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Telephone conversation between Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Governor Ross Barnett. In the middle of the call, Mississippi Attorney Tom Watkins and Burke Marshall also participated in the conversation.
Sunday, September 30, 1962, 12:45 P.M.

Governor Barnett: I am sorry I'm so late calling you. I had to go to the doctor this morning - an injured ear. General, Watkins and I are here and no one else. Here is what we think should be done; you should postpone this matter.

Attorney General Kennedy: We can't do that.

RB: Then you had better have enough troops to be dead sure that peace and order will be preserved at the University. I am going to do everything in my power to preserve peace. We will have about 175 or 180 highway patrolmen in there - unarmed; no guns, no sticks of any kind. We will have quite a number of sheriffs-unarmed-- probably 75 or 100 deputy sheriffs. Then they will form this second.line. The highway patrolmen will form the first line; the sheriffs the next. The sheriffs will have probably 200 or 300 soldiers behind them. No one will be armed. I will be in the front line and when Meredith presents himself, I'll do like I did before. I will read a proclamation denying him entrance. I will tell the people of Mississippi now that I want peace and we must have no violence, no bloodshed. When you draw the guns, I will then tell the people. In other words, we will step aside and you can walk in.

RFK: I don't think that will be very pleasant, Governor. I think you are making a mistake handling it in that fashion. I suppose that if you feel it is helpful to you politically. It is not helping the people of Mississippi or the people of the United States. But I gather that is secondary in your judgment. I think it is silly going through this whole facade of your standing there; our people drawing guns; your stepping aside; to me it is dangerous and I think this has gone beyond the stage of politics, and you have a responsibility to the people of that state and to the people of the United States. This is a real disservice...

RB: I'm not interested in politics personally. I have said so many times - we couldn't have integration and I have got to do something. I can't just walk back....

RFK: You can say the National Guard has been called up and you don't want to have people from the State of Mississippi responsible for placing Mr. Meredith in the institution and therefore you are going to step aside on this.

RB: I'll say words to that effect. But I have to be confronted with your troops.

RFK: What if we came down and the Marshals took over this operation this afternoon; if I called you a half hour before they are going to leave. There is no one down there now. I don't want any gunfighting; if they arrived and took it over before you got there. All I want to do is get assurances they won't be fired on. If 300 arrived on the campus of the university and took over that entrance.

RB: You mean have him registered today?

RFK: No. Take over the entrance to the university and he can be flown in by helicopter tomorrow.

RB: You mean 300 armed men?

RFK: Right; no one knows about it.

RB: You have more than 300.

RFK: We have 400. They are not prepared to get in a pitched battle. They can go in there. You can say the 400 arrived by helicopter.

RB: They would stay at the entrance until tomorrow and not permit people to go in?

RFK: That's correct, and I'd apprise you of it just when they were ready to leave, and it was too late for you to be there; or just time for you personally to be there. A big crowd wouldn't gather. I'll bring him in tomorrow or today. The situation would be stabilized then. You could announce we came in a different way or whatever you want to announce. The National Guard coming in there tomorrow to put Meredith in and before this overwhelming force you gave way, and you don't want the National Guard to put Meredith in the institution, and that you are calling on the people and everyone to behave themselves.

RB: I think it is much better for everyone. And men will be armed. Do this thing tomorrow?

RFK: Tomorrow, you will have big crowd there. If they come with guns, there will be an unpleasant situation.

RB: I don't think so, if the people from other states would stay away. We have coordinated this thing now. People are coming in here from Alabama and other states; they might have guns.

RFK: The President is going on TV tonight. He is going through the statement had with you last night. He will have to say why he called up the National Guard; that you had an agreement to permit Meredith to go to Jackson to register, and your lawyer, Mr. Watkins, said this was satisfactory; and you would let him fly in by helicopter.

RB: That won't do at all.

RFK: You broke your word to him.

RB: You don't mean the President is going to say that tonight?

RFK: Of course he is; you broke your word; now you suggest we send in troops, fighting their way through a barricade. You gave your word. Mr. Watkins gave him his word. You didn't keep it.

