tv History Bookshelf Stephen Carter Invisible CSPAN February 22, 2021 9:49am-10:45am EST
next on "history bookshelf," yale university law professor stephen carter recalls the life of his wife eunice, responsible for the disruption of organized crime in new york city. ms. carter, the granddaughter of slaves gained great notoriety for her work despite the prejudices she faced throughout her career. by the harvard book store, this is about an hour. and now i'm very pleased to introduce tonight's speak, stephen l. carter is william nelson cromwell professor of law at yale university where he has taught for over 30 years. he has served as a law clerk for justice thurgood marshall, has received eight honorary degrees and recently delivered the w.e.b. dubois lectures at harvard. he's the author of 15 books of
non-fiction and fiction which include, the violence of piece, the emperor of ocean park, a novel that spent 11 weeks on "the new york times" best seller list. tonight he's here to present his new book "invisible: the visibl forgotten story of the black woman lawyer who took down america's most powerful mobster. juan williams says it is brimming with intellect and grit and walter isaacson praises it as a riveting and moving story, one with enormous rosonance. please join me in welcoming steven carter. [ applause ] >> well, thank you for that kind introduction and thank all of you for coming out. i want to thank the harvard bookstore for inviting me back. the last time i was supposed to be here i cans he would at the last minute. there was illness in the family and i couldn't make it. and the harvard bookstore said,
don't worry, we'll reschedule, and now three years later i'm here. it's a real pleasure to be here. i suspect most of you if you know my work you know me much better for my fiction, but this was a book that had been rolling around inside my head for a long time and i want to get into the book in a sense, talking backward. what i mean by that is before i talk about the book, i want to talk about the historical moment that gave rise to it. you have to take yourself back to new york of the 1930s. there had just been a big gang war in which the black gangs of harlem had been wiped out to a coalition of various white ethnic gangs. harlem mattered because harlem was the most lucrative territory in the country for organized
crime, largely because of the numbers game. the numbers game was played by more people in harlem than elsewhere, and also employed between 10,000 and 20,000 harlemites, whose actual jobs were working the numbers. there had been a violent war and the mob was in other ways dominant in new york and there was now a cry from civic reformers and newspapers that it was time to get serious about the mob and try to investigate. the problem was that with district attorney in new york at the time, a man named dodge, was in the pocket of the mob and had no intention of doing any kind of investigation. so there came what the newspapers began to call the runaway grand jury that said we want a special prosecutor to investigate organized crime and dodge eventually gave in and the special prosecutor was finally appointed, thomas dewey, who
later ran for president. when he took over, he had conditions. among the conditions were that he would hire his own staff, have his own offices, no one with any connection to the government in new york would work for him. and he hired 20 young lawyers and the 20 young lawyers, the newspapers immediately labeled the 20 against the underworld. and the 20 lawyers were 19 white males and one black woman. and the black woman is the subject of the book, "invisible". the black woman was eunice carter, and as some of you know -- i sometimes hide the ending, but she's my grandmother. so you have to imagine being a black lawyer, being a woman lawyer, in 1930s in new york. this is at a time when the bar was deeply segregated by race. the american bar association had a rule against black members, for example, at the time.
