thumbnail of American Experience; 1964; Interview with Hodding Carter III, Newspaper Editor, part 1 of 6
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So one of the things we're doing is we're starting this whole thing on New Year's Eve 1964 and then we're 64 growing into 65 and then we're sort of flashing back to sure that of course 1964 really began in the United States as a nation, yes that's what I said yeah 64. I mean let me make sure okay yeah January 1st 1964 basically okay all right that's okay so yeah everybody needs to settle down so what's a market state of mind if you have to kind of sum it up what's what's hopeful of what's what's the future well
we just come out for my lifetime I don't mind anyways finally what the hell is going on in America New Year's Eve ends a year indeed it ends almost half of a decade in which a series of traumatic events had taken place which were a wrench out of the preceding period which was corey aside a fairly good period almost everybody except of course minorities and to those who were not of the mainstream
but we had had by that time the Cuban Missile Crisis we had had by that time a use of troops to integrate one university with one man we had had by that time of course the assassination of a president we had had by that time the assassination of a couple of notable civil rights people in the deep south we had had by that time in fact the election of a Catholic which was in itself such a wrench from American history and tradition and likelihood has to cause great discomfort for a lot of folks so here we are you now got Lyndon Johnson who is in many ways the accidental president precisely not wanted as the vice presidential choice because so many of those around Kennedy knew him to be far too conservative far too brutal in his appetites to be the right man for the golden days of the Kennedy ites but of course Kennedy got elected because of Lyndon which was always quite unpalatable
to many of my friends among the Kennedyites so here we are 64 the president is getting ready to consolidate his heritage because the things which had been initiated or at least spoken of by Kennedy repending most notably civil rights which would be sort of the final little blow to the fracturing but that was yet to happen of a south what is what is like America look like and feel like at that moment it's kind of like the black and white world sure almost almost like a 50s American when you look at pictures from your books well it's one of the more interesting things is to look at some of the pictures of democratic party rallies in 60 and it's amazing is everybody on it except of course black folks and they're just these huge things it was still in that way the America despite all this trauma it was still in many ways the America which my parents and well maybe my parents parents
they would have been traumatized by Catholic but it was a it was not vastly changed in many ways we had however had not great economy in the last few years I mean Jack Kennedy actually gets elected because they've been downturned and they had difficulties immediately in his own time yeah well it stopped being tranquil I mean I have to say that because while we had gone back to war again in Korea and people had been really screwed over by being called up into that war nonetheless we had had a long period of steady economic growth we had had a period in which the notion of the permanent middle class was born and seemed
to become real and it was for an awful lot of people and a lot of people it wasn't but amazing in American history how much we were a middle class country as opposed to our real history before then I never forget the appliances to look at those ads is to be reminded of two things one how wondrously seen and two how naive we were about what the effect would be liberating my wife hell no but I mean but it seemed to be a liberating thing and so I mean there were any number of things and the cars of course were arrogant chariots and all the good stuff about about the new permanent consumer economy which was going to be a value to everybody you try to tell me that my little short-haired cut looking like some Princeton graduate was not the trend center of course we all looked alike I think I'm trying to think about it I guess by the time I got out of high school
there were of course the grease boys I mean there was hair to some degree after all they don't make musicals and that was based on truth some grease had to speak to something but basically the aspirational thing was to have a very narrow lapel and have a very narrow cut and to go out into the world with a very narrow tie and live in a very narrow world of quite clear circumstances in which you advanced in one place and that was that were you mad man? were we mad man? I never had the chance to be a mad man they wouldn't hire me but I mean no I was in a different world of course down in Mississippi in many respects we were well off enough to yet meet that particular standard and women were equally carbon cutouts and you look at the average homemaker in those ads and stuff it's just remarkably well it's plastic I mean it was a terrible thing actually because by that time women actually were going to school
I mean for that matter so we're men I mean to hire education which was a new thing in this nation and they were coming out educated and I can remember working in the 50s at a newspaper down in New Orleans and the three of us who were roaming together dated three women all of whom we married all of whom had gone to university all of whom come out quite bright quite able and went promptly to home and raised babies and took care of daddy when he came home and had the martini ready and if you think that that was a character true you had to see my house I had martini hello honey I'm home you sure martini dear and now not everybody was drinking martinis everybody drinks them today I do but I mean it was all part of the pattern and it was a waste of many many people's talents among the women not all of whom wanted to work but most of them found it unthinkable. So that's a great way of summing up the consensus if you want to call it that's existing and