RB: Where didn't I keep it, in what particular?

RFK: When you said you would make an agreement and that Meredith would come into Jackson; send everybody to Oxford.

RB: Don't say that. Please don't mention it.

RFK: The President has to say that. You said we would fly him into Jackson and register him while you had everyone at Oxford. Then you would say he has been registered and you would permit him to come to Oxford by helicopter on Tuesday and go to school. Mr. Watkins pledged his word to the President; we have it all down. You talk to Mr. Watkins and reach an agreement between the two of you, and how you are going to handle this.

RB: Why don't you fly him in this afternoon; please let us treat what we say as confidential?

RFK: You talk to Watkins and call me back this afternoon. I have discussed this with you before; I want to know specifically the plan you have and how it is going to work. I want to maintain law and order...

RB: I didn't mean to break my word, certainly. Talk toWatkins.

RFK: I don't want to talk to him again. He broke his word to the President of the United States. You talk to him and you call me. Ask him if he didn't break his word to the President of the United States.

RB: [speaking to Watkins] Did you break your word - on what? He said it was definitely understood and we will do it. If that was definitely understood between you and Mr. Watkins, we will go on and do it any way. Agree to it now and forget it. I don't want the President saying I broke my word. That wouldn't do at all. I didn't break my word. Here's Watkins now - we will cooperate with you.

[Watkins came on line.]

RFK: No sense in our talking. You made an agreement with the President of the United States and I was on the phone, and the agreement, within an hour and a half, was broken by the Governor. I had an agreement with you on Thursday and it was broken. You are putting the President in an impossible situation. He is going on TV as announced and will tell how all o this came about. He has been put in an extremely untenable position.

Tom Watkins: I am sorry you feel our word was broken. We also had an agreement that nothing would be said about it.

RFK: Yes - if the agreement went through. We talked in confidence and the agreement was broken.

TW: If that was the basis of a confidential talk - you people couldn't sit down to negotiate.

RFK: We are going ahead and do what we have to do tomorrow. The President is going on TV tonight and he'll say what has happened. Everybody is ridiculous if they don't think he will.

TW: That will be a serious mistake.

RFK: Now he says bring out the troops; have his army there so he will be a great political hero. We are sick and tired of playing that down.

TW: Why don't you fly him in this afternoon?

RFK: You talk to the Governor and then call me back this afternoon. And agree on what should be done.

TW: I'll call you.

RB: It seems like Tom and I didn't quite understand one word. I'll let Tom and you talk now.

RFK: I'll put him on with Burke Marshall.

TW: [speaking to Burke Marshall] The Governor realizes he can't avoid the physical force of the United States; treat this as confidential; he is willing and recognizes what you are doing; is willing for you to fly him into the University this afternoon.

Burke Marshall: We are not going to until the situation is physically stable; we won't expose him and then have him personally fight his way through state officials.

TW: You can put him on a helicopter.

BM: Not until the physical situation is under control and law and order is maintained. We cannot again expose him to that kind of thing.

TW: - He had the impression from the Attorney General a moment ago that consideration would be given to bringing him in by helicopter this afternoon.

BM: If the situation is under control. Our Marshals would have to control the campus. The Governor would have to say the State has given up before the physical force of the Government and the State police will have to help to keep order.

TW: That will be done. We will send the Chief of Police straight to Oxford. I would never have had my first conversation with you or either of the Kennedys if we had not talked in perfect confidence.

BM: Last night you were talking to the President of the Unite States about a national problem of great dimensions. He was willing to suffer criticism, I am sure, to do ever thing he could to permit the Governor to get out of a situation he got himself and the State of Mississippi into, without violence. That's why he reached the agreement with the Governor that he did. That's why it is absurd to think you can reach an agreement with the President of the United States and then call if off.

TW: I realize that. It would be a horrible tragedy to keep us from communicating with each other again. If the President discloses any of these conversations tonight...

BM: I won't agree to anything the President will say -

TW: I am stating it to you that it will make the situation in Mississippi more difficult in the future. We want to keep communications open.

