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President Kennedy talks to Governor Ross Barnett
September 29, 1962, 3:00 P.M. (continuing a conversation started by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Barnett)

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President Kennedy: Governor, this is the President speaking.

Governor Barnett: Yes, sir.

JFK: Now it's, I know that your feeling about the law of Mississippi and the fact that you don't want to carry out that court order. What we really want to have from you, though, is some understanding about whether the state police will maintain law and order. We understand your feeling about the court order and your disagreement with it. But what we're concerned about is how much violence is going to be and what kind of action we'll have to take to prevent it. And I'd like to get assurances from you that the state police down there will take positive action to maintain law and order. Then we'll know what we have to do.

RB: They'll, they'll take positive action, Mr. President, to maintain law and order as best we can.

JFK: And now, how good is--

RB: [interupting] We'll have 220 highway patrolmen--

JFK: Right.

RB: --and they'll absolutely be unarmed.

RB: Not a one of them'll be armed.

JFK: Well, the problem is, well, what can they do to maintain law and order and prevent the gathering of a mob and action taken by the mob? What can they do? Can they stop that?

RB: Well, they'll do their best to. They'll do everything in their power to stop it.

JFK: Now, what about the suggestions made by the Attorney General in regard to not permitting people to congregate and start a mob?

RB: Well, we'll do our best to, to keep them from congregating, but that's hard to do, you know.

JFK: Well, they just tell them to move along.

RB: When they start moving up on the sidewalks and different sides of the streets, what are you going to do about it?

JFK: Well, now, as I understand it, Governor, you would do everything you can to maintain law and order.

RB: I, I, I'll do everything in my power to maintain order--

JFK: Right. Now--

RB: --and peace. We don't want any shooting down here.

JFK: I understand. Now, Governor, what about, can you maintain this order?

RB: Well, I don't know.

RB: That's what I'm worried about you see. I don't know whether I can or not.

JFK: Right.

RB: I couldn't have the other afternoon. There was such a mob there, it would have been impossible. There were men in there with trucks and shotguns, and all such as that. Not a lot of them, but some, we saw, and certain people were just, they were just enraged.

JFK: Well, now, will you talk--

RB: You just don't understand the situation down here.

JFK: Well, the only thing is I got my responsibility.

RB: I know you do.

JFK: This is not my order, I just have to carry it out. So I want to get together and try to do it with you in a way, which is the most satisfactory and causes the least chance of damage to people in Mississippi. That's my interest.

RB: That's right. Would you be willing to wait awhile and let the people cool off on the whole thing?

JFK: Until how long?

RB: Couldn't you make a statement to the effect, Mr. President, Mr. General, that under the circumstances existing in Mississippi, that, uh, there'll be bloodshed; you want to protect the life of, of, of James Meredith and all other people? And under the circumstances at this time, it just wouldn't be fair to him or others to try to register him at this time.

JFK: Well, then at what time would it be fair?

RB: Well, we, we could wait a, I don't know. It might be in, uh, two or three weeks, it might cool off a little.

JFK: Well, would you undertake to register him in two weeks?

RB: Well, I, you know I can't undertake to register him myself--

JFK: I see.

RB: --but you all might make some progress that way, you know.

JFK: Yeah. Well, we'd be faced with, unless we had your support and assurance, we'd be--

RB: I say I'm going to, I'm going to cooperate. I might not know when you're going to register him, you know.

JFK: I see. Well, now,Governor, why don't, do you want to talk to Mr.Watkins?

RB: I might not know that, what your plans were, you see.

JFK: Do you want to, do you want to talk to Mr. Watkins then?

RB: I'll be delighted to talk to him, and we'll call you back.

JFK: Okay, good.

RB: Call the general back?

JFK: Yeah, call the general, and then I'll be around.

RB: All right. I appreciate it so much.

JFK: Thanks, Governor.

RB: I thank you for this call.

JFK: Thank you, Governor.

RB: All right.

JFK: Right.

RB: Bye.