UGA Libraries Logo

Interview with Judge Griffin B. Bell, June 15, 2004

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:11 - Introduction

Play segment

Partial Transcript: We're pleased and honored this morning to talk with Judge Griffin B. Bell.

Segment Synopsis: Bill Shipp introduces Judge Griffin Bell and comments on the history of his career.

00:01:00 - Public school desegregation / Decision to desegregate the University of Georgia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Judge, we won't start from the very beginning just yet. But let's go back to 1959 when you were Chief of Staff to Gov. Ernie Vandiver.

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses the Southern states' desire to close the public schools in response to the Supreme Court ruling on integration. He discusses how the Sibley Commission repealed state laws prohibiting integration in order to allow local-level decision-making. He recalls the decision over the integration of the University of Georgia and its impact on spurring the public school desegregation process throughout the state.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Ernest Vandiver; Jim Gillis; John Sibley; Little Rock Nine; Sibley Commission; University of Georgia; democratic participation; integration; public schools; segregation

00:08:09 - Managing Kennedy's presidential campaign in Georgia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Let's move up to 1960, and you were co-chair of the Kennedy campaign in Georgia, and I believe that was a high water mark for the Democratic Party in this state.

Segment Synopsis: Bell talks about President Kennedy's help in releasing Martin Luther King, Jr., from jail. He discusses his involvement in managing Kennedy's presidential campaign in Georgia. He describes the campaign as the high-water mark for the Democratic Party in Georgia and attributes the success to the Democratic majority in Congress. He discusses the successful Kennedy rally held at Warm Springs, Georgia, that drew on Franklin Roosevelt's campaigning style.

Keywords: Democratic Party; Ernest Vandiver; John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Oscar Mitchell; Warm Springs, Georgia; campaign management; civil rights movement; political organization; presidential election; rally

00:12:37 - Work on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Partly as a reward for that and partly because of your great legal talents, you went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which turned out be another battleground of integration.

Segment Synopsis: Bell reflects on his work as a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He discusses the U.S. Supreme Court decision which extended jurisdiction of the federal courts to the state level, and the subsequent abolition of the county unit system in Georgia. Bell also comments on his extensive work with school busing cases and his reasons for ruling against school busing. He reflects on his role in increasing racial and gender judicial diversity and not serving on the Supreme Court.

Keywords: Baker v. Carr; Elbert Tuttle; Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals; U.S. Supreme Court; United States v. Ross Barnett; busing; county unit system; diversity; integration; segregation

00:19:21 - Work in private sector / High profile corporate cases

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You resigned in 1979, and then...

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses his work in the private sector, which included high-profile corporate cases. He comments on the E.F. Hutton case, which set the precedent for future corporate investigations. He also comments on his participation with the Exxon Valdez case.

Keywords: Dow Corning; E.F. Hutton investigation; Exxon Valdez; King and Spalding; check kiting; private sector

00:22:05 - School busing controversy in Taliaferro County, Georgia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Taliaferro County, tell us about what happened there.

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses the investigation into segregation in Taliaferro County, that had been spurred by the barring of African Americans from a public swimming pool. Bell talks about the march on the capitol by schoolchildren organized by King in protest to the continuing school segregation in Augusta. Bell remembers his deeply unpopular idea to put the school system in receivership to the state superintendent in response to a civil disobedience event planned by protesters.

Keywords: Augusta, Georgia; Carl Sanders; Frank Scarlett; Lewis Morgan; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Roy Harris; Taliaferro County; busing; civil disobedience; integration; march; receivership; segregation

00:30:38 - Relations with notable Southern lawyers / Estrangement between Senator Russell and President Johnson

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Did you ever meet with Dr. King?

Segment Synopsis: Bell talks about his relationships with various civil rights lawyers. Bell discusses the nomination and confirmation process of federal judges. He also discusses the nomination of Alex Lawrence for district judge, the opposition Lawrence encountered, and the repercussions of President Johnson's overruling on future judicial nominations.

Keywords: Alex Lawrence; Charlie Block; Drew Days; Lyndon Johnson; Ramsey Clark; Richard Russell; Southern Railroad; confirmation process; judicial blocking

00:37:51 - Works as Attorney General / Early friends and education

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well, you ought to know something about.

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses his process of confirmation as Attorney General and the opposition he faced in the Senate. Bell talks about his early friendships and his admiration for certain lawyers. Bells also reflects on the changes he implemented within the Department of Justice and the FBI as Attorney General.

Keywords: Attorney General; Carl Vinson; Department of Justice; FBI; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Frank Myers, John Sibley; confirmation process

00:48:07 - Diplomatic and Defense roles / Support of George H.W. Bush / Iran-Contra

Play segment

Partial Transcript: In 1980, you led the American Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and you served as co-chairman of the Attorney General's National Risk Task Force on Violent Crime.

Segment Synopsis: Bell comments on his involvement in Cold War era international politics. He comments on his support of Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush., as well as his support for other Republican candidates. Bell also discusses advising Bush about the Iran-Contra controversy.

Keywords: Cold War; Florida election controversy; George H. W. Bush; Iran-Contra; Soviet Union; presidential election; terrorism

00:58:31 - Treatment of military prisoners / Hasenfus espionage / MLK assassination investigation / Identity of Deep Throat

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Coming forward a little bit, you also were an adviser to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on military tribunals.

Segment Synopsis: Bell discusses his part in revising the rules for military tribunals as well as his views on the treatment of prisoners. He comments on the controversy over the Robert Hassen espionage case as well as the Eugene Hasenfus hostage crisis in Nicaragua. Bell talks about his decision to reopen the investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and speculates about the possible identity of the Watergate source Deep Throat (who he believes may have had ties to Russia).

Keywords: Cold War; Deep Throat; Donald Rumsfeld; Eugene Hansefus; Guantanamo; Iraq War; Joseph Lowery; Robert Hanssen; Watergate; military tribunals; treatment of prisoners

01:13:41 - U.S. political involvement in world affairs / Comments about international political organizations

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You're an old Mercer man, but in 1998 you were the 73rd recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the University of Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Bell reflects on the transition between the Old South and the New South. He also comments on the impetus of political change and the process of adjusting to and leading that change. He compares the political leadership between the old and new generations and comments on the Occupation of Iraq, the future of the South, and the roles of international political organizations and leaders.

Keywords: Greatest Generation; Middle East; NATO; New South; Solid South; leadership; political change; spread of democracy

01:21:56 - Conclusion

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Our very patient and gracious guest today has been Judge Griffin B. Bell...

Segment Synopsis: Bill Shipp concludes the interview by highlighting the length of Griffen Bell's public service career and thanking him for the interview.