|The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968
SheilaNippo: Recording, interviewing Frederick Williamson, March 9, 1998. Okay, where and when were you born and where did you grow up?
Frederick Williamson: I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on September 20, 1915. I lived in Lowell until I was about 14, and then I moved to Providence, actually East Providence, lived in East Providence until I moved to Providence, and that was back around, I came into Rhode Island about that time, I'd say about, guess it was about 1929.
SN: Okay, can you briefly describe your family and your neighborhood.
FW: Well, my family existed of, in the initial sense my, course my father, my mother and I had a brother, that's younger than myself, a sister who was older, and I was the second oldest, then a brother that was just younger than I, and a sister that was born in 1925. Everyone, that is my father, my mother, my older sister and my younger sister are now deceased. So there's only my brother and I that's left. My brother lives in Warwick, Rhode Island and I live in Providence. When you talk about the neighborhood I live in at the moment, I have an apartment that my wife and I live in, in the University Heights apartments on Olney Street in Providence. It's a rather diverse neighborhood, there's this apartment complex, must have about approximately 320 families. It takes in the, a large block between Olney Street, Camp Street and Doyle Avenue in Providence and it was the result of an urban renewal project that demolished a number of houses in that area to make room for this particular complex.
SN:What about like, your family when you were growing up, like your neighborhood back then?
FW: Oh, when I, in thinking about growing up, I guess, you might say there was a couple, at least two different phases. There was my, my younger phase going to primary, kindergarten and elementary school, and then of course there was the other section of my life that, segment I might say, that represents the, my say teenager period before, before adulthood. We lived in Lowell, and it was an interesting place, Lowell, Mass. [Massachusetts] was at one time the largest textile, cotton manufacturing city in the, in the country, that is, the most significant one. The, because of the, because the Merrimack River came down from New Hampshire and made a bend at Lowell and went off and emptied into the sea at Newburyport, the Concord River came up from the south and met the Merrimack River at Lowell. See, that's before that confluence, there was a place called the Pawtucket Falls, that was, provided a thirty-four foot drop in the river that was utilized by manufacturers, textile manufacturers to build a number of mills, and with that falls providing a certain amount of power and a series of locks and dams, they built a, oh, a number of interlocking canals through the city of Lowell that provided a lot of power for the textile mills.
In those days, back in the, the I guess you know, back during World War I and through the Twenties, Lowell was a very thriving community, and my father and mother and my brother and sisters, we had a very normal, you might say, life and things went along quite, quite well. Except that I could say later, oh, around `29, 1929 or so, because my, there were certain differences, my father and mother separated, and in 1929 I came down to, to East Providence to live with an uncle, and my mother and my other sisters and brother, they, they stayed in Lowell, until they decided to come to Providence, at oh back around, I guess it must have been around `31 or so. And so, I've been living here ever since. My younger sister who is now deceased, graduated from Brown University, she specialized in child psychology and she went on to get her Masters in Education from Harvard, and did the first year of her, her Doctoral degree in the University of Iowa, because they had a great psychology station there, but the chap who was the head of the Psychology Department at Brown was much, very much interested in her coming back to finish her doctorate at Brown, which she did. And she came back to Brown, and she had a Doctorate from Brown, so.
SN:Where did you go to college, what did you study?
FW: My college, because of the fact that, because of the separation of my mother and my father, it required me to go to work, and so I was not able to go to a four-year college. However, I attended the University, actually back during the war, I attended classes at, at that time, Rhode Island State before it became the University of Rhode Island. And then, then while during my employment at the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, the Navy selected thirty middle management supervisors and sent them to the University of California at Berkeley, so I attended, oh must have been about a six week course in management and, at the University of California at Berkeley, which was a very, very interesting period of time, and I enjoyed it very much. So between attending classes and extension classes at the University of Rhode Island, and then later on when it became the University of Rhode Island, and they had the extension courses in Providence, I, I attended them there, and I think I took a couple courses at Brown University.
SN: What were your family's political views?
FW: Well, my father was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, and my father's sister, in fact he had a couple, a sister, a couple of sisters and a brother in Boston, they lived in the Everett, in the city of Everett. And they were all Republicans.
SN:Where did your family get information about politics?
FW: That positive?
SN: About politics?
