Oral History of June M. Jeffries
November 5, 2019
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. This is the sixth interview.
MR. WEAVER: Good morning, June. To start off, we’ve kind of gone in depth about this
the last couple sessions, but you became a highly regarded and successful
prosecutor in one of the toughest cities at the time in the United States,
during a pivotal period where we saw crime skyrocket, come back down
again toward the end of your career. Kind of thinking about your body of
work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office which we’ve discussed in detail, I was
hoping you would talk a little bit more about how your work fits into that
broader story and the sort of historical context in which you worked.
MS. JEFFRIES: I guess I have some things I could say. I went to what was called Felony
Ones in 1987, but it was probably in late 1988 early 1989 that our gun
violence rates skyrocketed, and with that, homicides skyrocketed, largely
due to the arrival of crack. Crack was a drug I had been hearing about in
news reports in other cities, but it had not hit D.C. yet. But once it came,
it came with a vengeance and with an unprecedented level of violence.
Most of that violence, of course, was done by Black people, and the
victims of the violence were other Black people, which is a distressing
thing for me. It is a distressing thing for me, but it was out of control and
Along with that, and I don’t mean to disparage these people or this
nation, a lot of drug dealers came to town who were Jamaicans. Often,
and around then, the weapons were getting more powerful. They had
automatics, and they didn’t shoot just one person. It would be multiple. I
think we had one shooting where women and two children were killed,
maybe four people were killed. So that was a very difficult time.
I would also like to make clear that in my work, I did not and do
not now take joy in the fact that persons were convicted and then sent to
prison to live their lives as people live in prison. So that was not a joyful
thing for me. With many of my defendants, they were young Black males,
and I was a mother of a son. I was doing this work before he was born. I
went to Felony One when he was 2, and the bulk of all that was during his
childhood and into high school.
I would look at my defendants and think of them as I do my son
but with the understanding that their lives could have been different if
many things had been different, if their mother’s pre-natal care had been
different, if her diet had been different, if their home environments had
been more serene and more nurturing, if the schools they went to, the
conditions were different, if there were more activities and things in their
neighborhoods. Because all the while, like I lived in Montgomery County,
and you have all kinds of activities and facilities in Montgomery County.
Well if it’s good for the kids in Montgomery County, it’s good for the kids
in Washington, D.C. And if they’re all in the same year of graduating
from high school, the ones who do graduate, generally speaking, had
different experiences than the ones at some of those Montgomery County
schools and are not able to compete when they go out into the world and
their lives are just different.
So I didn’t take joy in that, and I can also say this. My work was
doing homicides, which I think almost everybody’s going to agree that
those were serious crimes, and in doing homicides, I didn’t have that much
leeway, so from my point of view, you couldn’t kill two or three people
and then want me to agree to probation. That’s not happening. And yes,
it’s also true if you read the pre-sentence reports of my defendants that
almost all of them came from distressed backgrounds, if not many of them
downright awful backgrounds, and I had sympathy for that. But at that
point, if they’re standing there and they’ve got, two, three, four homicides,
I can’t focus on fixing that person. That was not my role. The defense did
that quite adequately, and sometimes they got some success, got some
what they wanted, so that’s how that was. And that wasn’t a good thing.
And I wish that wouldn’t be true.
The other thing I feel deeply is for instance I could have a case
where I might have a young woman come in, a witness, and she could be
25 and have like four or five kids, and each of the children had a different
father and all the circumstances that were going on, and you could see the
way that the mother others might interact with the children, so it was no
surprise that 15, 20 years later, those children end up in the system as well.
And everybody knew that, so I consider that to be a failure of society not
to be addressing that, both external government forces and the people
within. We have failed to address that, and things are still going on now.
The most recent discussion I had on my way here with my son,
there was a killing yesterday over one of these Popeye’s fried chicken
sandwiches. And that’s nothing new because we’ve had kids killed over
boom boxes, over North Face jackets, over Air Jordan shoes because
people take great validation in these things, and violence comes about over
acquiring these things. It’s not as if other people don’t value things. As
my son said, people get Mercedes or they buy art and stuff, but they tend
not to get into arguments at the dealership, or if they’re driving down the
street and another rich person doesn’t come and just take it from them.
They do other kinds of things, as we know. They’re not perfect. But this
violence to me is very troubling and continues to me. But as you noted,
the homicide rate has gone down considerably.
MR. WEAVER: I want to jump off on that. You typically in our interviews have been
modest about your prior work, and I want you to maybe suspend that for a
moment. Do you feel that the work you did, and the work other people
did at your office, help to make D.C. safer, help to bring crime rates
MS. JEFFRIES: I don’t know that we brought crime rates down. I don’t think that locking
people up per se brings crime rates down. Here’s an observation I would
make, and then maybe I’ll talk about the work. When I was in law school
in D.C., they changed the gun laws and they made these guns illegal, so
people had to turn in their guns. That was amazing to me because all these
people, they had them on the news, lines of people turning in their guns,
which I personally thought was stupid. Anyway, they did to comply with
the law. I lived in Montgomery County the whole time I was at the U.S.
Attorney’s office, and in Maryland, on some level, you can own and carry
weapons. I don’t know the intricacies of Maryland laws because I never
sought to own or carry a weapon, but I know that you can. I don’t think
you can argue that during the years of the heyday when things were so out
of control and we were having 400 or more homicides a year, I don’t think
you can say that D.C. was a safer place because of the gun laws that made
guns illegal than Maryland was where people could actually legally own
guns. If you say population-wise, Montgomery County was probably
around the same size as D.C. D.C. might have 400 murders in a year, but
in Montgomery County, maybe we had 10 to 20. So it wasn’t those guns
or the lack of guns that made you safer. Of course now since I’ve retired
and the Heller case and all that, all the gun laws have changed, and I can’t
keep up with what you can and can’t do, but apparently you can have
guns, and the people who want them in D.C. their workers are pushing to
expand the limits of that.