there were very few women lawyers in the country. there were certainly very few black women lawyers in the country. for a black woman to become a prosecutor and be on the staff of the special prosecutor was a big deal. it was a big deal. and it was news from coast to coast, dewey hires negro. you would see this in newspapers. she was in most of the stories, and there were a lot of them, about dewey's hiring of his staff, hers was the only photograph because it was a kind of man-bites-dog, what was this black woman doing in dewey's employ. so he hired the 20 lawyers whose job was to investigate and break up organized crime and he gave press conferences, and he said that he wasn't interested in, say, a conviction for tax evasion or something like that, or prostitution. he wanted to convict for what he called a real crime, like loan
sharking or murder, municipal corruption, drug running, various things. dewey had political convictions and he had to make clear he was not a vice crusader. so the 20 assistants were given areas to look into and they had their own cubicals. dewey had a big office and there was a row of offices for the assistants. and the furthest from dewey was the black woman in her office and all of them, this one was working on loan sharking, this one in corruption in the unions, and there was eunice carter, the black woman at the end of the hallway and she was assigned to work on prostitution. what dewey discovered, he invited new yorkers and he said come in and tell me what crimes are bothering you in your neighborhood. he was waiting for people to
come and say drugs were being sold, and there was some of that. but mainly new yorkers were concerned about brothels and street walkers. some of you may remember that term. dewey had a problem, he had to make the complaints seriously, but he had no intention of trying the prostitution case, so he gave it to the black woman on the staff to look into, making clear to her this is not something that was ever going to be tried because he didn't think that was how you should take down organized crime in new york. now, one of the things that happened historically was that the few female prosecutors who existed in the united states at the time, there were not very many, almost all of them were assigned to what were called the women's courts, which tried prostitution case and child abandonment cases, a variety of others, and the women's courts
were seen as a graveyard from which the female prosecutors never recovered. eunice was not a women's court prosecutor but she was essentially assigned to the same work, the work of prostitution and i think a different person might have complained about being able to not work and another person might have figured that her career was over. but eunice took it seriously because, alone among the investigators in dw dewey's office, she believed that the mob had a hand in prostitution. it was widely believed that prostitution was not a mob activity, it was a bunch of individual entrepreneurs, basically. she believed otherwise. her theory was the mob takes a cut of every other illegal activity in the city, it would be absurd that this multi million dollar activity pays nothing to the mob. long story short, she spent a lot of time alone in the office and you can find big heaps of
files that were sent to her that no one else was going to touch. she looked at the files and finally put together what she thought was a pretty good case that the mob controlled prostitution in new york. around this time, the man who was thought to be the head of the mob in new york, dutch schultz, was murdered, and eventually luciano, who rose to power and became the most powerful mafia leader in the nation's history, at least as most historians seem to think, so luciano became the target. and the problem that dewey had was that he couldn't connect luciano to any times. but eunice had spent a lot of time on the records and a lot of time talking to the women who were involved, believed that she could connect luciano to prostitution. so, finally, he allowed her to organize a raid. february 1st, 1936, 160 new york
police officers, none of them vice officers, none had ever worked together before because of fears about corruption, were sent to raid 80 brothels simultaneously and the idea was to arrest all of the women. why? because there were these people the mob employed known as the fixers and the job of the fixers is when one of the people is arrested, the fixer gets her out of jail so she went turn state's evidence. so they arrested all the fixers the night before quietly and then they arrested these 160 woman, actually, it was fewer than that. 100 odd women. they brought a judge in who came to the building where dewey's offices were to set high bail that the women couldn't possibly make in order to hold them as material witnesses, and then they waited for them to turn on higher-ups. and what you should know, by the way, as a footnote is nowadays
that's the staple of prosecution. you arrest the people lower down, give them a reduced sentence for turning. at the time it was a controversial practice. there were a lot of serious lawyers high up in the bar who thought it was unethical to offer a reduced sentence in return. if you did the crime, you did the time. you shouldn't have some special way of getting out of that. and besides, that testimony was viewed by a lot of people as inherently unreliable. the governor of new york was one of the people who said he thought it was terrible that dewey -- and dewey was his guy that he picked to be the special prosecutor, and he thought it was terrible that dewey was trading brief sentences for information. but trade he did and eunice did most of the work with the women in the office. in the end, lucianoç
