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Oral History

John W. Douglas Oral History, Assistant Attorney General; Civil Rights Advocate

Copyright 2016 the Miller Center Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Knott

We know that you were the son of a Senator, was that the avenue that—

Douglas

Well, my best recollection is that somewhere in the 1960s I did meet Robert Kennedy. I didn’t see a lot of him, but I think that was the time I met him. I don’t think I met Senator Ted Kennedy until I went into the Justice Department in 1963, when I was asked to be head of the Civil Division. So I joined them in early ’63. I think probably in the period I was in the Justice Department I met Ted, but I don’t have any specific recollection.

Knott

I see. Is there a period in which you do have some intense—we were wondering if the 1968 campaign with Robert Kennedy—if you worked with Ted Kennedy in Indiana. We found some evidence of that. Do you recall anything from that time period?

Douglas

I remember Robert Kennedy asking me to go out and help organize the group there that was working intensely on his campaign. I did that for about three or four weeks. Ted Kennedy, I think, came through and did some campaigning for Robert, but I don’t recall any specific episodes on that. I imagine Ted’s people will remember that.

Knott

Sure. You were in private practice at the time?

Douglas

Yes.

Knott

Did Robert Kennedy consult with you at all when he was considering making this run for the Presidency?

Douglas

I don’t have any specific recollection of that. I did go down to his office once, but that would have been early 1968. I’m sure he did mention that he was thinking about it in response to some requests, but I don’t recall any specific words.

Knott

Is there a period in which your affiliation with Robert Kennedy—obviously Senator Robert Kennedy is killed in June 1968. Is there a period in which your relationship or friendship with Edward Kennedy begins to sort of—

Douglas

I think probably during that campaign. I’m pretty sure Ted came out and campaigned personally there. I think some of the people who worked for him also were in Indiana from time to time. So my best recollection is yes, I did see something of him, but I don’t remember any specific episodes.

Knott

Do you have a sense of the differences between these two brothers? You knew both of them. Are there any things that stand out in your mind, similarities or contrasts between the two?

Douglas

Maybe it was because I knew Robert better than I knew Ted. With me, I think Ted was more reserved. Also, although I saw something of Ted in that primary effort, I don’t think I spent a lot of time with him, so my specific recollections of exchanges with him are not clear. He was cheerful, he was outgoing. He was extremely nice to everybody. But because I’d worked for Bobby in the department, there’s no doubt I knew him better.

Knott

Let me take you back to that then. Could you talk a little bit about your responsibilities in the Justice Department with Robert Kennedy?

Douglas

I was head of the Civil Division as an Assistant Attorney General, and that division had responsibility for representing the United States in litigation in which the United States was a party—either as plaintiff or defendant—in civil litigation. So that covered a wide variety of things. But in addition, Bobby had the practice of asking people outside a particular division to help out on some project, maybe take the lead on it. 

In ’63 he did ask me, perhaps with mixed participation, to head up the organization of the government’s response in the March on Washington. So probably starting in June of that year, I spent a lot of time on that part of the project. Project is a poor word, but I spent part of the time on that matter. My understanding was that the administration had decided to send up a civil rights bill to the Congress. This march was scheduled to go forward, and it was the White House and Justice Department view that it was important that this march go off smoothly. That was a plus. So both the White House and the Justice Department wanted to do what they could to help the march along. 

One of the first things that came up was the question of where the march was to be and speeches were to be held. Initially the marchers were thinking about having the focal point be the Congress and the territory up there. The people in the administration, the Justice Department, and I thought that would have been a real mistake. So we were able to persuade the marchers to have the main event be down at the Lincoln Memorial. That was a good decision, as it turned out. 

Then I worked on a lot of mechanical things that seemed pretty minor but which were nonetheless important, such as were there enough portable toilets? Would the length of the ceremony be such that people would have a chance to get back to their homes at a decent hour? The loudspeaker system was somethingI think the government supplied. There were questions of when to start and when to end because you had to have permission, or at least non-objection, from government authorities during the course of an event like this—when would it start, when would it end. How would people get in and how would people get out. A tremendous amount of detail. 

