U.S. attorneys because there was a dispute at
that time between the Republicans and the state senators over appointment of a
new U.S. attorney. The present U.S. attorney was a lame duck, so they asked
me to just keep staying on until the matter was resolved, which it was in
December of 1969.
H: And that is when they brought [U.S. Attorney] John Briggs in?
B: Yes. Mr. Briggs was first appointed by the judges under the statute with no
promise that he would be permanent, and then he became permanent after a
month or so.
H: Your opinion of Mr. Briggs as an attorney and his handling of the Manatee
B: I could speak for two hours on John Briggs. He is one of the heroes of my whole
life. He was one of the finest people I ever knew. He was a very good attorney.
He never thought of himself as a scholar, but he was a very good attorney, had a
great presence. He was a tall dignified gentleman. He treated the assistants with
MCBC 6 page 2
incredible respect. His handling of the situation was, I thought, magnificent,
particularly considering that he was caught between various attitudes of various
government agencies and he had the press constantly on his back and he was
operating a war from Tampa which was going on in both Bradenton and Tampa
simultaneously. I cannot say enough about Mr. Briggs. He passed away, I guess
in the last year. He was so good, about six or seven years ago, a group of his
assistants threw a party for him in Jacksonville. Many of us had been gone
twenty years from the U.S. attorney's office, but we thought so much [of him],
and I think maybe 100 assistants showed up, from all over. Some came from out
of state, just to thank him for what he had done for us, giving us the opportunities
H: Comment on what exactly your duties were, being a lawyer for the government.
B: As an assistant U.S. attorney in the middle district of Florida, Tampa Division at
that time-this was what, April, about that time?
H: Yes, sir. April, 1970.
B: Well, there were only three of us, and we had a total of about three years
experience, of which most of was in one lawyer who had been a law clerk for two
years and an assistant for maybe close to a year. We were just charging around
doing anything we felt like. We were not really allowed to specialize, so that we
handled all sorts of criminal work. Each of us handled all sorts of criminal work.
We did everything from VA foreclosures to collections to Mafia/organized-crime.
Most of the organized-crime was handled by one man who lived with it night and
day, literally. At that stage, I had been an assistant for three or four months, and
I was doing a little interstate, transportation, stolen motor vehicles, government
checks and generally things like that, just to get a little experience. We really did
not do any civil rights work until it came to a trial stage or a criminal stage, and
then we would get involved. Civil rights was handled out of Washington, out of
the Justice Department.
H: Did you consider yourself a Claude Kirk supporter before 1970?
B: No question. I worked hard on his campaign in 1966. He got elected, I think, a
week or two before I got married. Yes, I was an avid [supporter], having been
one of the three or four Republicans in the state of Florida for many, many years.
H: That must have been pretty lonely work.
B: If you want to know anything about the Claude Kirk campaign, if you remember,
he ran against the mayor from Miami, Robert King High, who had beaten, as I
recall, Haydon Burns in the primary. Being from Jacksonville, it was easy to
understand why he beat Haydon Burns. The conservatives just were completely
MCBC 6 page 3
up in arms. They could not have this man in, and by conservatives, I include,
sadly, racists in that. So, many Democrats, I know, in the Tampa area-I was
living in Tampa at the time-were crossing over, a lot of influential people with big
money, a lot of them, the kind you never hear about but they are the ones paying
out the money, and things were a little looser on the money end in those days
than they are now. I was there as a conservative, or middle-of the-road, but
somebody who wanted a two-party system, which we did not have in Florida at
that time. Then Kirk was just bound to win. Florida was not ready for anybody as
liberal as Robert King High, although today he would probably be called middle-
of-the-road. Anyway, that is how I got connected with Kirk, the first time.
H: Were you high up in the campaign?
B: No. I worked. I did not have a title or anythingn, but I worked and attended
meetings, and I think I probably went door-to-door in the neighborhood, that sort
of thing. I wrote a lot of letters to the editor. I had written some, and they decided
mine sounded good. So I would draft up letters to the editor, a variety of letters,
and then different people would sign them and send them. We were rather
successful in showing this massive rising-up of the public. That was probably the
main thing I did of any importance.
H: Had you come into contact with Kirk personally before the Manatee situation?
B: Only to shake his hand at meetings, and my wife and I went up to the
inauguration. But, you know, I shook his hand in a lineup, and he did not know
who the heck I was. Every year-and I still have some-Christmas cards he sent,
stamped and so forth. That was my connection. I got a little leery of him when he
started becoming more buffoon than anything else.
H: Talk a little bit about how you came to be involved in the Manatee County
situation. When was the situation first brought to your attention?
B: I read in the paper, I believe, or [saw] on TV, that Kirk had taken over the
Manatee County [school] system, and it was, I suppose, the next day that I was
in the halls at the U.S. attorney's office and ran into a reporter. He said, are you
going to be involved in the takeover of the Manatee schools? I laughed and said,
no, that is all done by the Justice Department. Then, about 3:00 the next
morning, I got a call at home from John Briggs. He said, I am not instructing you
and you do not have to do this, but I would like you to drive straight to Bradenton,
here is the address of the school superintendent, I would like you to go get him
out of bed and see if he is willing to go back to his office, if we send a force of
marshals to [usher] him in. Well, I thought it was thrilling, and off I went in my
1959 Carmen Ghia. I got to Bradenton. I guess it was about daylight. It must
have been about 6:00 or something. I went to his house and woke him up.
MCBC 6 page 4
H: This was Jack Davidson.
B: The superintendent, yes. I woke him up and he said, oh yes, he would be very
glad to go back in, he would be willing, so I told him that I would keep in touch,
not to do anything. He probably, after that, had conversations, maybe, with John
Briggs. I am not sure. Anyway, I called Briggs, told him the results, and he said
he would send the marshals down. My understanding was they were coming
down in full force, that he had been promised all these marshals from
Washington. So I drove around the school, and I remember there were kids
there picketing, like elementary school kids and such. I do not know how they
had been brought in. People were gathering around, and I was sort of sitting and
waiting. I was just sitting on a park bench, waiting for this army of marshals, and
a gentleman came over and sat down and said, are you Oscar Blasingame, and I
said yes. He was a reporter for Newsweek. I did not know how he found out who
I was or what, and anyway, I would not tell him anything much, but we became
H: Do you recall his name?
B: No, I do not. He wrote an article, and I think it had his byline there, but I do not
remember. This was high level, obviously, from Newsweek, this was a real
journalist. I recall the marshals arrived. It was Mickey Newberger, Felix Sharpe,
and John Barr. I still talk to Mickey Newberger. Every five or six years, he calls
me with some question. He is something. So, I guess we went in. I was
supposed to be in charge of this group, which was rather absurd because the
three marshals knew more and were far more capable of doing anything than I
H: Was Davidson with you?
B: No. As I recall, he was not with us.
H: Just to go through the order of events real quick, Davidson and the board were
suspended on a Sunday, and you said you heard about it the next day, and then
the day after that was when John Briggs asked you to go down there and take
care of this.
B: You know more about that, I am sure, than I do. That sounds familiar.
