Joseph Rauh Text of Interview (January 16, 1992)Catherine Nugent2022-05-18T15:23:22-04:00
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Oral History of Joseph L. Rauh, Jr.
Conducted by Robert S. Peck
January 16, 1992
The second matter for the foundation was the relationship between
liberals and communists. You had in this country a united front; it was perfectly open. Actually,
there had been some grumblings about the united front in the ’39 to ’41’ Nazi-Soviet pact. That’s
when I had my experiences with those who didn’t want to prepare for war and didn’t want to help
save England: But Russia was our ally in the war. The pact was over. The united front was
back, but then in 1946 you began to see the differences.
One of the great spiritual leaders of the ADA!’ was Reinhold Niebuhr who I think
said it best in a statement i just love to quote. Reinnie said, “I don’t believe in my country right
or wrong, especially when it’s not my country.” And that summed up how we felt about the idea
of Stalinism If you think that civil liberties are your or my beacon, how can you be part of a
group that says yes to whatever Stalinists wanted? And that was pretty clear.
Jim Loeb wrote a letter to the New Republic in May, I think, of ’46, making this
point. Oh boy, the __ hit the fan. I mean there were communists in many important media.
Boy, they went after Jim with an axe but Jim had the perseverance of a dynamo. I am speaking at
a memorial service for Jim a couple of weeks from now. He is hard to descnoe. He was not easy
going. He was so right on everything and so persevering in what he wanted to do that he was
quite a wonderful human being. He’d been for the Spanish loyalists; he wanted to prepare for
war. He had been a socialist with Norman Thomas but, when Thomas was anti-war, Jim and
Reinnie and some others broke with Thomas. The socialist party was quite divided over the war.
Americans for Democratic Action.
And then Jim led this new group. When it was formed, I think the headline in The
Washington Post the day after we started the new group – I guess that would have been Sunday,
the 5th of January – on the front page was “Liberals Without Reds.” That was what was
newsworthy. I don’t think if Truman had continued with the people that had been around
Roosevelt or with the ideas that had been around Roosev??t that probably wouldn’t have sparked
it – breaking with the Communists wouldn’t have sparked it. But the two together kind of created
a situation where the ADA had an immediate success and then we went on in.1948. We beat the
pols. Well, we beat the machinery of the Democratic party and came out for civil rights. But we
had the politicians, the big bosses were with us.
Mr. Peck: Let’s talk little bit about the development of the civil rights plank
for the Democratic Convention. Was that when you first started an association with Hubert
Mr. Rauh: The ADA was before that. On January 4th of ’47, it’s formed. In
March, there is a conference in the Middle West, trying to build ADA in the middle west. Two
people were there that were very significant figures in American political life. One was Hubert,
the mayor of Minneapolis. The other was George Edwards who was Chairman of what they
called the Common Council. It was the City Council of Detroi?. George Edwards later was on
the Sixth Circuit, still is but he’s quite sick, and Hubert became what he was. Well, this was a
very successful conference.
Adlai Stevenson came and didn’t join. He was Hamlet always; wonderful, we
loved him, but he was Hamlet. He came but he didn’t join. Hubert made one of his stemwinders.
Oh, God, it was wonderful, and I fell in love. So, Hubert and I were close friends from March
But the way the civil rights thing started was we naturally had civil rights as part
of the platfoITIL You could not have a liberal organization without civil rights, and Roy Wilkins
has given us lots of credit for what we did as the leading white civil rights organization. We
weren’t the leading civil rights organization by any manner of means. The NAACP, Urban
League, there were a lot of wonderful groups.
Well, I think this was evidence of Jim Loeb’s genius in ’48 when Truman was at
the bottom of the barrel and there were lots of desire to dump him ADA was in on that. Paul
Porter came to me one day and said I have got a message for you. I said, “What is it?” He said,
the President told me to tell those hberal creeps in the ADA that anybody sitting behind this desk
where I am sitting – . ” I think the word that Truman used was “any shit sitting behind this desk
could get himself renominated and I’m going to.” At any rate, he did. But, and this would have
been quite – with nothing else at the convention but the renomination – it would have been quite
a blow at the ADA Jim Loeb thought of making the fight on the civil rights plank, and we all
rallied ’round. It was that that made it look like we were a big part of the Democratic party. And
while I’m supposed to be the author of the plank, it really has no authorship. It grew over weeks,
Jim was the mastermind in the organization. A letter went out to all the delegates
from Hubert, Jimmy Roosevelt who was chairman in California, and Bill O’Dwyer who was the
mayor of New York about this. We were going to have a real plank. It was beautifully organized
and beautifully carried out there. We won – we did win because we had – you got to give credit
to a lot of places, not just to Hubert, me and the people at the convention there that day. We
have to give it to Henry Wallace because one of the best arguments we had on the floor was: are
you going to turn the black vote over to Henry Walla?e who is going through the South doing
things that were quite wonderful? And we don’t want that.
