Andrew Cohen: Nicholas Katzenbach, Unsung Hero of America's Desegregation
Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for 60 Minutes. He is also chief analyst and legal editor for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal analysts and commentators.
When we think back upon the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s we usually think of the marches and the fire hoses, of Martin Luther King and Eugene "Bull" Connor, of Brown v. Board of Education and Southern judges and grandiloquent presidential proclamations. We seldom think about the dedicated and loyal men and women of the federal government who literally, often at great personal peril, enforced the new desegregation policies.
One of these brave public servants, a true American hero, was Nicholas Katzenbach, who died Tuesday night in New Jersey at at the age of 90. The obituaries note that he served as the 65th attorney general of the United States, under President Lyndon Johnson, but even if Katzenbach had never worked a day in his life after 1965 his place in American history would have been secured. When it came to the ugliness of race in America, when it came to the battleground, he both talked the talk and walked the walk.
It was Nicolas Katzenbach, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's main man at the Justice Department, who bounded up the steps of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in June 1963 to face Governor George Wallace, the unrepentant segregationist, who had pledged to block the registration of two black students to the college. Here's the audio of that momentous confrontation. Here is the video of it. It is both chilling and inspiring to experience today....
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