FW: Well, I don't know, my father was rather interested in a number of things, he knew a lot of people and he, well, we're talking about Lowell, Mass.[Massachusetts] now, and he was able I guess to get a number, much of his information about politics from the people that he knew. However, in that particular period of time, you have to understand that the majority of African-American people in the United States were Republicans, which was considered to be the, the party of Lincoln, and it was only until after Franklin D. Roosevelt that many of the, of the African-Americans joined the Democratic Party. During that particular period, I'd say back in, prior to and even after Roosevelt, the Republican Party, well they began to get a little bit on the conservative side and a lot of the African-Americans joined in with the Democrats because of, of Roosevelt and his activities as President during the Great Depression of the Thirties. So, as to where my, again, where my father got his information from, I only know that, that he was very active.
Iremember one time, when I was a youngster, we were in a, he was in the, or rather I, he drove, he drove all the way out to the home of one of the very prominent Republicans in the Massachusetts area, John Rogers, whose wife eventually, when he died his wife eventually took his position, Edith and served a number of years, that was Edith Nurse Rogers. And I can remember one day, my father driving up to the home of, the Rogers home, when he was a Senator, I think, at that time, and we were in a buggy, and he took the, sort of like a heavy weight that was attached to the horse and put it on the ground so the horse wouldn't run away of course, and so I was sitting in the buggy, and he said, "Now," my dad said "Now, you stay here, I'll be, I won't be long." But he was long, so he went into the, certainly in those days I guess I must've been about six or seven, or maybe younger than that maybe, and I can always remember sitting in the buggy getting rather fidgety because no youngster that age likes to sit in one place too long without moving around and my father was in the Rogers' household, which was a big white house with big pillars and a portico and that sort of thing. And apparently he was familiar with Rogers, the Senator, and I guess he was pretty active in the Republican Party at that time, so.
SN: What did you think you wanted to do when you grew up and how did that change over time?
FW: Well, I was a prodigious reader when I was very young, I practically lived in the library, and I read everything I could get my hands on. `Course all youngsters at that time were interested in cowboys and Indians, see today it's all spacemen and computers and cyberspace and that sort of thing, but when I was growing up it was, it all had to do with cowboys. Movie actors such as Tom Mix, Neil Hart, and all the, those people that really did quite a job in, in Hollywood in those days. But at any rate, as a result of my reading, I always wanted to write and wanted to be an author, so I wanted to write stories and write books, but as time went on, I never had the time to do it, to write anything of that nature. When I, although, I guess there'd been some outlet to that dream because there's been a number of things that I've had to write, speeches, and when I worked for the Naval Air Station I, I was a management analyst, and I had the management planning branch in the supply department, and as a result of that I had to write a lot of plans and procedures. And so, much of my writing had to do with writing plans and support information for the squadrons, air craft squadrons on the base, and some of the fleet activities, and the places that we supported such as the Project Deep Freeze, that, that had to do with supporting Squadron VX6 that was stationed down at the South Pole. And so a lot of my writings had to do with naval matters of interest.
SN:Were you aware of any discrimination against people in your family and your neighborhood?
FW: Oh I was certainly aware of it, very much so. I, one of my active periods was Vice Chairman for the, actually I was Chairman of the Rhode Island Committee Against Discrimination in Housing in the Fifties, the Sixties, and even before that of course. But in the Sixties it was a very active movement because to, towards assuring fair housing in the State of Rhode Island, and getting a piece of legislation passed that would provide minorities with the ability to, ability to live wherever they had the money to pay for, and that sort of thing. So, yes, many times I've been, in searching for apartments I've had somebody answer the door and take one look at me, when even though they had a `For Rent' sign up there, and take one look at me and say, "We don't, we don't rent to niggers here" and so that was it. So, when you say, and then I've, so when you say have I ever ran in to discrimination, yes I have. And I've even gone, there've been restaurants in Providence that I've gone to and sat at the counter and waited to get served, and this was back during the Fifties and Forties and so forth, and finally they'd get tired of seeing me there, until one of the waiters would come over and say, "Look, we don't serve colored people here, so I mean you could sit there forever and you won't get served." So, have I, have enjoyed that distinction? Yes I have.
SN: Do you recall your understanding of the Cold War?
FW: Yes, I do, the Cold War was of course the period of time after World War II that was part of the stand-off between Russia and the United States. And the, much of the activity that the United States indulged in was to assure that, that the Kremlin, Russia did not have an advantage in spreading communism throughout the world, and the Russians, of course, were very active in trying to block the, the free nations such as the United States, and the United, and those who belong to the United Nations from extending the idea of democracy to the rest of the world. The Cold War was, while it was not an actual shooting war, underneath the facade of, underneath I should say, underneath the diplomatic facade there was a great deal of activity between the two nations in regard to subversive activity, and that sort of thing.
