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Title: Oral History Interview with William Patrick Murphy, January 17, 1978. Interview B-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Murphy, William Patrick, interviewee
Interview conducted by Devereux, Sean
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 100 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-05, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with William Patrick Murphy, January 17, 1978. Interview B-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0043)
Author: Sean Devereux
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with William Patrick Murphy, January 17, 1978. Interview B-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0043)
Author: William Patrick Murphy
Description: 113 Mb
Description: 29 p.
Note: Interview conducted on January 17, 1978, by Sean Devereux; recorded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Jean Houston.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series B. Individual Biographies, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with William Patrick Murphy, January 17, 1978.
Interview B-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Murphy, William Patrick, interviewee


Interview Participants

    WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY, interviewee
    SEAN DEVEREUX, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
… thing started twenty years ago, you know.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
I've got all the facts.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
You probably are more up-to-date on it than I am. [Laughter]
SEAN DEVEREUX:
I'm interested in the general question of what motivated you to take the stand that you took at that time, whether it was a question of your academic freedom or a vindication of law and order or whether you felt there was specific injustice being done in the South in the separate school systems, or how exactly you thought about it if you thought about it at the time… In other words, when Brown v. the Board of Education came out, you, I notice in your review of it, were critical of the decision in some ways, but you ended up defending the case ultimately.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I never really thought of it in terms of taking a stand on anything. It all started because I was teaching the course in Constitutional Law. And I taught the course basically the way it was taught all over the country, the way I would have taught it anywhere else in the country, and that assumes that Supreme Court decisions are law and at some point, to some extent, ought to be complied with. And so I never really consciously took a stand on anything. I started out just teaching a normal Constitutional Law course. And the only thing that made that unusual or got me in hot water was that that normal approach toward constitutional law and the authority of the Supreme Court was contrary to the basic approach which these Citizens Council types took. And that was that the Supreme Court didn't have the authority, and that there wasn't any duty

Page 2
to comply. So I started out, really, in complete innocence, just doing what a constitutional law professor would have done anywhere in the country, and the only thing that made it unusual was the time and the place. They apparently wanted the Con Law course taught kind of like it would have been taught at a Citizens Council rally. [Laughter] And I wasn't about to do that. But I didn't start out to take a stand or be a hero or anything like that. I got in hot water initially because of the way I taught the course.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Were there other people teaching Con Law?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
No, at that time we had a very small faculty and a relatively small student body. And I was the only Constitutional Law teacher.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
So in effect you were the only one in the State of Mississippi.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
That's right, because it was the only accredited law school in the State of Mississippi, and almost all of the people who become practicing lawyers and judges and influential politicians in Mississippi at that time went to the Ole Miss Law School. So I can see—I could begin to see even in the late fifties—why, from the point of view of my critics, I was what they called me, a "dangerous man," because the Ole Miss Law School was the throat through which the future lawyers and judges and leaders of the state went. And here was this guy Murphy up there who was teaching them things that were subversive of the Mississippi way of life. I can understand why they thought I was dangerous. But it didn't occur to me initially that I was taking a stand on anything, and I certainly didn't set out to be a hero or a martyr or anything. But it started out in the classroom, and then

Page 3
it did go beyond the classroom but still well within the academic area. I began to publish some book reviews. And then when I wrote this doctoral dissertation, which was a comparative analysis of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution and which really was contrary to the whole concept of state sovereignty, I began to publish it as a series of articles in the Mississippi Law Journal. That engendered some opposition.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But that was equally accidental.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, I didn't set out to become a cause celebre in Mississippi. Nothing was ever farther from my mind. I later compared myself with the innocent bystander who gets bit by a mad dog. [Laughter] I had no earthly idea that it would end up the way it did when I began to pursue my teaching and my writing activities. It just happened that the way I taught and what I wrote turned out to be directly contrary to what many influential Mississippians believed, and so they decided they had to get rid of me. And I had to decide whether I was going to keep on writing and teaching the way that I thought I ought to, or whether I was going to knuckle under to these people, and at that point I did have to take a stand.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But you never took any joy in… Like in your review of Kilpatrick's book, you said that …
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
That was another thing that caught the attention of the Citizens Council people, and after I published that review one of the Citizens Council leaders reviewed my review in a later issue of the Mississippi Law Journal, and so that brought me to their attention.