I think that our work, though, served a purpose because I worked
closely with my victim’s family members. Some of my cases I had people
who had been injured but survived, so sometimes I also had survivors I
was dealing with. I know the impact that these murders had on spouses,
on parents, on siblings, on children, and I know that there are people in
that group who if D.C. had had the death penalty, they personally would
have wanted that in their cases. I know they want people locked up
forever and a day, which isn’t necessarily what was going to happen.
Some people did get life without parole, but there is that side of it when
people are the victims of the crimes.
I also know what it’s like to live in neighborhoods that have been
ravaged by drugs. I know what the neighborhood I grew up in in Detroit,
we moved in in 1955, and then particularly after the riots and stuff
happened, I know what it was like there and the impact that drugs can
have on a community and people. So, yes. We did work that did
something. It didn’t necessarily stop other people from going out and
breaking the law. And for that matter, the death penalty, I don’t think the
death penalty really keeps people from committing crimes because they
already know they can go to prison or get life without parole and they do it
anyway so I don’t think the death penalty prevents that, and I’m not a
death penalty proponent either.
I think that in my work, and there are people who may disagree
with this, but I did have compassion for my defendants, it’s just that I felt I
wasn’t in a position to focus my attention on them. Although there are
defendants who I tried to work with the court and defense counsel in
fashioning a sentence that I thought would achieve some specific goals,
and I would for any of my defendants, whatever happened with them. In
my heart, I wished good things for them. Would they be in a situation
where that would happen, and could they come out a better person. I
hoped that they would, but that didn’t always happen, I’m sure.
MR. WEAVER: Looking back on your career, what do you think was your biggest
MS. JEFFRIES: A lot of people talk about me and the child murder cases that I had, and
when I did those child cases, I tell people okay my kids are like 8 and
younger, but they were really younger, but really 18 months and younger.
The youngest child killed was 59 days. The first child murder case I had,
that child was 10 months old. For those children, very often the person
who killed them was the person you would think would protect them more
than anyone else. It was a parent, or it could be some other relative or
somebody. I felt that those children so often did not have anyone standing
up for them in life, and I felt that it was my thing to represent them in
death and try to get justice for them. That first child that I had who was
ten months old and I had those blowups from his autopsy, I have kept
those blowups, and sometimes I look, and I think I’m the only one who
remembers them. So I probably think that was important work because
my colleagues would say I don’t know how you could do that. I could
never do that. Well I was a parent, and I did do it. I may have said that I
would go to autopsies of my victims. The very last autopsy I went to was
of a five-month-old baby boy, an African-American male, with a full head
of hair, very sweet looking, except he’s lying there on the table with his
chest cracked open and his organs removed. So yeah, I thought of those
children a great deal, and I still do.
I also think another part of my work is I have relationships with
some of my survivors or family members to this day I have relationships
with them. We’ll talk, see how they’re doing. I appreciate that, and I
think they appreciate me.
MR. WEAVER: Is there a moment in your career that you look back on that makes you the
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m proud that I was able to do my career, to have these successes that I
had, but also raise my son with the success that I have had because my
personal bottom-line feeling is this. It doesn’t matter what success I
would have achieved in my career. I would have achieved at the U.S.
Attorney’s Office if I had short-changed Rudy, and that was my number
one concern. I am glad that I worked in an office where I was able to do
both. I’m glad I worked at a time when I did because over the course of
time, advances in technology made that a lot easier. I could take stuff
home and use a computer and do things, so I could be home and work in
the evenings. I’m glad for that I would say.
I think back about my job, especially working here, but of course
in other aspects of my life, other things I’ve done, and I think of all the
interesting people that I have met or worked with and people whose names
you hear in the news, people who have done all these amazing things.
Because I consider myself to be a regular person who just did a regular
thing, but through that, I got to meet so many really cool people, as I say,
doing really cool things. And also other aspects of my life, like I told you
knowing Mrs. Parks, I’ve had a lot of good experiences because of that.
MR. WEAVER: Are there any other anecdotes about these folks that we see in the news
and people that you had significant interactions with during your career,
any good Bob Mueller stories or anything like that?
MS. JEFFRIES: Here’s what I like. I like the summer they did the public reading of the
Mueller report over at the Arena Stage. I went over there, and I did a
reading. My friend Deborah did. I will say that I never bought a copy of
the Mueller report, and when it came out, I think I was traveling and didn’t
really focus and read stuff. But of course my son would tell me, or I
would see the news or other things, so I was aware of many things
generally, but I never read it myself. I may have discussed with you how
now in retirement I like to go to the Supreme Court, and I go for
arguments. I went to two days of arguments last month. I go the opening
day of the term, and they did two criminal cases that day which were
interesting. Then I went back two days later because they did the cases
involving the gay employees who were fired and then the transgender
woman who was fired. I went for those arguments. I put my purse in a
locker downstairs. Well I went to one locker and opened it up, and there
was a copy of the Mueller report. So now I have a copy of the Mueller
report because I didn’t turn it into lost and found. I took it home.
Knowing Bob. Through my job I got to meet Stevie Wonder. You
people call him Stevie, but friends call him Steve, so I call him Steve. I
got to introduce my son to Steve. That was good, and that’s through my
job. I’m happy that right now, across the street, or down the street, at U.S.