then JFK is killed. How do you make sense of that break in the American society? I was just reading which takes 500 years Stephen King's novel about the possible alternatives if you had time traveling going on and what it did or didn't mean that he was killed. We were not idiots we did not actually believe that the world was firmly implanted I mean terrible things that happened by God I mean a couple of wars and succession a succession of shocking events before Jack Kennedy but mainly not involving whites and the assassination of the president though it was unfortunately in the novelest of American traditions which was assassinate presidents was a shocker beyond shockers because he represented the future and here he was cut off he was the dream president for many people God knows not all who
was going to sort of liberate us and at the same time guide us into a better future for everybody in which we met our obligations to the world we met our obligations to the Constitution and we were led by a charming good-looking person with a good-looking family with bright people all around him and so he goes and who succeeds and then Johnson and Johnson is not a figure of great popularity in the general public he is well known as an operator in the Senate and a damn good one but you've got Lyndon nobody's more aware than Lyndon of what people are doing with the comparison between the two but you understand whatever happens to the country one of the things that happened in Lyndon Johnson was he was immediately enfolded in the martyrs aura and in the pull of the martyrs programs such as it was at that point and it has it had been partially articulated so he who actually
as it turned out wanted to finish the business of a new deal it's given this essentially open path but he's smart enough to know how to take it of course he's his instincts are there I mean the man the man I mean Bob Carroll from book to book he has a slightly but I mean the guy was a master a master politician and he was a man who somehow could put his hand on the knee of both Hubert Humphrey and Senator Walter George of Georgia or Jim Eastland of Mississippi and and get him all just I would say now boys you know we're going to work this thing through I know it's costly to you but we got we got to do it and he could do it beautifully he at that point I mean he was dealing with a full deck against empty plate as I say so and he did it I mean God almighty but we're still here at the beginning of the year
we don't know it's actually all going to happen yet he he doesn't get his incredible super majorities until the election itself of 64 but before he has that he has already done something which hasn't been done since the Civil War which is begin the process of making the South lose the Civil War second time one first Civil War in the long run but it was in the process it began in a big way with Linda he's he's kind of a you know his his majority of nickname was landslide Linda certainly so he's got a lot at stake he does psychologically and everything else in terms of this is an election you're coming up right absolutely looking in his mind on January 1st what's his what's he thinking now being in London's mind is place I'm not sure I can go but I
mean it's clear I mean he was not just like Lyndon Johnson but like a lot of southerners still really defensively bitter about the esteem he was not held in by Yankees and by liberals and the like and he knew that what he had to do if he was going to consolidate his position as president on his own was to move an agenda which would take that wing of the party and hopefully the nation along a path which they sort of thought Jack Kennedy wanted to go he I think understood he had to move really fast because those things are it's fashionable to talk about windows at shut but the fact is they do and he made damn sure it wasn't going to shut before he got done what he wanted to do looking back now today's spinelessness it was an unbelievably ballsy thing it was amazing it was amazing I mean he was not an easy guy to like but I'll tell you
at this point in history as well as then I said thank you thank you for delivering this creature at this moment into our presence and to be our president because he's a guy who wherever he is in his heart of hearts is a guy trying to make good on the American promises and and he did to a degree that it's hard to imagine Kennedy ever could have even come close I don't believe that in fact as careful as he was he would have done it he in any case we'll never know because he was never given the blessing of a completely blow away congress I mean he was always having to Kennedy look over his shoulder at a rules committee in the house run by recidivist idiots and by you know barons in the senate who never really trusted him because he was never there as senator and they saw him in some ways as a sort of well playboy the western world and he couldn't move him without Lyndon and which of course had to hurt on the other hand every time I say something
like that to a person who was close and dear and they're those still alone who were with Jack Kennedy they say I'm full of it that Jack Kennedy knew precisely where he meant to go in the second term and he would have done what Lyndon would have done and I trust them to believe what they're saying I just don't quite see it on the basis of his record yeah the state of the union is a huge moment for Johnson yes what's it state for him at that moment and what's he what's he got to do well yeah yeah I was gonna say he's done his consoler in chief he's done his unity speech as we are together going on from here on what he has to really do yeah if you could just do exactly you just did flashback to that let us continue moment sure and just say you know not sure but it'd be great if you could say let us continue speech because that's got you we're