H: Okay. The reason why I am asking is simply because what happened was that
Davidson was actually suspended twice. He was suspended initially, and there
was a hearing in Tampa which Kirk was ordered to show at and did not because
he had to open the legislature with the State of the State address. After that,
Krentzmen ordered Davidson reinstated, and so Davidson, on Wednesday, April
8, took back the offices. Wednesday, he took back control, but then Wednesday
MCBC 6 page 5
night, Claude Kirk re-suspended him.
B: What day was it I was there?
H: It was Thursday morning when the marshals were there to show cause, to serve
Claude Kirk, for the hearing.
B: And Kirk was there himself.
H: Well, he was rumored to, but that is a matter of some debate. You also went
back. Thursday is what I am calling the showdown between the marshals that
was sort of the pinnacle of the whole situation.
B: You raise your hands like this. Have you seen the picture?
H: Yes, in the newspapers?
B: Where I am raising my hands like that?
H: I think so. The thing is, Friday, you also went back.
H: So, you have not gotten there yet. You are talking about the Thursday.
B: Okay, I got my times confused. I went down the first time, and maybe more had
gone on by the time I was called to go down. I do not remember. I did not think
Krentzmen had issued anything or ordered to show cause, but he may have, and
you can sort that out. I went down the first time, and the three marshals showed
up, as we just discussed. I do not remember whether we had an order at that
time or not. Do you know? Did we apparently have an order to show cause or
H: Yes, if you were not personally escorting Davidson back into his office.
B: No, we did not take him, as I recall, personally.
H: Then this, presumably, was after his second suspension.
B: Okay. So, we went in the building, and it was crowded with people, crowded with
the news media. The three of us went to the superintendent's office, got to the
door. It was locked, and some law enforcement officer was posted, not in
uniform, there. I keep thinking it was a deputy sheriff, but as I recall, the sheriff,
[Richard] Wietzenfeld, as I recall, he rallied with the federal government or
something and came to us and said look, I am on your side, I am not going along
MCBC 6 page 6
with the governor, or something. Anyway, there was somebody there standing in
front of the door, a guy who looked like a cop, and I say that complimentarily. We
did not know what he would do. Mickey Newberger, I think it was, said Oscar, do
you want us to kick the door down? Which Mickey was, I understand, excellent
at. And I said, yes, wondering how I got into this situation. I am standing there,
and behind the three marshals was this mass of reporters and tape recorders
and cameras and everything else. Not video like you would have today. I do not
remember movie cameras. Anyway, they were just all, this wall of them, behind
there. It suddenly came to me, what if we kick that door down and there is some
problem? I was not so worried about violence, but it just did not seem too good.
So that is when I held up my hands and said gentlemen-which, in those days,
they were all gentlemen, and not ladies-would you pull your microphones back
so I can consult with the marshals? Except that picture went around the world
saying I was holding the marshals off, which was not true at all.
H: You were holding the press off.
B: Yes, holding the microphones off so that I could consult. We discussed it and
decided this was not a good thing because there was going to be some sort of
problem in confrontation, and we did not know what. So, that is when, as the
papers said, we retreated to the Howard Johnsons and had some coffee and, I
guess, called Briggs and told him what was going on, and he said come on back,
as I recall, or something to that effect. So, we went back.
H: Were you dealing with Briggs directly? Were you ever talking to Krentzmen
B: No, I dealt directly with Briggs, who dealt with Krentzmen. It was not so much
that I could not deal [as] it was that so much was going on. Briggs was the
central force there representing the court. We were representing the court. That
is what our position was, and enforcing the court's order.
H: What specifically were you trying to avoid when you decided that caution might
be the better part of valor in this instance?
B: I do not remember. I think there was a concern there might be some physical
confrontation, as I later learned-I think Felix Sharpe told me-that
superintendent's office was standing-room-only, with law enforcement agents
from all over the state who had been told to shoot if we came in. I do not know if
you have heard that end of it. So, apparently, my rare discretion was good,
because I might have started the Second Civil War, for which my ancestors
would have been very appreciative, and not come out alive or something, if that
were true. I cannot really believe that they would have shot, but there might have
been one nut in there who, you know, was ready to shoot [because] the feds
were trying to run our schools, or something like that.
MCBC 6 page 7
H: Do you recall if there were multiple deputies, or was just one in front of the door?
B: I remember just one. My memory now is more from looking at the picture and
showing it and boring people with the story. I looked, but I cannot find my
newspaper clippings in there. But all I remember is one standing at the door.
Now, maybe I was wrong.
H: Was there any contact directly between you or the marshals with the sheriff and
the sheriff's deputy, whoever was at the door?
B: I do not remember. If there was, it was not much. This guy obviously was not
happy with being there, this man who was guarding the door. There was not a
whole lot of talk. Marshals are not very talkative people. They are action-people.
H: Did you have any interaction with the aides of Governor Kirk at that point?
B: I am pretty sure not. I am 98 percent sure that I did not.
H: I will drop some names for you. Lloyd Hagaman was there. Robert Dooley
Hoffman, Robert Warner, and Bill Maloy.
B: I do not think I talked with them there, that morning. My first recollection is that
afternoon or some point, maybe it was the next day, when they had the big
hearing and when Kirk was held in contempt or whatever happened. I think the
judge actually held him in contempt, did he not? I remember those people
H: The reason why I am asking is because there were a lot of newspaper accounts
where the marshals met with the aides. One account, in particular, said that you
all met with the aides in a separate office and conferred for awhile, and then the
aides left that conference and then went behind the doors and barricaded
themselves back there, and there was some shouting back and forth through the
doors or even on a telephone into the inner office. Other people have called that
into question and said that was not accurate.
B: I sure do not remember. Now, the telephoning, there may have been some
telephone call into there. I seem to remember that, and that may have been what
concerned me, that there were people back in there. I do not remember that, but
the telephoning sounds familiar. All of that may have taken longer than I recall,
but I do not remember any meeting with those people. I do not think I would have
met with them because I would have taken the position, I do not have any
authority, you have to talk to the U.S. attorney or the judge, but I cannot
negotiate with you because I do not have any authority.
H: There was no meeting where they looked over the order that you were serving?
MCBC 6 page 8
B: All I remember of that is the next time we went down. Then, we went into the
superintendent's room, and Kirk was there and the walls were lined with these
little kids in blue blazers.
H: Okay, we will get to that in a second, and that will be important as well. So, you
were treated to the Howard Johnson's.
B: And had coffee, and I think it was there we called Briggs and he said, come on
H: Did the press follow you?
B: I do not remember their following. They knew we went to Howard Johnson's
because it was in the paper. I do not remember their coming up to us or
anything. Again, they might have, but, you know, there was press everywhere.
The BBC was there, everything.
H: John Briggs told you to just hold off?
B: He said come back to Tampa, as I recall, which I was very happy to do. I forget
what happened the rest of the day, if anything. I know things were going on all
the time in Tampa, frantically, that there was action in Bradenton because I know
the reporters were telling me, the local ones and this guy from Newsweek, that is
when I learned that they have, what are they called, stringers or something,
where one reporter will cover action in one place and one in the other and then
they pool their information. I learned how they did that at that time because I told
one reporter, you know, you ought to be in Bradenton at some point, and he said
I got somebody from some newspaper who is covering that for me and I am
covering up here for him. And this Newsweek reporter came up, so I had
envisioned how to get myself in Newsweek. I have been successful in getting
publicity, outrageously, since I became a lawyer. Anyway, so he said, I have to
find a typewriter. My secretary was out to lunch or something and I said, well, no
problem, just use my secretary's typewriter. He wrote up the article, and that
probably helped me get my picture in the Newsweek magazine. But [the press]
were all coming in. At that time, the U.S. attorney's office had no receptionist or
anything, and people could walk right into your office if you had left the door
[open] at the hallway. So, people were coming and going. I remember that going
on, and I think that was the same afternoon.