lucky luciano and she gets the women to turn against him. she develops almost all the information that's used to convict him at trial. but when it comes time to try the case, who tries the case? dewey and three white male assistants actually try the case. eunice did have some responsibilities at trial but she didn't have that particular one. and this pattern repeated itself. a few years later when dewey became the district attorney of new york, he decided to go after jimmy hines, who was probably the most powerful politician in the state of new york, and it
was the same thing. eunice largely developed the case against him, she did the research and got people to turn. when it came time to try the case, it was dewey and a group of white male assistants who ended up doing the actual trial work. i'm not saying that dewey wasn't grateful to her, he would always thank her publicly. when he became da he a pointed her to head the special sessions bureau, where the black press at the time would greefully report that she was supervising 71 white male lawyers. so she had a career as a prosecutor and a very successful one. now let's put eunice aside for one minute and i'll tell you another related story and then i'll draw a couple conclusions and let you ask your questions. eunice had a younger brother and their parents were big black activists who believed in education and its importance. both of them were phenom naturally well educated, eunice
became a very prominent republican. you have to remember this is at the time when most black people voted republican, and one in fact that the republican party was the party of the civil rights and the democratic party quite emphatically wasn't. so you have to get the players straight. and she was heavily involved with political campaigns and so on. in fact, when dewey ran for president, he cited eunice as evidence that he was not prejudice because he had worked with this woman, she had done all these great things and worked on the prosecution, she was the head of the biggest bureau and so on and so on. but eunice was conservative, she was a traditionalist and she had a younger brother named alfius, who had degrees from harvard where he was badly treated, and nyu. he was a scholar and had a wonderful dissertation about
socialism in the literary circle. he was multi-lingual, but he was something else. he was a communist. and i don't mean he was accused of being a communist. he was a member of the communist party, he was a high-ranking member, he did favorites for soviet intelligence. he was a serious, committed communist. his fbi file was 700 pages, which was twice as long as martin luther king's file. so the two of them took these very divergent paths. you have one conservative traditionalist republican and a communist who has no faith in american institutions at all. i mention that for the following reason. obviously they had disagreements, but once their mother died in the 1940s, they grew apart. eunice, among other things, not only did she think her brother was wrong, and he thought she
was wrong, too, of course. she thought her brother was hurting her career because what she wanted was to be a judge and people from that office went on to all sorts of distinguished careers. for example, william rogers, who was both secretary of state and attorney general, was one of the 20 against the underworld. murray gerfine who became a distinguished judge was one of 20 against the underworld. there were about six or seven of them that became judges and that was what she wanted most of all. she never got to be a judge. she quit the prosecutor's office after ten years, but she never actually achieved that and she always believed it was because of her brother. her brother, in 1951, went to prison for refusing to name names, and those of you who know my work know that i'm very big on the tolerance of dissent on
not shutting people down and shutting people out of various jobs and so on because of their views. and that comes largely from my great uncle's experience. because after he had gotten out of prison, he couldn't get work at the time. he was, with all of his qualifications, he worked in a factory for a while and did a little bit of writing that he couldn't publish. he finally left the country in the late 1950s and never returned. he went to ghana and zambia and he spent a lot of time traveling in the soviet union and in china, but he never came back. the reason i tell you all that is this. as i said, my grandmother blamed him for a lot and in 1951 when he began to face his legal troubles, here was his sister who had been this prosecutor who was now at a law practice new york as a trial lawyer. he never went to her for advice. he never asked her to help him in any way. he went his way alone and my
father always said that after he got out of prison they never spoke again. it was 20 years later they died ten days apart from each other. in all that period, toward the end of their lives they began to correspond a little bit when she was in new york and he was in africa. but they never really -- they never actually reconciled. so there's that tragic side. but i want to focus on the things she accomplished, because i want you to think about, again, the barriers of the time. i think the stories about people breaking through barriers when these barriers were very, very high are stories that we need to be telling and need to be talking about and thinking about. when i was growing up, my grandmother was, for me, just this very scary woman. a woman who would quickly correct your grammar or which fork you used at the table. she felt her grandchildren had