I argued to the bosses, Jack Harvey, David Lawrence out of New York, Frank
Haig and all these bosses – well, don’t you want the blacks to support your local tickets? Well,
anyway, they were wonderful. These guys, oh, what a gem, B? Green in Philadelphia, all these
guys. Here were a bunch of hberals. We hated their guts, and they hated ours. Here, we’re
strolling around the convention together – and they won it for us. Look, I think we got every
vote from Illinois. You -don’t get every vote from Illinois if J ak:e Harvey doesn’t want you to get
every vote from Illinois.
So there are lots of people who deserve great credit. But I guess no one more than
Hubert and his beautiful speech. I think the guy is still living who wrote that speech. Milton
Stewart was his name, and Hubert put in a few things I think probably that line that it’s time for
Democratic party to come out. of the darkness of ?tates rights and. into the sunshine of human
rights. As far as I know, I have never read that Milton died, but he was the ADA staff in New
York and he was there with us. We needed a speech Hubert delivered it as only he could.
Hubert could take a lousy speech and deliver it good, but this was a good speech Anyway, we
did win by a substantial margin. That morning, Dave Niles on the floor said to me, “You’re
ruining the -career of the greatest prospect the Democratic party has had for years. I said, “What
the hell are you talking about, Dave.” He was Truman’s civil rights guy in the White House. He
said, “Well, you are going to ruin Hubert Humphrey and not going to get 15 votes.” I said,
“yes?” You know, Truman wrote in his memoirs that he had written the minority plank, but the
absurdity of that is that the Missouri delegation voted against it. The Kentucky delegation of
Alben Barkley voted against us. The Chainnan of the Democratic party, McGrath of Rhode
Island, voted against us. It is pretty clear that the bureaucracy was on the other side but what had
happened was a bunch of crazy hberals with a wonderful speaker and the city bosses upset the
machinery of the Democratic party.
Mr. Peck: Well, sometime after that you were said to have claimed that the
only difference between the ADA and the Democrats was that the ADA believed in the party
platform and the Democrats didn’t.
Mr. Rauh: I said that, and I think there is a great deal of truth in that. But we
really – you know, take historians. Arthur Schlesinger has got a piece somewhere in the last
month saying that platforms don’t mean anything. Well, platforms can mean something. I wrote
Arthur a letter and said that I think that’s not a helpful thing to write; platforms should mean
something. The fact that politicians don’t follow them is only a measure of their care for
platforms. Well, we cared for it and that turned the tide. You know, I think historians will one
day say that when the ADA tied civil rights to the masthead of the Democratic party in ’48 they
changed things. Now, from the point of view of the Democratic party that may not be so good,
because civil rights today has lost the white vote. We have to count on Hispanic, black, Chinese,
poor, homeless, every goldarn thing to make up for the fact that the majority of whites are against
us just because of this. But I am only saying that this was a historical event. I think that one day,
when we’re all gone and they’re not going to know who the hell we were, that they will say this
was a big event in life there.
Mr. Peck: In 1949, I read you had an early run in with LBJ over the
!eappointment of Leland Olds to the Federal Power Commission and. that some people think that
Abe Fortas put LBJ up to that.
Mr. Rauh: Well, now there’s a dispute on that. I thought so, but I have a letter
from Abe Fortas saying that I was wrong. The Fortas role in that, to my mind, bas never been
resolved. If I had to guess, if St. Peter asked me, I’d tell him I think he was involved but I don’t
want to say that I know that – Abe said it wasn’t true.
ADA fought for Leland Olds but Johnson just wrecked it, and I _have always
thought that Abe was in_ on that but I now would rather say: Well, I thought it then, and I am not
sure of the answer. Abe has written me a letter saying it wasn’t true, and I suess I want to believe
Mr. Peck: I also found in 1949 another D.C. Circuit case. Brotherhood of
Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen v. Graham.’£!
