Tracy K'Meyer: This is an interview with Robert Benson by Tracy K'Meyer,conducted on January 30, 2001. Again, basic biographical information even though we've covered some of this. When and where were you born?
Robert Benson: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1942. 2206 Portland Avenue,in a house that my grandfather built and my parents lived with my grandparents until their death. Me and my five brothers and sisters.
TK: Five brothers and sisters. So did you live in Portland the whole timegrowing up?
RB: Right, I went to St. Cecilia grade school because we used to ride thereevery day for a long time. Eight years. I went to St. Xavier High School. I went to Bellermine College, got a B.A. in sociology. And I went to the University of Louisville School of Law, graduating in 1969, where I got my J.D. I lived in the Portland neighborhood until 1967. I lived at home with my parents and worked at 1:00the Courier-Journal for that period. Other jobs, too.
TK: One of my questions I always like to ask people in this situation is why law school?
RB: Vietnam War. Why law school -- because I was going to go to graduate school.I wasn't going to go to Vietnam, hopefully. I was going to go to graduate school. A buddy of mine had left law school and he said "I tell you what. I'll give you my books and I won't charge you for them." I figured if I got the books that will save me some money. I'll just try to go to law school and I did. That's how it happened.
TK: You had told me a little bit before we turned the tape recorder on, butthere's a couple questions I always ask everybody. One is how and when did you first become aware of racial prejudice?
RB: My first memory of race was -- living in the neighborhood that I lived waswhite, blue collar, were adults speaking in a sense of fear of the blacks doing something that would somehow harm us or our neighborhood. I couldn't put a 2:00finger on it. There really weren't that many black people in my area. As I got older, the normal racial jokes and what not. Stereotypes. Again, it was not something that was a real important thing. When I was -- my first year in college I worked delivering drugs for Neff's Pharmacy at 26th and Portland. There were demonstrations going on at a place called Fontaine Ferry Park. In the Neff truck I would ride by with some buddies in my back, and they would probably pass the folks that were demonstrating. These were the public accommodation demonstrations. A fella that ran the place came up to me and he said "Hey, what are you doing? I'm going to lose my job." He said "that's OK to do that but don't use the truck." Within the space of a year, I had taken a course from 3:00Father Richard O'Hare, a seminar as I changed my major to sociology. The book was called Minorities in America. It just explained so much to me about not necessarily this movement but just about minorities and how they viewed things. That was my beginning to question some of the things that I had been used to just listening to and passing off without a question.
TK: Do you remember about what year that was?
RB: That would have been '65.
TK: So this is after the first wave of demonstrations in Louisville.
RB: Yes. Right, which I was not a part of.
TK: Do you remember anything else about them?
RB: Just the -- I was lucky. My parents and my grandparents were very tolerant4:00people. They were not educated in the sense of college and so forth. But we had had black women working for us in the house. They were very friendly. Everybody got along fine. But my parents didn't tolerate any using of the 'n' word or any of that stuff. Which was kind of unusual in the neighborhood because there was a lot of that. I remember being uncomfortable being with people that did. Went to St.X in high school and met a couple of guys who were black. In fact, my freshman year, Francis Cox was the first black guy I got to really know. He was the smartest person, intelligent, refined. He wasn't in any way a stereotype. So 5:00that was kind of my first experience with folks like that.
TK: So that was when you were in college, that course on --
TK: And then you said you went into law school. Was there anything betweencollege and law school, or did you go straight --
RB: No, I went straight into law school.
TK: When you were in law school were you introduced to any ideas in law schoolabout civil rights or issues like that?
RB: I became friendly with a young man named Tom Hogan. Thomas L. Hogan. He wasmy best friend. He was an Irishman from New York. His parents had moved down here to work for one of the distilleries. Tom took me on a little bit of a journey that I had already kind of started. But civil rights was his passion. He kind of took me a little bit along on that journey. We became very close friends. 6:00
TK: Was he in law school?
RB: Yeah, we were in together.
TK: Ok, he was in law school, too. I guess the first thing I said I wanted totalk about was the open housing side of things. Unless there's any activity before that that you wanted to talk about.
RB: Uh uh, that's kind of it.
TK: Let's talk in general first about open housing and then specifically you.How did it get to be an issue?