H: Did you have any responsibilities when you went back to the office? Was John
B: I attended a few meetings. I think Briggs told me to go home early, having woken
MCBC 6 page 9
me up at 3:00. Of course, that was typical of Briggs. I guess he had flown down
from Jacksonville. He had his own plane and probably flew down and had not
had any sleep at all. But, he told me, I remember, get home and get some sleep.
He may have also been thinking there may be longer hours to come. I do not
know if it was that night they had the big press conference, that night in the U.S.
attorney's office. There was a big press conference one night. I think it was that
night. I was not there. Briggs met, because I remember they blew the fuse or
circuit-breaker because they had so many lights hooked up for all the cameras.
Right in the middle of it, I think, the lights went out. That was when some reporter
somehow got the unfortunate statement about [how] there was going to be blood
in the streets. Is that what it was?
H: We will counter force with force, if necessary. Something to that effect.
B: Yes, there was something like blood in the streets, which John Briggs would not
have said, even when he was a pilot in World War II.
H: He said that John Briggs said that or Claude Kirk said that?
B: Nobody attributed it directly to Briggs, and I can get into that in the next meeting
with Kirk. That comes up. But somebody had said something like that. It may be
that Kirk or his people were being accused of having said it, and they thought
Briggs had accused them. That may have been. I got confused on that.
H: Well, there was a lot of bad press for Claude Kirk for making statements like that,
but then there were individuals, who were also representatives of the governor's
staff, who said that someone not officially linked to the governor had made that
statement and it had been attributed to the governor and the governor's staff
B: So it was Kirk who was accused, or his staff, of having made that statement.
H: From the information that I have.
B: Okay, I think it is coming back to me now. I remember the press conference,
apparently, was just a mess, but then I do not know what happened the next day,
assuming the press conference was the night I went down there, the night that I
had gone down in the morning, if that makes any sense, and I do not remember
what I was involved in. It is obviously over a longer period of time than I realized.
H: It was over a week.
B: Yes. I had it all jammed up in about a three-day period, which makes no sense.
H: If you came into it late...Kirk suspended Davidson Monday morning and if you
MCBC 6 page 10
were not pulled into it until later...
B: I guess that is what happened. He suspended him. It was not just that he had
taken over the schools.
H: Well, he had declared himself superintendent.
B: Yes, and then Krentzmen suspended him, and that is when all hell broke [loose].
H: Krentzmen tried to reinstate Davidson, and then Kirk re-suspended Davidson
and the school board. There was some question about the legality of his first
suspension because the order itself said this board is great, this superintendent
is very dedicated, and therefore I suspend them. The Florida Attorney General
[Earl] Faircloth had said that was not legally appropriate because he had not
given the reasons for the suspension.
B: Faircloth was very much a Democrat and very competent, and he could not
stand all this buffoonery of Kirk's.
H: Right. So, on the basis of that, Krentzmen ordered Superintendent Davidson
restored, and then Kirk re-suspended him with a different order. That is where
you came into the picture.
B: I remember attending the hearing, I guess, when Krentzmen held him in
H: That long six-hour hearing.
B: Long hearing. Kirk was represented by some, I think, government attorney and
by Millard Caldwell, former Supreme Court Justice [and Governor] and a man of
great prestige in the state of Florida, which is obviously why he was retained.
H: The night of Friday, April 10, was the hearing. Earlier on Friday, I understood that
was when you served Claude Kirk personally. Do you recall that? There was
some acrimony because what was occurring was that you were going to serve
the aides of Governor Kirk, and when you got there, you were dismayed because
the aides were not there. Only Kirk was there. You were quoted in the paper as
to saying that someone had reneged on some sort of deal that the aides were
going to be there.
B: Yes. That is when they had flown in a task-force of marshals, and some guy who
was in charge of it was obviously very high-class.
H: Al Butler [U.S. marshal].
MCBC 6 page 11
B: Al Butler, yes, and this was a man who looked like a modern marshal and acted
like one. He had a tremendous presence, as we would say now. We went down
with whatever we were going to serve Kirk with, and we had been told, I think,
that Hagaman or somebody like that would be there to accept it. We thought this
was just a simple matter of going down and handing the summons or whatever it
was, the order, and we get there. Well, Kirk had prepared this big show, and we
were brought into this room, the superintendent's office, I guess it was, which
was enormous. The walls were lined with these, it looked like, seventeen- and
eighteen-year-olds, all in blue blazers with, I guess, dark grey trousers, and I
suppose white shirts and button-down collars. This, I guess, was the Palace
Guard or something. I had never heard of this operation. Where he got these
from, I do not know. So, Butler was taking care of everything, and Kirk was sitting
there making speeches. The press was in there. Yes, this was the whole
purpose of it for Kirk, he is talking to the press. Then, he said something, and I
was standing back in the back of the room. He said something that caused me to
say then, I think you are reneging on the deal or something.
H: Kirk said that Hagaman was not there, because you were serving Hagaman.
B: Yes, and Butler, fortunately, kept things under cool. I remember turning to one of
these kids, and they were all standing at attention with these stern looks on their
faces. I looked at one and I said are you carrying a sidearm? And he sort of
shivered. I said are you all armed, I just wondered what we are up against here.
He would not look at me, and he got all upset. By that time, Butler was pretty well
in charge of the thing. I did not want anything to do with it when I had a guy like
that there. Some poor little guy, just out of law school practically, was not
interested in being in charge.
H: You commented that this deal had been reneged on, and that ticked Kirk off?
B: As I recall. At some point, I think he looked at me, or maybe he looked at Butler
referring to me and said, is that the man who said there would be blood in the
streets, or accused me, whichever it was. I forget what Butler said, but that issue
did not last long. Then, I said, well, it looks like you reneged on the deal, and that
sent him through the roof. I guess he ultimately accepted the service,
magnanimously, as a good citizen would, after having put on this enormous
show for television.
H: So, besides these sort of Palace Guards or these kids in blazers, what other
spectacles had Kirk planned for this??
B: As I recall, a lot was said. He had some other flunkies there, I suppose, and
talked. You know, he talked like an Episcopal minister. I told him that once, and it
seemed to offend him. I meant it as a compliment. He had a magnificent voice
and articulation that oozed charm. So he was trying to give them all that. By the
MCBC 6 page 12
time, the press had long ago given up on his charm. They did not like him when
he ran, and they certainly did not like him after he had served, by then, I guess
three years, over three years.
H: Why do you think the press did not like him? Wouldn't his charm and antics have
been attractive to the press?