I and my special assistant, Alan Raywid, and others, like John Reilly, worked on that aspect of things. There also was the military, because if things had gone badly and people strongly opposed to the march had intervened, there might have been trouble. So I did talk to one or two people at the Pentagon. That never became a problem, but people worried a little bit about that. So I tried to cover every conceivable detail that might come up on the organizational side of the march. 

The marchers were obviously responsible for the march, but the government had a role also in responding to it. The government did a lot of things that today, for one reason or another, they probably wouldn’t be able to do in terms of the details.I think also there was a question of timing—when the speeches would start, when they would end. Would people be able to get out of town, were there enough buses? A lot of details. We sort of went on the premise to outline problems that might come up and make some plans accordingly. 

During the march I was down at police headquarters in the district because they had the best communications setup. When the march was over, Bobby called me up and asked me who should be called to express appreciation for their role in having helped to make the march a success from the government’s point of view—that is to say, the mechanics. I didn’t have a list at the time but spent the next ten minutes or so figuring out who he should call, and I gave it to him on the telephone from where I was at the police headquarters. I think he in turn passed some of the names along to the White House people. So from our point of view, the whole thing was a success.

Knott

How would you assess Robert Kennedy as a Cabinet Secretary? He was very young. There were accusations that he was inexperienced, that he had only gotten the job because his brother was the President. What kind of strengths and weaknesses did you see in him?

Douglas

I think he was an excellent leader and he had pretty good ideas about how he’d like the government to move ahead. Fairly early it became apparent that he wanted something done on civil rights, on organized crime. Those, as you know, were his principal interests. 

I became aware of those things only after I joined the department and that was in ’63. I don’t know the earlier period. But he had a tendency to ask people to work outside their assigned fields. So that was the way in which I was asked to do this stuff on the March on Washington and later on on a few other things. But he was an excellent leader, full of pep, realistic, progressive, and consulted widely. He had people call in to listen to debates, to discussions, on things like should [Jimmy] Hoffa be prosecuted on the wire—on the interference. I don’t think I saw much of Ted during this period at all.

Knott

You don’t recall any?

Douglas

No, I don’t recall any.

Martin

You had mentioned that you thought it would have been a mistake if the March on Washington had ended at the Capitol building. What was your thinking on that at the time?

Douglas

I’m not sure. But I think in Congress there were different factions. Some of the people in Congress were opposed to doing anything more on civil rights. It seemed better to have it be in a national setting such as the Lincoln Memorial, rather than at a place where there were divisions. Tied into that was a fear that if it were up on the Capitol people opposed to civil rights legislation would be given more of an opportunity to be critical. So it seemed to us that it would be a more hospitable setting at the Lincoln Memorial and of course all that Lincoln stood for. Those were the elements.

Knott

How long did you stay at the Justice Department?

Douglas

I stayed at the Justice Department until the fall of ’66, about three and a half years.

Knott

During that period that Robert Kennedy was a United States Senator, did you maintain a friendship or a relationship with him of any sort after he left the Justice Department?

Douglas

No. Are you asking about Robert Kennedy? 

Knott

Yes, Robert Kennedy.

Douglas

I didn’t talk to him during his Senatorial campaign. I made some suggestions and a couple of people who worked with me in Justice went to work on that campaign with Bobby, particularly Peter Edelman, who had been my special assistant and who went to work for Bobby’s campaign shortly after Bobby left the department.

Knott

Then, as we’ve talked about, in 1968 you did work on Bobby’s Presidential campaign.

Douglas

InBobby’s ’68 Presidential campaign, my work was overwhelmingly in Indiana. I was asked to go out there and help organize the structure of the campaign in that period. I did that. 

Knott

Were you working with people like Gerry Doherty there?

Douglas

Gerry was one of the people who came out, yes. It was fairly easy in that period. I don’t recall any friction. I didn’t have an official title when I came in response to a request from Bobby. There were no changes in people out there. 