RB: Of course being of that age, you always wanted to rebel and I was certainlyready for rebellion. But I worked at the Courier-Journal. I worked in the circulation department as a newspaper carrier. I was very proud of that. I was very proud of the Bingham family and their editorial stances. I had an opportunity to -- this was not my first demonstration -- but I had an opportunity to work with a fella named Worth Bingham, who was going to be the 7:00heir apparent to that. He was going through, learning everything. What a neat guy he was. So he worked with me for a little bit. Later on that week there was a demonstration on 4th Street. We were down there marching and I look up and by God, there was Worth Bingham in the damn demonstration. I thought wow, this just validated everything. I thought even smart, rich people can kind of agree with these things. So that was kind of neat.
TK: So you were just sort of a passerby and you saw this?
RB: No, I was in the demonstration. We all met at the coffee house on MarketStreet or something. I can't remember exactly.
TK: How did you get into the demonstration?
RB: The very first time? I'm working full time and going to school. I've got my8:00beliefs but I'm whatever. My friend Tom Hogan called me up and said "Hey, why don't you meet me down at this coffee shop and be part of this demonstration." I said "Tom, give me one good reason why I should do that." He said "The girls aren't wearing bras." I went down and began my civil rights march.
TK: That's noble. So you went down the first time.
RB: So I went down and I met some real neat people. It was exciting. Being fromPortland, I didn't really have a fear of cops anyway. Years later, when I worked for the law department, some of those guys that were riding motorcycles through 4th and Broadway, I got kind of -- 9:00
TK: (attracted to them?) you might say.
RB: In a different way. So we had Martin Luther King, of course. And Abernathyand Dick Gregory was big. I remember Dick Gregory was huge then in his community. So I was part of -- we marched on 4th Street, we marched on Taylor Boulevard. I think I might have said this, we're going down Taylor Boulevard -- I can't think of the guy's name. He was a priest. Not a priest, but something. So they had their tire tools and they had a couple of abandoned houses. They were knocking off the concrete porches to get the rocks to throw at us, throw at the people. First time I saw it, I saw a couple of guys I know. They throw this thing and it kind of comes near me. Well, I picked the thing up and threw it right back at the guy and said "I'm going to get you." A black guy came up and 10:00said "No, brother, that's not what we're supposed to do here." I said "I'll see you later."
TK: ( ) You were saying you threw the rock.
RB: Yeah, because you know, I was not worried because I grew up, I knew thosepeople. They weren't going to mess with me. I lived there. Not that I was big and tough. But I knew them, I knew their parents. Some of them went to the same church I went to. And I had buddies who didn't do what I did but they were my buddies and wouldn't let anybody mess with me. That was about it. It wasn't any big deal. It was a small -- it was the black and white adults who were leading all that stuff. They were the brave people. Because I didn't care. What did I 11:00care? I remember we had -- one of the things I did in law school, I was editor of the Louisville Lawyer. I interviewed Anne Braden, which was totally unbelievable. You always interviewed some over fifty, white judge or some whatever. So I interviewed Anne Braden. I was the editor so I said "We're going to interview Anne Braden. We're going to interview Dan Taylor." We put out two editions, spring and fall semester. So we did that. I totally respected -- I remember respecting those people so much for going down with Anne. I remember she said "Would you like a poor man's old fashioned?" Which was bourbon and orange juice. And Hogan went with me. Hogan was my assistant editor. Was just 12:00fascinated by her and the sense that she made. Later I would get a call from a couple of people I didn't know. Getting crap about it. Lawyers and what not. But it didn't bother me because I didn't have any of that anyway. I didn't have anything to lose.
TK: Now was that before you had done the demonstrations or was it after?
RB: Yeah, that was after. Well, we were in law school then. The only otherdemonstration I remember was probably the Vietnam War. So that wouldn't count.
TK: A couple of questions I've been jotting down along. Tom Hogan, now Tim Hoganis his brother. And Tim Hogan is still living but Tom Hogan is not.
RB: That's correct.
TK: Could you tell me more about Tom Hogan because people mention him a lot?Since I can't interview him, obviously.
