tv AJ Baime White Lies CSPAN April 25, 2022 12:10am-1:07am EDT
the executive director of the harry s truman library institute. i want to welcome you to tonight's program featuring aj bain in his discussion on his new book white lies. before i introduce aj, i want to make a few comments make a few hellos. i want to thank everyone for joining us tonight. it's going to be a wonderful program. it's nice to be with you. i look forward to being with you in person. hopefully relatively soon as conditions continue to improve fingers crossed. it's also really affirming to know that despite these unusual circumstances. we can still generate an
audience to learn about a really incredible relatively or almost completely unknown story emanating from truman's administration and that the audience currently is around 700 and 50 registrants and we look forward to knowing how many of you are actually out there with this. i want to say hello to my parents who are joining us from taos, new mexico and and there are people from all over the country most states in the nation. truman is on the rise. so thank you for joining us. tonight's program is the third installment of our civil rights series to secure these rights, which is part of the 75th anniversary program. we are offering to honor and celebrate truman civil rights legacy. and his achievements. i'd like to thank the boeing company for generously sponsoring tonight's book event. the series itself as well as other civil rights activities.
and i hope i'm not stepping on aj's lines here, but i have a few comments to make about the close and strategic relationship. between walter white and president harry truman a search of the online archives of the term and library returns more than 50 photographs and scan documents. from letters to memos to detail analyzes of the black vote in the 1948 election. and those are just the digitized documents in the collection. there are many more. it would be impossible to overstate the impact walter white had on president truman. special regarding his creation of the president's civil rights committee in 1946. and the 1948 executive orders desegregating the united states armed forces and federal workforce. in fact white began corresponding with the president just months after he was sworn in in 1945.
alerting him to the realities and horror of segregated soldiers. and of course the two stood together 75 years ago on june 29th, 1947 in the shadow of the lincoln memorial where president truman was the first united states president to address the n-double-a-cp. and that historic speech tremend declared we can no longer afford the luxury of a leisurely attack upon prejudice and discrimination. the way is not easy. we shall need all the wisdom imagination and courage we can muster. following that historic event president truman underscored the challenge but also his optimism in a letter to walter white. he wrote freedom and equality are not easily one, but we will never cease trying to win them. and i for one will never lose
confidence that we can win them end quote. inspiring words both then and now our friend aj baim has done civil rights history and truman's legacy a tremendous service by bringing the story of walter white to light. many of you know aj he's been with us on to at least two previous occasions because he's the best-selling author of the accidental president harry s truman and the four months to change the world. and dewey defeats truman the 1948 election and the battle for america's soul. a master storyteller aj is a regular contributor to the wall street journal and his articles of also appeared in the new york times popular science men's journal and numerous other publications. his lightest book white lies the double life of walter f white and america's darkest secret was
released on february 8th. he is a dear friend of the chairman library institute and as our absolute pleasure to have him back with us tonight. thank you all for joining us. enjoy the program aj. thank you and take it away. thank you very much, alex. thank you to the truman library institute the work you do is vital. i just want to say for people listening out there go to the website check out what they do. become a part of it. it's a great thing. i want to thank everybody at the truman library museum. i've spent wonderful time there researching in the years of the past the work you do there is so vital the archivist there as we all know the preservation of the documents are how we tell the story of our nation's past of the past of the whole world. and part of the process of understanding the past is how we create our future and so the work of the archivist. there's absolutely vital.
the renovation is incredible at the museum. i encourage everybody to see it if you're not local. it's worth a flight across the country. i want to thank both of my kids clay and odds happy birthday this weekend both of you and my mother i think who's watching alice. she's not just my mom but my it specialist and i couldn't do this without you. what am i doing here? i'm here to talk about walter white. this is the book white lies that came out just a few days ago. surprisingly i've been working on this book kind of it's been brewing in my head for close to 30 years. i first came across walter white when my first year graduate school. and even back then i remember reading just tidbits about this man. i'm thinking it bizarre that there's no way that the story of this man's life can be true. but it is i can also say for the last four books i've written two things remain constant harry truman and walter white have appeared at all of them. so at the when i finished do if you defeats truman a few years ago, i set out to write this
book about walter white because i couldn't believe that nobody had written it. it was no real mainstream biography about walter white walter francis white and whenever i mentioned his name, the only thing people thought about was breaking bad, and i thought that's not gonna work for me. so the first thing i did was i went to yale university. i looked at the archives that's where walter's papers are i went to the public library and the schomburg center and harlem and i went through most importantly the naacp papers, which is just a treasure trove of material regarding walter white and what i found there was more than i hoped to and i really learned that the story of walter's life and why we should know about him was really much greater than i even anticipated. so who was walter white? one way to say this explain in a very short sentence. you might say well walter francis white was the most powerful civil rights figure the first of the 20th century. and already you're saying to yourself, how can that be bame
is making this up. it can't be true because of that was true. we would all know who he was another way to walter is to say walter white was sort of the most powerful force behind the historic realignment of black voting power in america from the republican to the democratic party in the 1930s. and again you're saying how can that be true if we've never heard of him? well the story of why law walter's story walter white story is lost to history. is an integral part of what this book is about and what i'm gonna sort of touch on tonight, so i'm gonna give you a lot of information and a whole bunch of photographs, but there's so much more. there's only so much i can do in a few with the mid the time i have and i don't want to give away all of the secrets of the book, but let me start here walter white was born born in atlanta in 1893. he was born into a black family. i went to a black school black church.