Page 4
Then at another point I wrote a letter to the …
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But that doesn't seem so routine; that doesn't seem like it's just in the line of duty. You seemed to take a little joy in digging [Laughter] at Kilpatrick in that.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Kilpatrick's book revived the long-discredited doctrine of state interposition and nullification and put it forward in the 1950's as a valid, credible Constitutional position. And that book was very influential, because a lot of southern states actually passed interposition resolutions. Now that's utterly preposterous, and I thought somebody ought to say so. I can't remember now whether I told the Law Journal people I'd like to review it, or whether they came and asked me to. It could have happened either way, but I don't remember now. That was a mischievous book that man wrote. It caused a lot of trouble.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But that was still within your bailiwick; it was constitutional law.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Your classroom teaching and your publications in your area of competence are within the narrowest ambit of academic freedom. The very narrowest concept of academic freedom would embrace that. And everything I did was within that ambit, with the one possible exception of the letter I wrote to the newspaper in which I did defend the function and role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system. I guess you could say there did come a point where I felt some obligation to try to counteract erroneous propagand a with what I conceived to be the truth of things. But I never did go up and down the state on a soapbox urging integration and talking about racial

Page 5
injustice. And I never got up at Bar Association meetings and made flag-waving speeches. I never was a civil rights activist in that sense. If I had been, I could have more readily comprehended the violence of these people's reaction to me. But nothing that I did was in that category. It was all either my classroom teaching or my legal publications or, in a couple of instances, letters to newspapers. And I very quickly got cured of that, writing letters to newspapers.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Can you think of any examples of constitutional law professors at southern universities that set the Citizens Council idea of what a constitutional law professor should be?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Not a single one that I ever knew was any different, basically, in his approach to the course than I was.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Did they have trouble in Alabama or Louisiana? Were there other professors in positions similar to yours? What kind of reaction did they make in their states?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I know that no other constitutional law professor at any other southern law school went through the four years of controversy that I did between 1958 and 1962. I had a counterpart, Jay Murphy, at Alabama, who was a constitutional law and labor law professor. And they had a resistance group in Alabama, as Mississippi did, but to my knowledge they never made any efforts to get Jay Murphy fired from the law faculty. And I don't think they ever tried to purge people from the University of Alabama the way they did from the University of Mississippi. And I think maybe the reason was not because the resistance group was any less strong in their views, but

Page 6
that the University of Alabama was in a better position than the University of Mississippi was with respect to being insulated from direct political interference. They did it in Mississippi because they thought they could do it successfully, because the University of Mississippi had no history or tradition of insulation from political interference and domination. And I think the University of Alabama was not in as precarious a position as Ole Miss was. It didn't happen in Texas; it didn't happen in Arkansas; it didn't happen in Louisiana; it didn't happen in Tennessee; it didn't happen in Georgia; it didn't happen, so far as I know, to anybody in North and South Carolina or Florida. Now this is not to say that those constitutional law professors may not have had their problems, their criticisms, from alumni and whatnot. But I think it is true that I was the only constitutional law professor in any southern law school who underwent a period of four-year controversy in which serious, sustained, prolonged efforts were made to get me fired or to force my resignation, and where it surfaced in the Alumni Association and the Legislature and the Board of Trustees of the University system. I know no other law professor went through that or anything comparable. In that respect Ole Miss and Murphy were unique. A hell of a way to achieve uniqueness. [Laughter]
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Even though you say that you were just doing your job and it was within the realm of academic freedom, the school desegregation cases really are different. Did you have any feelings about them one way or another? If someone else had been teaching constitutional law