RB: He died September 9, 1984. He was my best friend who was a -- he was anamazing guy. He was one of those guys who never got the chicks. Not that he was 13:00unattractive, but he was kind of the bookworm guy. He wasn't a football player. So I don't know how he and I got to be friends. But we did. And he had such a quick study. We did a lot of fun things in the legislature. There was a fella named Norb Blume, who you may or may not have heard of. Tom went to the legislature to be an assistant to Norb. In that process, was very keen when we did things like approve the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] before anybody knew what it was. But during the ( ) stuff, we passed legislation -- by that time I was in the legislature. We passed legislation that allowed -- because Tom had this great plan. We passed this law that allowed the two districts to merge. 14:00Which up until that time Kentucky law would not allow. Tom was already planning this lawsuit to desegregate the schools. So we passed the law and then we filed the lawsuit. Tom was, of course, the primary and the main man. He was the main guy that prosecuted the lawsuit. Brought it all the way to the Supreme Court. But he became a real ladies' man. Just a real interesting guy. It was the damnedest thing. I mean, when he died, I had to call up ten ladies. But Ali was fighting then. We had A.D. Williams and Aubrey, we would all go as a group. White, black, guys, gals, and just go to these fights together. I remember Tom was quoted in a national publication once when somebody said "What are you talking about this Muhammad Ali. He took this name." He said "Hey, he's from Louisville. He's just folk as far as we're concerned." It was in the headline of the New York Times or something like that. 15:00
TK: I'm going to try to get in touch with Tim Hogan but I haven't yet. He's onmy list.
RB: You've got his number, right?
TK: I don't have his address but I know he's at St. Boniface.
RB: Right, then he's got a -- in fact, talking about Tom. I'm going to pick upSuzy tomorrow and take her for a ride. But Tim Hogan, Suzy and I got to dinner everything month or so. The Tom Hogan keeping in touch.
TK: He's on my list as sort of another rank and file open housing person. Let meask a few, just let me probe a little bit more on the open housing thing. You were talking about some of these demonstrations. Can you just walk me through what happens on a day when you're going to go to a march? How does it start, where does it start, what happens, what does it feel like?
RB: They had people that were -- of course, to me, again, I'm not the normal, Iwas just a silly kid. But to me ( ) was one of my motives. To me it just made me feel good about making a statement. That really made me feel really good. I always wondered who were these white people who were doing this stuff with this 16:00black people? How the hell does that all work? What's going on there? Then the Delahantys, they were just great. They would say "Here's the deal. Here's where we're going. Stay together. Don't straggle off. We're all going to go here together. If we get locked up, here's the number." I never got locked up. I already had that experience in Portland. I didn't need that for me. I was in law school, working hard. So when that stuff started happening I never did that. Not that I was afraid of it. I just didn't have the time to mess with it. Then they monitor people, you know, black and white people sort of around. Everybody kind 17:00of moved together. Whoever was leading the march would give us a pep talk. And then afterwards, there was always some party somewhere, something where people would go. And they partied. I mean, they had a good time. I was always in awe of these people because my conversation was not the kind -- I mean, but there again. I always wanted to have friends like this because of their intellectual abilities. Black and white. This very gruff guy kind of thing didn't work there. That was a real benefit to me because it taught me something about there's more to it than just being a big testosterone guy, or football or whatever. I'll tell you what else it did. It taught me that I could have women as friends and it didn't have to be sex objects. I didn't have to be hassling them all the time. 18:00Even when I didn't want to, I felt like I had to do that stuff. So it gave me the comfort of having that kind of thing. So today I've got real good friends, white and black, and women.
TK: What was the age range of people during the demonstrations?
RB: There weren't really any young children. I think we were probably theyoungest, at least when I was around. But they got real old. People in wheelchairs. There was a gentleman who was on crutches --
TK: I've heard about this guy but his name escapes me right now. I have heardabout him before.
RB: He was an amazing guy. He was always out in front when he was there.
TK: Wasn't that the same guy who was involved in the suit for the desegregation?His name I'm again forgetting.
RB: Of course the main was was the fella who integrated U of K.
TK: Lyman Johnson.
RB: Lyman Johnson.
TK: But I remember that person was actually on the suit.
RB: Yeah, I think you're right.19:00
TK: So I asked the age range. What about the mix of black and white? What wouldthe ratio be?
RB: It surprised me how many whites. Although I don't think the whites were themajority, but I could be wrong about that. But it surprised me how many whites were there. Especially when we went out to the South End. I thought going out to the South End, which was not my neighborhood, that some of these folks that live out there may not want to do that. But it was pretty good. We didn't have like five hundred people. We only had less than a hundred, I guess. I can't really tell. But it wasn't like some of these demonstrations. But it was, I think, more 20:00black than white.
TK: You said you never got arrested.
RB: Not for that.
TK: Do you remember any opposition people ( ) or anything like that?