Knott

In the early ’70s, I believe, you became involved in the [George] McGovern campaign.

Douglas

I did. I was one of the co-chairs of his Citizens Committee. 

Knott

Had you known him over the years? How did that come about?

Douglas

I think that was 1972.

Knott

Seventy-two, right.

Douglas

I think he and Bobby had been pretty good pals and I think he was a good friend of Ted’s, though I’m not certain of that, but certainly he and Robert were good friends. So George knew that I had been active in his campaign and also in the department and I was sympathetic to what George was trying to accomplish. So it was easy.

Knott

Did you ever consider a political career for yourself, either in Illinois or—

Douglas

I don’t think I ever did, really, because that was not my cup of tea. 

Knott

What was it that you didn’t particularly take to?

Douglas

I think I was probably better at organizing than at actually projecting, and I would have been somewhat uncomfortable in that role. That’s the best way to put it.

Knott

Your father didn’t see you following in his footsteps?

Douglas

No, he didn’t. He liked his own career, but he never urged me to get into that line of activities. But in 1966, when my father was up for reelection, I did go out there and help him for about three weeks. It just delayed my reentry into this firm to give him a hand on the organizational side of that effort. And in that campaign, as I think you know, both Bobby and Ted came out and delivered lively speeches. In fact, I really think those appearances did more to jazz up my dad’s campaign than any of the other things that came along. 

There was one side of it that had nothing to do with Bobby’s and Ted’s intentions. It wasn’t important; it was a sidelight though. That was, one of the things that my father had to confront was his age. He was then in his 70s, so there was an undercurrent of, we need a younger man. In a strange sort of way when Bobby and Ted came out with all their youthful vigor and pep I think there was an unintended consequence about their youth and age with this older man. So in that sense, it was a psychological thing. But there’s no doubt that their appearances were a help, a great help. There was just this unexpected side. They would have been asked to participate anyhow, but I think they wanted to. 

Knott

How did that race turn out? Did your father win that race?

Douglas

No, he lost. That was his last campaign. There were a lot of things at work there. He’d had three terms, 18 years, so there was talk of time for a change. There was a feeling that the Democrats nationally had not done as well as they should, so let’s vote against them. The Vietnam War was having its downside, and that I think worked against my father, who was for the war at that time.

Knott

Oh, he was.

Douglas

I don’t think that [Charles] Percy was particularly outspoken against the war. In fact, I know he wasn’t, but I think that position and the war in general didn’t strengthen his candidacy. And you know for someone who’d been in for 18 years, a lot of people thoughtthat’s enough.

Knott

Sure. Did your father support Robert Kennedy in 1968 when he ran for the Presidency?

Douglas

I don’t think he did. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. He was out of politics. He was, and remained, a good friend of [Hubert] Humphrey’s. They’d come to the Senate the same year, ’48. So I don’t think he was active. 

Knott

I’ll just jump ahead a bit here. In 1980, Edward Kennedy decides to challenge incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic party nomination. Do you have any recollections of that year, your participation in any discussions that may have taken place, or any campaigning that you may have done on his behalf?

Douglas

Well, I was certainly for Ted, but I can’t remember specific things that I did to help him. 

Knott

We came across some news reports that indicated that you were involved in a meeting in February of 1980 after the Senator had suffered a series of defeats about whether he should continue in the race.

Douglas

Where had he been defeated?

Knott

He lost in Iowa and then he lost in New Hampshire. I’m not sure of the exact date in February, but things were not looking particularly good. 

Douglas

Well, I don’t have a specific recollection of having been in on any of those conferences, but I certainly would not have asked him to step out, and I was supportive of him thereafter. To what extent I’m not sure, but sufficiently so that when the convention came around, I was asked by him or one of his staffers to come to—what was it—New York?

Knott

Yes.

Douglas

I was very glad to do that. Was there some discussion about what position Kennedy should take at the convention?

Knott

Yes.

Douglas

He ended up, it seems to me, with a fiery, pro-party speech. Again, generally, my impression is that I was strongly in favor of that approach. There were two principal speechwriters for that speech—Arthur Schlesinger, and who was the other one? 