District Court, the Roger Stone trial is going on and my former colleague
and friend Judge Amy Berman Jackson is presiding over that, so I’ll
probably go over there one day and look at that trial.
Some years ago, our former colleague Judy Smith, she was the
press person under Joe DiGenova. She left there and became Deputy
White House Press Secretary under Marlin Fitzwater with Daddy Bush.
So when Judy was at the White House, she had a group of us come over.
She contacted me, and I got a group together. We went over to the White
House. She gave us a little tour. That’s when I got to see the Oval Office.
We had lunch in the White House Mess. We got to keep the printed
menu. While we were inside, Barbara Bush was walking around, and we
saw her. Then we went outside and had our picture taken by the
White House photographer. President Bush was going someplace, so the
helicopters were taking him to Andrews, and we got a picture of his
helicopter rising above our group there. Judy Smith went on to NBC and
other things. Most famously, she is the inspiration for the character Olivia
Pope on Scandal, so Judy had a very excellent career. I’m happy to have
worked with her.
I was trying a case one time, and George Stephanopoulos was then,
this was during Clinton’s presidency, he was on the jury panel, so he’s
sitting there acting all important on his phone looking at stuff, like we got
the impression he didn’t want to be there for my murder trial. So we’re
doing voir dire, and he comes up and said whatever he said, and we struck
him. Okay, that’s fine. I went on and did my trial. Later on, I wrote
George Stephanopoulos a letter at the White House, and I said you know
what, I was the prosecutor on the case that you came for jury duty, and we
let you go, and now I want a favor. I want to bring my child to the White
House and see President Clinton. So Rudy and I went to the White House
one day. We had a tour, and then what was happening is President Clinton
was leaving to go somewhere, there was a group of people there from
Arkansas, and he was going to come out and work the crowd and shake
hands before he got on the helicopter. So we were back there, and Rudy
was about 8 to 10 years old, and I got pictures of Rudy shaking Bill
Clinton’s hand that day.
Now also there that day was the Dali Lama. So then I see the Dali
Lama and his people, and I say to Rudy, that’s the Dali Lama. Of course
8-year-old Rudy is like who, what? I said just remember he’s Richard
Gere’s friend, because Rudy knows I like Richard Gere. I’ve liked
Richard for a while.
So we did that. That’s because of my job. I liked that with my job
I’ve been shooting at the FBI range. I’ve been down to Quantico to the
labs to see the work they do. Of course I thought a lot of their work was
irrelevant. I felt what they did was interesting, but I wasn’t going to put
all that in my trial. They could tell you the bullets were all made at the
same time and stuff like that. But it was interesting listening to it.
I’ve been up in police helicopter a few times flying around. The
last time I went up I was in a rickety National Guard helicopter. The first
thing the pilot is telling us is instructions in case of an emergency. I didn’t
go up again, but I’d go up in a nicer helicopter if offered.
Things happened. I told you I liked going to the Supreme Court.
One of the things I used to do when I was working is I would arrange
group admissions ceremony and take people over, and I’ve done
individual ceremonies. I was there one time and talking to the man in the
admissions office, and another man was standing nearby wearing the
morning attire that some of them wear at the Supreme Court. Eventually
he introduced me to that man. Well, that man is named Gary Kemp. As it
turns out, Mr. Kemp had been in the clerk’s office in D.C. Superior Court,
and he recognized me from my days at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Kemp has an interesting story because his grandmother is from
Georgia or wherever, and it turns out his grandmother was the midwife
when Clarence Thomas was born. And then Mr. Kemp started his job as
deputy clerk of the Supreme Court on Clarence Thomas’s first day. When
I retired, Mr. Kemp and the other gentleman, Perry Thompson, came to
my retirement party. They gave me an autographed copy of Justice
Thomas’s book, and I tell people this to this day. I encourage people to
read his book, not because I’m seeking to change anyone’s opinion. It
certainly did not change my opinion. But I think it’s important to hear
what he had to say that explains himself and his actions. Before I actually
read the book, I was at the library and they had it on CD. I listened to it.
He read the book himself on CD. That was interesting.
So, I would also say that through my career, my son ended up
working at the Supreme Court, and after he finished college, he got the
first and only job that he applied for. He worked first as a Marshal’s aide.
They are there to assist the court, and one of his functions was he would
work the courtroom, especially they have the lawyers seating area, and
sometimes the Marshal’s aides, well any time the Justices are on the
bench, they have maybe three aides who sit behind them, and they do
things for the Justices. So you call that bench duty. Sometimes my son
had bench duty, so during those arguments, you’d have the nine Justices
facing the audience as well as those three law clerks. Only twelve people.
Then you have the clerks. A small group of people would get to look out,
and my son would be one of them.
Ultimately, my son became personal aide to Justice Kennedy for
two-and-a-half years. That was a tremendous experience for my son. My
son left to go to law school, so on his last day of work for Justice
Kennedy, they had “a working lunch” with my son and the law clerks, and
they all gave him tips for law school. The Justice told him to call back if
he had an issue or a question. I said Rudy, how many people do you think
get tips on their last day of work from a sitting Supreme Court Justice and
his set of law clerks about law school. So I was very appreciative for that.
I thought that was very special.
Justice Kennedy and his wife came to my son’s wedding. They
stayed way longer than I would have thought. They stayed until the
dancing. I didn’t even realize that until I saw the wedding video and he
danced with my daughter-in-law. Justice Kennedy was a very gracious
person. He’d walk up to people and say Hi, Tony Kennedy, and I’m like
yeah, right. I’m not calling you Tony. But he was very gracious. What I
was thinking at that moment was my mother came from the Mississippi
Delta, the daughter of sharecroppers, and she had a Justice of the U.S.