RB: There was a guy that -- I mean yeah, there was that stuff. But there weresome of these people -- what I remember is when the deseg stuff was going on, those demonstrations I can remember. I can tell you a lot about that. But going back to -- there was a fella I went to law school with named Dan Kelly. We were somewhere and this girl comes up to me. Nice little print outfit. She says "Can I take your picture?" I thought "Yeah babe, sure you can take my picture." I just thought wow, she must really whatever. Then I noticed she was taking somebody else's picture. Then I see Dan Kelly and he's got a camera. I said "What are you doing?' He said "We're taking pictures of the demonstrators." And 21:00he was FBI. I said "Kelly, what are you doing?" He said -- I subsequently found out it was the FBI taking pictures of these people. I remember the Klan. But I never had much interaction. To me, the Klan were country hicks. I didn't know any Klan here in Louisville. They were from Bullitt County or somewhere.
TK: How did your participation in it end?
RB: I guess we got the ordinance passed. The demonstrations stopped for thatpurpose, for open housing and those kind of things. They passed the open housing law. I don't know when that was.
TK: So what did you do next?
RB: Got out of law school. Tom and I -- back then it seemed like there were more22:00kids in law school interested in civil rights. Not just in making money. So I got out, started practicing law. Was a prosecutor. Bored stiff. And Hogan was by that time in Frankfort in the legislature as the speaker's assistant. One night at the old house on a cocktail napkin, we laid out my campaign to be elected to the legislature. So I went and eventually got elected and eventually became chairman of the delegation to the legislature. During that time, when Tom was assistant to the speaker, filed a lawsuit and got himself caught up in a big race for governor. Republicans in Congress, in D.C., condemning the fact that this public employee, who also had a private law practice -- because Tom wasn't really, I mean, he was a public employee but he was only a part-time legislature 23:00thing. So the desegregation stuff all started. That was real -- those were demonstrations. Those were demonstrations.
TK: I have one clarification question I want to ask. You said you were electedto the legislature. What were you representing?
RB: The thirty-third legislature [district]. It was the Hikes Point, Highlandsarea. Conservative Catholic ( )
TK: That's an interesting combination.
RB: It got me in trouble real quick.
TK: Oh yeah, how?
RB: I was pro-choice, I was pro-ERA.
TK: This is what year by the way?
RB: This is seventies. I served '72 to '80. Then eventually I had to leave thelegislature for reasons of illness and fatigue. My constituents got sick and tired of me. I tell you, I lost a very close race to a pro-abortion, or 24:00anti-abortion, I should say, candidate. Bob Heleringer, who is still there. But in retrospect, that was one of the best things that ever happened to me. After that point I was supposed to be the speaker of the house, maybe, if I got elected that term. I'm really glad I didn't. But anyway, enough of that.
TK: So you ran from '72 to '80. I just want to make sure I have that. For the33rd District.
RB: I'm sorry, 74th.
TK: 74. So could you explain maybe more, just so I have it clear on the tape,the process by which you said the law that you got passed, when the districts merged. Then work our way into school desegregation stuff.
RB: Ok. And it wasn't me. I mean, I voted for it but it was Tom Hogan and it washis thing. Because back then, like a lot of what we have today, we had the poor Louisville school system buying terrible equipment, terrible buildings. Then we 25:00had this new -- well, not new -- but this Jefferson County system which was all the expansion area. So it was becoming a black Louisville, white. So there was this law that Tom sponsored that would be responsible -- and Norb Blume sponsored -- that allowed, that took away a barrier for the two school systems to merge. When that barrier was gone, they merged. Then the lawsuit was filed to integrate the one system. Even today you'll note that there is a school district in Jefferson County, the Anchorage school district, is separate. It goes back to those days when they obviously didn't want to be a part of any of that. And under the law that we changed, they didn't have to unless they merged. And they didn't merge.
TK: When this law passed, did the debate address the issue that this was going26:00to happen? Did people see this coming or did it just sort of take them by surprise?
RB: No, they didn't see it coming.
TK: Really? Because wasn't it sort of an issue around the country by this point?
RB: I think Boston may have started it back then. But it wasn't really that bigof an issue. Now, I'm not saying that some people didn't say something and some people didn't raise some issues. But when that law got passed and when the school districts merged, there was some disagreement and so forth. But nothing compared to what happened later when the lawsuit was filed.
TK: So what do you remember about the process of the lawsuit being filed? I knowyou're not really directly involved in that, but as an observer at the time.