very bad manners. so she scared us and i didn't know anything about her life at the time. working on this book over the last few years, i've learned about her life and i've come to understand that the things that i saw as being intimidating and scary were a part of the fortitude and determination that had carried her through to succeed in the ways that she did so that she actually became, by the 1940s, one of the most famous black women in america. now, there weren't a lot of famous black women in america in the 1940s, nevertheless they would be profiled in "life magazine" and "liberty" which doesn't exist anymore. she was on radio shows and on television. even then when television was young. she was very well known, in part, because of the luciano trial. that's what brought her to prominence. and she became very prominent as a republican politico, i guess
we would say nowadays, an activist in the party as well. i also want to say that the work i did on this book i didn't do alone. my daughter, lea, left law practice, actually, to come be the principal researcher on the book. she dug through a lot of archives, did a lot of interviews and other things as well. the book reflects her work really as much as mine. i hoped she would be able to be here tonight, but she wasn't able to. so two last points i'll make and then i'll take questions about any aspect of it that you would like to talk about. there's something else about eunice. in addition to the work she did as a lawyer, there's something else that she was talking back in the 1930s about the issue of what we'll now call sexual harassment, talking publicly about it at a time when nobody thought treatment of women in the workplace was important. she talked about it in a speech
in 1937, for example. she talked about men who, as she put it, used their positions of power to force women into, as she said, intimate relationships, and she said in the speech that burning an oil is a little too good for men of that sort. so this is at a time, remember, when you didn't see -- this was not a salient issue. civil rights activists at the time didn't want to talk about it. it's not that none of them were particular supporters, but they saw this -- some of them weren't, of course, but they saw this as a distraction that if they tried to free women at the same time, they would never get to the heart of their cause. eunice didn't believe that. toward the end of her career, eunice gave a speech actually in greece. she did a lot of international traveling later in her life. and she talked frankly about
countries where women were not allowed to be full citizens, including the united states, and she talked about it as a kind of dictatorship and she talked about the way that, after a while, if you are treated a certain way, there's a voice that begins to whisper in your mind. she called it the dictator within warning you, in effect, not to do certain kinds of things. she said no country can succeed when it plants these seeds in people's head she was way ahead of her time on that issue as well. the last thing i want to mention about eunice is that she also came from an extraordinary family. her parents, and i can go further back, but her immediate parents were both big and important activists. her father's name was william, worked for the ymca. you have to imagine the ymca as a vital organization with chapters all over the world and he traveled all around the world. he most famously had lunch at
lucking ham palace and also gave a speech in tokyo and switzerland and other places. he was a very conservative man, but a big activist as well. those things went very closely hand in hand in the rhetoric of racial justice in the 19th century when he came along. her mother, who was known generally as adi, did among other things, she was one of only three black women to went to europe during world war i with the black troops. there were all these hundreds and hundreds of white women who went to work in basically what we now think of as osu type jobs. so the troops have a place to unwind and so on. but for all the thousands, only three black women. when she came back, she wrote a best-selling book about the
treatment of black soldiers during world war i, a book that is still referenced when historians write about the subject today. the other thing i want to mention about her mother, she worked for the naacp as what is called a field secretary and her job was to go to towns where the klan had become so dominant and she would travel there by herself and give these rousing speeches to get people feeling again that they could do something in the face of ku klux klan intimidation. she was well aware of the dangers of what she was doing, but nevertheless, believed in the work and traveled, from what we know, quite unafraid. i should add that in the end she left the naacp, there were complicated reasons. but one of them was she was the only female field secretary and
eunice's mother began to feel a little bit mistreated as the only woman who did this field work at the time. there was concern about gender, as well as race that ran deeply in eunice's blood. so eunice was a great and accomplished woman and the book is called "invisible" in time because at the time she started out she was shunted aside, then she had a period of being well known but now is occasionally forgotten. a lot of history you find about her isn't quite right and i tried to correct some of that in the book as well. her story as gnawed at me for a long time. in 2008 i published a novel that years later i realized had really been meant to celebrate in a sense her generation of harlemites, called "palace counsel". for a long time i wanted to tell her story and in the process
i've come to realize that this woman who once terrified me was really become someone i really, really love and i'm very proud. thank you very much and i'll be happy to take your questions. [ applause ] >> so there's a microphone there. be aware that it's there. wait for it to come over you. please, go ahead. you don't have to look up at it. just make sure it's there. >> the material in the story, for example, many historians believe that dewey, later on, became quite comfy cozy and lucky luciano was let go from jail andsent to it lee.