B: He was great for the press in that he created a lot of news. The press loves
anybody who creates news, even if it is a serial killer. I exaggerate on that, but
plain and simply, he was a Republican in a state where the press was all
Democratic, I mean, unabashedly Democratic. The Tampa Tribune was, and the
St. Pete Times. Already, Pinellas County was becoming Republican, or maybe it
was. The St. Pete Times was just very far to the left and totally Democratic. They
really did not make any bones about it. They just did not like Republicans, and I
suppose they saw through Kirk early, like a lot of people did. His campaign
glossed [over] the different things he was going to do, but it was all superficial,
sort of like the presidential campaign. Maybe not that bad, but all of these little
things that he was going to do that had no importance whatsoever. You know, he
was going to do this for the senior citizens and that for the taxpayers and so
H: After this scene, you went back to Tampa to participate in the hearing that
B: I guess that was when the hearing was, yes. I went back there. I did not
participate, to my recollection. I was there observing. I do not know whether I
was there in an official capacity or a nosy capacity, a curious capacity, but I sat
through most of the hearings. I remember all [of Kirk's] little flock testifying. I
remember because Caldwell was there, and Krentzmen had enormous respect
for Caldwell, as everybody did, I guess. Hagaman or somebody was being
questioned by Kirk's attorney who was doing all the talking-Caldwell was mostly
there for the presence-and this guy kept saying, maybe it was on cross-
[examination] by the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People's lawyers]. Anyway, he kept saying, I did this on advice of the
attorney. Finally, Caldwell stood up and said, let the record show that it was not
this attorney that gave that advice. It was just hilarious. People did not laugh, but
I will never forget that. He had all of that crap he could stand, and he did not
want anybody thinking he had given out such absolutely absurd advice as that. I
do not remember Krentzmen's reactions, but I am sure he was thinking, I bet it
was not yours, Justice Caldwell, as he was probably referred to. I remember all
of them testifying, but I do not remember a whole lot of the substance. Then, I
remember one of the most dramatic things I ever saw, that I have tried to
emulate, where possible, in the courtroom. After Kirk's people rested and had
given out all of this constitutional nonsense, Krentzmen turned and said, what
say the plaintiffs? And, this tall black gentleman from the NAACP, oozing, again,
MCBC 6 page 13
like Caldwell, this distinguished presence, he stood up and just said, Your Honor,
the case of so and so and so and so and such and such in the Supreme Court in
19-so-and-so is just positive of all these issues, and sat down. Krentzmen said
something to the effect of you are absolutely right. Bam, contempt, or whatever.
It was almost that fast. But the way he did that was just beautiful. When you can
do it, it is so dramatic. And it was true. That was the law on the issue, and there
was nothing more to be said. The way he just stood up, he was tall and he stood
up slowly and dramatically and said that. I will never forget watching that
because it was so terrific.
H: Do you remember Lloyd Hagaman crying on the stand?
B: Lord, no, I do not remember that. Maybe it sounds a little familiar, but I would
have left the courtroom in disgust.
H: Well, he did, so maybe you did.
B: Maybe I did. I was probably in and out of there. Maybe I did not see him. I may
have read about it or heard about it. It rings a bell.
H: Was there anything going on, to your knowledge, in that hearing that would not
be immediately obvious to a non-lawyer reading the court transcript?
B: Probably not. I was going to say, have you talked to Ted Mack, the court
reporter? I would talk to Ted if you have the time. Ted is a fabulous person. He
was a member of the bar, came out in the 1930s or something when there were
no jobs in Florida. I think he graduated at the University of Florida Law School
and became a clerk reporter. He was Krentzmen's official reporter, which meant
he was with Krentzmen all the time, took down every word that was said in court.
A very, very articulate man, a man who knows the English language. I even saw
him once question Briggs. He would do this, in court, and Briggs used the word
continuous when he should have used the word continual. Even though the two
now, according to my dictionary have merged. He lives in Tampa. I think I have
his phone number, and if you want, I could call him and talk to him. Ted is a
wonderful person. Probably with Krentzmen dead, he would be willing to tell you
some things that Krentzmen said to him, but the rest of the world, they would not
know. Now, he might not. Ted is also a very loyal person.
H: How old is he?
B: God, 140 or something. Last I saw, he was just as alert as everything.
H: What about any law clerks of Krentzmen?
B: Do you have the names?
MCBC 6 page 14
H: The only name I have come across is Steve Pfieffer.
B: Steve would be a good man to talk to, and, again, Krentzmen might have told
him things that he would be willing to say. See, Krentzmen was very close to his
law clerks. One of them ultimately became my partner for sixteen, seventeen
years. It was after that [Manatee] affair. Pfeiffer would know who the other one
was. I do not know where Steve is. He is in the bar manual, and I could look him
up in the bar manual if you want. Steve is a crazy sort of guy. They threw a party
for Krentzmen, the University of Florida Law School did, three, four, five years
ago or something, and I am pretty sure Steve was there. He would be a great
guy to talk to, if he would loosen up, which, he is pretty loose.
H: What were your impressions of Krentzmen?
B: Krentzmen was a very fine person, a very fine judge. I think he got into the
position sort of on a fluke. He had never really been a trial lawyer, but he was a
roommate of George Smathers. Krentzmen said off and on something to the
effect that he just got a call from Smathers one day and said, hey, would you like
to be a federal judge? And he sort of said yes. I may be wrong on that, but
Pfeiffer, some of those guys, Ted Mack for sure could tell you about that. So, he
became a federal judge. He was not popular at first with the assistants, and with
me for awhile, because my opinion was Krentzmen came in with the confused
belief (that still exists but was worse at that time) that federal lawyers are all
totally liberal, everybody gets released, there are no criminals, there are only
unfortunate people. Well, that was not Krentzmen's own view, but he thought
that was what the law was, and he plunged into a very complicated field of law,
of which he knew nothing, and very active. There were two judges in those days,
and they were loaded up, and they did everything. They did arraignments and all
of these things that now are handled by the magistrates. So, Krentzmen tended
to be very liberal in criminal cases at first, in everything, and then he started
getting educated. He did not seem to learn from the assistants, and he always
had pretty liberal clerks from the University of Florida. So I think he lived in a
slow, confused world, but he was very sincere. Krentzmen believed in the law
very much so, and he followed the law. So, as he learned that federal courts, in
fact, were much more conservative, in many ways, in those days in criminal law
than the states were, then he started coming around. I think he started learning
that these were not all nice little people that had just had a bad start in life, that
many of them were very, very foul, crooked people. For instance, I do not think
Krentzmen was that big on bussing. I do not know what his own feeling about it
was, and I would like to know from Ted or Steve Pfeiffer what he really felt about
it, but Krentzmen knew what the law was and the law was going to be followed.