RB: We were part of a panel that worked for the Civil Liberties Union. A legalpanel. I'm trying to remember. I think Darryl Owens was one of the original attorneys. I can't remember who else. I think I was on, originally. But I can't remember that either. But I was going to be the president of the United States so I didn't want to get caught up in that litigation. So I wasn't involved in 27:00that lawsuit. But it began. There was a trial. Judge James Gordon tried the case. There was hardly anybody in the courtroom. He said "this we will not desegregate." Goes up to the Sixth Circuit and then I guess to the Supreme Court. Then comes back down and says "Judge Gordon, you will desegregate the school system." Judge Gordon was one of those good ol' boys who knows where to go when he's got to go. He was an excellent judge in handling that desegregation. Meanwhile, in the legislature, everybody was introducing bills to stop the school desegregation. So when that happened I would get up and say "Let's not mislead people. You can't do that. Because that judge can do this legislature, can tell the school system what the heck to do and there's nothing we can do about it." I think that kind of -- helped me get out of there. But I felt good about what I did. There was a lot of threatening stuff. A lot of 28:00threatening phone calls that didn't mean anything. They called you up and said they were going to hurt you.
TK: Did you have a family by this time?
RB: Yeah, I had my wife, Donna. Been married thirty-one years this year. It wastough on them for a while. We'd go to church and take some grief. But again, I had good friends, people who believed in this. Good colleagues in the legislature, who to this day are good friends of mine. Tom was spectacular in the way he handled that lawsuit, taking on all the big law firms. Taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. Did a spectacular job. But also, I had been working for the law department as an attorney. When all these bad demonstrations 29:00were hitting, I was part of on the street group -- when they locked these people up, I was giving them legal advice, along with other people. There were some real bad demonstrations. 20,000 people coming down Broadway. It kind of got your attention.
TK: Actually, I want to ask you about that. Because I've got little glimpses ofthat, but I have to turn my tape over.
END OF SIDE A
START OF SIDE B
TK: -- but in terms of your memory, what was the sequence? How did it go fromthe court order to the demonstrations?
RB: Again, when you see the newspaper, you'll see that when the original desegcase was tried, there was very little attention. Not too many people in the courtroom. Then the Supreme Court orders it. Well, right away people started organizing. There was United Labor against busing. Jack Shore. There was -- oh 30:00golly, that's terrible. I can't think of their names anymore but there was a couple of them. One was a woman who organized a huge group. Raised a lot of money. I mean, at the Fairgrounds, had a big rally. Brought tons of cash. She left town with the cash. There was another group from Southwest. Of course, all my colleagues in the legislature were just going nuts. They didn't know how to deal with it. It was going nuts. So as it got closer and closer and closer -- I didn't have children at school age at this time so it didn't really affect me. But I was somewhat surprised by everybody getting so outraged. People started arguing. They were so frustrated. They weren't winning in the courts, they weren't winning in the legislature because there wasn't anything they could do in the legislature. They had to take their frustration out somewhere. And they 31:00did it by demonstrating, by being for people for political office that would do something about it. It was on everybody's dinner table. Are you for it or are you against it? Are you for busing or against busing? My last race that I won, I did a pamphlet, and I said "Hogan, how do I put it?" He said "you put against unneeded busing." You're going to need some of it but some of it you don't need.
TK: When you said you worked in the law department, explain that to me.
RB: Hired at contract with the law department.
TK: Is that the city?
RB: City of Louisville Law Department. Harvey Sloane was the mayor. BurtDeutche. That's somebody you might want to talk to. He was another classmate of 32:00mine from Bellermine, from law school and from St.X. He was the director of law at the time. When these bad things started happening, Burt had the mayor issue an unconstitutional order that took a year or more to get ruled unconstitutional, to give us the ability to go out and quell these demonstrations.
TK: What was the order?
RB: It gave them the power to legally take people off the street and put them ina place without an immediate hearing. But it got them cooled down. And Burt would tell a great story about that. The Corradino Group. He's president of the Corradino Group. Just tell him Benson and Hogan said to talk to you. 33:00
TK: OK. So that does sound somewhat unconstitutional.
RB: Oh, it was. Burt knew it. But we had to do something.
TK: So describe these demonstrations for me.
RB: You got good people in them. Good working people, hard working people.Primarily blue-collar people. Church going people. The white changed, but initially there were the local -- what do you call it? The Religious Society of Ministers and Priests. Kind of slow, I think, getting on it. Because we have a constituency, I guess. So there were some of the white clergy were part of these demonstrations. They lasted long. Had a lot of people. A lot of money to finance 34:00these things. They were often and in certain parts of our community, primarily out Preston Highway at the Bittersweet Shopping Center, and out in Dixie, they became violent. People used them to do some hooliganism.
TK: In what way did they become violent?