Supreme Court at her son’s wedding. So I was quite taken from that.
Subsequently, his first year of law school, his law school
inaugurated an environmental moot court competition. The Chief Justice
came out for the competition. Well Justice Roberts’s Chambers knew that
Rudy was at the school, so they arranged for Rudy and his wife to be
invited to a dinner with the Chief that was being held at the law school for
a small group of people. Rudy and his wife got really good seating, like
they were in the second row of the moot court competition. Each law
student could only get one ticket, but Rudy got two, and one of his friends
wanted to know how do you get two tickets, but Rudy didn’t tell him.
When they were at the event, there was a little reception afterwards and
one of the chief’s security people came over and said something to Rudy,
then his friends wanted to know why do these people know you? He
didn’t really tell them at that point.
So anyway, he had that experience, and that comes from me
working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I’m glad for that. I’m glad to
be able to say that I worked for Eric Holder, and I know Eric Holder. My
mother was always a very big Kennedy person, and Bobby Kennedy at the
Justice Department, so when Eric was the Attorney General, I contacted
Annie in his office and arranged for my mother and me to go up and see
Eric. He had his official photographer take pictures with the two of us,
then he sent us a couple of 8” x 10” that he inscribed. I told Eric as we
were standing there that next to meeting President Obama, there was
probably nothing bigger for my mother and how much I appreciated that.
So I’m glad for my career that I could have an experience like that. I
always shared those things with my mother because she was the one who
really got me through after my father died.
So I think I had a lot of good things in my career. I’d also like to
think that I was respectful of my defendants and their families because I
saw the humanity in my defendants, and I can’t say that that was
necessarily true of all of my colleagues, or I certainly can’t say that that
was historically true of them. When I dealt with my defendants’ family
members, I endeavored to treat them with respect as I would want people
to be respectful of me or my family. I would always think of this. When I
stood there as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice and my client
was the United States of America, I took that to mean I represented
330 million people, of which my defendant was a part of that mix, and I
was there to do the right and fair thing. So I would tell myself in some
ways I was the defendant’s lawyer too. I wanted to do the right and fair
thing for them, and what I represented, there was no way that they could
match in resources. There was never a case that I had where I needed an
expert, I needed some kind of investigation, I needed blowups or models
made. There was never a case I had where I could not get what I needed
for that prosecution, and that’s not true for the other side. I had the whole
government at my back, and I was mindful of that with them. I like to say
that. So I would like to think if you ask some of my defendants how did I
treat them, I think they’d say well. I had a notorious murder defendant,
and yes I do believe you killed those people, Eddie, you and I both know
you did. He called me. Something happened, and I think I talked about
MR. WEAVER: One thing that comes up again and again talking to some of your former
colleagues and talking to judges who you’ve argued before, is you as a
prosecutor, cool and unflappable, but you’ve also discussed the emotional
tug of prosecuting defendants who committed crimes against children,
what it meant I think your words were stand up for them in their death
because no one stood up for them in their lives. Can you speak a little
more about how advocating for children gave meaning to your career?
MS. JEFFRIES: I did feel that way because yes I was a mother during all of this time, and I
was attuned to what children are like. You see some common themes in
child murders. A lot of kids get murdered because people think they
should be something they’re not. So an 18-month-old knocks over a glass,
and they take that as a personal affront and that the child is being
obstreperous and obstinate, and then they take out and they react violently
toward the child. Okay I know what an 18-month-old child is like. I
know what a four-year-old is like and how you should discipline a child.
That does not include kicking the child in the abdomen with your booted
feet. That does not include burning a child with cigarettes. So I knew all
these things in particular because I was a mother but also because I’m just
a person and I’m an adult.
Another thing I would also say is I’m sure for many of my
defendants in those cases, I think that many of them were treated badly as
children, and maybe they did not have the same examples as well, and
sometimes I was mindful about that.
MR. WEAVER: What do you think and kind of hope that we as a society can do to avoid
some of the same tragedies and to avoid the cycles of abuse and then the
abused then becoming the abuser in some of these horrific crimes that you
MS. JEFFRIES: It goes back to what I said. We’re really not dealing with these issues.
For me, I think so much of this is often just breakdown in familiar
relationships and family, households. As I said, I could have a young
woman who had four or five kids and they all had a different father. You
think about that. Each child has a different set of relatives, and each child
may be treated differently, but they’re all in the same one household, but
Child A knows his father and knows the grandparents, aunts, and uncles,
and those people recognize that child and give him gifts or take him places
and do things and maintain a relationship. Child B does not know who the
father is, does not get any of that, but he sees that happening with the older
brother or sister. Then over here maybe the child knows the daddy, maybe
he comes over like once a year and gives something. You have all of that
going on. Then with the mothers, all these different men are coming in
and out of the children’s lives and being exposed. I think that’s not a good
way to go for children. By the same token, I had one pre-sentence report I
always remember, a defendant reported that he had a three-year-old child.
He knew the child’s first name, but he didn’t know the child’s last name
because he didn’t know the mother’s last name. I think that’s a very
profound statement, and he’s not the only person like that. It’s very
I would say over there in D.C. Superior Court or any other similar
court in this country, most cases that I had drugs and or alcohol played a
role in it some way, and it didn’t have to be that it was a drug case because
most of my cases were not drug cases. But the defendant may be an
alcoholic or drug user or the mother was when he was born, and he grew
up like that or the boyfriend is and he’s beating people and doing things.