Mr. Rauh: You know that case went to Supreme Court. What happened was
the railroads and the white union of locomotive firemen entered into an agreement that you
wouldn’t have black firemen – that’s the essence of it. We brought a suit under the Steele cas# to
say that was illegal but the union couldn’t discriminate against people in the bargaining unit.
Now the blacks couldn’t get in the union but the union bargained for them because they were part
of the unit. And they made this thing called the Southeastern Carriers Agreement which was so
outrageous. At any rate, this was not one of the Circuit Court’s finest hours. We brought a suit
175 F.2d 802 (D.C. Cir. 1948), rev’d 338 U.S. 232 (1949).
Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 323 U.S. 192 (1944).
to outlaw the Southeast Carriers Agreement and, under Steele, we were entitled to that. We got a
preliminary injunctiqn from Judge [Alexander] Holtzoff, who was not what you would call any
great radical, and we were feeling pretty good about that. They went to the court of appeals and
they got the thing upset. What was the Judge, what was his name, the Chief Judge of the D.C.
Circuit, [Harold M.] Stephens. I think you missed one, but my name wouldn’t have been on the
brief and I think we will have to come back to that – ask me to tell you about Landis.
Mr. Peck: Okay.
Mr. Rauh: Do you know the Landis case? Let’s try to remember what
happened in Graham. I went for cert., got cert., and the [Supreme] Court reversed it, which was
an important case in my life because we got paid something, not much, but something. We were
rather on the edge and were going to make a go of it only taking public interest cases. But the
Graham case, if you look at it, is absurd, and the Supreme Court made that perfectly clear during
the argument. But I was in on a case there that was also wrong, I believe. It was called Landis V.
North American Co. It’s the Holding Company Act case. The Holding Company Act was
passed in 1935. Ben Cohen and Tom Corcoran deputized themselves to run it. They got an
order from [Attorney General Homer] Cummings that they were to be in charge of that litigation,
so I worked on that litigation.
Well, when I say there was a flood of suits, I do not use that word lightly. There
were more suits against the – there must have been 50 or 75 suits. So Ben Cohen who was the
greatest tactician lawyer I have ever seen. I don’t say that be is the greatest lawyer. I don’t know
that he would know bow to cross-examine Tony Boyle and he probably wouldn’t have been able
4 85 F.2d 398 (D.C. Cir.) rev’d, 299 U.S. 248 (1936).
to, but this is what he did for tactics. He announced – he had the Attorney General announce that
they wouldn’t prosecute anybody for not registering under the Holding Company Act and the first
thing you had to do was register. Nobody would be prosecuted until the Supreme Court decided
the constitu?ionality. So th?y brou?ht one suit against Electric Bond & Share Co. which is the
suit that upheld the Holding Company Act several years laterY But for North American and
others that were plowing ahead – some just let it lie, he moved for a stay in the district court
before a Judge Bailey, I think was his name, an old Wilson appointee. I learned a lot about the
right judge makes a big difference from Ben and Tom I think we had a Wilson appointee as our
judge and he gave us – oh, not only did we have a Wilson appointee but Ben called up the
Attorney General and said, “Tom and I think it would be well, if you’d argue the case. It wouldn’t
take you more than five minutes to argue for the stay.” So here is the attorney court of the United
States on a lousy stay motion in the district court arguing it. Well, we obviously won. They
went to the court of appeals, and the court of appeals again issued a lousy decision. By the time
it got to the Supreme Court, I was law clerk to Justice Cardozo so he said why don’t we not talk
about the case. So we didn’t, but that was another case where I bad worked on the court of
appeals. But the court of appeals in those days wasn’t such a good operation. Sometime we are
going to find that it moved and maybe you can help me remember things on the move. I had
[been before it] either for the government in the FCC work or the government in the Holding
Company Act as earlier contacts than the one where my name appeared in private practice.
Mr. Peck: The next thing that I have noted down brings us up to the 1952
5 Electric Bond & Share Co. v. SEC, 303 U.S. 419 (1938).
Mr. Rauh: Well, let’s hold it because that was one more. I bad a case in my
head that I wanted to mention, and we are going to stop anyway. When is – Landis is 1936 in the
district court and court of appeals and then it goes to the Supreme Court. Graham is 1949 and
· there was something I wanted to tell you and then inlipped my mind. But anyway we will
remember. It will come back to us.