RB: Well, they were black. ( ) get bothered. Some people took it as a party todo some damage to storefronts. It just got out of hand. Got out of control. The Bittersweet Shopping Center literally turned their place -- I mean, they got people to -- I'm not sure which group it was, whether it was Jack Shore's or whatever -- to basically have the meetings. They couldn't resist them or they'd get their place tore up. The Fairgrounds. The governor allowed them to use the Fairgrounds to have this big demonstration with this woman. I can't think of her 35:00name. I wasn't there but people who were there told me there were just buckets of money coming down to stop busing. "Give us your money." Everybody's unloading their dollars. There was a coalition of busing leaders. There were call-in shows, television. The media was given high profile. Although back in those days, unlike today, the media, I mean the TV media had a conscience. They had editorial control. I think they mostly editorialized and supported deseg, as did the paper.
Now, there is a little, there was a little interesting thing. During this time36:00there was a place called the Decanter Bar at 4th and Market. It's gone now. That's where all the Democrats went. So Tom Hogan, Democrat, Bob Benson, Democrat. Jack Shore, Democrat. He's a big union guy. So a lot of us would get in there. It was kind of neutral territory. And Tom and Jack used to go at it. Just go at it. People were almost paid to come in and hear these two go at it. Not in a nasty, violent way. Just back and forth. Jack came in there one night and said "By God Hogan, they won't give me permits so my people can't march." Hogan said "Well, that's not right." He said "by God, if you're so ( ) you'll get me that permit." Long story short, Hogan, who is now -- I mean, the deseg case is over, so he has no role. Goes out, files suit for United Labor against busing and gets them a permit to march. So he and Jack were friendly in that limited area.
TK: Were there pro-busing organizations or doing anything about any of this?
RB: You had the Courier-Journal. You had after a while the religious coalition37:00spoke out. But no, the only -- nobody wanted to stand up. Because what could they do? It was already a done deal. Judge Gordon, whose marshals literally stayed with him. When he came down, here they stayed with him. In Paducah, they stayed with him in his home. He had around the clock security. Death threats. Hogan would go on television -- we'd have call-in shows, and I'd go with Tom down to the call-in shows and people would call "OK, Hogan, I'm going to be outside at ten o'clock when you leave." Of course, nobody was ever out there. He had a cross burned in his yard by the Klan. Or somebody. Who knows who it was. People followed me around in Frankfort with cameras, taking pictures of me. 38:00Having a drink with my colleagues. Had a friend, Gerta Bendl. I don't know if you know Gerta or not. Remarkable woman. She's deceased, too. There were a couple of ( ) between her. So Gert and I were buddies. We were sitting in the lobby one night. She had her feet propped up and we were having a drink. In comes Bob -- I can't remember Bob's last name -- puts it all in the newspaper. About fornicating legislators. Blah, blah, blah. Gert said "I tell you what. That's the best publicity I've had in years."
TK: So Tom was doing these talk shows and was a very visible leader. Were youalso doing the talk show stuff or were you just going with him?
RB: I was just his buddy. I didn't like the idea of him going alone. Tommy gotjumped a couple of times. Nothing serious. But he had no fear. The guy had no fear. The same people would call in, the same ones. I think at one point, the 39:00police, somebody did offer it but he didn't have anything to do with it. And basically, there really wasn't a problem. There was a lot of talk but there was never a serious attempt to do serious harm to these people that I knew about. I would just go with him. We were just friends. The media loved him. He was quite the celebrity. Which he enjoyed. He made $100,000. He spent $125,000.
TK: So what was your role in terms of doing stuff in the legislature? Or justkind of speaking in favor of it?
RB: Yes, in the legislature. The deseg case had been done. That was all there.So I was chairman of the delegation. I would just speak. My theory there was to kind of put calm on this situation. Try to calm things down a little bit. 40:00Reflect in my comments I'm from Portland. I'm not some East End whatever. Those were my people, too. But here's the reason why deseg is a good thing. Blah, blah, blah. I met a guy, he was the speaker of the house of Arkansas. It was in D.C. I wish I could think of his name. But he told me, he said "You know, I was the speaker of the house. I was the most popular elected official from Little Rock." So when they did the Brown thing, he said "I went and got the mayor and somebody else. We just need to make a statement to be calm and just not. . ." He said "I got up, by myself and said I don't have anything to worry about. I'm mister popularity. Don't resist this." He said "The next time I ran they beat me like a drum." He said "But you know what? I get up in the morning. I shave and I 41:00could still look myself in the face. I can still look at myself in the mirror. I feel pretty good about that." So that guy made me feel pretty good. Not that I did anything near that. But just -- because people would come up to me, political types and say ( ). Forget about it man, don't worry about it.