He kept up, personally, day-to-day, with the important cases that were coming
down and any issues that might be brought up. I know Krentzmen ruled in what
became a landmark case that arose out of here. The question was whether the
Corps of Engineers had jurisdiction over navigable waters solely for ecological
MCBC 6 page 15
purposes. They had denied a permit to somebody because of ecological
reasons, even though the Corps was getting condemned at the time by the
environmentalists. Krentzmen said they did not. It wound up in the Fifth Circuit,
reversed, and said they did. Well, right about the time of the reversal, I got
heavily into the environmental. We were starting to specialize and I started doing
the environmental cases. Boy, that opinion became Krentzmen's rule, and he
was not bitter over having been reversed, and he followed that law against many
a powerful local attorney who represented big interests of phosphate companies
and so forth. He followed that law, because that was the law. That is the way I
saw him. Also, Krentzmen came around with the U.S. attorneys during that
business. There was some threat or something like that, and we were the first to
find out during the Manatee County business, and we had marshals surrounding
him. His children, as I recall, had marshals at their classroom. He told a story of
going to a movie with the marshals one, I think, Sunday afternoon, and they went
to see some John Wayne movie where he played the crazy marshal with one
eye. I forget the name of the movie, but they went to see that, and Krentzmen
always laughed about that because he had these two marshals sitting there with
him. We were there all the time. There was an assistant watching out all the time
for his safety. We had his telephone bugged or something, all that sort of thing,
so that he was totally guarded. In those days, federal judges did not have a TV
camera outside watching and the doors locked all over the place and guards and
metal detectors. I mean, you walked into the judge's secretary's office, and the
judge's door was usually open and you waited. So, he appreciated us ever since
then, I think.
H: What exactly was the federal government's involvement with this case, particular
in terms of the Nixon administration and the Justice Department?
B: Well, Briggs ultimately took his orders from the Civil Rights Department. That is
why I was even surprised that they had the U.S. attorney involved, [except] for
what they called local counsel. But I think they had great respect for Briggs. I do
not even know that there was anybody from the Justice Department there, even
an underling. I can imagine that there was, but I never remembered anybody
from the Justice Department. But he took his orders. He was on the phone all the
time with the Civil Rights Department over it. Our role was we were enforcing the
court's order. We were not really advocates for the plaintiffs, or the bussing
issue. We were there, right or wrong, the court's order is the court's order, and
our job is to see that it is carried out in that situation. It is sort of unusual
because, usually, we are in there just as one more party in a courtroom before a
judge. But here, we were there protecting the judge, literally, and enforcing his
order. I am talking all around in circles here, but I do not remember other than I
know Briggs would constantly say, I got this from the Justice Department. Of
course, the Justice Department sent the marshals down, or part of the Justice
Department. I get a little touchy about the question. I spoke to a class at USF
[University of South Florida] at the request of a young friend of mine for a class
MCBC 6 page 16
in Florida history, on civil rights, and another professor brought his class in, too.
The other professor, Ray Arsenault, is a good friend of mine and is a very, very
fine history professor, but I pulled his chain by telling the students it should be
nice to hear from someone who is not on the far left from the ACLU [American
Civil Liberties Union], and I welcome an opportunity to speak to them. Anyway, I
spoke about what the Nixon administration did. I successfully prosecuted the first
case where a non-restaurant employee, another guest in the restaurant or
customer, two of them, prohibited] some blacks from eating in the restaurant by
just threatening them. We prosecuted them until they, amazingly, pled guilty.
Anyway, I got a little letter from the Justice Department, and they got a lot of
publicity because they were quite proud of this, the first countermeasure that
they had done. I guess, civilly, we did handle a couple of cases, one right across
the street, a bar across the street that refused to serve blacks. I was not involved
in that. Some other civil rights things, but that administration did push civil rights.
It was not Johnson or Kennedy and it was not Carter, but there was a very active
civil rights mission.
H: Was there some tension in Nixon's position, considering that he had sort of
carefully worded his statements about bussing, so that he was sort of nominally
for it, but he was not for it to the extent that others would have liked him to.
Certainly, a lot of the newspaper coverage of the Manatee County crisis was
talking about how Kirk was exploiting that sort of chink in Nixon's armor. Do you
have any comment on that?
B: I have no knowledge of that. I do not really doubt it. Of course, Nixon was in the
problem. [Kirk] was the first Republican governor since the Civil War, or since the
occupation [that is, Reconstruction], in Florida and who had been a landslide
victory. It created the Republican party in Florida. After that, we went and had
elections in Tampa, which were unheard of. Kirk, I will always give him credit for
that. He made the Republican party. Without him, we would have never had all
that money. Many of those people Kirk rolled over and a lot of the money that
came to Kirk continued to stay with the Republican party. Anyway, Nixon had
that problem, of what do I do about this Republican who has made our party in
Florida and yet is in trouble with the federal government. The answer to your
question, is I do not really remember any of that, but I am sure it was a lot more
than we will ever know. I imagine there were a lot of White House meetings,
maybe not with Nixon himself.
H: Apparently there was a lot of interaction between the Justice Department and
B: Was there?
H: One aide "called it a love fest," in terms of the Justice Department talking to Kirk
and trying to get him to back off, but that was not done through your office at all.
MCBC 6 page 17
B: Okay, I would imagine that would have happened and it would have been proper
for them to do it that way. They just let the politicians handle it rather than the
U.S. attorney, who should be apolitical, which Briggs certainly was.
H: Why do you think in the last analysis that Kirk withdrew?
B: He thought he made his point. He thought he had been a George Wallace, he
thought he had been an Orval Faubus [segregationist governors of Alabama and
Arkansas, respectively] and all of that. He thought he had made this big point
and that he was not backing down, he was just doing what he had to do because
of the federal courts and all of this. I think the point he made was that he was a
buffoon, and that is one of the reasons he lost. Even a lot of very conservative
people, I think, were against him because of this escapade of his. So I think he
thought he had made his point. I mean, Wallace stepped aside. Faubus
ultimately backed down. They all did because they were purely political things. I
remember when the first black entered the University of Florida Law School, and
the marshals escorted him in. Virgil Hawkins. I was there. I remember seeing it
all. I was not standing by them, but my fraternity was near the law school and I
remember the commotion. Most of us could care less, just like we cared less
about the Johns Committee. We thought it was a big joke. It was only later and
particularly reading this thesis of my friend that we found out just how horrible it
was. Anyway, one little anecdote. Briggs told me many years later he ran into
Kirk at an airport or something and they spoke to each other, and he said Kirk
was laughing about it and, you know, do not worry, there are no hard feelings or
anything like that, you were doing your job. Which, I can just see Kirk doing
because it was all a big show. He did not care about anybody or anything. He
was just making a show.
H: What effect do you think the Justice Department actually had with his
withdrawal? Because what happened subsequently [was] Governor Kirk bought
some television time and gave a speech where he proclaimed victory in how he
handled the situation, but then the Justice Department filed two somewhat
contradictory briefs. I know that Solicitor General [Ervin?] Griswald came down
pretty hard on Kirk and how he had defied the federal court, but then they also
filed some briefs that some people felt would facilitate further anti-bussing action.
Is any of this ringing a bell to you?
B: Very vaguely. I know nothing about it. It brings a very little tinkle, but that is about
all. I was extremely busy. The assistants work like dogs. I worked horrible hours
for $10,500 dollars a year, and I did not pay attention to any of it except my
particular cases. So, I probably, once it was over with, just completely ignored it.
I would not have read all the briefs or such, or even all the newspaper articles
H: So, after the hearings, you felt that your involvement in the situation ended?