Page 7
in the South, Mr. Loewy or Mr. Strong or somebody had been in your position, I think it really would have been different because you were from Memphis, which is sixty miles away. You were a southerner; that was your home. And so did you think about the substance of the cases? You would have been forced to, I guess.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Well, sure, and I wouldn't want you or anybody to think that I was a 100 percent defender of this opinion in Brown against Board. At that time and today, I am critical of the way the opinion was written and some of the premises upon which the opinion rested, and I think I voiced some of those criticisms in my review of the book about Brown against Board. And I still criticize that opinion today when I teach Con Law, and I think most constitutional law professors (I'm not talking about the result of the case now; I'm talking about the opinion that Warren wrote) do not think highly of that opinion. Now so far as the result is concerned, segregation is out… I grew up in a segregated system, not just schools but streetcars and then busses when they came along, where the black people had to get on the front of a streetcar or bus and work their way all the way to the back to try to find a seat in the back of the bus or a streetcar. And where if they wanted to go to a movie theater, they had to go in a side door rather than the front door on the main street, and they had to go sit in the back rows way up in the balcony.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
You're talking about in Memphis.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, I'm describing the segregated system that I grew up under and took for granted all the time I was growing up, without

Page 8
ever giving it a thought. And you'd go in the stores, and here was a water fountain with a sign "White Only" or a restroom, "White Only." And maybe there wouldn't be any water fountain or restroom for black people. And I grew up under that system, and I never gave it much of a thought until long after I became an adult. I guess I first began to think about it, maybe, when I was in the Navy during World War II, and then when I was in law school. And I guess it's fair to say that by the time I started teaching at Ole Miss, I had come to the conclusion in my own mind that segregation was wrong and that something ought to be done about it, and not just segregation but racial injustice across the board. My God, I was thirty years old before I really began to rethink all these things that I had grown up taking for granted. But I certainly was not an evangelist or a zealot or anything like that. But I suppose in honesty I would have to admit that I liked what the Supreme Court had done; I was glad they had done it. But I don't think I ever really said that to anybody in Mississippi or in class. And I don't think even today students could accuse me of being a propagandist in any of my classes. I think it's part of a professor's duty to try to fairly lay out different points of view, and I never did try to proselyte in class. But I guess it's inevitable that maybe the emphasis and the nuances and whatnot of the way you teach reflect your own personal views, so I will admit yes, by the time Brown v. Board came down I was an emancipated southern white man at that point in my own thinking.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Dr. Hall pointed out that two months after you left Ole Miss, James Meredith came, and that the same people …

Page 9
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Just one month. We moved away in August of '62, and he got there either late August or early September.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
And the same people that had been after your scalp didn't even have to leave their positions. They were all in position to go after him, and in a way it was the same battle all over again. I think they hesitated to bully you, the Governor; they bullied you in subtler ways because maybe they were a little more afraid of you than they were of him. But you really prepared the way for him to a certain extent. What Dr. Hall said was without whites in positions of responsibility in the late forties and fifties and early sixties, the black civil rights movement wouldn't have been possible. Would you agree with that? You held the door open for somebody like Meredith, for example.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I never thought of putting it exactly that way because what happened to James Meredith so far transcended what happened to me that, although the basic underlying conflict is the same, the personal experience that he underwent was so much more traumatic and so much more of an ordeal than mine that from that point of view his case reduces mine to a footnote if anybody was going to write a book about the whole period. Which is not to say that mine was not traumatic in a personal sense to me and my wife. Apparently nobody ever tried to kill me, and they didn't have to send the troops into the state on my account or anything like that. So Meredith's personal experience and ordeal was a far more dramatic one than mine. I was white; he was black. He was the first one who was breaking that

