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Andrew Young Interviewee: Atlanta, Georgia, 1981 May 7 [Box 139, Item 11, Side 1]
Young, Andrew, 1932-
Dent, Thomas C.
Portraits of key people continued: Stan Levinson, Jack O'Dell, John Lewis and Cleve Robinson. Other topics: The Poor People's Campaign, FBI surveillance.
00:00 – Tom Dent interviews Andrew Young. Young continues with portraits of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He recommends Victor Navasky’s book Kennedy Justice for the best account of Sam Levison. He took the Fifth Amendment when called before the McCarthy hearings and many people thought he was a communist. 01:15 – At the time of the March on Washington, President Kennedy spoke to Martin Luther King, Jr. in private about Senator Eastland claiming that the Birmingham Movement was controlled by communists. They were going to use this idea to stop the passing of the Civil Rights Act. They said it was a communist plot introduced by Levison and Jack O’Dell. Kennedy asked King to dissociate himself from them. 02:50 – King agonized over it and called a meeting. Burke Marshall, who had been in touch with the F.B.I., was said to have evidence. Marshall called Young and wanted to meet him in person in New Orleans. They met at the Federal Court Building, walking through the halls as they talked. Everyone was afraid of being bugged. He said J. Edgar Hoover claimed Levison was a high level Soviet agent. 05:10 – Marshall was not specific and gave no evidence. He said that the president felt they would lose the Civil Rights Bill if they had to fight both that and Communism. 06:50 – SCLC had a meeting in the Astor Hotel in Times Square in New York. Levison, Clarence Jones, Jack O’Dell, Ralph Abernathy, King, and Young were in attendance. They decided to break off contact so as not to jeopardize the Movement. 08:30 – SCLC dropped O’Dell from the payroll, which damaged the relationship between the organization and both O’Dell and Levison. King, however, continued to contact Levison when he needed advice. They knew the phones were being tapped. After President Kennedy was assassinated, they decided there had never been any evidence against Levison and O’Dell, and they reestablished an active association. 09:30 – When asked point blank, but Levison and O’Dell denied being members of the Communist party. Levison told them he had represented communists. O’Dell had been a member of the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Worker’s Union. 10:40 – Union organizing in the South was branded as Communism. O’Dell was from New Orleans. Dent talks about his recollections of O’Dell. O’Dell was not as personally close to King as Levison. He used to lecture on Negro History. 13:11 – Young’s recollection of O’Dell and Levison is that they were “quintessentially rational.” They were both thoroughly committed to integration and avoiding violence. They argued against violence, separatism, and disruption tactics 15:20 – O’Dell was reinstated after Kennedy’s death. Al Duckett came on the staff in the interim period. Cleve Robinson was the Treasurer of District 65. He brought the first contribution to King in Montgomery. He represented organized labor. George Meany and the AFL-CIO had had very little to do with black people in the South, so the rest of them had tended to be anti-labor. 18:00 – Robinson always expressed militant trade union support, backed it up financially. They took up offerings at the shop and were very supportive. 20:30 – They briefly discuss Toni Morrison’s book [probably Tar Baby]. 21:15 – They decided to ignore Bayard Rustin. Jack Greenburg. William Kuntsler did legal work. Kuntsler and Levison were very different. Levison almost never came down South. There were no whites on the SCLC board until the Black Power Movement began. Harry Wachtel, Chuck Morgan, and Al Lowenstein were also in the group of white board members. 23:37 – John Lewis. Young first remembers seeing Lewis on television as part of the Nashville Sit-in. He was the example of humility in the Movement. He became president of SNCC because he was so dedicated and unafraid. His work in McComb, MS after being bonded out of Jackson. Reporting on McComb was also where Young first heard of Tom Hayden. 25:55 – Most of SNCC resented King, but Lewis did not. They also had a resentment of ministers, but Lewis was a minister. 28:04 – Poor People’s Campaign. Marian Wright Edelman called King just before Christmas of 1967. She wanted to bring a group of people from Mississippi to talk to him. This was after King’s speech on Vietnam, following riots that summer. They saw the riots as police provoked in the midst of frustration and hostility in the black community. 29:50 – Edelman brought six men who had been laid off after working very hard on plantations all their lives due to government subsidies. They told King their personal stories. [Recording ends 31:12, continues on Side 2.]
Young, Andrew, 1932-
Civil Rights Movement
New York, NY
Los Angeles, CA
Tulane University Digital Library
Amistad Research Center
Audiocassette, mono. 16-bit
Box 139, Item 11, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.