MCBC 6 page 18
B: As I recall, yes, after the hearing, the Friday morning with Kirk, and you said the
hearing was in the afternoon when the judge entered his order, I guess. To my
recollection, that is the last I had to do with it or even followed it much. You
know, it was not like a regular case we had to prosecute, where you had planned
to be with it for a long time or something. It was just something that came and
went out of our lives real quickly. It was just a flash, a very blinding flash, but a
flash nevertheless. So I cannot help you on any of that. I wish I could.
H: Some people have suggested that this whole case was in large part a clash of
egos between Krentzmen and Kirk. Would you agree or disagree with that?
B: It was a clash of ego, against a man who believed in the law and followed the
law. Many people did not understand Krentzmen, including myself for a long
time. He was very awkward with the people. Krentzmen was really an introvert.
He was very close to his clerks and Ted Mack and his family, but he just was
awkward. He had a strange background. He was, I guess, half-Jewish, half-
Presbyterian, out of the panhandle, for goodness sake. I remember, I had a little
case where a couple of little Alabama deputy sheriffs or something had arrested
a guy in Alabama who was wanted on a Florida charge. So, the court appointed
an attorney who was trying to quash the arrest or something, and we were
having a hearing. The attorney said, well, why did you arrest him? And he said,
because he had open alcohol (pronounced AL-KEE-HOL) in the car. And this
guy said, what? And he said, open al-kee-hol in the car. And the guy could not
understand. Finally, Krentzmen said, he told you, he had open al-kee-hol in the
car, because Krentzmen understood those Alabama rednecks. He came almost
from Alabama, you know? It was so funny, but Krentzmen did not suffer fools
gladly. He would tell an attorney off right in front of the jury if he thought the
attorney was doing something improper or just foolish or wasting time. After I got
to know him as an assistant, then he would make comments about other
attorneys that he had no respect for, and he was usually always right.
Sometimes, I did not know it, but I found out later he was right. But Krentzmen
was not the egotist that he appeared at all. He was a very thoughtful gentleman.
He suffered, as far as I know, with every case. I remember I had a woman, a
bank teller, who had plead guilty to some embezzlement, not a big amount. We
used to handle a lot of those. So, she was getting sentenced, and we were all
standing there. Krentzmen said, I now remand you to the custody of the Attorney
General for a period of eighteen months, and she fell flat on the floor. He was
going to suspend the sentence and put her on probation, but she never heard
that until later. Immediately after that, even with the worst criminal, he would say,
now, I am going to put you on probation, but first I am going to sentence you. So,
he never had that problem before. He was very upset about having done this to
this woman, in his point of view. That was the kind of person he really was. I see
it as an ego...a man [Kirk] who had gone too far, too fast, and who was really a
fairly shallow man, against a judge who believed in the law, backed the law,
knew the law, and intended to enforce it, and he did not care against who. That
MCBC 6 page 19
is the way I look at it.
H: How, personally, did you feel about bussing at this time?
B: I guess I had mixed emotions about bussing. I am sure I did. I was never against
bussing. I knew, even as a conservative Southerner having grown up in a totally
segregated South with a family that, though educated, [believed strongly in
separating] the races, but I knew something had to be done. I looked at bussing
as some sort of effort to do it. I did not look at it as an evil. I did not like it. But
then, with this, and I guess already before this happened, it was the law. It was
the law that the Supreme Court had set. Therefore, as a lawyer, I could only look
at it, in my opinion, as the law, and the judge's order was the law to me. I never
saw it as doing any harm other than causing a lot of expense, which, certainly,
something still has to be done about the problem. That is perhaps convoluted,
but that is how I felt about it then.
H: How did you feel about people in Manatee County who claimed that they had
been painted as being anti-desegregation, when, in fact, they were simply anti-
B: I do not know anything directly about that. I would say I know there were people
very much that way who just did not want to bus. Having been raised in the
country, the idea of being bussed fifteen miles to school being a problem. It was
absurd. Even elementary school was seven or eight miles away, and I had to
leave early because the bus made so many stops. Then, I went to middle school,
junior high school, which was ten miles away, and then the high school was
probably eighteen or twenty miles away. So, the idea of riding a bus all day, to
me, as being an evil thing, it was fun in a way. So, I just never saw that, all of
this, oh, they are bussing them clear across town, all of that. I think there were
some people who were sincere. To some, that was just a umbrella for
desegregation but not-with-my-kids sort of attitude. I still do not see it as a
problem. I think it is something that has to be done, even today. My biggest client
is the Pinellas School Board, so I sort of keep up with their problems in trying to
get all this done. I see the papers, and I see people making stories about the
school board and the school board attorney and the superintendent, the latter
two being very good friends of mine and I know all the school board members.
And these people will say anything about totally nothing. They do not know what
these [school officials] are like at all.
IH: Is there anyway that a Republican could have been genuinely for civil rights while
still remaining true to their principals of less government? Did those two have to
be mutually exclusive?
B: No, not at all. As a conservative Republican, as a former prosecutor, as
MCBC 6 page 20
someone who does mostly defense of insurance cases or school government
bodies, I have great skepticism about the real intent of the Democratic party in
particular. I go back almost to [Spiro] Agnew [Nixon's vice-president] and some
of Bill Safire's speeches that he wrote for Agnew about the, I forget the silly
names he used ["nattering nabobs of negativism"]. Anyway, I am in a way an
anti-intellectual, perhaps out of jealousy because I could never be an intellectual,
but I have seen so much. A hobby of mine is why intellectuals in the West,
particularly the United States, could possibly fall for and continue to support
communism, even in the face of its absurdity and then its horrors. As a
Republican, I feel that I can be much more sincere about civil rights, much more
interested in the welfare of the other races and the common welfare of the
people of the United States. I grew up, and we had a maid who, now, I realize,
was virtually a slave. She lived on our place four nights out of the week and then
went into town on the bus. She was barely paid at all, she was fed, she worked
horrible hours, and I absolutely adored her. She was a black woman, of course. I
absolutely adored her, I sat on her lap, I kissed her, I loved her dearly and so did
all of my family. I look at that shamefully now. I am not saying we were
wonderful. It was a shame, even though we did better by her than most people. I
think many blacks have come to realize that they have more in common with
Southerners. Bill Maxwell, who writes for the St. Pete Times refers to himself as
a Southerner, not just a black. He will talk about his Southern tradition. So, I feel
that as a Republican, as a conservative, which I am to some extent, you really
look toward the good of everybody, not just big programs, and we are going to do
this...I mean, the president [Clinton], is absolutely absurd. You pick up the paper
every day and he is speaking, we are going to promise these people, we are
going to give to these people. A lot of people say it is because of the mean-
spirited Republicans that he cannot carry out of this. Well, he has no intention.
He is just talking, talking, talking. I really believe that a middle-of-the-road
Republican, particularly a Southern Republican-not like Jesse Helms [North
Carolina Senator]-actually means and can do more for the civil rights than some
Boston Harvard liberal. Harvard is full of conservatives, incidentally, contrary to
common opinion. I remember I was taking Political Science 201 or something in
Gainesville, and we had a professor and he was laughing. As I said, we were
totally segregated in those days. He had been teaching at some college in
Minnesota, I believe, or Wisconsin, and it was in a small town. He came home
and his wife proudly announced that their women's club or garden club or
something had voted to accept black members. He said, well, that is very
gracious of you, particularly since there is one black family in town and the poor
woman works as a maid all day long and has utterly no interest in it. He said that
is really gracious. That sort of sums up my feeling about those people who are
like that. Now then, you have the one, particularly from the North, and the Jews,
who now get no credit for it, who came down and lost their lives, literally, in
Alabama and Mississippi and did it for one purpose and that was to get civil
rights. But I think, as a Republican, I see no conflict whatsoever if you are
sincere. If you are a racist, you can be a racist Democrat, you can be a racist
MCBC 6 page 21
Republican. There are plenty of racist Communists, or so-called Communists.