attended elena university, which was a black school. but there was something very interesting about him. i should also mention that his parents george and madeline white were born into enslaved families. and they were the last of the last generation that could speak of the slave era as african-amera americans from experience. um yet there something distinguishing about walter. he looked strange. to his peers at atlantic unit atlanta university and his school and his church and let's take a look and see what he looked like. so we can start here. this is walter. and you might notice that he has white skin. you can't tell from this picture. but he has blue eyes. his hair is dark blonde. here's another photo of walter. no this to me is just such a special photograph because a lot of walter's family is gone and a
lot of walter's family sort of disowned and we'll get to that too later in the story, but i can only find one living member of the white family and that was rose palmer's niece and she was 92 years old living in atlanta and brilliantly she was able to dig up this photograph skin and email it to me, which i thought was really impressive. you'll see walter here on your right. why is this graduating class of atlanta university so small? and the answer to that is because black americans at this era had had very little access to education certainly college education. now coming of age walter. obviously how to choice he knew that he could go out and live his life. as a white man, or as a black man. and he had to confront something every time he looked in the mirror. why was the skin his skin the color that it was and let me
just read the way i put it in the introduction to the book. this family's complexion represented a shameful truth that the gender that generations of enslaved families were born out of illicit encounters between black women who had no rights to their bodies and white males slave owners who had full legal impunity. walter's great grandmother and his mother side in fact for six children in the 1830s. followed by her owner william henry harrison who went on to become president of the united states. now walter again. he knows he has this choice to live is what life is a white man or black man because nobody would know. but something incredible happened to him when he was 12 years old. that set the foundation for his life's work as a sort of maniacal and i don't use that word loosely a maniacal. um secret of justice in america and that is when he 12 years old. he went on his father's mail route. his father was a male carrier and after school each day. walter would go with his father
on this mail route. and on this day i think was in september 1906. they witnessed the outbreak of the atlanta race ride of 1906 now at the time. um photographs didn't really exist cameras were hard to come by and there's very little photographic evidence of this riot, but it was reported so widely that you can see this this is actually the cover. of a french newspaper and in france because photography they didn't really work in newspapers at that time. they would paint the covers you can see across the bottom in small letters. it says massacre de -- atlanta and in parentheses, georgia. now walter saw this first-hands to have seen 12 men killed. and on the second night of the atlanta riot? the white family was in their home and the white mob appeared at their doorstep with flame torching in a flaming torches and yelling and screaming saying
that the boy's home was too nice of a home for a black family to live in and they were going to burn it to the ground. and walter stood there in the window and i want to read to you very quickly right here the way his his specific memory of this moment was because this is this moment is the foundation of his mythology. his life's work everything. he represented and everything not just who he was but who he created himself to be he wrote as a boy in the darkness amid, the tightening fright. i knew the inexplicable thing. that my skin was as white as the skin of those who were coming at me. the mob moved toward the lawn. i tried to aim my gun wondering what it would feel like to kill a man. in that instance, they're opened up within me a great awareness. i knew who i was i was a --. after that night, i never wanted to be a white man. i knew which side i was on. um walter goes into activism in
1917. wants to fight for education for young black atlantis and a certain men in new york city takes notice of them. this guy now you always hear that question if i could have lunch with anybody in the world. who would i have lunch with? and this guy would be high on my list this james weldon johnson. um newspaper man, poet novelist former diplomat all around genius so james weldon johnson discovers as you would discover an unfound talent discovers walter in 1917 and convinces him against his parents wishes against walter's parents his wishes to move to new york to become car part of this organization that few people at that time had heard of called the national association for the advancement of colored people. so walter gets there in a freezing cold day early in 1918.
