Living History: Vincent Lavery Transcript

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Welcome to the Dublin Festival of History podcast where we bring you talks that celebrate history in all its genres and eras. In this episode Vincent Lavery talks about the politics and society of the United States of America from the 1950s to the 1970s. Recorded in front of a live audience at Dublin City Library & Archive, Pearse Street, on 2 October 2013.

Thank you very much Dr Kennedy it is an honour to be with you this afternoon, and I've given many talks in my life in America, but every time I give a talk in Dublin…I don't know what I mean by this but the audience generally is more challenging and maybe it’s because of our great literary background in Ireland but I often feel the people I’m talking to know as much about the subject as I do. With that as an introduction I'd like to welcome the students from St. Mary's Holy Faith Glasnevin and the Holy Child Killiney. The reason I mention that is I had an e-mail from a friend of mine in California this morning who, we were friends for fifty years, we went to University together and he was very active in politics as I was, and he sent me…I've a big struggle going on right now with one of the media in Ireland on the issue of free speech, but my friend sent me the email this morning that said “Hello Vincent, for God's sake stop dealing with old people. Talk only to young people” he said, “young people are living in such a different world than my generation or the generation that followed me”. So I'm really honoured to have so many young people, not necessarily biologically in the audience

A little bit on my background; first of all I’m very uncomfortable using the ‘I’ word, but the fifties, sixties and seventies is such a vast area of American history that I decided I would use the ‘I’ word and from the ‘I’ word would come hopefully questions and messages from my life in America. I grew up in Dun Laoghaire. I went to the Christian Brothers in Dun Laoghaire for six years and then went to Castleknock College for six years. At eighteen I left Castleknock and studied for the priesthood for a time with the Vincentian Fathers. I spent a short time there. I then went to Shannon Airport Hotel School, and virtually got thrown out of it because I was caught hitchhiking into Limerick to go to a dance one night by the principal of the school. So I came home and I decided obviously my life was not to be entirely devoted to God or to hotel guests. My father was sitting at the study one day...one evening, he was reading the newspaper. He put it down and he glanced over it and he said, “Well Vincent, what do you think you’ll do now?” So I said, “Well I don't want to go to UCD. If I go to UCD all my friends will be there and I know I'll be goofing off, so why don't I go to Trinity College Law School?” My father was a District Justice up in Cavan and Monaghan. So I stood by my father as he wrote the letter to John Charles Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin asking permission if his son, Vincent could go to Trinity. Within ten days he got a reply from the Archbishop and the Archbishop said no. So I said okay, in that case I won't stay in Ireland I’ll go to America. I only found out some years later that all you had to do was to send a follow-up letter, “please, please, please Archbishop let him go”. And he would have said yes and I would have gone to Law School in Trinity College and probably wound up I don't know what.

My first political thought was at the age of nine. The war had just ended and I was reading the Dublin Opinion magazine and there was a small cartoon down the bottom right-hand corner of the page by CEK, Charles E. Kelly. It showed two Irish women on Moore Street selling their fish. And one said to the other, “To hell Maggie with our neutrality in the next world war. All we’ll want is a West wind and we're dead too”. It was my first political thought about the insanity of war and the insanity of nuclear or atomic bombs at the time because of the radioactive fallout.  At seventeen at Castleknock I thought it was rather stupid that we had to go behind the toilets and behind the swimming pool to smoke a cigarette. So myself and Syd Cheattle and Corny Hyde we had a demonstration, a protest on the Castleknock grounds and this of course is 1953, long before I think students ever took to protests. My protest, as I said had to do with smoking. I thought it was ridiculous that they were making semi-criminals out of something that we should have a choice to do or not to do. So Father Philip O'Donoghue came out and he called us up to his office and he said, “Now what's all this about?” Some of the other students were complaining about that the fish balls on Friday weren’t cooked adequately, and another group was talking about how the cups and saucers weren’t washed adequately. So we came to the smoking issue and Father O’Donoghue said, “Well why don't we do this: get a letter from your parents and if they give you permission to smoke on campus we’ll set up times to smoke.” So those two little events in a way shaped my life in the future.