Drugs, drugs, drugs.
I had a case where a woman killed her six-year-old son because
they were living in public housing, she had a number of children, and she
was a crack user. She felt that the six-year-old and a sister had taken
money she had hidden away in a shoe or something for her drugs. Her
response was to hit the child on the head with a crowbar and make him
stand in the hallway and stand still. She’s off in another room. The other
children said he began to behave kind of funny. He ultimately relieved
himself on himself because she wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom, so he
told her that. She told him to take a bath. She’s in another room. He got
in the bathtub. The water was scalding hot. He called out to her that the
water was too hot. She’s in another room. She told him to put in cold
water, turn it off, or whatever. Well the child passed out because he’s
already been hit on the head, then he’s in the hot water. He passed out, so
he died from the head trauma as well as burns from this water. Well
here’s the deal. It was public housing. A Mobile Crime Officer measured
the temperature of the water. The water coming out of the tap was 165
degrees, so you figure at the boiler it was probably hotter and it’s traveling
through the pipes. If you read Dr. Spitz I have his book, whatever it’s
called, I don’t remember, but anyway, everybody uses Dr. Spitz, the part
in there about burns, I think they say if a household has elderly or
children, that the water should be set at no more than 120. But there was a
chart in there that would tell you how quickly you’d get burned at certain
temperatures. So he’s in 165-degree water. That water was very hot. We
wrote a letter to the housing people telling them they needed to turn the
water temperature down. Now, that woman did intentionally hit him in
the head and that put everything in motion, and she was guilty. I’m not
saying she ever intended for her child to get scalded, but she did put all
this in play.
So you know children grow up in these circumstances, and drugs
and alcohol have something to do with it. One of my defendants, Ricky
Brogsdale, I had met his mother and she was a long-time alcoholic to the
point where I think it really was affecting her brain. I could imagine how
difficult it was to be Elaine’s child.
As I said, drugs and alcohol play a role in almost any case that we
have over there. What is society doing about that?
MR. WEAVER: One of my favorite anecdotes that I read in news articles about your
career, and I think this captures something about your personality and your
approach to your work really well, but it’s the one about the letter you
wrote to J. Edgar Hoover when you were 13 years old. In the letter, just
for some brief background, I think you told him that you knew at the time
that the FBI didn’t hire women or African-Americans but that it wouldn’t
matter because, and I think this is a direct quote, “You will be dead by the
time I’m old enough to work there anyway,” and then of course you go on
to have this long career at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then at your
retirement ceremony, you have this letter from a well-respected director of
the FBI with glowing praise of your work and thanks for your service to
the country. We’ve talked a lot about your path from childhood to your
later career and family, but where does that audacity of the 13-year-old
June come from?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m going to put a lot of that on my mother because like I may have said,
from the time I was five, I was going to be a lawyer because of Perry
Mason and stuff, and my mother was always exposing me and pushing me
to do things. I had by then seen that movie with Jimmy Stewart, the FBI
story. Okay, it’s propaganda, but I like Jimmy Stewart. I looked it up,
and I think back then they said to be an FBI agent, you had to be a lawyer
or a CPA. Well I wanted to be a lawyer, so I thought I could do that. I
wrote him. And they told you what happened when I wrote him back. I
wrote him, and the response I got back was a little flyer about being a
clerk, a typist or file clerk. June Jeffries wasn’t going to be nobody’s
typist or file clerk for the FBI or anybody else. So when I was retiring,
and they ask you if there’s something you want or whatever, probably I
can’t remember if I said a second thing, but I know I most definitely said I
wanted a letter from the FBI, and I mentioned that in my remarks, and that
letter was from Bob Mueller.
The other thing I want to say about this is when I look back on my
life and just being who I am, I think it’s entirely weird that I would grow
up and be able to say that I knew the director of the FBI or that I’ve been
to Quantico or that I’ve worked with FBI people. I think that’s weird for a
Black person growing up in Detroit like I did, but it is what it is. I’m able
to say that. So that’s something I would not have known. There’s so
much about my life I would not have known. I wouldn’t have been able to
predict really any of this. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I thought
I’d live a nice life. And I probably thought that meant I was going to be
living in Detroit. I hadn’t thought beyond living in Detroit, but once I
went to, right before I started college, that program in New York for six
weeks and then going to college in Connecticut, well that opened me up to
other places. I saw that you could live someplace besides Detroit and
Belzoni, Mississippi and be happy.
I couldn’t have predicted any of this, the specific things or people,
but I’m glad for it, and I look back on it and I think like wow. And I
consider myself a low-level regular person. In our conversation before we
started taping today, I talked about going to the Emmett Till sites and then
about having coffee with James Meredith a few weeks ago. One of the
things I forgot at the time, and I’m sorry I did but I’ll bring it up next year,
is one of the deputy U.S. Marshals who was assigned to protect him back
then was Kirk Bowden who was here in D.C. during my career and had a
very distinguished career with the U.S. Marshals Service. I think last year
over in the Federal Courthouse they dedicated the Marshals’ training room
in his name, and I went to that program. I know Kirk’s widow, Shirley.
Kirk probably died a couple of years ago. Kirk is also a part of this
project and has an oral history, and I would say to anybody you need to
hear his oral history about his career and experiences.