he meets the staff part of the staff was this man w e b du bois who had to be the most respected black intellectual maybe even to this day. he authored great books authored the groundbreaking books the souls black folks, which i know that you know students in schools still reading today and we should all read this is dubois editing the naacps magazine was called the crisis and it was distributed nationally. so walter begins his work with the small organization that few had heard of at the time. now there's this this amazing cultural forces at this time that are bubbling up in american in america that begin to shape the world that walter is living in one of them is this i find this photo absolutely extraordinary. you can see the man at the front. you might not be able to read it. he said his sign at the front says the first blood for american independence was shed by a -- christmas atticus.
and you're looking at? is the silent parade? of 1917 10, african-americans women and all all white men in black suits marching through manhattan without a sound and this what this parade this event was really what put the n-double-a-cp on the map. nationally. this is the first time that a lot of people really ever heard of it. so to me, it really symbolizes the coming out of the naacp as this force that's going to become extremely powerful in the 1920s right when walter gets there. this is starting. at the same time the modern kkk is founded in 1915. a top and it across burning ceremony top stone mountain right outside of downtown atlanta where walter grew up. and so very quickly the kkk. spreads through school boards local governments police forces
fire departments women's clubs all across the south beginning to creep into the north. so by the time walter starts the n-double-a-cp in 1918. the kkk is really cementing itself as a force to be reckoned with and becomes an absolute maniacal obsession of walters and as a matter of fact he tries to join the kkk i have this application in front of me posing as a white man. he wants to infiltrate the clan and this is his application is the moving prompting your inquiry serious. yes, he answers. what is your age 27 what is your occupation journalist? where were you born, atlanta, georgia? how long have you been residing in your current president locality three years. are you married singular widow? he's single. were you were your parents born in the united states? he says yes, are you a -- or gentile? gentile are you of white racer of colored race? he leaves it black do you believe in the principles of
pure americanism? he says yes, i do. so this picture is actually a clan march in washington dc 40,000 people. you can see the capital in the building. i bet building in the background. one one eyewitness said that there were so many klansmen that washington looked like a giant snowbank because it was all white. so this is a force that's bubbling up right when walter comes of age and moves to new york. and at the same time he arrives in new york exactly in time to become part. of this literary and artistic renaissance we know now is the harlem renaissance. so he begins to live. a double life and we shall see how now that's duke ellington. all right. let me let set a little scene here. walter white's first year at the naacp. it's actually is 12th day. this is 12th day on the job.
he takes the bus with james weldon johnson downtown from harlem to work. and they read an article in the newspaper about the killing and burning at the stake of a man named james mcallhare. in estill springs, tennessee they get to the office and they begin to discuss this now. typically this wasn't the first time this happened what the naacp would do was write a letter to the president of the united states write a letter to the governor of the state write a letter to the mayor of the city where it happened send that paper look those letters to the newspapers. the black newspapers would publish it the white newspapers would ignore it. so this time walter sitting there he says i have an idea. let let me go down there. and i can investigate. and everybody's against it because they say it's too dangerous. but walter convinces them he gets on a train. he goes to chattanooga. he's poses as white so he can stay in a hotel. and then he takes another train to estill springs. and he pretends he creates this persona he's going to be
traveling salesman with the excellento medicine company and in one day of sleuthing he's able to get all of these people to admit who had committed the crime what exactly had happened. he goes back to new york and writes an article in the mwcp's news magazine the crisis and it causes a sensation and this leads walter to begin living a double life, which is why the book is called the double life of walter. white first half is really about walter white during the 1920s rising up in the undouble acp living in new york. sorry as a black man. here's langston hughes. these are all his friends charles s johnson the short story writer. brilliant rudolph fisher second from the right. he becomes living outwardly and part of the harlem renaissance. he becomes a fame novelist, but at the same time he begins living an undercover life in the south and he conducts over 40 investigations posing as a white man throughout the 1920s.
in my research i was able to find his hand written notes his internal naac memorandums the newspaper and magazine articles that he wrote about these investigations which caused sensational headlines and if you think about it these these investigations began to make walter white very very famous in harlem it became known for them. people. wanted to give him speaking engagement so he could talk about his work and the more famous he became the more dangerous it became every time he went undercover which he did throughout the decade this picture. is that the chicago race riot? which was of the biggest the biggest race ride of the red summer of 1919 walter. was there investigating. this is tulsa. the tulsa has been in the news quite a bit recently. 1921 what you're seeing here is the burning of the greenwood neighborhood in tulsa. what happened was a false accusation of rape of a young man named -- rowland?
who was never charged with any crime. resulted in the rampaging and burning to the ground of an entire 40 block neighborhood of tulsa called greenwood. there was actually eyewitnesses of airplanes rudimentary airplanes. that weren't relied very many well constructed airplanes in 1921, but airplanes flying around over greenwood dropping fire bombs out the side. walter arrived two days after and in a bizarre ceremony in tulsa city hall. he posed as a white man and was actually deputized to go out and was embedded with a crew of white men to police the city of tulsa as the smoke is still swirling to police against black uprising and he came back and he wrote a shocking article in the nation. i'll read a tiny piece of it to you. there is a lesson in the tulsa fair for every american who fatuously believes that -- will always be the meek and submissive creatures that circumstances have forced them to be during the past 300 years.