TK: Like you said, there wasn't much the legislature could do at this point.
RB: They were worried about -- in fact, that's funny because I hadn't thoughtabout it in this way. That was twenty, thirty years ago. I represent the Jefferson County Fire Protection District, which includes a lot of these volunteer fire departments. There was this woman when I started doing that a few years ago, out of Pleasure Ridge Park, "You're always against Benson. Get away from Benson." In my session we had a thing that I did that helped -- I lobbied 42:00the legislation somehow -- helped them. She said -- well, bottom line. She had been one of those people out of Southwest who knew of me as a state rep. So it was still payback time for the busing thing thirty years later.
TK: Now you've made up for it. How long did these demonstrations and stuff last?Phone calls and crisis atmosphere?
RB: The deseg stuff? They would go on a long time. I mean, a long, long time.Not that I went to them. But I had friends who went to them.
TK: Would there be a daily event or an every once in a while thing?
RB: For a while it was daily. There was a period of time where it was daily.That was in August, approaching the start of school.
TK: How long during the school year did they last?
RB: It seems to me that once the buses started going, there were problems and43:00there were demonstrations and there were people in school. But basically, people had to go to work. Children had to get an education. And people basically started toning down. The legislation had passed some stupid bills that eventually got declared unconstitutional. So maybe people were ( ) that. But it eventually died down once that school year began. Then the next year, I think it was gone. Whatever that period of time was.
TK: Here's a question. There's a couple points in the history of the movementhere that are kind of flashpoints, when all energy is focused on. Open housing --
RB: And Vietnam.
TK: And I guess earlier it was open accomodations. But while the desegregation44:00stuff was going on, were there other issues that were getting fought out too? Civil rights issues? Or was it really just focused on?
RB: Well, there were a ton of them. There was a case that we took -- not me.Again, I'm always saying me, but it was really Hogan. Nixon was in town and some Louisville police officer tore up a sign because it didn't say anything profane, but it said something not pleasant to Nixon. So I handled it locally. Took it up and had it returned. This woman was arrested. Demonstrators were arrested. So there were hair cases. Remember the hair cases?
TK: I remember -- since I've lived here there was one case of some kid in schooland then they referred back to --
RB: Oh, there were a ton of hair cases. Because by that time -- it's funny, yougo to St.X, the school of leaders and you look at them. They've got all these different classes. You start off in 1870. You see these guys with long hair. 45:00Then it goes all short until you get to the sixties and the seventies. You see the hair getting longer again. Tons of hair cases. Nobody ever won. The bottom line was schools can set that.
TK: Can make the rules they want, basically.
RB: Yeah. Gay rights began. Started coming out of the closet back then.
TK: ( )
RB: He was the main guy for the Civil Liberties Union. We went to some meetingwhere they had these guys in these gowns. Tom was saying "Here's what you've got to do." These guys said '" I don't know if I want to do that." This big old woman said "You God damn queers, you ( ).
TK: Was he head of the local ACLU?46:00
RB: He was the counsel to lawyers.
TK: For the Kentucky Civil Liberties counsel. That was until he died?
RB: No. It was certainly during the seventies and into the first part of theeighties. But I think ( ) he was practicing law and thinking about running for office. And Suzy Post -- I don't know if you've talked to Suzy -- so he was the main, I mean, I went to a couple pre-trials and these big lawyers from these big law firms would say "Judge, we have the vast resources of the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union against us and our clients." Well, that was Hogan ( ) develop a little bit. The vast resources.
TK: But the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union has donated their papers to thelibrary so I can actually get those. They have some year limit on them. 47:00
RB: I'll tell you what I'll do for you. This sounds stupid, I know. But when Tomdied in '84, what I insisted upon was that I get his papers. I've never looked at them to this day. There might not be anything in there. There probably isn't, but I'll take a look and tell you what I think.
TK: Yeah, if you could just organize them by year I could give them a quick lookand see if there's anything in there or not.
RB: Yeah, I'll talk to Tim. I'm afraid a lot of that was thrown out when wemoved, or where Tim moved. But I'll check into that.
TK: That would be great. I've had a couple people give me their -- two or threepeople have said "Here, you just take this stuff." And I'm slowly going through and figuring out what it is. What I usually like to do at the end is kind of wrap up in two ways. One is to ask you to wrap up your career, give me a timeline of what you did in legislature and what you did next.