Page 10
segregated line, whereas I was just teaching and talking and writing, so it was a difference. But I guess you could say that I like to think I performed a constructive and a useful role while I was teaching at Ole Miss. But I've always thought that it was mainly what influence I might have had on my students, who went back and practiced law and went to the Legislature and became judges. In other words, the very influence that these people were afraid that I would exercise, I like to think that they were right, that I did exercise a little bit of it. And none of them went back and became crusaders. A lot of them went back and kept their mouths shut. A couple of them went back and found that their views made their hometowns unpalatable, and they left the state. But I have always believed that in times and places that nobody could ever identify, that a lot of students who went through my classes were able to exercise an ameliorating influence in their local racial situations. And I like to think that I had at least some part to play in the fact that they were willing, instead of being rabid Citizens Councils people—and they couldn't afford to go to the other extreme either—but what they could afford to do, and a lot of them did do, was to try to be reasonable and ameliorative, and a lot of them did do that. And I like to think that I had some degree of influence in their wanting to do that. But that's the only sense in which I think I made any real contribution to anything down there. And even there I would have to take a back seat to Bob Farley, the Dean of the Law School, who really did go up and down the state speaking to bar associations about the duty to obey the Supreme Court. And of course,

Page 11
you know they crucified him, too. But he was a truly heroic figure. Or Jim Silver, the history professor who had been there since the 1930's influencing I don't know how many Mississippians, and they'd been after Jim for years. They thought he was a communist. Jim said, "They used to call me a communist, and now they only call me a socialist. I must be slipping." [Laughter] When Meredith came to the campus, Jim was the only faculty member who would go sit with Meredith in the cafeteria or would have anything to do, played golf with him and whatnot. I mean that's really sticking your neck out. I'm not trying to minimize the importance of whatever I did, although I can't really judge it. I think to some extent at some times and places with some people I did do something useful. But I'm not in the same league, really, with Meredith or Bob Farley or Jim Silver so far as the contribution is concerned. I wouldn't want to be left out of the story completely, you understand, but I wouldn't want you or anybody else to think that I was more important than I really was.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
If you view the whole thing as a progression in a desired direction, out of segregation and into justice and integration, people like yourself and Dean Farley and Dr. Silver are necessary links leading toward Meredith and toward… It couldn't have happened, the chain would have been broken, if somewhere along the line moderate whites hadn't made that effort to reconcile. And like you said, what you were doing was ameliorative, and it seems to me that "reconciliation" is really the key word. You were trying to make peace between what you considered fundamental principles, but you

Page 12
were trying to introduce people that you knew, fellow southerners, to these principles.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Let's put it this way, that I think it was damned important that during this period when the power of the state and the Citizens Councils and the governing board of the institution, when all of those aspects of the Establishment were overwhelmingly on one side, I think it was damned important that there were at least a few people around who put forward what I call the right point of view. I think it was damned important that there wasn't total submission to this police state approach that these Citizens Council people and Ross Barnett tried to blanket that state with. And I'm proud of the fact that I was one of the people who can be identified in that opposition group. And that is true. All I was trying to say a minute ago was that I don't think my contribution was as large or important or significant as some other people that we've already mentioned. But I'm proud of that.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
That's what I think I mean when I say that you did keep the door open. Things could have been shut down even more tightly than they were.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I'm proud of what I did. I don't make any bones about that. I could have been pusillanimous and shut up. I could have gone over to the other side. I could have quit when they tried to get me to quit at first. I don't make any apologies for what I did. There don't come many times in a man's life when he really has to test what kind of a person he is and where it can really be costly to do what he thinks is right. And I have faced that position twice in my

Page 13
life, and I'm proud of the fact that both times I did what I thought was right with the awareness that it was going to be costly as hell in terms of my personal career and life and my family. And I did it, and I couldn't have done anything else, and I'm proud of the fact that I did it; I'd do it again. I'd even do more if I had it to do over again [Laughter] than I did the first time around.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
What do you mean, more?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I mean in retrospect what I did seems so modest that I sometimes wonder if I really was doing everything I should have been doing at the time.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
You still had people and friends in Memphis, people you'd grown up with and family, I guess, and you were featured pretty regularly in the Memphis newspapers.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
No, not really.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Was your case known outside of …
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Later on, after I became a subject of controversy and they were trying to get me fired, I guess the Memphis paper did cover that.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
I was wondering if this brought about any conflict between yourself and the people that you'd been…
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
None whatsoever.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Old friends never questioned you about what you were doing?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
No. As a matter of fact, they were strongly supportive when I would see them. "We're proud of you, Bill," and "Stick it out,"