-- rowland was only an ordinary boot black with no standing in the community. but when his life was threatened by a mob of whites every one of the 15,000 -- in tulsa was willing to die to predict roland. perhaps america is waiting for a nationwide tulsa to wake her. it's pretty terrifying stuff. okay, i'm going to stop sharing for a moment. and just talk without pictures. hopefully you can see me. i just want to say a couple things about. but when i write books, you know. a lot of research goes into them, but they're slightly non-traditional. and what i try to do is to make readers understand not just what happened not just why it happened. but if i can to make the readers feel the emotions of the people that i'm writing about and i know when i'm writing them. i feel them it's you know, sometimes it's fun and it's
funny. sometimes it's really not as painful. um, that might be what you know, one of the reasons why my books aren't always very well reset received in the very academic community because they're not exactly all other books. i tried to take them in different places a little bit. but the story of walter white what i really want to say is i'm hoping that that comes across and there's one specific incident that in the middle of the book. it occurs in 1925 1926 and it's the story of a man named ozyan sweet. and i'm guessing that she's there's 400 people watching right now and i'm guessing that there's very few of any who know who dr. sweet is and i i think we need to write that. so i'm going to tell the story very briefly, dr. sweet was a successful black physician in this in the city of detroit who moved into a new family home at 2905 garland avenue in detroit.
and he was successful. he had it 14 month old child his wife and the night he moved in his brothers and sisters and family. there was 12 of them there in the house that night and his wife was cooking a celebratory dinner. and at sundown a crowd a mob gathered outside of his home. i witnesses said that the mob was bigger than 2,000 people. and suddenly rocks and stones started hitting the house and breaking all the windows and a shot was fired. and a white man was killed outside, dr. sweet's home and the police raided the place and arrested all of them and charge them all with murder. and the nwcp branch in detroit immediately called the national headquarters and wrote all these telegrams. i have a couple here and the wk hayes mckinney of the detroit branch road. it will be necessary to have an experience investigator to secure evidence to aid in the defense of this case. we are therefore urgently requesting that mr. white be sent to detroit immediately.
now this this case captured the imagination of america walter figured there was no way that an all-white jury was going to quit this guy any of them. they were going to go to the gallows and walter had the idea. to hire this man who had just become the most famous attorney in america. this matter clarence darrow clarence darrow when he first met with walter and two other white lawyers, he had heard that one of them was african-american, so he turned to one of the lawyers and said i understand the suffering of your people and this lawyer said, i'm sorry. i'm a white man. so he turned to the next sad. i understand the suffering of your people and this lawyer said, i'm sorry. i'm a white man. so he turned the walter and he said i was told one of you was a -- that was the term of the time and he looked at walter and said surely it can't be you. but what happened next to me is extraordinary they fought this case clarence darrow. freed the sweet family they were found innocent. but what's more important in
terms of walter white's life is clarence. darrow came to give a speech in harlem. and what he said changed for the trajectory of walter white and set the the stage for the second half of white lies because the second half is about politics where harry truman comes in. clarence darrow says in his speech and this harlem church? african-americans in this country for generations vote for the republican party with that question all the time. and if anyone didn't vote for the bat african-american and for the republican party, it would be considered, know treachery and betrayal. because abraham lincoln had freed the slaves and so we must see another everybody who's black has to vote for the party of lincoln and darrell says you're wasting your vote and he says the future a black powers the ballot box and if you only realized the power that you can have if you organize voting in
the northern states because remember in the south african americans were not allowed to vote but in the north certain states that they organize and got behind a candidate. that wasn't necessarily republic. they might hold the balance of power and people would finally say we have to pay attention to these to these to this race of our country makes up 10% of our country and walter is amazed. he's dumbfounded. he decides to throw himself into national politics and ultimately names is only son walter jr. walter carl white because of clarence, dear. so for walter all roads and at the white house, he realizes. he has to get in the white house by this time, by the way, he is chief executive of the naacp. so he starts in 1918 naacp is this tiny organization and because of the efforts of all of the staff james weldon johnson w e b du bois people like mary white ovington who they called
the you know, the fighting saints this this old white woman who was so dedicated to civil rights activism that she was a board member of then double acp, but walter became chief executive in 1930 and by that time it's the most powerful militant civil rights organization that it ever exist, but he can't get in the door of the white house. because fdr. realizes that if he makes any you know meets any demands of of walter white or you know support civil rights in any way. he's going to extremely anger a vast and very powerful part of the democratic party, which is the solid south. is this a lot of information a short period of time but in the book, it's all very clear. so walter can't get in to see fdr but mrs. roosevelt reaches out and they create this incredible bond that i just found so endearing and of course eleanor roosevelt had the year of the president.