I went to the portrait unveiling for Judge Norma Holloway Johnson
which occurred after she stepped down. Judge Norma Holloway Johnson
was not a person who was going to put these things out there herself. She
didn’t make remarks, but her husband, Judge Julius Johnson, made
remarks for her. Subsequently, I got the transcript of that proceeding, and
it’s probably packed away with things I brought home when I retired, but
in it, he talked about her career. She worked at Main Justice at some
point. She had a case that was over there at that Federal Courthouse,
333 Constitution Avenue, Northwest, right near the Capitol, so she went to
court and the white male judge her case was assigned to would not
recognize her as a lawyer and certainly not as a lawyer for the United
States of America. She had to call back to the office and get a white
colleague to come over there for her. She went on to become chief judge
of that courthouse. I don’t think you’re going to have that experience now
in that courthouse, but racial things are happening all the time, and I think
a lot of our younger lawyers, I hope people will listen to these oral
histories because there’s a lot to learn about what people experienced.
What she experienced as a judge was in my lifetime. So I think about
those kinds of things when I go to the courthouse.
The bench over there over the course of my career, the lineup of
that bench over there now is so different from when I started. Diversity,
gender, race, ethnicities. That’s not what you saw when I first started
working, so that makes me very happy and proud to be able to experience
that and see that.
MR. WEAVER: After your retirement, I know you spent some time volunteering with the
Obama campaign in 2008 and that was a very meaningful experience. I
think you mentioned phone banking was not quite your cup of tea.
MS. JEFFRIES: Not quite, but I did it. But did I also say the thing I would not do is
knocking on doors because the idea of knocking on the doors of strange
white people is unsettling for me. You never know when you might knock
on the wrong person’s door, and at that point in life, I just didn’t need the
MR. WEAVER: We’ve talked about that before, and today I think you’ve mentioned a
couple times some of the really meaningful experiences that you got to
have with your mother based on your career, meeting Eric Holder, having
Justice Kennedy come to her grandson’s wedding and dance the night
away. I know you also got to take your mother to the inauguration after
working on the campaign, so I’m hoping maybe you could say a little
more about the meaning that you’ve derived and the meaning that your
mother got out of seeing your career and getting to see some of these
things that have happened in history along with your time in this role at
the U.S. Attorney’s Office and afterward.
MS. JEFFRIES: I think this was all very I would like to think good and special for my
mom who went on to become herself a grocery store cashier and being a
grocery store cashier you don’t get the same kinds of experiences that I
got, but since she got me there, I endeavored to include her. I know it
made my mother very happy to be able to meet these people, to go to these
things. Here’s a story. My mother used to look at Greta Van Susteren on
TV. Greta had a show, and my mother would look at Greta. Well I know
Greta from her days when she was a defense attorney over there at D.C.
Superior Court, and then Greta’s on TV. I didn’t really look, but one day
I’m lying in bed and I’m channel-surfing, and I happened to land on
Greta’s show, and she said you can email me at whatever. So I sat there
and emailed her and said Greta, my mother just loves your show. I said
something about either that day was her birthday or the next day was her
birthday. So Greta said give her number and I’ll call her. So I gave her
the number, and Greta called and talked to my mother. My mother really
liked that. Then when my mother came to town, I took her to Greta’s
show once or twice we went down to the show and watched the taping.
That was like really cool for her. Like I said, she wanted to know how
much money Greta made. Does she make a lot of money? Yes, mother,
she does. Greta changed jobs and then went to CNN or something and
they wrote about her in People magazine, so then People said she made
$3 million. So I called my mother up and I said okay, mother People
magazine said she makes $3 million a year. My mother’s response was
maybe something good will happen for you too. I’d say oh she’s just like
me, ma. She used to be chasing cases in Superior Court. My mom liked
that. I was able to take her to meet Willard Scott because a former
reporter, who is now the press person for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is
married to Doreen Gentzler, so I knew Bill and Doreen, and I wanted my
mom to see Willard Scott, and I can’t wait until she’s 100 years old. So
Doreen told me what to do, so one morning, my mother and I went over
there when he was doing his birthday greetings for the 100-year olds. I got
a picture of mom and Willard Scott. She liked that too.
Oftentimes, for some things, she’d want if we were in Detroit or
something, she wanted to take somebody with her or get extra copies of
programs or do whatever so she could give to other people. I’m like mom,
I’m doing this for you, okay. I’m not doing this for everybody. So she’d
be very happy to go to those things. She was very happy the night we
went to the Democratic party election night in 2008 and we were there
when Obama won. She was happy. And we were able to go in 2012 that
election night, and that’s when she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and I
didn’t know if she’d be around by Election Day, but she was.
So, yeah, all of that. My mom. And like I said, my dad too, but
my dad died when I was 18, so I was a sophomore in college. But my
I want to say this. Back in my first year or so in the office I was in
Misdemeanors. One of my colleagues she was a Jewish woman from New
York. Whatever we were talking about, I said my mother was from
Mississippi and they were sharecroppers or something, she then says to me
she must be very proud of you. I said she’s no more proud of me than
your mother is of you. Why does she think her life was different from
mine? We’re people too. You think what the real deal is it’s unusual that
someone like me would end up here. Oh no it’s not unusual. I know lots
of people like me who have these jobs.
MR. WEAVER: In our last session, you mentioned that you talked about thinking of phases
of your life as chapters of a book and that you were on to the next chapter
after you decided to retire, that was it. That’s what you decided to do, and
it was the next chapter. My question is what’s the next chapter for
June M. Jeffries?