Page 14
and "Hang in there" and things like that.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But you said you grew up under the system utterly …
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
You asked me what kind of reactions I'd get from my friends outside the state and in Memphis. I think it's even more interesting the reaction we got from people there in Oxford, and I'm talking particularly about people down on the Square. Oxford's one of these small towns that has the courthouse square in the center of town and then a rim of stores around it on four sides. And I'm talking about people like the local druggist and the hardware store people and the department store people and the barber I used to go to. These people, up to the very last day we left town to move to Missouri, let us know that they liked us; they were sorry it had all happened; they wished we could stay; they were very supportive. And they didn't care whether or not I was defending the Supreme Court or whether I was an integrationist or whatever. They liked me; they liked my wife; and they went out of their way—more than a lot of people on the Ole Miss faculty, I might add, did—these townspeople, a lot of them went out of their way to make sure that my wife and I knew how they felt about us.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But if you had polled them on the school desegregation issue, how would they …
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
[Laughter] Oh, I suspect they'd have been unanimously

Page 15
opposed to the Supreme Court decision. Although you never know what a person's private views are. So I'm just guessing; maybe they would have fooled me.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
You said it took you until you were thirty years old in the Navy to really think through desegregation and get to the point where you questioned things. What about people back in Memphis that you had grown up with?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I think it's fair to say that most of my friends had gone through the same personal learning experience, and I can think of three of my best friends in Memphis now all of whom had the same experience I did. You eventually just come to the point where you realize, if you've got any kind of humanity about you at all, that this is wrong, to treat people differently because of the color of their skin. It's so obvious in retrospect you wonder how the proposition could have been defended. All of my friends had gone through pretty much the same experience that I had.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Were they all educated to the degree that you were?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes. One of them's a federal judge in Memphis right now.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
It may be unfair of me to say this about Memphis, but I recall it as being… Wasn't it where Martin Luther King was shot.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
That's where he was killed.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
And Memphis's history during the civil rights period is not without blemish.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
It's an old saying that the Delta begins at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and then goes south from there. Memphis is populated mainly by people from Mississippi and Arkansas. Although it was in

Page 16
Tennessee, which is up north [Laughter] a little bit, there wasn't that much difference between Memphis and Mississippi with respect to their attitudes toward race.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Your family and the people you associated with in Memphis must have had a degree of education or something that removed you from the general run of the Memphis citizenry, I would suspect.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I guess that's always true. Some people are lucky enough to get more education than other people are.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Was that what did it, or was your family just… What were you taught about race at home?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I can't remember ever really being taught anything. I can't remember that we ever really talked about it when I was a kid. It was just something that was kind of taken for granted.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
How many generations back had your family been from the South?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
My grandparents on both sides of the family were from Missouri originally, and I was the first one to be born in Memphis. But my grandparents had lived in Memphis since, I guess, the middle 19-teens. And my mother had moved there when my father died in 1919. My father died six weeks before I was born in the big flu epidemic of 1919.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
In Missouri.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes. And my mother then moved to Memphis to join her parents who were already living there, and that's how I happened to be born in Memphis. I can't remember we ever talked about race.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
William Patrick Murphy's a pretty Irish name, and you would