gonna remember yeah he's already he's already had to appear once well sure and he was in a highly ritual moment in which he has to say to the people in the letters continues speech that we are going to go forward with the heritage we are going to make good on the promise we are people who are not going to be destroyed by this we are going to go on out and that was important because it said two things simultaneously I am the inheritor of and the fulfiller at that moment of what you elected and second that I am to be trusted not only rhetorically but I promise you we're going to be speaking as Americans to get on with it and there had been even then we talk about divisiveness now there was brutal divisiveness in those days and increasingly so across the south but I mean after all when Jack Kennedy was assassinated I had a reporter
working for me who had come from Dallas in the Dallas morning news and he was like many people convinced that Dallas had produced the killer because of the right wing crazies that were already there in place and implacably implacably hate filled about the events of Jack Kennedy's election and what have you so that it was necessary to try to say an effect all right look we've gone to the brink here now let us go along with it and do and to make good it is all important it is all important but continuity and the best of our instincts I mean and that was represented by Jack but then he has this next huge challenge which is the state of the union and what is my program as opposed to what was the continuation program that's always a trick even when it's not a dramatic page turner in a real way it's always a trick to give a speech that
both summons people rhetorically to some kind of objective of higher value than just but also to say hey here things that are sure specifically doable and we're going to do them and to say here's where we go forward in truth as opposed to rhetorically now my wife who never really my then wife who did not really ever take to Linda always thought that he was sitting there beessing everybody I of course was being churned on with every other word and was thinking great and it didn't matter to me that he did not look like the most sincere man in the world and often he did not but I loved what he was saying and I love the possibilities of it and I knew already that there was a counter force at work arising largely from elements in the South and elsewhere to undo it all and to get about it so yeah I was and what's interesting
to me is reading Carol about you know he gets the biggest headlines after the thing is that his budget is going to be smaller than Kennedy he loved that it was an incredible thing do you remember what the budget was no I mean it was it was it was um it was an asterisk in today's budget and he was so determined that his budgets would not go over and I'm making this up because I don't remember anymore 100 yeah 100 he was so determined that it wouldn't but of course he took social security out of the equation so that it couldn't be as it always had been part of it because that was that was a I mean Linden was Linden understood it end of day we all want all the goodies and we don't want to pay for him and so you know he was trying very hard to understand I mean to deal with that and that was you see again it's amazing you see because then you're suddenly reminded he actually knew something about poverty I mean he had seen it up close he hadn't been in
his limousine as he drove around being a liberal he had been down in a poverty stricken place and he was an old new dealer in his heart in many ways and here he had this chance again to do something which in all truth had not been attempted lots of great things came out of the new deal not least being the belief that's ultimately ought to put a floor under people but attacking poverty in a nation which is fond of quoting the wrong half of a biblical quote about the poor you shall always have with you except the remainder of that quote is and therefore you must pick up the task to undo their poverty but we forgot that half of it and always just use the the poor you shall always have with you and Linden said in effect they don't have to we are too rich too able we will over could wait and say overcome at that point but I mean when it was a wonderful thing yeah stirring I forgot he watched his dad lose the ranch he watches that yeah so if this
was a personal thing it couldn't help but be personal and he had watched a fair amount of failure not merely of his dad around him and he had seen people walk away from the land because they couldn't hold it I mean he was look he comes out of every black and white news reel you ever saw about the 30s and the 20s and he knew it all he knew it up close and personal and there are two ways to deal with it if you come out of that background one is to kick the ladder away and the others to say not for others what I had to see an endure we're going to change it and he strangely enough not strangely what am I saying that's patronizing he decided by God he was going to make that latter secure and let him come up let's go now can you do any touch it for me and you good mine the other thing that he talks about is civil rights equally forcefully