BM: You and the Governor should realize that the President of the United States can't be played with in that sort of fashion.

TW: I agree. Let me say this. The Governor and I are in accord that we will recognize the authority of the federal officers and to maintain peace and order. The highway patrolmen will give every assistance. The Governor will say that faced with overwhelming forces of the federal government, he is not going to submit his people to the possibility of bloodshed and he urges them not to take any steps that would tend to lead to violence of any kind or character. He will continue to fight in the courts. He does not agree to or would not approve any physical act of violence of any kind or character. If it could be accomplished this afternoon; helicopter him in - without any attempted crowd; kept out at the gates; would be best for all to do it tomorrow; very few people on the campus on Sunday.

BM: If we do this this afternoon and the Attorney General gives the Governor a half hour notice, will the Governor instruct the State Police that they will come and the State Police are not to resist.

TW: Yes, through Colonel Birdsong of the (Mississippi) Highway Patrol; he will instruct them. You would not want him to put out any other kind of public message?

RFK: We put these fellows in a helicopter and send them down there - in an hour or so, we will call the Governor and say they are coming, and he has informed Birdsong they are coming and his people are not to resist by any force; they arrived there and he makes public announcement in Mississippi along the lines you just described; that the Governor has taken over this and wouldn't want the people to resist; the action now is in the courts and everyone should maintain law and order.

TW: [speaking to the Governor in background] The Attorney General just said they expect to give you 30 minutes notice when the helicopter would bring him in. They would expect you to notify the highway patrol to cooperate in every way maintaining law and order, and he would expect you to issue a statement this afternoon calling on the people to keep the peace. There would be no violence and you will continue to fight your fight through the courts.

RFK: Is 30 minutes satisfactory?

TW: We have to get Birdsong to Oxford - 160 miles; I think we can send him by plane. It's only 11:15 here--if you think you can time it to have him land on the campus by 4:00 pm here - 6:00 pm in D. C.

RFK: I don't want it to get dark again; if you move that time up earlier, to 3:00 pm.

TW: We will send Colonel Birdsong as soon as we have time to instruct him; will ask him to call us from Oxford; then we will call you and you can pass the word down. Let me ask you this. I hope you will apologize to the President for what happened last night and ask him please not to say anything about these talks.

RFK: If we get this cleared up this afternoon. It will make a major change. That' s why it is important to get it done quickly. The President is going on TV at 7:30 our time. We are going to try to move it up for you. If the Governor could make the statement before the President goes on, that would alleviate the situation.

TW: I agree. He goes on at 5:30 our time. Now how would you like the statement to be released? Through a press conference of some kind?

RFK: Or just put a statement out; then the people can't get into a lot of questions about it. You can also, for his own sake, get into the National Guard and all that business. I don't care what he says.

TW: You wouldn't expect the Governor's statement to contain the statement about the entrance.

RFK: No, but that law and order is going to be maintained by State of Mississippi; let's get busy on it.

RB: I am sorry about the misunderstanding last night. I an extremely hurt over it really. I didn't know I was violating any agreement. Please understand me.

RFK: If we get it straightened out by 7:30 tonight, the whole matter will be alleviated. He either won't make his talk or won't mention this. Let's get going.

RB: Won't be notified -

RFK: He will call me when Birdsong is at the campus; then we will put him in helicopter and start them on their way. You will be notified of that and you will put out your statement, and that will be before the President goes on TV tonight.

RB: What we have said here before won't be?

RFK: That's correct - if we get this thing done.

RB: If I am surprised, you won't mind or if I raise cain about it?

RFK: I don't mind that; just say law and order will be maintained.

RFK: Let's get it straightened out. It takes 40 minute for them to get down there; if I can know as soon as possible when he will be there and lave the situation under control.

RB: Please let's not have a fuss about what we talked about. R

FK: I don't think that will be necessary.

RB: Tuesday at 11:00. I hope you will consider my position here.

RFK: Let's talk about that after tonight; I'll talk to you then.

RB: You understand about our continuing the legal fight?

RFK: I have no objection; I understand.