I went to America and arrived on July 5th 1956. I had a brother who wasn't married at the time who lived in Seattle, Washington and I spent thirteen days with my brother. On the second day we argued whether we’d get tomato soup or chicken soup. The next day we argued on how to send a package, scotch tape or string. So it was obvious that we were not going to get on very well as brothers in business, so within two weeks I was in the Army. I went to Fort Hood, Texas, and I remember very clearly getting off the train. It was so hot I ran back into the train to put my nose up against the cooler to get some fresh air because it was about 110 degrees. The Army said that I was good at communications and that they were going to send me to communications school and with that I had a friend…I’d made a friend and he said he was going to Fort Bragg, North Carolina why didn’t I change my, my job title and so I said “okay” - to be with my friend.  So I went to Fort Bragg, not realizing that I was going to be a paratrooper jumping out of airplanes. I was there two months before I understood that I’d volunteered to be a paratrooper. So I made 25 jumps in fright – in flight and got out of the Army without any sense of what I still wanted to do with my life.

During the Army a couple of experiences took place and one was after basic training we had a two week holiday and my friend invited me to go to New York to stay with his family. The story is absolutely word perfect. We got to Greensboro, North Carolina and went into the restaurant and I was sitting here and he was opposite me and the window was there and the waitress came up and she murmured something. I didn't hear her and I said “pardon?” And my friend said “oh let’s get out of here”. I said “sorry?”, and she said “I can’t serve your friend. He’ll have to go into the other dining room”. It was only then I realised that he was a black man. I didn't realise he was black until this incident. So we both walked out of the restaurant. Here I am twenty years of age from Ireland, almost apolitical, unaware of the finer points of American life and the uglier parts of American life. A few months later I was on a bus, sitting on the fourth row on the right-hand side Greyhound going up to Jersey City, New Jersey. We were going through South Carolina and the bus pulled up at a small station and a lady got on and she was carrying several packages. I stood up and gave her my seat. The bus driver pulled the bus over to the side of the road and he said, “You can't sit there”. She was a black lady. So I didn't know what was going on. I said, “I don't mind giving her my seat”. And I remember several people on the bus their faces, kind of looked at me and said, “What are you doing?”, and of course we were on the third row of the bus and it was integrated and she had to move to the back of the bus. So the bus started off and I went up to the bus driver and I said, “Stop this bus!” Now this is December of 1956. I stood there and I said, “I want off this bus. If I can’t sit beside that lady there is something sick in this society". They were my words. He didn't pull over, but I got off at the next bus stop.

I got out of the Army and it’s 1960 we’re getting ready for the John Kennedy election. I of course was not a citizen at this time and I did not like John Kennedy. I thought he was the son of a rich man who wanted to buy the White House. And parenthetically, just a word on the Kennedys: The four boys, they used to sit down at the breakfast table and Joe Kennedy, the father strategized how Joe the eldest one day would be President of the United States. They lived in Boston. They were Catholic and the discrimination between Catholics and non-Catholics is something we don't talk about very much in American history, but it was rampant. And as things were to turn out because of my Irish ancestry I wasn’t able to get a teaching job for eighteen years, which probably if I have time I’ll get into later. The 1960 election, I was…it was about a month before the election and I was walking down Times Square to get a bus across to Jersey City. It was raining, it was about seven o'clock in the evening and there was a gentleman handing out flyers and I can still see him. He had one of these kind of…lapel coats with cuffs on them, he was about five foot seven, hat and glasses. I took the flyer and walked on as I was walking quickly to get out of the rain. And I looked at it and it showed on it a picture of the White House and on top of the White House was the Pope's tiara and written underneath was "A vote for Kennedy is a vote for Rome". I remember thinking at that moment I should save this, it's probably going to be a historical piece of paper of significance, but I crumpled it up and put it in the bin. With that I had the awakening, which made me a political activist between those, the events on the bus, and that I began to look at American politics.