Martin

It might have been Carey Parker, but we’re not sure.

Douglas

No, it wasn’t Carey.

Knott

Was [Robert] Shrum on the scene?

Douglas

Yes, it was Bob. Those two. There may have been some differences between the two at the start, but by the end I think they were all in favor of a positive, fighting Democratic Party speech. I’m sure I supported that approach, and I know I thought the speech was great.

Knott

You were in the hall that night?

Douglas

Yes.

Knott

He kind of stole the show from President Carter.

Douglas

Is that right? I’m not surprised. 

Knott

Why do you think it was he challenged an incumbent Democrat?

Douglas

I’m not too confident in my answer, but my impression was that Carter was not a particularly forceful leader, and therefore I think he would not have been an effective challenger to [Ronald] Reagan. On some issues, such as civil rights, where they were both generally in agreement on policy, I think Ted was a more effective scrapper on that issue than Carter was. There’s a guy you might talk to up in Philadelphia named Stuart Feldman who I don’t think was a Kennedy worker or anything like that, but he did send me some material not so long ago—I don’t know if I could lay my hands on it—that indicated that Carter had missed some opportunities on civil rights. I think the basic focus was on who could best lead the Democratic opposition or enlist others to support it in the campaign against Reagan. 

Martin

What were your own opinions about Carter?

Douglas

Basically good instincts, but not much of a scrapper. Not a strong leader of the Democratic Party. I don’t recall ever having said that, but that was my view. 

Knott

We noticed during the 1980s you went on two pretty important trips with Senator Kennedy.

Douglas

To South Africa.

Knott

To South Africa in 1985. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in this trip, any memorable events?

Douglas

Ted asked me if I would go on the trip. I had been active in civil rights groups that had opposed apartheid, so he knew I had an interest in the subject and felt the same way he did. I was delighted to go, and Greg Craig—if you haven’t interviewed him, I’m sure you will—who was on Ted’s staff, and Ted’s point man on foreign policy, had organized the basics for that trip. He did a superb job. That was really one of the high points of that period. I considered myself very fortunate to have gone. I’ll tell you a few episodes.

Kennedy, Craig, and whoever else put together the structure of that trip, did a superb job. Kennedy saw the anti-apartheid leaders, who were uniformly impressive. In turn they were, I think, energized by Ted’s open support. That was the time when our administration was either sort of ineffective in questioning the South African regime or even more so in staking out a clear position of opposition to apartheid. Here was this United States Senator speaking out, and so forth. There were some very impressive people in South Africa whom he met and encouraged. The names are important. You can get those from Greg. 

There was one episode that I recall particularly vividly. Shortly after Kennedy arrived in Johannesburg, he scheduled a trip to a cathedral about 30 miles outside where he was going to deliver a speech. The South African government, while opposed to his positions, nevertheless wanted to minimize any possibility of harm to him because it would have reflected badly on their government. Partly to keep an eye on him I’m sure, when Ted traveledon that particular trip, he went in a South African car. There was a South African police driver, a South African secret police person. They were in the front seat. Ted, I, and maybe Greg were in the back seat going to this cathedral. 

During this trip, the secret police guy was talking in Afrikaans over some kind of microphone. It turned out he was talking to a group that was opposed to, unhappy with Ted’s prospective appearance. They were a black group. They were generally opposed to apartheid, but I know they were opposed to foreigners coming into their country. I think quite possibly it was a way of separating themselves from the ANC [African National Congress], which was very friendly to Kennedy. 

At the last minute, Ted decided not to make that speech because he was concerned that there might be violence. Not fear of personal consequences, but it would reflect badly on his anti-apartheid effort. Now the thing that turned out later to be interesting was that several years later, without any reference to Kennedy. I served on a so-called Commission on Independence for Namibia. There was to be a plebiscite as to whether Namibia would become independent of South Africa. That debate had been going on for some time, and the UN [United Nations] had gotten the South African government and the leaders of independence for Namibia to agree to this plebiscite. 