and she convinces the president to meet with walter. and that begins this relationship in which amazing things happen. at the same time walter is working politically. to reorganize voting power and he goes out and he says to his people don't just vote democratic or republican and your community vote for the candidate that is going to support civil rights vote for the candidate that is going to say yes. we believe in the 14th amendment. yes, we believe in the 15th amendment and slowly democratic politicians in the north begin to realize this and there's a groundswell. shift in power and i'll point out that in 1932 the year roosevelt was elected. was the first year that there was a trickle of black votes to the democratic column. it hadn't happened in generations. by 1936 black america voted overwhelmingly for the democrats it was shocking to many people but that's where the party vote
is still to this day. okay, i love this picture. it just speaks volumes to me what you're looking at is walter white in the middle. that's thurgood marshall on your right. and roy wilkins on your left roy wilkins took over the naacp and let it after walter's death for many many years. in 1935 walter hires this young hot shot lawyer thurgood marshall. to launch a new arm of the naacp and they were going to fight for education rights in the courts. and then we're going to fight for voting rights and thurgood marshall turns out was a genius and he formed this bond with walter. they both loved to stab that late at night. they both loved to drink a lot of whiskey and smoke cigarettes and tell stories. so while walter's working on politics thurgood marshall is building these education cases that rise up to the supreme court and ultimately climax with brown versus board of education.
in 1955, which walter lives 1954 barely long enough to live to see. okay. which brings us to harry truman? so by the time harry truman becomes president walter is a political force in america. he is the face of black power and you ask yourself how amazingly ironic that is with white skin blue eyes and blonde hair. um, he forged this relationship with for a very. interesting reason, but the reasons are obvious, but he became friendly with truman then. this happened now what you're looking at here. that's former heavyweight champion. joe lewis on your left. and that is unknown figure and you're right and in the middle is a man named isaac woodard. and isaac woodard's story was incredible and indicative of something very scary in america at the time.
there were isaac woodard comes home from war he's wearing his uniform. army, uniform metal printed pin to his chest. he is carrying his papers from being released from the army with the mimeograph signature of harry truman on it. and he's empowered all of these men are coming back from war they served their country. and black soldiers didn't want to go back to the jim crow south that they had come to before the war. they felt that they had earned rights and they had earned respect and they wanted things like the 14th and 15th amendment to mean something. so maybe isaac woodard had a chip on his shoulder, but that would have been his only fault. he got in a fight with the policeman and he was permanently blinded and had no recourse to the law. and i nobody no way to support his family and he up in walter white's office. and walter makes him a cause celeb. take some on a speaking tour around the country headlines and all the newspapers because by
this time of walter calls the newspapers they run the stories. and ultimately he goes and has this extraordinary meaning with harry truman? and this is a 1946 and that's where truman realizes that if this is a country where there are black people coming home from war would serve their country and war who willing to die for their country and war and we're not allowed to sit next to a white person on a bus. that's one thing, but if they they should come home from war and be beaten on the streets of their own country. this was wrong. and so the very next day after walter came to his office and told him the story of isaac wood and others who had suffered similar fate. truman wrote a memorandum the very next day to his attorney general tom clark of texas and he wrote i had his callers yesterday some members of the national association for the advancement of color people. troon was quote alarmed at the increased racial feeling all over the country. and this began for me what i think of?