By 1961, the US Supreme Court had passed Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which said the schools had to be integrated. In other words we had all-black schools, we had all-white schools and Brown - the Supreme Court decision nine to nothing said integrate the schools. The rationale behind it was not black on white, that black students were discriminated against because of segregation, the Supreme Court ruling which very few people enunciate when they talk about that was based on this: that any child who is in a school that is all one ethnic group is being discriminated against because they are not being prepared for the bigger world to which they are going to enter. So Brown versus Board said for white children and black children we need to integrate by, and as Jesse Jackson later was to say, “it's not the bus. It's us”. The idea was we had to bus children out of white neighbourhoods into black schools and out of black neighbourhood schools into white neighbourhoods, and of course this got everyone angry black and white; almost everyone angry.

But there were some choices. I lived by this time…after I'd gone into the Air Force for four years I was sent up to the North Pole and I began to protest while in the military American involvement in Vietnam. And I wrote letters, which of course is something you don't do in the American military and I remember thinking this is rather strange, the land of free speech and the land of freedom and you are in the military “defending” the country, and you are not meant to go public and write letters. So when I got discharged from the Air Force having spent a year in Thule, Greenland in the North Pole. Incidentally while I was up there I started a theatre group. There were about eight thousand GIs between the ages of eighteen and thirty and five women. So it was a rather a strange place to be. Many became alcoholics, and large number became gamble-olics. So rather than become one of those, I decided I'd start a theatre group. So I put on a played by Bridget Boland called ‘The Prisoner’ with Alec Guinness who’d played in it. Actually I rented the costumes from PJ Burke on Dame Street in Dublin and the United States Government paid for the costumes all the way from PJ Burke's costumes to the North Pole. The play incidentally was brilliant. I think the audience never thought they'd see such a sad and macabre play in the lives, but it was enjoyable.

When I got out of the Air Force at twenty-eight I knew how to type sixty-five words a minute, take Gregg shorthand at one hundred and ten words a minute, jump out of airplanes, kill people, and that's literally what I knew, so I knew if I put an ad in the newspaper, saying male twenty-eight, typist, shorthand expert, paratrooper, killer looking for a job I’d have trouble locating a job so I went back to university, and I studied Politics, International Relations and my teaching credential.  Now during this time Vietnam is beginning to explode. Often history records that the first troops sent to Vietnam were sent there by President Kennedy, which of course is not correct, President Eisenhower had fifteen thousand - we didn't call them soldiers, we called them advisors. So, in those days we even played with words. Today it’s “boots on the ground” and we die from “collateral damage”, we die from “friendly fire” so the whole George Orwellian thing is alive and well in modern day media description of modern warfare. So, in protesting Vietnam I was working in the Justice Department of the US Air Force and I used to have arguments – I was an enlisted man, I used to have arguments with Officers which was not very acceptable behaviour because Officers were not meant to associate with enlisted. But for whatever reason, I was able to have discussions and I argued in 1961 that the United States could not win the war in Vietnam. And the analogy I often gave was the history of Ireland, for better or for worse, five hundred years etc. etc. we all know what came about through that campaign of violence.  I said we won’t beat the Vietnamese because they want independence. This of course was when eighty-two per cent of the American public could not find Vietnam on the map.

During the university days there was a protest on the 15th November 1967 and about five thousand people…Fresno, California, where I lived is a very Republican, conservative, agricultural part of the state. The protest drew about five thousand people. It was the biggest protest in the history of this County and still has the numbers.  And we marched…we met the night before in the bowling alley as students and no one knew what to do because no one had been through this. And of course the frustration within each of us because we had no blueprint to go by, and this particular meeting lasted two hours and the attendant came in and said, “I’m afraid we’re shutting down in fifteen minutes”. So I got to the microphone. I was sitting listening and I said “I don’t know what anyone is going to do, but tomorrow morning I’m going to march seven miles from the University to the City Centre, and I'm going to read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution on free speech in article one section ten, which says only Congress can declare war”. For whatever reason it caught on and within six months I was a public figure in the Central Valley. Now because I was older...the McCarthy era was just coming to an end and the McCarthy era in the fifties with Senator Joseph McCarthy accusing just about everyone who he disagreed with with having communist links - the idea of an older student, I was twenty-nine - the word was that I was a paid member of the Communist Party coming in to disrupt the morals, and the minds, and the values of students. That may sound ridiculous, but it's absolutely true as to what happened because I was five or six years older than most students.