H: You mentioned earlier how Kirk was compared to Orval Faubus, Ross Barnett,
governor of Mississippi, George Wallace. Do you feel those comparisons are
fair? They were made all the time by the press during the Manatee County crisis.
B: I said that he was copying them. That is what I thought. He probably did
appreciate it, and that may have been in the press, but I think that was his big
mistake, that he thought the public, that he was dealing with Alabama and
Arkansas in the 1950s instead of Florida in the turn of the 1970s. We were
getting into the 1970s when all of that was decided in the courts and when you
had a lot of people from...you had Miami people even though he had basically
quashed the Miami Democrat liberals. I think that was his mistake. He just
thought he was going to get all of this a be a Faubus and be a Wallace, and he
did not realize how many people in the state had no use for Faubus and
Wallace, whether they were Southern heritage or not. He was already dealing
with a much younger crowd, which would destroy our culture over the next ten
years, after that, in my opinion, but that is another story. He thought he could
play that game, and he failed. Let's face it, Wallace was a hero, I guess, until
long after his death in Alabama, even though at the end, I think, he claimed to be
uniting with the blacks, realizing that they had more in common with him than he
did with the North.
H: How do you feel overall about how Kirk handled the situation?
B: I would say poorly to badly. It was very disappointing to me as having worked for
this man, having looked up enormously to him, in my naivete, and having this
opportunity to just take over the state for the Republicans and create a true two-
party system, which he was doing, and then to have him turn into this clown that
resulted in the Democrats getting back control for a long time, even though
because of him-I do not necessarily say he did-but because of him, we have
created a two-party system. See, I remember when the rule was, you do not
register Republican because you do not get to vote in local elections. Well, what
they meant was the primaries, there are no Republicans in the primaries, but
they would not tell you that. I lived in Miami briefly and came back to
Hillsborough County in 1963, I guess, and went to register in this Democratic...
stronghold is too soft a word. They did not hand you the form and say, fill it out,
register to vote. He sat there and asked you the questions, and the first question
he said, was where were you born? I said, Jacksonville, Florida, and he said, oh,
you are a Democrat and checked Democrat. I was so nonplussed, I was a
Democrat for quite a while, plus I did want to vote in the primaries. Then, Kirk
caused me to re-register. The campaign came up, and I registered Republican,
as many, many people did.
H: How significant do you think Manatee County was to Kirk's political fortunes in
MCBC 6 page 22
the next election?
B: I think he was probably about through by the time it started, and I think it was the
straw that broke the camel's back. I am no political expert, no expert on anything,
but that is my opinion having been involved pretty heavily in all of it. As I recall,
he had done all sorts of silly little things. Like I said, just supercilious ideas. What
was he going to do? He was going to force the airlines to give senior citizens
some discount or something, which, of course, he had utterly no power to do.
Just that sort of thing, and people would catch him on it. Of course, the press,
like I said, was on his back, first because he was a [Republican] and then
because the press was right. I guess they could say, ha ha ha, told you so.
H: One thing that I should have asked you earlier is, why do you think Briggs told
you to deal with this situation, going down with the marshals?
B: I would speculate that, A, because I had just started, I did not have the really
pressured trial work. The other two may have been in trial or getting ready for
trial. B, I was the oldest. Briggs had a certain respect for me because I was
thirty-three years old, which now seems like a child. I was the oldest. I had been
out in the world and supposedly the maturest. I was probably the least qualified
for the job because Hugh Smith had been an FBI agent for two years in order to
avoid the draft, and Bernie Dempsey had been a judge's clerk and assistant
and he was a very sharp person. But I suspect it was one or both of those two
reasons, that I was the older and more mature one in his mind and/or I was the
one who could handle it. I think Briggs called on me a lot of times for special
things like that. I say that without trying to brag. I think he just sort of felt really
comfortable with me, probably because I was from Jacksonville. It was that sort
H: How do you feel about the press coverage of this situation? Certain people have
suggested that it was perhaps sensationalized to quite a degree. Would you
agree with that?
B: No. It was sensational, locally. Now, why BBC was interested in it, for land's
sake, I do not know, unless they just wanted to show what a bunch of racist fools
our government was or something. Even Newsweek would have a topnotch man
here, and Time. I think the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. But they
would probably do the same thing today for something similar. They did. I mean,
look at the Elian Gonzalez mess. Talk about sensationalized. Everybody I know
is sick of it, regardless of their opinion. No, I do not think so at all. I think they
covered it. To me, it was a classic situation of the press' problem that results in
mistakes in the press reports, and that was it was going on in two places, as I
said earlier, [and] they do not know that much about the law. You have some
reporter in there, and no matter how good he is, even if he does a lot of civil
MCBC 6 page 23
rights reporting, he is not that up-to-date on it. All of this is rapidly going on. They
are expecting to have their reports in immediately. He is still using manual
typewriters. They did not have laptops in the car like they do now. I think they
did, overall, a good job. I still laugh at the picture that I was holding the marshals.
That certainly did not do anything, and it was bad for the marshals. It sounded
like they were here to get us, to tear the place down, which they were not. They
were prepared to follow my orders, which was the first mistake. They should
have been in charge. My recollection is that business about blood in the streets
or whatever was handled poorly. I know one reporter, for the Tribune I think, was
concerned. He was getting out of Bradenton because he was printing some of it,
and he was not sure how accurate it was. But I think the press was honest. I do
not think they over-sensationalized it, particularly.
H: Speaking of the marshals, what were your impressions of them?
B: Oh I knew these marshals already, closely, and remained friends. Newberger
was a great marshal. Ultimately tried to be marshal. I guess he did not
become marshal [unclear?]. Ran for sheriff. He was a cool guy, big, tall,
square jaw, neck, football player or something like that. Good country boy, still is.
Felix was a tiny little guy, very discreet. Johnny Barr was a cocky guy and a good
friend of mine. He worked very closely with the marshals, very closely with them
all the time. Johnny was a little cocky, and I know Briggs was concerned about
his being there. I do not think he should have been because I knew Johnny
better. Johnny was a cocky little guy, but he kept his mouth under control, at
least in public. I know there were times when he told me about certain people he
arrested who were wise-mouthed. One of them got thrown down the stairs.
Johnny Barr, a little redheaded guy, tough as nails, had a heart bigger than a
brain, and he had a lot of brains. I remember Johnny had to take some little kid
into custody. I do not know whether I had charged the kid or something, and he
takes this little boy into custody and does not want to take him to the county jail.