SN: Did you think about the threat of nuclear war?
FW: Yes, I remember when, the period that took place after the war when, `course after the Americans used, dropped the atom bomb on Japan, that accelerated the end of that war with Japan, the fear then among, among the nations was the fact that Russia and other, any ally of hers would produce an atomic weapon that would match the weapons of that nature that America had. And there was a great movement produced, of course by the fear that atomic explosions would take place as a result of some miscalculation between the two powers. In some regard that would cause a possible explosion of this nature in the United States, similar to what happened to Japan. So there were, I can remember movement towards underground protection against the possible, against possible atomic warfare. The populous, that is the American populous was very much disturbed, as I say in the fear of the fact that, that that could happen to them. And it was something that shaped a good deal of the policies that the government had, and the other free nations.
SN: Were you affected by the Cuban Missile Crisis?
FW: Affected only because I watched it unfold on television. I watched John Kennedy and the, it was Kruschev I think, at that time who was the Premier of, Prime Minister, or Premier, anyhow the head of the Russian government. And the, we were, I guess most of the populous including myself and others were just waiting to see what would happen. And it was, we felt it was a touch-and-go situation until it was finally resolved. America, of course, still followed the Monroe Doctrine and did not want any European nations to be involved in the, in the Americas, the North or South America continent. And we were a bit upset that Russia had such an influence in Cuba and we felt that that's the sort of thing that could happen if communism spread to, to other nations in the Americas. But since Russia had a foothold in the Caribbean with Cuba it had everybody rather afraid that, that it would lead to an eventual conflict that would really be not in the interest of anybody for that matter.
SN: Was the election of John F. Kennedy an important turning point for you?
FW: I think it was. John F. Kennedy was an interesting, eclectic, personable person who, who had an interesting and naturally a valorous war record, serving in the P boat, PT boat squadron. And, he excited the imagination of most of the people in the country. He, in his, when he was elected, and spoke those words about "do what you can." I mean "Don't ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." It was sort of an immortal phrase, that people were just waiting for something like this, you know. We, we're great for phrases that touch our imagination. All the way from Patrick Henry's phrase ["Give me liberty or give me death," -? ed.], in various eras of history someone comes up with a phrase that excites our imagination. So, at any rate the, yeah, John Kennedy brought to America and to government a sort of a new look that certainly made people feel good about being an American.
SN: Did you follow any of the civil rights or anti-war protesting during the Sixties?
FW: Yes, see I, in 1963, I helped to form the Providence Human Relations Commission. I was Vice Chairman and later on I became Chairman for about ten years. And we were very active in attempting to see to it that all citizens receive equal treatment under the law. I, I think I mentioned earlier, I was president of the Rhode Island Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. I was Vice Chairman of the, of another group that had a number of religious, political, and other groups of citizens that was moving towards, or attempting to get fair housing legislation passed in the state.
In 1963, when the very famous March on Washington took place, where Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech from the, from the, in Washington. I was, I went to Washington with another group. We, there were a cavalcade of about, I guess four or five buses that left Providence. We met at the bus station on Fountain Street at that time, and we drove all night to Washington. And I participated with the group that, that gathered in Washington to, let the world and America know that minorities felt that they were not getting a fair shake. And we were there to hear Martin Luther King give his speech, I can remember how exhilarated both I and, and so many other people in that crowd was that listened to that particular speech. And there were other activities that I was involved with, I was part of the NAACP, that's the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And so, yes, I did participate in a number of activities around that time.
SN: Were any of them political groups?
SN: Were any of them political?
FW: They, well, were, excuse me, were people in the groups from political groups, you mean?
SN: Like were you involved in any political groups?
FW: Well, finally after, see every year, we particularly, in Rhode Island, well there were a number of solid issues that were important as far as equal rights under the law. But the one big issue that we zeroed in on was the fair housing issue. Because that was so very apparent, and we felt that the legislation would send a, the legislation would pass and it would send a message. And so we were very active in attempting to get that legislation passed. But, you see, there were people in the Republican party that were for it and people who were against it. There were people in the Democratic party who were for it and some were against it. The Democratic, the Legislature in Rhode Island was, I think, controlled by the Democrats. But it took nine years to get the legislation passed. So I cannot fault, it's difficult to fault or praise any one party because it all depended on who in the party was, was, had enough strength to oppose the bill and to keep it from coming to vote, and so forth.