a beginning of the civil rights movement modern civil rights movement from mainstream politics from within the white house and we know what happened next truman desegregated the military by executive order. he became the first sitting president to campaign in 1948 and the spiritual home of black america and harlem very moving moment that i wrote a bunch about in my book. do we defeats truman? and here he is walter white can convinces truman to the first president. to address the naacp in person the picture you're looking at is walter on your right. it's truman on your left eleanor roosevelt is in the middle eleanor spoke first the former first lady and then walter got up and he introduced the president he gave this very moving speech that i don't have time to tell you about now, but i quote at length and white lives and then he says ladies and gentlemen. president of the united states and then we see. this that is what it looked like
you can see truman's back to the camera. speaking to the end of naacp the first very historic speech. and it was the the sim the symbolic importance of this moment. is that the white house for the first time in history was going to say what truman said, which is that this bill of rights in our country shouldn't just exist people say they believe in constitution, but they also believe in white supremacy. there's a gap there. it doesn't make sense and it's obvious and when i write in my subtitle the double life of walter white america stock a secret walters living a double life in the 1920s. investigating as a white man and member of the black harlem renaissance is a black man in the 1930s. he lives a double life because he's living in high society among high powerful pilot politicians and powerful white people, but he's the head of the n-double-a-cp, not everybody trusted for this but truman did and truman proved it.
by coming and giving the speech that at the time walter white thought was going to be political suicide, but it turned out not to be. um, i'm gonna play a little clip of it. one two three i should like to talk to you briefly about civil rights. and human freedom it is my deep condition. that we have reached the turning point. in the long history of our country's efforts. to guarantee freedom any quality to all our citizens? okay, which brings us sort of to the end of my talk. i'm going to solve the mystery that i brought up at the beginning. why don't we know who this man is today? well that's answered the question. here you see walter. this is in the 1930s. he's chief executive at the naacp. he's a become a political powerhouse to his right as his
son walter jr. walter carl darrell white. behind him is his wife gladys. and they're living openly harlem is about black family. the same time walter was often attacked because of his identity people like wbb dubois became his nemesis because they claim the walter wasn't black at all. and walter said yes, he was he always stood by his identity as a black man, but people sometimes attacked him for it's called him a fraud. but at the same time he was secretly loved with this woman. this is walter. with poppy cannon lateness life and at the end of his life he knew was dying. he literally drank and smoked and worked himself to death. he worked himself to death. and he was dying. he was having a heart attacks. and at the end of his life he decided that he wanted to die in love and left his wife for this woman. and the man who was for most of his life the most powerful civil
rights figure in america became a tablet scandal and it destroyed his reputation. who remained? chief executive of the naacp for the toward the to the end of his life for the next five years, but he was a figurehead and a lot of people pay no attention to him anymore. at the same time you have to imagine right when he died in 1955 is right when the montgomery bus boycott was occurring and televisions were coming on the scene and the new face the new generation of civil rights leader people obviously like martin luther king were not going to be comfortable with having a man who looked white as the foundation of their movement and walters life work was immediately lost to history because of his marriage is kids disowned him and he was destroyed and he just he died that way and that's why i think he nobody knows who he is today. he was a deeply faulted man. he was ambitious to a fall. he could be terribly manipulative but his actions and
his successes. i think speak for themselves, and i think people need to know about them. lastly i will say i want to show cover the book and just tell a story very briefly. i remember being on c-span tv at the beginning of my career talking about a book called the arsenal of democracy. it was on live tv and they said, you know, does anybody in the audio once want to ask a question and my seven year old son stood up and asked for the microphone and i was terrified because i didn't know what he was going to say and he grabbed the microphone and he said dad and everybody laughed but then he asked the very poignant question. he said how did you choose the that's on the cover? and when we chose this cover, this is a real flag that used to fly outside of naacp offices after something the day after something terrible happened. um, and that's new york in the background. i didn't want people to look at the cover and think it was a biography just a biography of the man. they've never heard of i wanted them to know that it's about something a lot more and that's where the the cover comes from.
now. i have 30 seconds more. i just want to say as a sort of awkward coda. i want to thank everybody i can see this 400 people here and i know we lost some people because people are reading their newspapers. they're glued to their tvs because of the terrible things that are happening and we're all scared and we all feel it but something occurred to me when i was watching the television last night. i'm going to really truman quote and i'll be done. truman once wrote the history of the world has moved in cycles and that very often we find ourselves in the midst of political circumstances. which appear to be new but which might have existed in almost identical form at various times during the past 6,000 years and the story that's folding unfolding right at this moment on our televisions is very very similar to what truman faced at the potsdam conference negotiating with joseph stalin over the government of poland in 1945. that same year the united nations was founded in san francisco walter white was at the founding conference in san francisco. so was harry truman and the un was founded.