Our group—an American group on this Commission on Independence for Namibia, fundedI think by people like the Ford or the Rockefeller Foundations, or both—was trying to get a decent set of rules for the conduct of the plebiscite. That was our assignment. 

We had people like Father [Theodore] Hesburgh and several black leaders on this commission. One day it was decided to go to an area in the boondocks north of Windhoek, the capital, where the South African police still had administrative control of the area. South African police had been particularly hostile to pro-independence people. The thought was that the commission might be able to persuade them to take a less hostile position and that Elliot Richardson, as former Attorney General of the U.S. and a Republican, might play an effective role in that. 

About five or six of us drove out to this place in the boondocks. There was this sort of cement, stark building which was where the meeting was to be held. We got out, sat in the chairs with a table in front of the room by the South African authorities when they came. They came in after we were seated, and one of their number was the same secret South African police who had been in the car that I’d gone in on the trip with Senator Kennedy from Johannesburg to that cathedral in South Africa several years earlier. So there he was. He uttered quite a few provocative statements, such as, I know you, Gay MacDougall. I know you, John Douglas. I’ve seen your files. I was in charge of security here and there in the western hemisphere. I’ve seen your files. Rather provocative and unnecessary, throwing his weight around.

Now on this next point I’m fairly sure, but you will want to check it. After the election, which the independence forces won, black government took over in Namibia and that same guy was given a high-security post in the new government. I was told this by Gay MacDougall, a good friend of mine who works in human rights in this community. I was on one of her committees at one time or another. So I asked her, What the hell? Is this true? This guy has an important—? She said, It’s true.

I asked her a year later. He’s still there. So one had to conclude that they must have picked him for that slot because he knew where all the bodies were buried. I have not asked Gay about him. I’m not sure she knows about him, whether he’s dropped by the wayside or not. But that was really an amazing experience and revelation. He had nothing explicitly to do with Kennedy’s earlier trip to South Africa, but you can see why it sort of caught my eye.

Martin

Did he accompany you on further travels with Kennedy when you were in South Africa, or just that trip to the cathedral? 

Douglas

No, there was quite a bit in the way of other trips. I was with him the whole time. He went to see Mrs. [Winnie] Mandela, who was then under house arrest. He saw Beyers Naude, the white Afrikaner anti-apartheid leader who was of the Dutch origin group called a Broederbond. The group had nonetheless broken away to assert an anti-apartheid stance and was a leader in that effort. He was a Lutheran minister by profession. As I say,he’d been prominent in the pro- apartheid effort originally, but I think for moral and religious reasons he’d switched. By the time Kennedy made that trip, Naude was definitely in the anti-apartheid camp. [Nelson] Mandela was in prison, and Ted, in a gesture of support, drove by the prison and that got some attention, but he did not try to go beyond that and go into the prison or something like that. I think Mandela later recognized that Kennedy had worked well to try and encourage change. 

What was the date of the South American trip? Was it the same year?

Knott

Nineteen eighty-six. I don’t have the exact date.

Martin

In South Africa did you meet with Pik Botha?

Douglas

Good question. I don’t recall having been present at such a meeting, but you’d want to check on it. It would be a guess on my part, but my guess is probably yes. He did meet with some South African government officials, with the U.S. Ambassador. The position of the U.S. government was very different from Kennedy’s. Kennedy made no bones about the fact that he was opposed to apartheid, wanted a peaceful change. The U.S. State Department at that time was certainly far from being opposed to the regime, was not constructive for it. They would never say that they were favoring apartheid, but on the other hand they were not really opposing the regime. They were not outspoken. 

I know that Ted met with the Ambassador, was not impressed. He met with a novelist, Nadine Gordimer, and the whole range of South African anti-apartheid groups. Ted’s group, which includes some members of the larger Kennedy family, went to the Johannesburg airport to take off and leave the country. As we got airborne everybody in our group—I think it was a chartered flight—burst out clapping. It was our way of saying we’d left apartheid behind. It was spontaneous. It wasn’t organized, but that’s what it signified to us. 