With the completion of the Air Force and my university I wanted to become a teacher and I remember walking across the campus with one of the professors of the Department of Education, and he said, “Now you know Vincent, you may have trouble getting a job because of your political persona”. I remember thinking “Ah come off it”, but it turns out that for the next eighteen years I was to teach seventeen year-olds a required subject in California public education - in order to graduate you had to take a class in American Government - that I couldn't get hired. So for eighteen years I was a substitute teacher and I earned about five or six thousand dollars a year. Now I don't tell this part of the period for sympathy. I knew exactly what I was getting into. In America today in the teaching ranks it is virtually unheard of to be in the public arena because of fear of not getting hired or promoted, but I didn't believe this in America. I thought this is the land of the free, etc. etc. that it couldn't be true. So eventually, after eighteen years, a long story, nothing got to do with anything I sued the School District and they settled out of court and I got a job.

Now the sixties in America was without doubt the most violent decade in the history of the country outside of the Civil War I would argue. There was one weekend and the weekend of Martin Luther King one hundred and ten cities were in flames. America was bordering on anarchy. That's what we thought at the time. There were machine guns mounted on the top of the White House and there were tanks in front of the White House. You had the Left, which was of course splintered and you had the Right, which, if you didn't agree with them you were not a good American. If you didn't agree with them you were suspect.

On April 28th 1967 I was reading Time magazine. And at this point I had not been involved directly in the American political system. I read a letter from Dr. Martin Shepard in New York. Lyndon Johnson, of course, was president, and then as now it's practically unheard of to challenge an incumbent president, but just a few lines from Dr. Shepard's letter. He said, “On your previous article as to who may run against Johnson in ‘68 you name a couple of people. Well while general congratulations on your article, I take issue with your minimization of our draft Kennedy movement. There are now forty-three citizens for Kennedy Fulbright in twenty-two states.” This was truly a grassroots movement to get Senator Robert Kennedy to run. Once again to challenge an incumbent president is not easy to do. I track down within an hour Dr. Martin Shepard in New York and got his phone number and I'm in California and he’s on the East Coast and I said, “Hello, this is Vincent Lavery I’ve read your letter”. He said, “Good. I’m getting some calls. Why don't you start your own organisation?” I remember thinking “Is that all? You’re not going to help me?” The County I lived in let me describe it very briefly: agricultural, hard-core Democrats, led by three families who literally ran the County, so it was almost a Southern Mississippi type County. You did not challenge the power structure in the County. Now little did I realize that that phone call would directly be responsible for the death of Senator Robert Kennedy. Had I not made that phone call Senator Robert Kennedy would not have been assassinated on June 5th 1968. I’ll cover that later. I’ve tried to give you an atmosphere into which I grew up, in which I saw America, and what have you. Specifics on American politics I’ll try to touch on now.

No one thought Lyndon Johnson would not run. So across the country there was this grassroots organisation in place to get Robert Kennedy to run. The first time I met him was on March 11th and I said, “Senator, you must run for President”. Now he had heard this from hundreds of people across the country, thousands, and he looked at me and he said, “Maybe I should”. And of course we all know on that particular day he’d made up his mind five days earlier that he would run that he would challenge the incumbent President Johnson.

The war in Vietnam was the issue, the major issue, but in addition to that you had the Civil Rights Movement, you had Students for a Democratic Society, CORE, NAACP, you had extreme factions in the Left. Some said Martin Luther King was the way to go - nonviolence. Others said, Malcolm X, that the only way to take on the power structure was through violence. So America from my point of view was truly a divided nation. You were either a good American or anti-American. Going on marches many times you would be sick in your stomach out of fear - the atmosphere generated that situation where there was polarisation on the streets of America. From my little world as a student and a would-be teacher I for the first time began to understand that the ballot box is the only way to get power. You either get it with the bullet or with a piece of paper. So when I see people saying the system isn't worth saving I don't know what the alternative is other than a piece of paper and ballot box.