in hopes that it could confront and solve terrifying issues like we're seeing right now. let's hope it works. i'm not a big praying guy, but i'm praying. so thank you very much. thank you for having me. there's a lot more to this book that i didn't talk about. so i hope people read it. so i think there's time for questions. don't be afraid to ask the hard ones. all right. thank you aj for that thought-provoking presentation if you have a question and have an added it to the q&a feature at the bottom of your screen, please go ahead and do so now you can also like a question that's already been submitted that you would like to see answered. so our first question tonight comes from ed and ed asks based on race riots in northern cities and the story you had of the incident in detroit. how free were blacks to vote in the north ie even if better than the south was there still voter
suppression in the north? well, obviously there would have been voter suppression everywhere and there is today. but the difference was immense in terms of what was happening in the north and what was happening in the south now walter when he moved north to new york. he was really part of something called the great migration and this was the migration of hundreds of thousands of people a lot of african americans from the south fleeing jim crow for industrial jobs in the north where they would be treated better and where they can vote and so the answer to the question is, yes people were much more free to vote in northern states and they began to be freer to vote in southern states right at the end of walter's love what life specifically the midterm elections in 1946 and 1948, but let me point out that the riot that changed walters life in atlanta 1906 a lot of it had to do with the gubernatorial election of that year and both the candidates both white obviously for the governor of
georgia. we're promising that if they were elected the governor, that they would make it illegal for black people to vote and that's exactly what happened. so in 1908 when walter was a kid, it was suddenly become, you know impossible for to vote in those states and that happened for 40 years throughout walter's life in northern states. you could vote in new york. you could vote in, massachusetts. all right, our next question comes from barbara and barbara says from what i learned about isaac woodard. he didn't get in a fight with a policeman but rather was attacked by police that the bus driver asked to come on to bother or arrest isaac for asking to leave the bus to use the restroom when the bus made a stop. can you just talk a little bit about the circumstances of isaac woodard? okay, that's a great question. and you're absolutely right. so what happened was isaac was on the bus and there were other soldiers there who were witnesses to what happened and
later came forward. and the bus stopped and isaac, there would have been no bathroom in the bus and it was a long ride. he was going to visit going by he'd been away from his family for a long time serving in the far east in the war. and when the bus stopped he asked the driver if you could use the bathroom and the driver was very disrespectful and i'm saying is remember close as i can remember the actual quote but isaac said something like you know, hey talk to me like i talk to you have respect something like that and the police suffers didn't like that. i mean the bus driver didn't like this. he let isaac go to the bathroom isaac came back on and the police tried they bus driver drove on and found stopped and found a police officer and went out and got this police officer to take isaac off the bus. and these police officers from what i understand from court testimony, which i have in that drawer right there. they they were the way isaac says it tells the story is that
they were moving him along and pushing him and he didn't know where and they branched his arm behind his back and he was scared. so he struggled and a fight occurred and they threatened to shoot him and one of the officers had a billy club and the end of the billy club got driven into both of his eyes, and he was blinded and it was unconscious and when he woke up in a prison cell, he was blinded. he couldn't see he was charged with a crime and he ended up the the officers at the prison realize that that he was injured and took him to a hospital where he stayed and never regained his sight. he ended up going home to his mother's home and harlem and he was helpless and that's when i think it was a cousin of his said maybe the naacp can help. and there's this amazing movement moment where isaac woodard shows up in walter white's office. asking for help and he reaches out as a blind man to shake walter's hand and he can't find walter and walter realizes that
what had happened to isaac. was shockingly horrible, but also realizes that this could be a case that could explode nationwide with publicity, which is exactly what happened. so, i hope that answers the question. excellent. all right, our next question comes from evelyn a quick one here. what's the name of the woman that walter left his wife for? her name is poppy cannon. um, her papers are at yale university so you can read the letters and forth between them. she was actually very interesting woman. she was a contemporary of julia child. she was a food editor at mademoiselle magazine and she worked in the advertising industry. she had kids two kids from two different marriages a very non-traditional woman. and she went on to have her own cooking tv show but at that point walter had passed on but her name was bobby kennedy. she wrote a book about walter called the gentle giant the gentle giant. i think it's called.