Martin

Do you have any recollection about how the government officials responded to Kennedy?

Douglas

Certainly my strong impression was that they were hostile, but I don’t think they tried to do anything to molest him or his party, except to probably make it more difficult to move around and see people he wanted to see. So they were a real impediment in that sense. 

In South America, the thing I remember most is Chile. If I’m correct in believing that [Augusto] Pinochet was very much in power.

Knott

Yes.

Douglas

I think his standing had started to sink, and Ted gave a speech in Santiago for a group of what you might call professionals—professors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, that kind of an audience. It was a clear anti-Pinochet speech on his part. The audience was very responsive. Afterwards Ted said to me that was the best audience he had ever spoken to. 

Knott

What did he say in that speech, do you recall?

Douglas

It was anti-Pinochet, pro-Democracy, need for a change. I think if you read the words it was a pretty frank speech. I don’t think there was much deference to any aspect of the Pinochet regimen. Several years later I went on a trip to Chile. I can’t remember exactly what the sponsorship of that trip was. It may have been a commission headed by Vice President [J. Danforth] Quayle. 

I think that Pinochet by then had been voted out of office and a new regime had been installed that was a democratic change. There was a big gathering out at one of Chile’s most well known athletic grounds where the new President was the principal speaker. I think it was after Pinochet had been defeated. Anyway, Ted was a part of that group. That was really a very thrilling moment. Here this democratic movement had been successful and forced a hostile, authoritarian regime out of power by plebiscite. 

Ted, I think, had a particularly good time because of the vindication of his position in general and also with respect to Chile in particular. He was extremely well received by the Chilean populace, and people who had had relatives put away in remote places by the Pinochet regime to silence them were very frank in coming up to Ted and thanking him. I think he was deeply touched by those expressions of support and appreciation. That was a highly emotional occasion, I thought. Some of the people whose family had been exiled to remote spots in the south, in out of the way places—internal exile—came up and thanked him for what he had done.

The U.S. Ambassador to Chile—I forget his name—who had been quite outspoken also against excesses of the Pinochet regime was very well regarded also by the Chilean people, so he and Kennedy both got a very warm reception from the group. The coliseum grounds where the speech of the incoming President was given had been a scene back when Pinochet took power, where democratic groups opposed to Pinochet had been arrested and placed for subsequent harsh treatment, whether assassination or shipping to remote and inhospitable areas, I’m not sure. But it was a very well known place, and now to have a pro-democratic government taking over, and with Kennedy there—Kennedy was not a major speaker, but his presence and the contrast between that setting and the earlier one was telling. 

Knott

Your earlier visit, there were government-organized protests, according to the news media.

Douglas

I guess that’s right. The earlier trip, from the airport coming in, there were Pinochet people who made it as unpleasant as possible. So I think that Ted’s record in that field was really good because he stood up and spoke out and took democratic positions in the face of government opposition and sometimes personal danger.

Martin

Did you feel your safety was not very good on the first trip?

Douglas

Probably the best way to put it is the authorities were hostile, they had organized shows of opposition, and there was possible threat of physical trouble, but it didn’t emerge. 

Martin

Do you remember how Senator Kennedy responded to seeing the protests?

Douglas

I think it just got him more determined. He didn’t seem particularly fazed by it. 

Martin

The news reports relay some fairly nasty things they did in that government-organized protest, a lot of signs about Chappaquiddick, very personal attacks.

Douglas

I’ve forgotten that, but I’m not surprised. He had been, I think, the principal U.S. public figure to denounce that regime, and they knew it. It was a gutsy performance for the right causes. 

Knott

Were you involved in any other trips with him?

Douglas

I can’t remember. I think he did go to Poland, but I didn’t go on that trip.

Knott

Have you remained active in international human rights issues?

Douglas

I have. One of the blessings of being a lawyer is that you do get all kinds of opportunities that would be much harder to get if you were a businessman or an academic or something. 