He had no authority, I think, to take him to the juvenile home. We had no
contract with them. So, Johnny took him home, took him to the dentist, got the
kids' teeth cleaned and straightened out, took him to an optometrist or
ophthalmologist, got him glasses, got him clothes, all of this, and it made the
newspaper. I do not think Johnny liked it, but it made the newspaper, and that
was typical of, you know, the tough-but-oh-so-gentle character. That is the way
Johnny was. Those three guys are embedded into my [memory] as fine, fine
H: What about other people involved with this situation? Have I neglected to drop
any names that you have particular impressions on? Anybody on the local level
at Manatee County whom you met? Jack Davidson, any of the school board
MCBC 6 page 24
B: No. I do not know that I ever met any of the school board members. I was
dealing directly with Davidson, and I do not think I talked to him except that one
time when I woke him up, and he appeared appreciative of our desires to keep
Kirk from taking over like that. But I would not know him if he walked in the room
today if he had not changed any.
H: Kenneth Cleary [Manatee County school board attorney], does that name ring a
B: Yes, but I do not remember. I think there was some state representative who got
H: Jerome Pratt.
B: Oh, Jerome Pratt [gives a Bronx cheer]. I hope that gets on tape.
H: That will come through nicely, yes.
B: Need I say more?
H: He was representing a citizens' group.
B: I was not impressed with him, shall we say. He was a lawyer, and I am trying to
stay within the bounds of professionalism and ethics. He was not an impressive
person, or a less impressive lawyer. Krentzmen, I know his reaction to him was
stronger than mine because as a federal judge, he could show his disdain and
did. I had forgotten until you started asking questions about him.
H: What do you feel is the significance of the Manatee County crisis to history?
B: I might not say the same thing tomorrow as I am saying today. I will probably
think tomorrow, well, why did I not say this or that? I think its significance is really
in its lack of significance in a way, if that makes sense. In other words, it really
turned out to be the whole empty thing that it appears to be. It was a silly
governor doing a silly act that was an anachronism, and I do not think the public
gave a darn about it. I remember not long after, maybe within a year, I was in
Jacksonville and went by and visited, with my wife and little baby, my aunt who
was not my blood. She had been married to my father's brother, and we had
known that. She was a very Southern lady. She mentioned [the Manatee
incident] and said how proud she was to read about me and see my picture in
the paper. I sort of said something to the effect, you know, I was just doing my
job. And she said, oh absolutely, we all know that, the neighbors know it and
everybody knows that you were doing your job. She did not say, no matter how
horrible your job was, or something like that. I do not know what her real position
was, but I think that was significant in that it did not mean that much to her. The
MCBC 6 page 25
idea was that her nephew had finally done something worthwhile, rather than
anything to do with bussing or the federal government taking over or any of that.
I think that is the significance, that we did survive it. There were no long-term
hatreds, as far as I know, out of it. Like I said, Kirk and Briggs talked. It left no
scars that I recall. Maybe it has.
H: Do you think race relations in Florida were worsened by the incident?
B: Not for long, if anything. I do not think so. As I recall, there were no riots in other
cities or anything like that. I do not even remember there being any protests.
There must have been something. I think it showed a mature Florida, in that just
because of that, Florida was now a mature state and it could handle something
like that, the people could handle it. The governor looked like a fool for having
done it instead of supporting the case]. There were many people, of course,
who were avidly for him and backed him. But I think in the long run, in the
medium run, it just faded away. I do not know how many people would think of it
as a dramatic event today. I talk to people my age, and they barely remember
anything about it, the people who lived here at that time. The younger people
who were, say, teenagers, pre-teens or something like that, they do not know
what you are talking about. Whereas, I am sure, in Alabama and Arkansas in the
1950s, every child of any race knew and had a strong position on Faubus. That
is my real feeling about it. It showed we were a strong, mature state, and we
could come out of that with only some degree of scarring, or no scarring in the
long run, I would say.
H: So, it was a big bang that actually was nothing.
B: Yes, full of sound and fury signifying nothing, and I think that is what happened.
When you called, I was thinking how nice to think that somebody is going to do
this and record it because it was certainly a big event and mammoth to me. So, I
was tickled to death. I told my wife and she said, oh, that is wonderful. She
thought it was great that you were doing this. Otherwise, I think if you do not do
this, it would fade out, and it is something that should be part of Florida history
but not as significant.
H: Have I picked your brain pretty clean, or are there any anecdotes or memories or
impressions that I have not hit on?
B: I think I volunteered most of the things I remember, even if you did not hit on
them, and you certainly have done a good job of probing and reminding. No, I
think you have covered everything.
H: One thing that I want to ask: some people have speculated that there was a
small, rather aggressive, unofficial circle of advisors to Kirk who perhaps had
unduly influenced him to make this dramatic stand. Do you have any ideas about
MCBC 6 page 26
B: Absolutely. I think Kirk made the same mistake that Nixon did in relying upon
those people, Nixon for a different reason. I think Kirk thought these people knew
what they were doing. Like I said, it clearly came out when the black [attorney]
got on the stand [at the trial]. These little petty minds got on the stand and
started saying these things, wishy-washing back and forth and blaming it on legal
advice and all of that sort of stuff. I could see the script, sitting there, telling him,
look, Governor, this is the way it is going to happen and you will be glorified and
you will win the next election and you will go down in history and everything else,
totally misadvising him. If he had a competent group, which is very rare among
politicians, I think he would have been told, look, this could make a fool out of
you, it is a waste of time, it is a waste of the taxpayers' money. Nixon had
basically the same thing. Nixon's problem was, thought, he was too introverted.
He hated to get up and get involved in things, so he listened, unfortunately, to
[John] Mitchell [Attorney General and Nixon campaign manager] and all of those
people. My certificate appointing me as assistant U. S. attorney, which I still have
in a frame, is signed by John Mitchell, [H.R.] Haldeman [Nixon's chief of staff],
and John Briggs. No, Briggs did not sign it, and I said to Briggs one day, would
you not like to sign this along with these other people, and he said, no way.
H: So are you aware of any particular advisors who might have influenced Kirk.
B: I do not remember the names. What was his name, Hagaman?
H: Hagaman was one. Robert Dooley Hoffman was another.
B: Okay. Was he a short fat sort of a guy? There was one on the stand, and maybe
it was my personal prejudice or something, but he was just a creep, and slimy.
He oozed, just oiled his way around the floor, oozing repulsiveness from every
pore, like the Hungarian in My Fair Lady, who was charmed from every pore. He
was the villain to me, but I cannot remember his name and do not think I would if
you reminded me. On the stand, it might have been Hoffman. I do not remember,
but I think he made the worst impression on Ben Krentzmen, not that anything
would have affected him. They could have been charming people or anything.
They were just doomed by the law. He had some people, but that is so true. I
mean, look what they have all gathered around. They depend on their advice,
and they do not have advisors like Roosevelt and Truman had. Nobody around
involved in politics. We have no more Edmund Burkes [English conservative
philosopher] or Glen Stones, [Benjamin] Disraelis [English Prime Minister], that
sort of thing. Nobody of that caliber would get involved in politics. We get
Haldeman, and we get half a dozen of Clinton's people and Nixon's and
Johnson's and all of them.
MCBC 6 page 27
H: If you cannot think of anything else that we should be talking about, I think that
would be a good place to conclude. I appreciate your time.
B: I appreciate it.
[End of Interview.]