>> his papers reflect he was snookered into letting lucky luciano go. it was the naval intelligence that pressured him when he became governor of new york to parole luciano because luciano had allegedly arranged protection using his mob connections for the docks in new york and also, supposedly, made contacts with the sicilian mafia to help make the u.s. landing there easier. those stories are probably not true. historians say this was largely invented, but dewey's papers tell us that he was very resistant to letting luciano go. but luciano was ultimately released a few years after the war on condition that he accept extradition. i should add that luciano, unfortunately, has become kind of a romantic figure to a lot of writers. there's a whole course of
writers who are on the luciano was framed bandwagon, and all i can say is they have not looked at the trial transcript or the records or evidence that my grandmother put together. it's pretty clear that there wasn't any framing going on. we can differ over the wisdom of criminalizing prostitution, but it is the only crime he was ever convicted of. wait for the microphone boom. sorry. that's why i keep pointing to you. >> you alluded to your grandmother's brother's treatment at harvard. could you comment further? >> yes, i did kind of open the way for that. so her brother came to harvard in 1921 to get a master's degree in literature. he had gone to howard has an undergraduate, and upon arriving at harvard he was informed by the legendry dean of harvard's
graduate school, dean robinson, that because he had gone to howard university, although was a one-year masters program he was enrolled in, he would have to spend two years. now, when i first came across this, i thought this must be something special to happen to all the black students, but it only happened to the howard students. you can track other howard students that came. there were black students who had gone to amherst who were told you can get your master's degree in one year. he was quite upset about this and he resisted it and fought it, and frankly the reason he was resisting it, he couldn't afford it. he didn't have to money. they were relatively high compared to people's income at the time and he had trouble trying to get money for another year and he tried several ways to get around the two-year requirement, but he was never able to get around it.
he arrived at harvard right after the episode that involved the fabled president lowell that many of you know about when -- so when they developed the house system at harvard, president lowell, who did a lot of great things for harvard, no question, but he decided that the negro students, as they were called at the time, really should not live in the houses because they wouldn't be comfortable there. so they should board elsewhere in the city. this was a huge battle. it was in all the newspapers. he was finally overruled by the harvard corporation on that. but the scars from that battle lingered as civil rights activists looked toward harvard in the 1920s. that didn't involve him because he was a graduate student and wouldn't have lived there anyway. but that was part of harvard's history that was current at the time. this gentleman right here. >> i've got a couple of inside questions.
one is, what effect did eunice carter's work with franklin frazier have on dewey's decision to hire her as an investigator? >> and what's the second question? i'll be happy to answer them both. >> the second question is, the prosecution of jimmy hines began before the prosecution of luciano, and i'm wondering whether eunice carter had a role in the trials of pompez and the other harlem numbers guys. pompez was my great uncle, by the way. >> oh, really? >> yeah, so those are my two questions. >> let's deal with the first one first. franklin frazier, so in 1935 there was a riot in harlem and after the riot the mayor, mayor
laguardia, appointed a commission to look into the cause of the riot. it is said to be, i have no idea if it's true, the first commission in u.s. history where the majority of members were black. i don't know if that's true, but that's what's often written about it. so eunice was part of the commission and she in fact was the secretary. there are some accounts that say that franklin frazier, the great sociologist and historian was a member of the commission. that's not actually true. he was the research director and came to prominence as a result of his work there. if you look at the files of the commission, which never had much money because the city wouldn't give it the amount of money budgeted for it, that frazier often didn't get paid until eunice as the secretary would go and beg city hall for a check for money to pay him with. they became very close, although i quote in the book some private
correspondence of hers that was critical to his first draft of the commission's report, but they became very close and stayed in touch for some while, although i don't know about in eunice's later years because i don't have those records. hines and pompez, so the raids that led to the arrest of hines took place in 1937 and the raids were initially directed against
the reason i mention this is the reason hines did the book at all, is that -- what i said before, when eunice was simply involved in prosecuting white gangsters, harlem loved her. when dewey turned his attention -- this was after he was da, to the numbers kings, a lot of harlem did actually turn against her at that point. the sense was that she was not -- now she was doing something that was wrong, was the view. and that was partly because pompez was popular and partly because the 10,000 or 20,000 harlemites were employed there. he's a really colorful figure and pompez is the only numbers runner who was in the baseball hall of fame. he's in the baseball hall of fame. back over here, just wait one minute for the boom.