MS. JEFFRIES: Well, this is the chapter. I read one of Jane Fonda’s books a few years ago
that she wrote, and she divided her life in three parts, and she was in the
third part of her life. You know, I’m like that too. Here’s the big part of
my life. The big part of my chapter is to do and be whatever I want to be
without delay because I fully realize that. The example for people I use a
lot from my homicide days is like we’re sitting here, I could take a bullet
and be dead before I finish this sentence or be dying before I finish the
sentence. But certainly, your health can change at a moment’s notice,
injuries, your body, something can happen at a moment’s notice, and I
don’t want to live with regret, so that is my thing. I’m living every day
without regrets, and I’m open to new things, trying not to dwell on the
past. Whatever good things happen, whatever good people that I’ve had in
the past and many of them are now gone, I’m not dwelling on the fact that
they’re gone. I salute the fact that I had them for whatever period of time
it was, and now there are new things and even new people, but I’m also
fortunate that I’ve got a good circle of people I’ve known for years in my
life. Like I told you about the junior high school people. I’m happy for
that. So that’s what the next phase is. I think about little Clara, and I’d
like to see her when she’s 18. That means I’d be 80. Okay. I hope to live
to be 80. My mother lived to be 90. I also know this. When I turned 60 a
few years ago, that’s the first time in my life when I thought ahead to the
next birthday, the next big one being 70. The next decade birthday and
realizing that I might not be here at age 70 because at this point in time,
my contemporaries have started dying one a year or something. But for
the rest of my life, that pace is going to accelerate. And that’s the course
of the rest of my life that people that are meaningful in my life are going
to be dying way more than I’m meeting new ones. So I might not be here
in ten years. My plan is to be here, so therefore I’m trying to do those
things. I’m trying to be is my goal, to be the person that I feel June
Jeffries was born to be. So I’m trying to be kind. I’m trying to be
principled. I’m trying to speak out about things that I think are wrong.
I’m trying to be strategic in how I allocate my energy and time and how to
be efficacious at the things that are important to me. I try to identify, and I
have a good idea of what institutions are important to me and how I
support them and the advancement of ideas and positivity. I also am
trying to spread love in the world. I’m trying to spread love, and I
encourage people to be loving and approach things that way. There are a
whole lot of people who are not loving and kind. I’ve seen a lot of
violence and bad things. Vestiges of my job. I may be out and see
somebody treat a child roughly, and that’s an issue that I grapple with. I
haven’t gotten to a point or seen something where I’ve actually had to
intercede, although sometimes I might speak to them and smile to both
them and the child. One problem I’m aware of is when people are treating
kids badly out in public in front of you, it’s worse at home. I don’t want
to say something and then make them mad and they go home and take it
out on the child. It’s a very big conundrum for me, but fortunately I don’t
get to see a lot of that kind of thing.
MR. WEAVER: One thing we talked about in one of our earlier interview sessions was
your trips to Belzoni in Mississippi as a child, and I know another thing
we talked about today before we turned the recorder on is you were
organizing another trip to Mississippi for friends and colleagues and others
I think next year. Could you talk a little about that trip and how you got
the idea? I know you recently went to Mississippi. Do you want to talk
about how that fits into this next chapter?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. That’s important to me. So here’s the deal. Like I said, I’ve been
going there my whole life, and I will always have fond feelings for
Belzoni and for the state of Mississippi because I associate it with my
childhood and special people to me. The Mississippi Delta was the
Mississippi Delta is the Mississippi Delta always will be a rough place.
That said, it still is a special place in my heart. Here’s the deal about
Mississippi, and this is deservedly so on the part of the state of
Mississippi. I’ve been to 44 states in this country. Mississippi is the only
place that I can say to people I’m going, or I just went, or I’ve been going
there, and their reaction is visceral, like oh my god, why would you go
there? I never wanted to go there. I’ve never been. That’s the only place
in the country where I get that reaction. I’ve been to Georgia, Tennessee,
Alabama, Louisiana. People react to Mississippi. As I point out,
Mississippi is the poorest state in the union, and there are a lot of reasons
for that. Usually on most lists that you look, Mississippi is at the bottom,
except they lead in vaccination rates, or at least that was true a few years
ago. But still, there’s a lot to see in Mississippi. So much of our history,
civil rights history, which is American history. There is the cultural
history, the Blues Trail, there’s food, and there’s just the people.
Mississippi has changed in many ways since I was a child because when I
was a child I could not go to the places that I went to, and if I tried to go,
they could have killed me and maybe would have, and that’s like a real
statement, people. I could have been killed. Like I went to the Gulf Coast
a few years ago and I was sitting in that hot tub, and the thought in my
mind when I’m in the hot tub is they would have killed me for this in
1965, and I don’t mean that lightly. I mean killed me. And it wouldn’t
have mattered that I was a girl or that I was eleven, because that’s the way
they rolled down there.
I went last year, and I’m going to send you this article. I was
going to go to Mississippi anyway because I’ve hooked up with this
woman and these other people who were from that area, and she invited
me to a program, but then The New York Times Travel section had an
article about the civil rights trail, and they talked about two things in
Mississippi. One, sites associated with Emmett Till, and two, Belzoni and
the Reverend George Lee who was murdered, and many people consider
him one of the first martyrs of the civil rights movement. Well he got
killed on the same street that my aunts lived on and my cousins where I
would go to their house in Belzoni, and two doors down from my very
good friend, Loreen, who is a retired judge up in Detroit. My mother
knew Reverend Lee and knew his wife. This article talked about that, so
since I was going to Mississippi, I said to my cousin let’s go a day earlier
and go down and see these Emmett Till things because through my
friendship with Mrs. Parks, Rudy, my son, and I met Emmett Till’s mother
when Rudy was 14, the same age as Emmett. I have a good picture on my
phone of Rudy and Mrs. Mobley. Her name was Mamie Till Mobley. So
we went to these Emmett Till sites, including these sites that are in the
news, the river sites where they keep shooting up the signs because that’s
the way they roll down there, and it’s two different signs in two locations
that are being shot up. My son never has wanted to go to Mississippi, and
when I try to say to him you should go, we can all go, let’s go to
Mississippi, you would like it, you should see things. My son’s response
would be why would I ever want to go to a place like that? So he called
me in the spring this year and said he wanted to go to Mississippi, just the
two of us, to do two things. Go to the Emmett Till sites and go to the
Mississippi State LSU football game. So that’s why I just went to
Mississippi two or three weeks ago,. However, when I went last year, and
I’m on Facebook, I post pictures and everything and you always get the
same reaction, and I said to those people on Facebook, I said you know
what, I’m going to organize a trip to Mississippi, and you people need to
come to Mississippi and see things. I’ll take you around, and we can do
things. And people seemed to be interested, including two people. One of
my college friends, Randall Pinkston, a retired CBS news correspondent,
and then my friend Patricia Ice, who is an immigration lawyer in Jackson.