RB: OK. Well, I left the legislature in 1980, which turned out to be a good48:00thing. I established a law firm which I'm the head of. I continued to be involved in things such as the university. Chairman of the board of the university when Dr. Sweeney was here. Remain active today. Member of the overseers and the athletic board. I was chairman of our Transit Authority of River City. Got involved in politics. I chaired David Armstrong's races for county judge and mayor. Harvey Sloane's for county judge when he ran. Remember Harvey. I have developed a lobbying practice with Frankfort to legislature. Done 49:00a lot of that. I'm trying to think. U of L, just a couple of the boards. Play some tennis. I've played tennis with the same people for twenty-one years. Every Friday at four-thirty.
TK: Yikes, my goodness. Then there are a couple of questions I like to askeveryone. Trying to begin and end the interview with similar questions. And these are very general about the civil rights movement type questions, not necessarily personal experience questions. What do you think was the most significant turning point in fighting segregation in Louisville?
RB: To me, it really wasn't the deseg case. It was the local accomodations oropen housing because for the first time, certainly since I was born, people came out of their homes and into the streets to voice their beliefs in doing 50:00something that was right and fair. It was a real rainbow. It wasn't just the blacks. It was white and black. And the more people spoke up, the more they interacted with people. So to me, in Louisville, it was that and of course it could not have been done, I believe, without the Bingham paper. Without the family supporting it.
TK: Why do you think that paper was so important?
RB: You know, we learned a lesson in Nazi Germany about how important control ofthe media is. So when you're able to control a whole nation and they don't know that's going on, or they think that is a good cause, the Binghams made sure that the reporting was fair and balanced and not inflated. And their editorials were 51:00sparkling in support of the civil rights movement.
TK: Besides the paper, what individuals or organizations would you say wereimportant leaders in the movement in Louisville?
RB: I think certainly the Civil Liberties Union. The people that were associatedwith the Civil Liberties Union back then. People that I didn't really know, who were their board members, who were their leaders. Then I think it was the religious community that came on board. The Catholic Church, the archbishop. White non-Catholic ministries. I think I can actually remember the black ministry coming together with the white ministry at some point through that. We had some bad times back then. We had crazy stuff. People being accused of this and that. Louisville Six or whatever. I think that was really important. Because 52:00then it went into the churches. And when you heard George (Bishop?), a Catholic speak out, I listened to him.
TK: What would you say were the most successful or the most useful strategies orways to bring about change?
RB: Non-violence. When I threw that rock or whatever it was, there was the lawthat this guy was saying "Here's the deal, man." Because he's right. If we had turned into that, it would have been a big melee and would have been smeared what the message was, to be non-violent, to get locked up, to go to jail and to 53:00make those statements. And the kind of people that we were. I mean, not me, but what they were. Having police records, you know, just good citizens. So non-violence, coming out of your house, going into the streets. Now I'm talking about Louisville. We all saw Ms. Smith "I saw her down. I think she's a nice lady." Or Joe Black "Hey, I worked with him out at Ford. Hell, he's for that." So I think right behind that, elected officials -- not a lot of them, but some of them, white, started standing up, being counted on. Not me, but Harvey Sloane, who was elected mayor.
TK: Norbert Blume.
RB: Norbert Blume was huge. Of course, Norbert lived probably down in Portland,actually down in ( ). He had a constituency of blacks. But Norbert Blume was 54:00huge. Frank Burke is somebody you ought to talk to.
TK: There's somebody else interviewing him for me. Somebody who knows him personally.
RB: I practiced law with Frank for twenty-five years. Frank was country beforecountry was cool. He was out front before -- I mean, my God, that man in Congress and in his term as mayor, whenever he had the opportunity he was very supportive of that. Those kind of people.
TK: The last question, and I like to ask everybody this question, is what makesthe Louisville story different or interesting or worth writing about?
RB: I guess to me what I always thought it was like what Tom Hogan said whenthey asked him about Cassius Clay. "How can you be for Cassius Clay? He's a 55:00black Muslim. Why aren't you for that white guy fighting him." He said "Hey, it's just folks." We're a family here in Louisville. We just passed merger, which I was able to chair and be involved in, or co-managed to be involved in. We're all family. We were able through the sixties and the seventies go through some real difficult times as a family and do it with not too much violence. And today, I see the race relations, and I know some of my black friends will say "wow, we're still . . ." OK, but people, just people being people getting along with their daily lives. ( ) here in Louisville. I think the fact that we've been able to go and do that as a family, as a community, without the horrible things that have happened in Boston and some other places, where the stain is still there in those neighborhoods, I think we did a pretty good job of it. 56:00
TK: That was my last question. I also think I'm about thirty seconds fromrunning out of tape.
END OF INTERVIEW