sorry. >> i'm interested in more about your grandmother, how old you were when, you know, you knew her or how close you were to her or how often you saw her. your grandfather, you know, a little more family stuff here. >> let me do a little more family stuff. that's fine. so my grandmother died when i was in high school and i really didn't know any of these stories at the time. my grandfather had died some time earlier. my grandfather was a dentist in harlem and they met in the 1920s when she was involved -- she was a social worker before she went to law school and she was involved in designing and creating a free dental clinic in harlem and that appears to be when they met because he was the first dentist to volunteer to work with the clinic. they had a troubled marriage. they had a troubled marriage.
i'll make no bones of it. he was quite the fa landerer. eunice's mother first came to prominence in the late 19th century was a public speaker on the duties of black motherhood and she preached that the future of the race was dependent upon black women basically staying home and raising children to be future leaders of the race. now, ade never made home. she was always off giving speeches. this is what eunice grew up on. so even when eunice's marriage went bad, she tried everything to keep it together because she had the sense from her mother of a duty, a duty to the race not to leave her husband and to try to find a way to patch things up. it appears that they did live
apart briefly in the late 1930s, but we can't pin down exactly when, assuming even that that actually occurred. they had a very rocky marriage, but they patched things up toward the end. in fact, when her husband was diagnosed with cancer in the late '50s and had to sell his dental practice, she suspended her other activities in order to care for him. as to my memories of her, i'll share a couple that are family stories. she used to come visit us every year at christmas. she would come on the train. we were living in washington and she was in new york. she had a fear of flying. she would come on the train and i remember meeting her at union station and she would always spend two days cooking the virginia ham with more salt than you can picture, but it smelled very good and tasted very good. the other memory i have is constantly either waving her off
or meeting her at dockside because she was always getting on oceanliners and going to europe. they went to europe all the time. she had expensive taste. she had to go first class. she was always wearing expensive furs and so on and so forth. she was always, even back when her husband was alive, always trying to move to a fancier apartment and finally she wanted a mansion instead of an apartment, so they went and did that and so on and so forth. and her expensive tastes became, for even we as children, we realized that this woman either actually had money or wanted the world to think she had money because she was always wearing all this fancy stuff, but she came from a generation in harlem where people who would afford to were determined to be turned out a certain way to prove in a segregated society that they could do the same things that
other people could do. you can decide whether or not to admire that. but i do find something admirable about it, even though it's been written about critically, and frazier among them. but there's something admirable about the notion that they tried, they tried to build a society in harlem, a society that was deeply stratified, you were in it or you weren't, and that was very sad. but they tried to do something in the midst of segregation to build some place where they could have a sense of accomplishment is something i nevertheless admire, even if i don't agree about the way they went about doing it. who else do we have? just wait one minute. >> what were her experiences taking the bar and being admitted? i assume in new york. >> oh, yes, yes. i haven't told you much about her education. she went to smith college and graduated in the class of 1921. her education at smith was probably paid for, we think, by
mary white, a prominent smith graduate who was quite wealthy, a wealthy activist and socialist and we believe that she paid for eunice's education at smith. when she left, she tried being a teacher in the south. she didn't like that very much. she returned to new york and became part of the harlem renaissance. she was actually in ducted into the harlem writers' guild, which at the time was the top of what later became the renaissance. it only had ten dozen members at any one time and all the people you could imagine were members of it. gwendolyn bennett wrote a letter to harold jacqueline, two great writers of the '20s, saying how did these people get in, meaning eunice, and he said i didn't vote for them, with about five
exclamation points. she did that for a while. and she was on a path that might have made her one of -- what ann clayton powell used to call the zarinas who ran harlem society, who were always at this party or gala. that was the path she was on. and evidently it scared her. that wasn't the life that she actually wanted. she could have gone on writing and stayed on that path and i have no idea how successful she would have been. she published a lot of short stories and reviews. who knows how that would have worked out. but she decided to go to law school. she went to fordham law school. and if you look at law schools at the time, most of the big law schools only admitted men at the time and quite a few of them also had a color bar, although