So that, from a political stand point, there were a lot of good politicians who were part of the committees that were fighting for the passage of the fair housing bill. And of course there were some who, who have their reasons for wanting it to be passed. Much of their reasoning was that, they felt, I can't say it was a piece of reason, but they felt that, there's so many stupid things they were saying: "but, well, if black folks lived in your neighborhood, the housing values would go down," "if black folks lived in the neighborhood they'd be associating with your sons and daughters and that's not a very good thing," "if black folks lived in the, next thing you know they'd be marrying each other," and then, "if black folks lived here where other folks live it would put, it would give a bad name." So all these spurious reasons that certainly had no real validity were proposed by the opponents. But at any rate, it did pass, and it's a matter of law. And so, while today, you, black folks and other minorities do run into problems in housing discrimination, yet the law is there to be, that can back up any, any demand that you make.
SN:Where did you get most of your information about the outside world?
FW: I guess you might say reading, newspapers, television and through association. But when you say `outside world,' what are you referring to?
SN: Like, about Vietnam and the war.
FW: Well, I guess like most people we just depended on the media.
SN: What did you, what did you think of the TV news?
FW: Which news?
SN: The TV news.
FW: The CNN news?
SN: Like, did you watch the news like on the television or did you mainly read?
FW: Well, both reading and also magazines and television. The, the news magazines and also in, in television, the CNN news is very interesting as far as bringing you there on the scene and in some sense allowing you to make your own decisions. And then mornings, particularly Sunday mornings, there are a number of news, let's say group meetings between people who are discussing much of what's going on in the, in the world today. And C-SPAN is another, is another area of interest that allows you to really zero in on what's going on and then you can make your own decision.
SN: What were your responses to the desegregation of the public schools?
FW: Alright, my, my response was I was very happy to see that happen. When you take young people at an early age, at a school age and segregate them into separate little islands you might say, it provides a disservice to the nation. Everyone ought to have the same sort of education with the same resources, with the same intelligence in their teacher resources, and with the same, at least comparable, comparable resources as far as books and other items for youngsters to utilize in their learning process. It's, it's separating or having schools that are primarily pointed toward one racial or ethnic group is certainly not in the best interest of the nation.
Of course, unfortunately, here again the housing problem comes in. If we're talking about neighborhood schools, and you've restricted minorities all to one particular area of housing, then the schools in that neighborhood then become segregated. And consequently for people to get to know each other both racially and ethnically, it then required the process of bussing. I was, I had no problem with bussing to attain that goal, people in rural areas get bussed every day to, to schools that are, that because they live in a rural area, schools are too far to walk to. In the urban area, bussing I think answered the purpose. But the whole idea of it, one way or another, people, youngsters should, should play together, learn together, and be together so that they will know each other, because once they become adults then they're going to face each other in the living environment whether it's economically or otherwise, unless they know each other, it, it makes it rather difficult for people then in the workplace to understand who you are and who they are, and it's a, becomes a problem. So it all has to start when you're young. So as you can get to know those who are good and those who aren't so good and understand that there's good and bad in, in every ethnic race, and having each other [inaudible]. So it allows the youngsters to make their own assessments of people based on the fact of who they are, you see.
SN: How did you feel about Malcolm X?
FW: Well, to tell you the truth, I remember the period that he lived. And, I have to admit I, I, right now he, he seems to be more revered by the general populous today as a hero than, than at the time when he was living and making his mark on the world. He, I, he and I didn't agree on a lot of things. I guess I'm a bit more conservative than Malcolm X. But, I guess I have to appreciate the fact that somewhere along the line there has to be someone to stand up and regardless of how, how, let's say, aggressive that person is, that someone has to, has to wake people up to the needs of people, and particularly minorities in this case. But, I appreciated him for what he did, or what he represented I should say. But, since I was not part of his, his religious faith, and I read about him, but I was not necessarily that involved with him or his, or his policies.
SN: How did you feel about the Black Panthers?
FW: Well, here again you have another situation. At the time, I was not in favor of the Black Panthers because the Black Panthers adopted an aggressive role that maybe woke people up to the dangers inherent in discrimination and segregation, that, in a sense, said to the public, "This is a kind of confrontation that will eventually happen unless you, America, wake up to the fact that everybody is created equal and everybody is a human being and that sort of thing." That's sort of, that the more that America laid back and passively allowed discrimination and segregation and that sort of thing to exist, they're just fueling the future fires for, for units such as the Black Panthers and others to exist. But, I'm glad that period of time is over and I'm glad that America was able to pass enough laws to address some of the problems we have today. I would hope that it, that it would, America would continue to understand that, that the Constitution is the document we should abide by, not someone else's idea of who the races are and that sort of thing. So do that, there will be no need, no opportunity let's say for groups such as the Black Panthers to exist.