Page 17
have stood out in some ways to begin with in the South.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I may have stood out in other ways while I was going through school, but not so far as the race question is concerned.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
We moved to Jacksonville, Florida, when I was ten years old, and I had never really thought about race to any great extent. And my best friend lived up the street, and his father was in the Ku Klux Klan. That was sort of interesting to me, but I didn't think about it too much in one way or another. And I remember being up there one Sunday morning. His father was in the next room talking to his mother, and this boy's father started talking about my father. And they knew each other, and they would have a beer every now and then at the corner tavern. And he was sort of saying what a good fellow my father was, but he couldn't forgive him for being an Irish Catholic. And that was the first time in my life I'd ever been singled out for…
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
[Laughter]
SEAN DEVEREUX:
I think maybe that made me more receptive. If I'd had to line up at that time on the side of the blacks or on the side of the Klan, I would have immediately joined forces with the blacks because I had been singled out, and I'd sort of been shunted off to one side, at least in his mind.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I believe I can truthfully say I never gave much of a thought until after I had graduated from college and during World War II. And it wasn't until I went to work for the Labor Department in Washington in 1950 that I ever saw any interracial socializing.

Page 18
I went to a party that some people at the Department of Labor gave, and that was the first time in my life I had ever been with black people in a social context. And I can remember even now that I was thirty-one years old at the time when I saw a white man dance with a black girl, the first time I'd ever seen that and been present when it was happening. I can remember how it took some adjusting. [Laughter] And of course nobody would give it a thought today. It probably happens in Oxford, Mississippi, today. [Laughter]
SEAN DEVEREUX:
So you fairly say that you were just a complete southerner from …
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I think I was a pretty typical southerner, except to the extent I did have the opportunity to see the world more and get more education, and I believe those experiences should be eye-openers, and in my case they were.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
And any southerner in your position probably would have come to…
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Well, I won't say any southerner, but a lot of southerners did. Of course, a lot of them didn't. [Laughter]
SEAN DEVEREUX:
When you finally chose to leave Mississippi in the end, did you do so with any feelings about… You went to Missouri, so I guess you were still in the South to a certain extent, but did you feel any alienation from the South or just from this particular element?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I never have felt any sense of alienation from the South as a region. I've never been ashamed of the fact that I was a native-born

Page 19
southerner, if that's what you mean. But I did go through a period of real bitterness over what had happened to me in Mississippi.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Bitterness directed at the specific element that had… The Citizens Council people.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes. Governor Barnett and the Citizens Council people and those people on the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Williams at the University, who's the most spineless, pusillanimous character I've ever known in my life, but that's beside the point. Yes, I went through a period of bitterness. I'd say for a couple of years I felt kind of bitter about it, and then I realized that my sitting up there in Missouri being bitter wasn't helping the situation [Laughter] in Mississippi any, but it was really adversely affecting my life in Missouri. And once I realized that, why, I pretty much gave up that bitterness and proceeded to make a new life and career in Missouri.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But you never generalized that bitterness toward Mississippi generally.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
No, I don't think so. We liked living in Mississippi. We liked Oxford. My wife's parents are from Mississippi, and we continued to go back. Two of our kids were born in Oxford, Mississippi. There hasn't been a year since we moved away that we haven't gone back two or three times, and in a lot of respects we think Mississippi is head and shoulders above a lot of other places in the country as a place to live. Oh, no, it was just this particular stripe of political leadership that I felt bitter toward.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But it seems to me if the people of Mississippi had wanted

Page 20
to cleanse themselves of William Simmons and Ross Barnett and the Citizens Council, they could have pretty quickly, and they let that element ride roughshod over the rest of them for a period of five or six years or maybe longer. I like to think that kind of thing couldn't happen in North Carolina; maybe it could. Or Ohio or Missouri. And in Dr. Silver's book it's the closed society; he indicts everyone, pretty much, in the state, and makes it sound as if there were maybe a dozen of you in the state that had any sense. [Laughter]
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I think it's fair to say that the Citizens Council viewpoint and mentality did represent a majority of the people in the state. I never doubted that. As wrong as it was, it was a majority view. I'm convinced of that.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But despite that fact, you still felt… If it hadn't been for the specific events that caused you to leave, you still would have been comfortable enough in the atmosphere of Mississippi to have stayed.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Sure. When I went there, we had a feeling at the Law School and at the University (I don't mean it started the year I went, but the feeling was there when I went in '53 and continued on up for about five years) that we were part of an important process of building a first-rate state university. And that gives you a sense of accomplishment, to feel that you're part of a building process, and something that the state really needed was a good university. You'd be surprised how many absolutely first-rate people there were at the University of Mississippi in the 1950's. Of course, they all left