In addition, the music of the sixties, if I may just go through a little bit because what happened was in my last year in the Air Force I entered an Air Force talent contest and I read a poem. Now reading poetry in the Air Force is not one of the great joys of audiences in the military.  So I read a seven minute poem called “The man with the broken fingers” by Carl Sandburg. I went through…I won five levels, I got up the worldwide Air Force level but since there was no category for poetry they put me in a general category, so I was competing against jugglers and ventriloquists and what have you. I wound up in the in the final, and when I came back to my base after winning my trophies for Carl Sandburg's wonderful poem I said to a band that was with me why don’t we go downtown? Now the reason I did this was because music was more than just music. It was political; it was Civil Rights; it was feminism; it was gay rights; it was Mexican-American rights. Out of the music were coming great messages. And of course many people in America, for example, when Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show the agreement was that the camera couldn't photograph him below his mid section because there were those who saw the music of the sixties of satanic, un-American, and of course to ruin the minds and the morals of the young people.

So I saw music. I never made any money out of it, as a matter of fact it cost me money. I started putting on concerts in the Central Valley. Now I bought in groups that normally would play in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco, and I was bringing them into a County that had about eighty thousand people. So I bought in Janis Joplin, Bo Diddley, Van Morrison and I heard about a group playing at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles called The Doors. I went down and listened to them and I said, “Oh my God, I'm almost musically tone deaf but this group is great”. I signed them up for four contracts and the first gig they performed there was eighty-one people in the audience. No one had heard of them. Two weeks later they came back and by that time, ‘Light My Fire’ had broken and there was two thousand people. Ray Manzarek the manager - I was driving them somewhere, I’d the four of them in my car and Jim Morrison was in the back, and Manzarek said, “Would you be interested in being our manager?” I didn't grasp fully what he was saying. He went on to say that Jim Morrison had a great hatred of his father and literally the words that Ray Manzarek used were, “he needs a father figure in his life” and he said, “You seem like an honourable person would you like to be our manager?” I said, “I’ll think about it”. Three weeks later, I turned it down.

But what began to happen was, prior to the music of the sixties across the nation many dances and concerts would end up with violence and fights and beer and drinking and what have you. What happened then was there was a mellow. It was almost…it may sound a little ridiculous, but flowers in your hair in San Francisco. There was a true belief amongst young people and when I say young I don’t mean biologically young, Bertrand Russell was young at ninety-two, I mean young of mind. There was a feeling that we could make a change. That we really could make the world a better place...the global village in which we were all trying to inhabit.

Robert Kennedy got into the race. And if you read any of his biographies now and many of the people who were associated with him and we’re talking here about hard political figures, media, hard political media types and the word that is used over and over is, “I loved that man”. It wasn't nostalgia. It was nothing to do with his Irish background. It had nothing to do with kind of maudlin. It had to do with a man in my opinion we've never seen the likes since, and I don't see on the political future a similar person in the political arena because Robert Kennedy was ruthless for justice. It’s an oxymoron, but when Robert Kennedy went after you; watch out! - Whether it was a mafia, the Teamsters Union, the FBI, or the CIA.

John Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs failure in Cuba, where the Americans had got rid of Batista and had helped Fidel Castro rise to power - the Americans wanted to get rid of Batista in Cuba, simply because Batista was beginning to take over the prostitution, the drugs and the gambling halls, and so it was in American interest to get rid of Batista. They got rid of him but a week after Fidel Castro gets into power, he says to America, paraphrasing, “Thank you for your help. Goodbye. Get out of my country.” Of course, America did not particularly like that. On 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion I was stationed in Orlando Air Force Base in Florida one hundred and twenty miles from Cuba and for the first time in my seven years in the military they issued us live ammunition because during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world was on the brink of atomic war. For those of you who may not recall or are aware, the United States set up a blockade around Cuba, the Russian ships was steaming towards Cuba with missiles. If Russia didn't make a U-turn there was going to be nuclear war. Bobby Kennedy talked with Dean Rusk, to the Russians, and Khrushchev said what are you so excited about having nuclear weapons, ninety miles off your coast. Come visit with me and I’ll take you down to the border of Turkey and you can look over the garden wall and see your weapons looking straight at us. It was not stated publicly at the time, but the agreement was, we the Americans promise we will never invade Cuba again and we also promise to get the nuclear weapons out of Turkey. The first part of promise was kept, the second part, unfortunately, was not.