i'm sorry, i'm forgetting but she wrote a book about him. that's it. really interesting window into his life and also into what was happening at that time. excellent all right, our next question comes from roberta. who asks, what is the current narrative within the leadership of the black community including the naacp about the contributions of white? you know, that's a tricky question because i can say there isn't one because white walter white's life is not discussed. it doesn't appear in the history books. he doesn't appear in the news. no one quotes him. so i don't think there's really much dialogue at all. all right. barbara asks could a walter white succeed in undercover work today. no, and i think that one of the things that made his work so intriguing is that it happened in an era before cellphones cell
phone cameras before mass mass media of any kind. and that is the reason why. walter was able to live openly and become famous in harlem for these investigations. he was conducting with his name his face and his name appearing in newspapers and then could go undercover in the south again. i think it's really important to understand, you know, one of the things that i found fascinating that i've always wanted to write about is like the effect that the mega metropolis has on creating powerful people but at the same time the opposite end of that is to look at very insular rural communities where these crimes tended to happen and let me say that some of these crimes happen in front of crowds larger than those that some major league baseball games and these tiny little places and no one would ever be charged for a crime and how could that happen? because they were no cameras no
camera phones very few telephones. and law enforcement never charge anybody for these crimes it wasn't in their best interest politics politicians. it wasn't there in their best interest either. so in these tiny insular communities the families of these victims had no recourse through the law no recourse to the ballot box no recourse whatsoever. okay. i'm going to ask the next two questions together because i think they dovetail very nicely. jeff asks did white ever write about the 1908 race riot in springfield, illinois, and john is asking about the terms we use and saying, isn't it fundamentally misleading to describe organized massacres of african-americans as a race riots. will you take a stab at each of those? yes. no is the answer the first because walter would have been pretty young at that time, and i don't have any record. i never saw any record of. him writing about that incident
um the second question walter that's a very interesting question and walter distinguished between the two he the way he said. it talks of his career is that he conducted 40 undercover investigations of lynchings? and investigated six race riots. so in his mind and mine too, there's absolutely a difference between the two. um, yeah, i think i hope that answers the question i could go on but i think that to the point. yeah. all right, we have time for a few more questions here. i'm gonna our next question comes from rick who asks? what was the closest call walter had to being found out while doing his investigations? that's a great question walter and he he wrote an article describing exactly that and it was published. in the magazine american mercury in 1930 or 1929 the article was
called i investigate lynchings and it was a first person story talking about these investigations. and he dresses exactly that it was in elaine. elaine, arkansas and in this moment walters investigating he's undercover and he knows that if his identity is discovered. he's in for real trouble because you have to remember that the crimes he was investigating were incredibly incredibly gruesome and at times it became very difficult for me to decide. writing the book what i should leave in and what i should really leave out because i didn't want to make the crimes themselves seem less appalling, but i didn't want to make it. different too difficult that nobody would read so it was these decisions were very difficult. but the point i want to make is walter white would have known if it's if these crimes were so appalling what these people in these tiny communities who could act with do to him.
and the closest call he got he was in the town of elaine. and tiny town and a black man came to him and said whispered in his ear they know who you are. you're in trouble. you have to get out of here. and if i could flip to the page very quickly, i would but i can't. so he runs to literally runs to the train station. and he gets there. and he asked for a ticket at a town and such a small town that there's only two trains that come and go and the man behind the ticket window says man if this i'm paraphrasing, why do you want to leave now? there's a bleep posing as a white man in this town and he's been found out and quote. the boys are going to have some fun with him. and he realizes what he's in for and boom the train comes up and he's able to get on the train and escape. that that's the that's the moment. that's as close as call. but another thing that i found so fascinating is at one point in the book, he goes to
investigate. there's quite a few chapters about this in 1930 this horrific incident that happened in in, indiana. marion, indiana and it's the first time that he goes he has this correspondence with the head of the end of day believes he branch in marion, indiana. her name is flossie bailey and he asks her straight up. he's like should i come undercover? as the white man, or should i come as a black man as the head of the naacp and she says you should come as the head of the most militant civil rights organization in the country. she doesn't say why i think she probably thought that would be most effective and gaining the justice for the victims. but also this whole sense that walter probably by that time was way too famous. and he can no longer pass. all right, we're going to end on this question from kim. which came asked were recycling the fight for civil rights now?
what will it take to break the cycle of taking away the rights of others? you know, that's a fascinating question. you know what the first thing i can do. it's say to answer that question, and i promise you i'm not showing books is it's very important that we understand that everything will happen experiencing now is not new. everything all of these things that we're talking about voting rights george floyd all of the stuff comes from somewhere. it's not new this has been going on in our country for for generations and i'll tell you in walter white's era was far worse than it is now. we can't let it go back there. we can't let it happen. so i think the first thing we have to do is understand the history of where all of this is coming from. it's not coming out of nowhere and the second thing is vote vote if they say you can vote unless you do this this and this you got to do this this and this and we got to do everything to fight the one thing that you know, i think that if you're a democrat and you're you're liberal, you're republican
you're conservative. that's fine. one thing that i truly believe is that everybody should be allowed to vote and i think this oppression of those is is a tragedy and i just don't understand why anybody would want that to happen. all right. aj thank you for sharing this incredible story with us this evening and thanks again to boeing for sponsoring this series to learn more about truman's civil rights legacy and the impact of walter white. you can purchase white lies the double life of walter f white and america's darkest secret anywhere books are sold including rainy day books right
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