Martin

Since these trips back in the ’80s, do you remember Senator Kennedy calling on you for advice on human rights or any of the things that you then related to him on? 

Douglas

I just don’t remember any. It’s entirely possible, but his view in that area was so well fixed and settled, I don’t think he needed any encouragement or enlightenment from friends like me. Of courseI think my own sense was that that aspect of his public career was one that gave him a big charge. I’m guessing, but I think it would be one of the sources of greatest pleasure and satisfaction for him. I think he’s the kind of person who, when he gets involved personally, as inSouth Africa or Chile, I think that gives him an extra charge. I don’t recall any other trips. Of course as I got older it would have been increasingly difficult to go on such trips. I had a summary of different groups I belonged to, but I don’t seem to have it now. I’ll probably find it and send it. 

Knott

Okay, that’s fine. 

Douglas

More personal than relates to Kennedy. My associations with Ted Kennedy and Robert Kennedy have certainly been a high point in my life. I’ve felt very lucky and fortunate to have had a reasonably close relationship with those two people. I have had great admiration for their gutsy stands on important issues. You probably sense that excitement, that sentiment that he’s gotten from some of these things.

Knott

Yes we have, very much so. He’s been in the Senate now for 43 years.

Douglas

Is that right? Amazing.

Knott

He seems to have taken to the institution far better, if you’ll pardon the expression, than either of his brothers, who were both Senators as well. Do you have any sense of why that might be? 

Douglas

Put that again.

Knott

Well, Bobby was a Senator for a brief period of time; President Kennedy was a Senator for one and a half terms. He’s been there for 43 years. He just seems to have taken to it much better in some ways than either of his brothers.

Douglas

I’m not surprised you said that. That may well be the case. I think he certainly has gotten interested in the history of the Senate and its organization, and I think that has evolved over time. But I think he’s been on some committees. I’m not sure they were Senate committees; they may have been more broadly based than those he’s dealt with. I think he’s worked with the judiciary on some issues. I don’t know anything about that other than I think he may have referred to it here and there, but nothing specific that I recall. But I think I did sense he got a kick out of that. 

One thing about him is he is a very hard worker. He’s very careful about the use of his time and his organizational sense. So it’s very positive. 

Knott

Those trips you went on with him, you saw this high energy?

Douglas

Oh yes.

Knott

He kept you moving?

Douglas

Kept you moving. He of course got a kick out of it, and that was contagious. You ought to talk to his sister, Jean [Kennedy] Smith. I’m sure she was on the South African trip. She may have been on others. But they have remained quite close and she would have some insights that others might not have. 

Knott

We’ve interviewed her once, but we will probably be interviewing her again.

Douglas

Good.I think she was on both of those big trips I went on. I think Ted, as you suggest, has a sense of the Senate as an institution and its role. The other thing about Ted is he’s a lot of fun to be with. He’s good fun. Even though he’s serious, he’s a pleasure to be around. He’s had a great staff and gotten people like Carey Parker and Greg Craig and many others. My guess is that some of them have a closer picture of his work and outlook than people on the outside like me. I think another thing about Ted is that he has enjoyed it, transparently, and that’s contagious to his staff and to others. So that’s good. 

If I think of something that we might have missed, I will get in touch with you or Lee Fentress. 

Knott

You will receive your transcript in about three or four months and that might be a good time. You can just write it right in. 

Douglas

Sure. 

Knott

When did you first meet Lee Fentress? 

Douglas

Lee? I think Lee was in Indiana. 

Knott

He’s mentioned that.  

Douglas

Of course, he’s an excellent tennis player and I could get by years ago. So we sometimes had early morning tennis doubles at Ted’s court when he lived over by the Potomac. That was fun. Don’t see as much of Lee now. He’s left Washington. 

Knott

Thank you again.      

Douglas

I consider myself very fortunate to have these relationships with the Kennedys. It certainly added a lot to my life. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know. If I think of other things, I’ll let you know.  

This is one of the many interviews that comprise the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History. For more information about the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History, including links to all interviews, please click here.

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