SN: When did you first become aware of the war in Vietnam?
FW: I became aware of it long before the war took place because in news releases and in other articles, I knew that we were sending, in quotes, "advisors" over to that nation, although they weren't, weren't soldiers in uniform, well they may been in uniform. But I watched this, that begin to escalate until finally it was, became a shooting war. So it, here again it was the American idea or feeling that it was the spread of communism that had to be stopped. Similar in some sense I guess to the Cuban events where we felt that communism was spreading in the Americas and had to be restrained. But the Vietnam War became an item of, very significant item of interest to me because my youngest son had joined the Air Force. And when he was, and at one point in time, he decided to volunteer to go to Vietnam, and so he went to Vietnam and he was part of the, of our, the American effort in Vietnam. He spent a tour of duty there, then he came back to the States.
And because he was working with a group that he felt rather attached to, that he felt that he oughta go back with that group again. So he decided, instead of, he had the opportunity to stay, after he'd spent his year in Vietnam, to stay in America, but he decided to go back again. So he went back to serve another period of time in Vietnam. He received the Air Force Commendation medal for the work that he did with the Air Force. And he was an electronics technician and he did a lot of I guess, surveillance work and other work as an electronics person, and a number of other involvements that he, he doesn't necessarily talk too much about, but he served his time twice, and so he's back home. So, the Vietnam War did have a significant influence on me. We, my wife and I would be at the house and all of the sudden the phone would ring and the voice on the other end would say, "Hi Dad. Hi Mom." And I'd say, "Who's this? Kenny? Where are you?"
"Well, we just landed in Singapore," or "we just landed in some other place over there," and he'd say, "we had a mission to do, so I thought I'd call." So, we'd be, we'd be on the phone for a while until finally he had to go.
SN: Did you think the draft was morally correct?
FW: More what?
SN: Do you feel that the draft was morally correct?
FW: Morally incorrect?
SN: Yeah, incorrect.
FW: I never thought about the draft being morally anything. It, I guess I looked on the draft, military draft as the sort of thing that, that the, that as an American male or female as the case may be now, that you have a responsibility and, to be a part of the, the military resources of this nation. And, since it was more or less on a basis of a lottery, it, it answered the purpose. So I, I can't say whether it was morally incorrect or what, it appeared at that time to answer the, answer the purpose. Of course today, we have our, today our military forces depend on the recruitment and joining of young men and women. And that's great. But at times, at times of war, and at times of really difficult period of times when we have to depend on the manpower of this nation, I guess the only thing that's fair then becomes a draft. So that you're not, you're not doing it on a selective basis.
SN: Did you approve or disapprove of the US involvement in the Vietnam conflict?
FW: Well, that's a hard question: did I disapprove, approve or disapprove. Let's say I deplored our involvement. It's, at the time it was, it was something that we were already involved with, and we had to follow through on. But I was, I was not necessarily in favor of it because I thought that our involvement in that country with those folks was something that certainly could have, or should have been done differently. It, it was a, it was a sad, a sad period of American history. And I'm glad it's over, I'm sorry it ever happened. And I'm not sure that if we had never got involved how much, how better off or how worse off that section of the world would have been.
SN: Did you support the limiting of nuclear testing or think it was an important issue?
FW: I am highly against nuclear weaponry. I feel that it's something that, all nuclear weapons should be disposed of, all nuclear dependents; even in utilizing atomic energy for developing such things as even electric power and so forth, I think we should, we should not depend on that.
SN: When you saw Vietnam vets in wheelchairs and on crutches and in body bags coming home from Vietnam, what was your response?
FW: Well, a continuing sadness that we were even involved in the first place. And at the time that they were coming back I had a son that was over there who fought, who could be, could have been any one of those gentlemen. And it, it was a horrible situation and sometimes you wonder whether being in a body bag or a wheelchair or being maimed for life, was the result worth it? And I can't say that it was.
SN: Did you feel the veterans were treated with respect and courtesy?