Martin Luther King from my point of view, my world, was not only a pacifist of the highest order, but Martin Luther King was a brilliant politician. To me he was one of the first people who really knew how to use the media because we were entering into the era…it is no good any longer in America talking in the village square if the camera doesn't cover you, you did nothing. It is almost like today in modern-day Western Hemisphere. The tail is wagging the dog. You can have your protests, you can have your gatherings, but if the media, if the cameras are not there, it didn't happen. Martin Luther King was able to read very powerfully the media and how to use it in the best sense of that word. He went to Memphis, Tennessee and I want you to the picture this: there is about eight thousand striking garbage people with their sign singular. Martin Luther King said I have to support the Memphis garbage strikers for some very interesting reasons that I won’t get into. But on that sign was four words. I want you to think under what conditions would you ever hold a sign up like this. And that sign said, “I am a man”, not gender oriented I'm a human being. And there were eight thousand of these signs “I’m a man”. For me that picture…I don't know for historians, but for me that picture described the Civil Rights movement in America in the fifties and the sixties. I recall several black soldiers and airmen who would spend an hour, two hours a day in the bathroom with some sort of chemicals to straighten out their hair. There was one Oscar Smith I can still see him in my mind’s eye every morning for twenty minutes before we went to work and every Saturday before he went out on the town he was in there straightening out his hair to look white. Little Richard came to that town Fayetteville, North Carolina and I went down to see Little Richard but Little Richard had to put on two shows, one for the white folk and one for the black folk. And here I was not a citizen, and here were people whose great-grandparents made and strengthened the growth of America, and they couldn't go in and listen to Little Richard.

He announced he would run on March 16th 1968; very late to get into the race. He had to win California. Prior to the Election Day the Democratic Party and the State of California failed through some bureaucratic mix-up to get his name officially on the ballot so that he could run for in the California primary. I and a lady friend from Sacramento Kim Reardon, unknown about this mix-up filed papers on his behalf, without his permission. Had we not, of course Robert Kennedy would not been on the ballot and we will not know how history may have been changed. One thing we do know is that forty thousand Americans would not have died in Vietnam and over a million and a half Vietnamese would not have died because Robert Kennedy would have been out of Vietnam by 1965. I often think about Robert Kennedy. When you think about Robert Kennedy, for me, you think about America the greatness that America can be. Now whether you think America is great as it should be or can be is an individual opinion. But when I was involved with the Kennedy campaign during that year I really felt proud to be an American without wearing the American flag and saying we're number one. Robert Kennedy brought that sense of pride in a country. In other words, my country is the greatest country in the world, but no country is inferior. My parents were the greatest parents in the world but no parents are inferior. My school is the best school in the world but no school is inferior.

So five days before his death, I introduced him as he came through the Central Valley and I said…it was about five thousand people, I stood there and I looked out and I saw black faces, brown faces and Asians, young seventeen, eighteen-year-olds who didn't know how the process worked but they felt something, they felt this was some great moment. The other side of the coin was there were those who felt it was damnable. Let's not fool ourselves. There was either hate or love. I introduced him I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, welcome, this is the most wonderfulest of moment in my life.” The English wasn't very good but the sentiment was great. Ethel Kennedy looked over and she whispered and said, “You are Irish aren’t you?” I continued, I said, “The next President of the United States, Senator Robert F Kennedy.” There were protesters there. There were Eugene McCarthy, Democrats.  Eugene McCarthy, very courageously taken on Humphrey in the New Hampshire Primary and done exceedingly well and of course the McCarthy supporters felt Kennedy was a carpetbagger and had intervened only after Eugene McCarthy had laid the groundwork. Ironically history now shows in the election between Nixon and Hubert Humphrey had the McCarthy people come out in the numbers that they could have, Richard Nixon would not won that election. But many of the McCarthy supporters of which I was part of before Kennedy officially announced, they asked me to be a delegate for Eugene McCarthy. I said no and one of the union members said well what if Kennedy gets into the race and I said well I’ll have to withdraw, so they didn't put me down. But the history shows that Nixon became president over a wonderful American Hubert Humphrey. It’s almost a Greek tragedy.