by no means all of them. and the catholic law schools, along with what were called the women's law schools, i don't know if some of you have heard that term or not, that were created for a while at the time, tried to take up the slack. and the women's law schools were opposed by the big law schools. harvard tried to shut down the women's law schools in this area, to give you one example. the catholic law schools generally were co-educational and they had a particular mission to immigrants, to people of color, and the jewish students, most of them couldn't get into the big law schools or couldn't get in without very tight restrictions. if you look at them in the urban areas, you'll find them replete with lawyers that couldn't have gone elsewhere. fordham is where she went. she entered in 1927. then she got sick and left for a
while. then she got involved in politics and did some other things. she finally went back to fordham and graduated in the early 1930s and she hung out a shingle in harlem and immediately couldn't get any work. of course, most people wanted white lawyers at the time but there were some people that would hire black women and white women. but a black woman was something people took a while to get used to. she defended a man named reese dancer, a very prominent black gossip columnist of the 1920s and '30s and she defended him when he was being extradited for failure to pay child support and he was trying to stay in new york and not go back to michigan. but she lost and he went to jail in michigan, probably deservedly because he hadn't paid child support in -- i forget how many years it was. she also ran for office.
shortly before she went to law school -- sorry, shortly after she went to law school, she ran for the state legislature. she lost. while she was running for state legislature, she took a case involving two voters whose registration was denied because of some mix-up about the addresses and so on. she took the case on the eve of the election and won that case and got free publicity from her friends at the "amsterdam news" and they wrote a thing about how she's protecting your right to vote. she lost anyway, in spite of that. what else do we have? over here. >> first i have a little side thing about your great uncle. you said he was a member of the communist party in the '30s and i just wanted to note that the communist party was very active in fighting the case of the scotsboro boys.
it was certainly one of the prominent forces working on that. when we think of the party, we might attach it to other ideas. but it's important to remember that history, also. but i was curious about how your father talked about his mother. >> i will get to how he talked about her in a minute. let me say something about the communist party. so a lot of black intellectuals were attracted to the communist party in the '20s and '30s. the communist party, in fact, came out for equal rights for black americans, at least, back in i think around the time -- not long after the russian revolution. i don't remember exactly when it was. i think it was around 1920 or so. and a lot of black intellectuals of the time looked at the soviet union, newly established, and saw hope. they saw the future. there were a lot who went and traveled there and studied for a while and tried to learn. it was not at all unusual to have that attraction. what was unusual was to stick
with it. most of these people after a few years decided that wasn't the way, whereas her younger brother would double down. he would follow the party line. so you look at, for example, entry into world war ii when germany and soviet union were allies, he was adamantly opposed to the u.s. entering world war ii, and as soon as germany turned on and invaded russian territory, he immediately said it's crucial that the u.s. get involved and so on and so on. here things are a little bit awkward because my father was eunice's only child, and when he was young she sent him to barbados where her husband was from to study, where he spent five or six years. and there's a story around the da's office that that was
because they had been warned to take precautions of their families because of the luciano case, but she sent him to barbados six months before she was hired by luciano, so that can't possibly be the reason. she always said it was for his health but my father used to say that he thought she wanted to get him out from under foot. when he came back, she immediately sent him off to prep school as soon as he got back. nevertheless, he used to talk about her -- she was an enormous influence on his life and he used to talk about her a great deal, mainly with enormous respect. i'm not going to say it was affection, but respect, that he learned a lot from her. i'll tell you one little story that he used to say that his happiest moment was this moment in the mid to late 1920s when he was a little kid, maybe it was early '30s, and his mother got very sick. she had some surgery and so she