FW: Oh, no. They were not treated with respect. The country had no understanding of the war. They had no understanding of, of even why we were over there. And I guess because of that misunderstanding and the inability of the government to properly provide answers, people took it out on the veterans that participated in it.
SN: How did Lyndon Johnson's announcement that he would not run for a Presidency a second time affect you?
FW: Lyndon Johnson was a very complex person. I, I've been to the Johnson ranch in Texas. I read a lot of background material on him and I understand, at least I, I think I understand his history as a sort of political that we sometimes call a `wheeler and a dealer.' And in our government, in, in any democratized government such as we have, that makes it possible for people of all stripes to rise to positions of power, people like Lyndon Johnson can eventually end up in a powerful position. One of the things that I appreciate Lyndon Johnson for and I guess I have a bias in this regard, is his activity in relation to civil rights. And his civil rights, some people say it was self-serving on his part, maybe it was. But for whatever reason it was, he came to a conclusion in regard to civil rights that I wish other people had come to even before that. In fact I had, I had wished that somebody like John Kennedy had come to that conclusion during his term in office.
At any rate, Lyndon Johnson as I understand it, while he allowed himself to be, be a part of the Vietnam incident, and that's sort of hardly the word to use -`incident,' but at any rate, I think he had second thoughts of his participation for this country in that, in that war. But, I guess that I was a little ambivalent. See, with Lyndon Johnson you either, people either, generally they either, they hate him or they dislike him, or they like him, they love him. I did neither. He was, he was, I guess, a complex person, as I said earlier, and I think that he did what he felt he had to do. But I don't think the country was any worse off by having him in there, other than the fact that he allowed us to get dragged into the Vietnam war in a much, much more heavier involvement than we should have been.
SN: How did you feel about the assassination of Martin Luther King?
FW: Excuse me?
SN: How did you feel about the assassination of Martin Luther King?
FW: Well, that was a definite feeling of sorrow and distress. The, the assassination of King was really one of the most terrible incidents that, that we can look back on in American history. He was, he was the kind of a person that only comes on the scene once in a life time I guess, or maybe once in several life times. And his thoughts and what he said, and his ability to lead in a nonviolent way that I appreciated very much. It was something that, that others should have, should have. And it was just a loss, and not, a loss not just to America but a loss to the world. And it wasn't just a loss to minorities or to African Americans, or blacks, it was a loss to whites. Because you needed someone who had a voice of reason who was able to appeal to people's sense of what was right, to say these things publicly. And it was a sad thing.
I remember when the news came on his, of his assassination, I received a call from the pastor of the Grace Church, Grace Episcopal Church in Providence, who said that the next day, the day following the assassination, they were going to have noonday service. Now, the Grace Episcopal Church had noonday services during much of this period anyhow. People in the downtown area, shoppers and so forth, would, would go into the church for, and to worship. But he asked that since King had been assassinated, would I come in and at part of that service would I say a few words. So I did, I, the very day following King's assassination I participated in the service. And I gave a little homily, deploring of course the assassination, and what it actually meant to us. And, so his assassination was a rather important point in my life at that particular time.
SN: What about the assassination of Robert Kennedy?
FW: With Robert Kennedy, `course I didn't have the same feeling that I had when King passed on. I was shocked and I deplored that activity, that happening also. Because Kennedy, that is Robert, had a future ahead of him. Of course, let me back up and say that this business of assassinating people, particularly people who are prominent in the eyes of the public, I think is a horrible, horrible thing and it's not the way that we should do our business. So, I was shocked by it. I deplored it, I did not think that it was a good thing to do. And I think the country went backwards again by, through that assassination.
SN: What was your response and feelings to the Democratic Convention in Chicago?
FW: Well, I , it was quite a, an interesting happening. And I know that, wasn't that when John O. Pastore, Senator Pastore gave this resounding speech, and certainly put Rhode Island in the forefront. I think that was the time. Of course it was interesting from a political standpoint, and `course, some of the other things that happened with the people who, who were protesting one thing or another, and Mayor Daley's response and the police response to that was all something that tarnished the image of America and I wasn't too happy with all of that.
SN: How did you feel about Richard Nixon's election?
FW: Richard Nixon? Richard Nixon was never my favorite guy. And I was very unhappy with his election. I remember his speech with his dog, Checkers, and I think he weeped a bit, he shed a couple of tears, and it all seemed to be rather phony as far as I was concerned. So, I was not in favor of him and I guess what happened later in his history certainly confirmed my disenchantment with Richard Nixon.