We went to the 1968 Convention one hundred and sixty-eight delegates from California all committed to Robert Kennedy.  At that time it was winner take all, but we’d no candidate to vote for. So we were open, the individual delegate could vote how he or she chose. The Convention itself in Chicago later was described by the Report Commission as a police riot.  I recall at three o'clock in the morning marching from Grant Park to the Convention Hall, five thousand marchers and Pete Seeger in a low voice, saying, “Don't ever forget this night. This is America.” What he was referring to was the National Guard standing next to us with their fixed bayonets, where the young people would walk up and put a rose or a daffodil in the barrel of the gun, the smell of puke and vomit and gas and blood. It was a week for those of us who were there as delegates will live in our hearts forever. Hubert Humphrey got the nomination. As I said Hubert Humphrey…I’ve a letter from him here in which he says please support me at the Convention. I wrote back and I said, “Cannot in conscience because of your stand on the Vietnam War. Your silence on it.” His letter says, “Dear Mr Lavery, I cannot tell you what I said behind closed doors, but my job as Vice President was to follow our President.” The strong inference, of course, and I know it to be true Hubert Humphrey hated every moment of that war. And you have that awful predicament of loyalty to your office or resignation.  When he got the nomination I came back to Merced and there was a picture in the local paper, here is Vincent Lavery, who was a delegate for Robert Kennedy at the Convention on the floor and on my little handmade sign, Hubert Humphrey’s initials were HHH Hubert Horatio Humphrey, and on my little sign I’d written in ballpoint pen, “HH Hell No!”

I came back and I took the County Chairmanship for Hubert Humphrey. And the moral of the story is for me, is that in politics if you only go after what you want you are a politician. I’d like to think what I did there was statesman, somebody who is concerned with the next generation and not the next election. Hubert Humphrey barely lost the election and, of course, Richard Nixon got in. Richard Nixon to his great credit opened up China by sending over a half dozen American ping-pong players - the first contact between the United States and China. And out of that ping-pong game came the opening up of China. Richard Nixon was a Quaker by birth. I think in my little world he was a confused man. I think he realised that in his last interview with Robert Frost, where he says, perhaps, things could have been different.

This was a picture that we hung in our headquarters and it was the last thing I took down at the headquarters and just a few more little things if I may. One of the posters we made up for The Doors concert, psychedelic, wonderfully done.  And just two telegrams I received during the 1968 Convention.  And I’ll close with this not very happy note. This is a telegram we sent the night of Robert Kennedy's assassination. I wrote it. “To Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, Hyannis Port, on behalf of the Merced Campaign Workers, may we take this opportunity to express our most sincere regrets and our deepest sorrow of the death of Robert F. Kennedy. He gave to all of us that hope that this world needs, the hope that all men and women are created equal in the eyes of God. To us this hope is and always will be a reality. We pray that those who do not hold this feeling may soften their hearts. Our prayers are being offered to you and your family”.  And a telegram from a California citizen saying about the convention: “To the chairman of the California Delegation, Democratic Convention, Chicago. Dear Sir, can someone do something about Mayor Daley, his unbelievable brutality and his obviously rigged and crooked Convention? Free speech is dying on the streets of Chicago.”

You’ve been a wonderful audience and I’ll hang around if you have any questions. Thank-you very much.

 

Thank-you for listening to the Dublin Festival of History podcast, brought to you by Dublin City Council. To hear more please, subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud. You can also visit our website - dublinfestivalofhistory.ie - sign-up to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter.

 

Comments

ienjoyed this .love to talk to vincent lavell personally.i too like the central valley..thanks much

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