and they're completely they have to be and again in some ways this is a root of some of our problems today the genius of the new deal was that what it did to lift people was seen as something which was across the board it wasn't just good for poor people it was good for most Americans I mean social security was a thing out there now the fact it wasn't good for most people because at that point the economy and their employment patterns were such that a lot of people including mostly blacks were not covered doesn't matter always the new deal was quite aware but it had to have this base of the middle class behind it and that therefore you did things which were universal rather in particular when you pair the poverty war in time with the civil
rights thing in time you risk and probably harvest a great deal of connection in between the black people or the poor people what we're paying for for anti-poverty workers to pay black people for being poor and we are after all to be blunt about it erase this nation and certainly erase the South and so it meant that you came out of the gate and we did full of enthusiasm full of really fervently involved youngsters and ulcers in the poverty war and fervently involved people in civil rights turned out to be about the same people and there were a bunch of folks ultimately that were not part of that consensus in the involved sense and that became later a difficulty politically at the time again I'm saying holy god is this wonderful I mean we haven't had a president speak with fervor and honesty about race in my lifetime
period and Harry Truman was a wonder and he had done some things which are unthinkable but they were executive order type things and nothing else and that's utterly unfair to Harry but it was a long long road between Abraham Lincoln who wasn't that big on the racial side himself and and this guy right great the speech is incredibly not just you but incredibly well received people call it masterful and call Johnson presidential which is exactly what I think he was over the time course but not everybody's applauding what is Barry Goldwater it's really oh well they think that it was the final step yeah Barry Goldwater who strangely
enough was a pretty decent man was nonetheless of a frame of mind as were many in the Republican right and even some in the center convinced that most government intervention was socialism with a new face and that massive intrusions into matters of choice and of like was both an American and communist in one way or another and Barry who again I mean if you want to see a decent man I mean it was a good decent man was nonetheless not able to connect the personal aspect of decency to the need for action in the larger sense so he saw a great threat to America and he was almost the perfect embodiment of the reaction against these things because he didn't have a Southern accent he was a man who could speak about principle without sounding like he was saying you pardon my French nigger nigger never which was all the boys in the south it barely bring
themselves not to and fighting against these things he also was the next step toward the right wing of the Republican parties casting off of establishment Republican control no it'll be Tom Dewey was faced down by Derksen in 48 and said you have let us down the road for the last time and that was the notion of the conservatives that the establishment Republicans were themselves not true fighters for principle and here comes here comes a guy who also is able to say to them let's go where the ducks are and appealing to the anti civil rights aspect of the reaction he was beginning the process of reshaping the electoral map from what had been frozen from reconstruction on into something we now are seeing the fulfillment he he also had some good speech writers and what's really strange about some of his most famous ones which caused all of
our next twist and our hair to rise all in those next you know moderation in the defense that's a great not libertarian secret American statement except coming out of him is sounded like a clarion call to extremism maybe it always is which is not a bad thing about it since I don't believe in moderation in the defense of liberty but he had you know he had some good speeches for that purpose
American Experience
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Interview with Hodding Carter III, Newspaper Editor, part 1 of 6
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It was the year of the Beatles and the Civil Rights Act; of the Gulf of Tonkin and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign; the year that cities across the country erupted in violence and Americans tried to make sense of the Kennedy assassination. Based on The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by award-winning journalist Jon Margolis, this film follows some of the most prominent figures of the time -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan -- and brings out from the shadows the actions of ordinary Americans whose frustrations, ambitions and anxieties began to turn the country onto a new and different course.
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Politics and Government
American history, African Americans, civil rights, politics, Vietnam War, 1960s, counterculture
(c) 2014-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: NSF_HODDING_034_merged_01_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1920x1080 .mp4 (unknown)
Duration: 0:28:32
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Chicago: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Hodding Carter III, Newspaper Editor, part 1 of 6,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Hodding Carter III, Newspaper Editor, part 1 of 6.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 26, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; 1964; Interview with Hodding Carter III, Newspaper Editor, part 1 of 6. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from