went to floored to recuperate with one of her mother's best friends, where she spent some months. he went down with her on the train and late in his life my father would say that train ride with his mother, when i think he was 6 or 7 years old, was the happiest time they ever had together because she wasn't working. she was paying attention to him and that was something he had not experienced that he remembered. so he really loved that time together. but he had an enormous respect for her and he loved to tell the luciano story. he never told me the story when she was alive. it was only after she died that i started hearing stories about the luciano case. i knew nothing of any of that when i was growing up. >> we have one or two more questions. then i think there's one in the front. >> did this episode involving thomas dewey, it seems like it's one of the things that propelled him to the nomination, which
really must have made him lock -- look like a big shot. >> that's a very good point, the luciano trial made dewey a national figure and he decided he ought to be president. we're talking -- so luciano is convicted in 1936. 1938 dewey is elected to district attorney. 1940 dewey wants to run for president. he didn't get the nomination. he got it in '44 and '48. he ran on convicting lucky luciano and he arrive at the convention with the most delegates when he got there. but he didn't get the nomination. wilke got the nomination. it was the last dark horse candidate who took multiple ballots and there was a compromise at the end. and of course he got thrashed by
roosevelt. wilke and my grandmother became very close. she campaigned for him also. so in 1942, governor of new york, and then in '44 and '48 dewey campaigns for president. again, when he runs for president, he runs in 1944 on the strongest civil rights plank that any major party candidate had ever run on in the nation's history up to that time and eunice is involved with the black republicans drafting the party plank and persuading delegates to support. this is back when political party platforms were important and given a lot of scrutiny. and if you see the book, on the cover of the book there's a picture of eunice standing there pointing in a meeting down and there's a man next to her with his hand up in the air. that was at a meeting of black republicans in 1944. basically she was refusing to yield the floor during the battle over exactly what the
platform ought to say. eunice campaigned hard for dewey in both '44 and '48, and he talked about her a lot in both '44 and '48 when he was trying to bring the black vote back to the republican party. that was his plan for winning. his plan didn't work and the other thing that hurt eunice's career, although she didn't like to admit it, she remained a republican forever, even though by the late '40s, the black vote, which had been very heavily republican in the 1920s, had largely switched in the wake of the depression the other way. there are people who claim to know exactly what the numbers are. we don't know that and most serious scholars that look at this, we know that it was different in the late '40s, but we don't have the data exactly what happened and the precinct level numbers. you had a question? we have time for one more question. last one, okay. >> did she have any relationship
with eleanor roosevelt? >> oh, that's a great question. did she have a relationship with eleanor roosevelt? she was a great friend and fan. how did she thread that needle when she was campaigning against them? there was a speech she gave -- well, the numbers speech, she used the same theme. basically she would say when she gave speeches to groups of black voters, he would say eleanor roosevelt is one of the great women of her time, she's a towering moral and intellectual presence and would go on and on about how wonderful she was, but this election is not about eleanor roosevelt, it's about her husband. and she would tell the stories. and fdr had a lot of virtues, but he refused to allow black reporters at his press conferences, and that's a matter of record. but he wouldn't desegregate the armed forces, but nevertheless lied to the public saying that the naacp went along with his
policy, which was not true. everyone has things they did that historically we wish we could get back in a sense, and he was very bad on a lot of race issues, which is why there's that famous poem by langston hughes, waiting on roosevelt. hughes had famously given up politics long before. but he writes the poem about how the black voters had gone for roosevelt and got nothing in return. that's probably my grandmother's view. the important thing about her story isn't what happened in politics later on, it's the fortitude and the feistiness with which she almost singlehandedly brought an entire office of prosecutors, plus dewey, around to her theory, her lonely theory that turned out to be the correct one of how to convict lucky luciano. thank you all very much for your kind attention. [ applause ]
today the house budget committee will debate a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill. the package includes an extension of unemployment benefits. watch live coverage at 1:00 on c-span3, online or listen online with the c-span radio app. weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. just over 75 years ago, on july 16th, 1945, the secret manhattan project culminated in the new mexico desert with the trinity test, the first atomic bomb explosion. about three weeks later, the united states dropped atomic bombs on hiroshima and nagasaki, japan, helping push japanese leaders to surrender and end world war ii. tonight los alamos senior historian alan carr tells the
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