SN: How'd you feel about the expulsion of the Olympic athletes from, because of their Black Power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the medal ceremonies?
FW: Well, here again, people who don't like something take action. The kind of action that they feel can make a point. I was not in favor of what they did. I felt that it was not the place to make that kind of a protest. Everybody in the world knows America's racial stance. The Olympics has a particular purpose and it has a, it symbolized some of the, at least it's supposed to symbolize some of the wonderful things.. (tape recorder stops)
SN: You were talking about the, at the Olympics.
FW: The Olympics, as I mentioned, represents something that is considered the best in the world. It represents something that all nations aspire to, when we come together, and the best from an athletic standpoint, and these things can take place. And, and the great symbolism that it represents is something that gets tarnished when such things as that Black Power situation happens. And again it happened I think in, in these killings, at another Olympic, I'm trying to remember where that took place, there was terrorist activities at another location [Munich 1972 Olympic Games (?)]. When people bring their disenchantment about something in, in a, in an atmosphere, or in an environment that is set up for something entirely different, it disturbs me because, maybe that's just my nature to be disturbed at things of that nature, but I'm sure that they could have, they could, these chaps could have expressed their, their disenchantment with racial attitudes much different than they did at the Olympics.
SN: How would you say the Sixties affected you and the United States in general?
FW: Well, the Sixties is a very interesting ten-year period. I guess both for the United States and for myself too. A number of things happened in the Sixties, that I guess, people today will look back on the Sixties and say that it was sort of a watershed in morality as far as the United States was concerned, that we turned, we got so used to turning our back on a number of things that today when we see TV and we listen to what goes on in sitcoms and so forth, we say that's a result of the Sixties. Well, maybe so, maybe it was, maybe it's a case of America growing up, maybe it's a case of, maybe it's other. But a lot of things happened. And, of course the assassination of John Kennedy, and during the Sixties was the Cuban event, and during the Sixties were all of the civil rights activities.
It,it was even a period that I changed my own life because that, in '68 when Governor Frank Leech became governor and appointed me as Director of the Department of Human Affairs, it was the result of the election of `68 and `69. I resigned from my twenty-seven year employment with the Navy as a civilian and took, went to work for the state. So, the Sixties was certainly an event that I think was, or rather a period that had a lot of things happening. In '66, the Historic Preservation Act was passed by the, took place with the Federal government so that as a result of a number of things, the Historic Preservation Act of '66 became a matter of law, a lot of activity throughout the nation. And each state had to appoint an Historic Preservation Officer, and I became, I was appointed that. And as far as I say, it was considered an addition, this was sort of collateral duty to being Director of Department of Human Affairs. And leaving the, my employment with the Navy, that I enjoyed so much for twenty-seven years, was a sort of a traumatic experience, it's kind of difficult to change a, an employment that you, been there so long, had so many changing events, that really I think helped to shape my life. So, it's something that most Americans can look back and think about, and I have many times looked back and said, "Gee, did it change me any, or did I become, did the Sixties make me more aware of things that I was not aware of before?" I don't know. It was a sort of, people like to say a watershed in regard to the morality of the nation and so forth, but regardless of what happens I think we're all the better for it.
SN: What do you think the most important changes were in the Sixties?
FW: You mean, [what was the -? ed.] question, when you think about the more important changes I have to think in terms of those that affected me and my areas of interests. In '69 I think it was that the long fight for fair housing finally culminated and the passage of the fair housing activity in Rhode Island. So, as far as I'm concerned that, I probably have a personal bias in that regard, but it, it had an effect of changing things. Making a law providing a regulation that causes people to, whether they like it or not, to at least be, in some respect, be a good American. But, at any rate it was an interesting period.
SN: Do you think the African-Americans accomplished the goals of the Civil Rights Movement?
FW: I think they, that the Sixties accomplished, was an attention getter. It's like the old story, that I've kind of forgotten half about getting a mules attention by hitting him on the head with a two-by-four, I mean that's sort of, is what the Sixties and what the movements did in that regard. But, we're a long way from, from people believing that, that we can all live together and enjoy one another's company and appreciate the good things about each other and to look for disenchantment on the bad things. No, the goals haven't been reached. But whether they're ever reached, I don't know. Human nature is a, is a rather dynamic thing and every year I see so many things that are the antithesis of what ought to be. For instance, the Sixties had laws and regulations passed, we have fair housing, women have now achieved a predominance and recognition in both the matters of employment and in the military, and other areas of interest. But it's, a number of things that came out of the Sixties that helped America to take a good hard look at herself. That, it's something that you have to work at. And just calling attention to something and getting a few pieces of legislation passed is not the end. And so goals, see we're winning a lot of battles, but we haven't won the war.
