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Telephone conversation between President Kennedy and Governor Ross Barnett
September 29, 1962, 2:00 P.M.

Listen

President Kennedy: Hello? Hello, Governor?

Governor Barnett: All right. Yes.

JFK: How are you?

RB: Is this . . .

JFK: This is the president, uh . . .

RB: Oh. Well, Mr. President, [words unintelligible].

JFK: Well, I'm glad to talk to you, Governor. I am concerned about, uh, this situation, uh, down there, as I know, uh . . .

RB: Oh, I should say I am concerned about it, Mr. President. It's, it's, it's a horrible situation.

JFK: Well, now, here's my problem Governor.

RB: [Words unintelligible, interrupting] Yes.

JFK: This, uh, listen, I didn't, uh, put him in the university, but on the other hand, under the Constitution, I have to carry out the orders of the, carry that order out and I don't, I get, uh, I don't want to do it in any way that causes, uh, difficulty to you or to anyone else. But I've got to do it. Now, I'd like to get your help in doing that.

RB: Yes. Well, uh, have you talked with, uh, attorney general this morning?

JFK: Yeah. I talked to him and, uh, in fact, I just met with him for about an hour, and we went over the situation.

RB: Uh, did he and Mr. Watkins have a talk this morning? Tom Watkins, the lawyer from Jackson, or not?

JFK: Uh, yes, he talked to Tom Watkins. He told me.

RB: Yes, sir. Well, I don't know what. . .Well, I don't know what uh, I haven't had a chance to talk with him.

JFK: Now just wait just one minute, because I've got the attorney general in the outer office, and I'll just speak to him.

RB : All right.

(Governor Barnett put on hold)

JFK: Hello, uh, Governor?

RB: Yes. Hold on . . .

JFK: I just talked to the attorney general. Now, he said that he talked to Mr. Watkins, and the problem is as to whether we can get, uh, the, we can get some help in getting this fellow in, uh, this week.

RB: Yes.

JFK: Now, evidently we couldn't, the attorney general didn't feel that, uh, he and Mr. Watkins had reached any final agreement on that.

RB: Well, uh, Mr. President, Mr. Watkins is going to fly up there early tomorrow morning.

JFK: Right.

RB: And, uh, could you gentlemen talk with him tomorrow? You . . .

JFK: Yes, I will have the attorney general talk to him and then, uh ...

RB: Yes.

JFK: . . . after they've finished talking I'll talk to the attorney general, on the phone and then if he feels it's useful for me to meet with him . . .

RB: I thought . . .

JFK: . . . I'll do that

RB: I thought they were making some progress. I didn't know.

JFK: Well, now, he and, if he and Mr. Watkins, they can meet tomorrow. Now, the difficulty is, uh, we got two or three problems. In the first place, what can we do to, uh, what can we do to uh . . .. First place is the court's order to you, which I guess is, you're given until Tuesday. What is your feeling on that?

RB: Well, I want . . .

JFK: What's your position on that?

RB: . . . to think it over, Mr. President.

JFK: Right.

RB: Uh, it, it's a serious matter, now I want to think it over a few days. Until Tuesday, anyway.

JFK: Alright. Well, now let me, let me say this, uh . . .

RB: .I know what I am up against, Mr. President. I took an oath, you know, to abide by the laws of this state . . .

JFK: That's right.

RB: . . . and our constitution here and the Constitution of the United States. I'm, I'm on the spot here, you know.

JFK: Well, now you've got, uh . . .

RB: I, I've taken an oath to do that, and you know what our laws are with reference to . . .

JFK: Yes, I understand that. Well, now we've got the . . .

RB: . . . we have a statute that was enacted a couple of weeks ago stating positively that no one who had been convicted of a crime or, uh, whether the criminal action pending against them would not be eligible for any of the institutions of higher learning. And, uh, that's our law, and it seemed like the Court of Appeal didn't pay any attention to that.

JFK: Right. Well, of course, the problem is, Governor, that, uh, I got my responsibility, just like you have yours . . .

RB: Well, that's true. I . . .

JFK: . . . and my responsibility, of course, is to the . . .

RB: . . . I realize that, and I appreciate that so much.

JFK: Well, now here's the thing, uh, Governor, I will, uh, the attorney general can talk to, uh, Mr. Watkins tomorrow. What I want, would like to do is to try to work this out in an amicable way. We don't want a lot of people down there getting hurt . . .

RB: Oh, that's right.

JFK: --and we don't want to have a -- You know it's very easy to-

RB: Mr. President, let me say this. They're calling, calling me and others from all over the state, wanting to bring a thousand, wanting to bring five hundred, and two hundred, and all such as that, you know.

JFK: I know, well the . . .

RB: We don't want such as that.

JFK: I know. Well, we don't want to have a, we don't want to have a lot of people getting hurt or killed down there.

RB: Why, that's, that's correct. Uh, Mr. President, let me say this. Mr. Watkins is really an A-1 lawyer, an honorable man, has the respect and the confidence of every lawyer in America who knows him. He's of the law firm of Watkins & Eager. They have, they've had an "A" rating for many, many years, and, uh, uh, I believe this, that that he can help solve this problem.

JFK: Well, I will, uh, the attorney general will see Mr. Watkins tomorrow, and then I, after the attorney general and Mr. Watkins are finished then, uh, I will be back in touch with you.

RB: All right. All right. I'll appreciate it so much, now, and, uh, there . . .. Watkins'll leave here in the morning, and I'll have him to get into touch with the, uh, attorney general as to when they, he, he can see him tomorrow.

JFK: Yeah, he'll see him and, uh . . .

RB: Yes, sir.

JFK: . . . we will, uh, then you and I'll be back and talk again.

RB: All right.

JFK: Thank you.

RB: All right.

JFK: Okay.

RB: I appreciate your interest in our poultry program and all those things.

JFK: Well, we're . . .

RB: Thank you so much.

JFK: Okay, Governor. Thank you.

RB: Yes, sir. All right now.

JFK: Bye now.