She and I are from Detroit. So Randall is originally from Yazoo City, and
he had taken a couple friends around Mississippi last summer, so they
were interested in putting together a trip, although we did not move
forward on that. I had hoped to do it this year. Anyway, my son and I
went, and I posted pictures and I came back and I said okay people I’m
really going to do this next year, and this is how June’s trip will be. Now
one of the things I told folks is for whatever reason, Harvard is confused,
and they send me emails, Harvard alumni travel and other Harvard alumni
emails. Harvard put together a trip of the Delta last year, and the Harvard
trip for alums was $4,900 double occupancy. A friend of mine who you
talked to probably for this is a Vassar graduate, and Vassar is offering a
trip in March to Little Rock and then places in the Mississippi Delta, and
the Vassar trip is like $3,600 or $3,900. I’m telling my friends you can go
with June for $1,200 and have a really good experience. So that’s what
I’m working on now, and I have people who want to go. I have a tentative
plan of where we’ll go, and I know some other people, a good friend of
mine, Joyce Ladner, who is from Hattiesburg and was a SNCC (Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) worker and worked with Medgar
Evers and worked on the March of Washington, and she and her sister are
both in the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. I think she might
participate and lead us around. As I said, we had coffee with James
Meredith three weeks ago. I’m going to ask Mr. Meredith can we have
coffee, if not a meal, with him. He was very talkative. So that’s what I’m
going to work on.
MR. WEAVER: We are close to wrapping up here. I think I have one more question.
We’ve talked a lot I think about your grandchildren and aside from being a
loving grandmother and recently a circus ring master, what stories do you
hope that your grandchildren carry on? What do you hope that they will
say about you and carry on with future generations?
MS. JEFFRIES: I want them, and you know Clara’s a girl, I want her to say that grandma
was strong. I want her to say that grandma was courageous in at least
some ways, and grandma was encouraging, and that I was fun, and that I
exposed her and stimulated her interests and encouraged her to pursue and
that I hope she realizes she comes from a good legacy. I always teach her
when we go to the grocery store and we see the grocery store cashiers, I
tell her that my mother was a grocery store cashier for 33 years and my
mother’s name was Bettie, so now if you ask Clara what was my mother’s
name, she will say Bettie. My son said they were at the grocery store the
other week and when they went through the line, Clara told him that Bettie
had been a grocery store cashier. I hope she will realize and Isaac too that
they came from really good people and loving people and that they can do
those things in life that they want to do, and I hope that they will instill
those values. Clara saw me at the circus. She saw me do that somersault
thing at the circus. So yes, that was fun and good too.
Then the lawyer stuff. I hope she knows about that. About the
part where her grandma was a lawyer. I’m going to take her as she gets
older meet some of those people that I’ve met and let her see those places.
I brought her here to Georgetown Law School. Why were we over here. I
don’t know, but I got a picture of her right outside at the sign. It says on
the corner Georgetown Law Center. I have a picture of her with that
because I tell her that I went here in my travels when I go up to Harvard or
go anyplace, I always get Harvard gear. She has Wesleyan gear. Her
Yale family members had not been generous, but one finally gave her
something last year, plus I went through New Haven, and I went to the
Yale bookstore and bought her some things. And now there’s Isaac too.
My girlfriend’s grandson is at Princeton, so she has the Princeton gear.
She has stuff from her parents’ colleges. Clara will wear any of your
school stuff, so if people want to send it. But I talk to her about colleges.
I told her she could go to Georgetown. I went here. Her grandfather went
to Georgetown Medical School. We talk about Yale. Sometimes we’ll be
running. Clara and I are now health buddies, and when we were running
the other day, she declared us health buddies. So sometimes when we’re
running I tell her that she’s running for Yale or she’s running for
Wesleyan. Her parents were swimmers and her mother and aunt and uncle
were all on swim teams, high school, college, neighborhood swim teams,
so I tell her she’s swimming for Yale because I tell her Yale is her legacy
school. She can go there if she wants to. I believe in legacies. I also
believe in acknowledging that you get over sometimes if you’re a legacy
admission and that other people have reasons for being admitted to these
colleges too that don’t necessarily depend on absolutely your grades, and I
acknowledge that, but people are disingenuous and don’t acknowledge
that, and some of their kids got in because they’re legacies, not because
they’re brilliant people. But my kids are brilliant. So yes. I’m trying to
instill that, and I want them to go to the college that feels good for them,
whatever that college is, but I want them to know that there are places in
their lives that they can go to that we’ve helped pave the way for them.
That’s what I want.
MR. WEAVER: Excellent. Well thank you to the Georgetown Alumni Association for
letting us use this space and the D.C. Historical Society.