SN: Do you attribute any current political problems or strengths in the United States to decisions that were made in the 1960s?
FW: I guess you're gonna have to repeat that again.
SN: Do you attribute any current political problems or strengths in the United States to decisions that were made in the 1960s, like the deficit, or poverty?
FW: Well, I think I think that we can attribute a lot of strength to things that, that happened in the Sixties. And again, I have to refer to the racial movement, activities. You know, you can go down south and you can find many cities and towns that have black mayors. Because voting rights is now an accepted situation throughout the South. There's a lot of political power that has taken place, has gravitated as far as the minorities are concerned. But, that's as it should be. There's nothing that was gained that was any special, it was special in the fact that it happened, of course. But a number of things such as voting rights happened because of the Sixties. And people can now have a better feel for their community and for where they live that they didn't have before. Because the Sixties allowed them to have a voice in decision making that allowed them now to have a better feeling.
As far as again, women and minorities are concerned, the Sixties helped to put, to place attention on the fact that it was a man's world up to that point. And women just were second-class citizens like minorities were. But today it's understood- now whether this happened, now the fact that it doesn't always happen when it should, is the fact that we haven't reached the goal yet, we haven't reached the goal. But, at least we're on the way and I think that much of the Sixties can be responsible for much of the thinking that goes on today, at least we know where we ought to be going and there's some movement in that regard that was not in existence prior to the Sixties.
SN: How do you feel about young people like us striving to answer questions about the American involvement in the Vietnam War and the whole decade of the 1960s?
FW: Oh, I think it's great, I think that the more young can get involved in what's happened, the history of what's happened instead of just look- it's one thing to reading a cold text book and just read something, but you don't get the feel for it. But to, at least to discuss it, to know about what's happened, to know some of the events that, that allowed these things to happen, I think that's rather important for young people to know. Because these are, young people today are the future leaders, and decision makers of the future. And it provides the young people, if they get interested, of course there's a lot of young people who don't want to get involved who think it's a, who perhaps think it's not of interest to them right now. But, at least somehow, some are getting involved, some people like yourself and others, and I think that that's a wonderful thing to happen, and I think it bodes well for the future of this nation. That if you're going to become one of the decision makers even if you're not holding public office, the very fact that you're an ordinary citizen, and you read the paper and you see a headline and you can go look beyond that headline to know not just a simple statement of fact that headlines generally give you, but if you look behind the headline and understand what produced that headline, what happened, I think that's, that's a great ability that young people should get to foster, because it's the way to go.
SN: Is there anything else that you'd like to talk about, or-?
FW: Only that, just to follow through on what we were just saying now as far as young people. Our future is in the hands of the young people today. The more they understand each other, the more they understand other races. The more they understand that today in this nation, just a city in the State of Rhode Island, there are more and more people who are living in both the cities and in the rural areas who are not the same as you- when I say same I mean they're not the same color, the same religion, the same ethnic background, the same racial background. But more and more, the number of so-called, and I say so-called minorities are increasing. We've had a lot of attention placed on Europe because we think back at the Mayflower and they came from England; and you know all about the Huguenots, they came from France; you know all about the Italian-Americans; you know about the Swedish-Americans, populated much of the areas of the Midwest; and you know all of the European-based folk that have immigrated to this nation.
But we have failed to look southward, because the Americas are made up not just of Canada, with its strong Franco-American racial, Franco-American ethnic background, and America with its more or less Anglicized background; but we forget that Spaniards helped to populate this, this nation from the Mexican area. And when we look south to Mexico and we look to South America there's no ocean dividing us, there's a land bridge down through Central America into South America and we think in terms of, you can see Brazil and you can see Argentina and you can see that, and much of our economic future is going to depend on the kind of trade and the kind of people and the kind of immigration that we get from Central and South America. So, our attention that has been previously made more on the European [immigration], it has to change. So you look around and most of the people in, not most of them but such a large significant population in America and in Rhode Island and in Providence particularly, speak another language that's primarily an Hispanic language. So, the more we can get involved, the more we can get interested, and the more we can get to know who our, who our neighbors and friends to the South, the better it's going to be for all of us and the better understanding we'll have, and the better we'll be able to make the kind of decisions that will be better for us and for our children and your children.