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eventually, but throughout the disciplines and departments there were really good people who would have been a credit to any institution. And they stayed there; God knows they didn't stay because there were high salaries or because the environment was friendly. They stayed mainly because they thought the state needed a good university, and they felt that they were making a real contribution, plus the fact that it was a pretty congenial, small social atmosphere there. It was fun; we enjoyed it. So the answer to your question is yes. If all of this furor had not come up, sure, we could have stayed in Oxford, Mississippi, maybe the rest of our lives, although a man never knows what career opportunities will move him. We had no desire to leave. I wasn't looking for a job. I was satisfied and happy where I was.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Do you think you'd ever go back?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Oh, no, I don't think so.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
If you retired, you wouldn't retire to Memphis or in Mississippi?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Oh, it's possible that when I retire that my wife and I'll go back and live on a little land that is in the family and near Houston, Mississippi. I say it's possible. I wouldn't want to do it, but not because it's in Mississippi; because it's so far away from the kind of cultural opportunities that we enjoy: music and drama and things like that. But it wouldn't be because it was in Mississippi that we wouldn't go back. I've said many times that Mississippians, if you can keep them off the race question and states' rights, they're the salt of the earth.

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SEAN DEVEREUX:
I think that was what my question was.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, we liked Mississippi. One of the ironies of this whole thing is, these people who were out after me hot and heavy, White and Wilburn Hooker from Lexington County and Bill Simmons, the head of the Citizens Council, and these other people who were leading the campaign to get rid of Bill Murphy, most of those people I never laid an eye on, to my knowledge, and they never laid an eye on me. I never met them, never talked to them face to face, wouldn't have known them if I'd passed them on the street. They were just names. I knew that they were my enemies, they were trying to get rid of me, but we didn't know each other personally at all. And this went on for four years, and I left the state and I never laid an eye on White or Wilburn Hooker or Bill Simmons or any of these people. Now Ross Barnett, of course, I had met, because he was an alumnus of the Law School and I had met him when he'd come back for Alumni Day. But I never met any of these other people.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
What did you think about him personally? I read a little biographical sketch of him that was in the New York Times. Maybe they went out of their way to make him seem like a…
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I don't know the piece you're talking about, but I think Ross Barnett was not only wrong in his views, but I think he was not a very intelligent person. He's kind of dumb, really. And even some of his best friends didn't claim that he was real smart. There's a real funny story I could tell you about that.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
I can turn that off.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
All right, turn it off and I'll tell you.

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[Interruption]
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Did you know any blacks at all at any time during this period?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
In Mississippi?
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Yes. I guess there weren't any civil rights leaders. I guess they hadn't gotten started yet, really.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
That's right.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
But I wondered if you ever came in any contact with… Here you were, in effect, sticking up for them. If they ever tried to communicate appreciation to you or encouragement.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
… No personal contacts. And I'm trying to remember if there was a time when a black leader by the name of Aaron Henry in Clarksdale… He was a druggist and an NAACP leader, and he had his own problems with the Citizens Council. That's his story. I'm trying to remember if at one time Aaron Henry dropped me a note, and I just simply can't remember. But that would have been the extent of it. No personal meetings or conversations or anything like that with black leaders. Is that what you mean?
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Yes.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
No, never. They didn't seek me out, and I didn't seek them out.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Last time we started talking a little bit about when you left, that for a year or so after you left that you had a feeling that maybe you had capitulated and given them what they wanted. You had second thoughts. Would you talk a little bit about that?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I don't remember what I told you before, but I'd say yes, for several years after I moved to Missouri and the situation in Mississippi

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began to change under legal and other pressures, I had second thoughts about whether or not I had done the right thing in resigning. Or whether or not it might have been better to have stayed there and continued to try to vindicate the principle of academic freedom. I never had any thought that I needed to stay in order to work with the civil rights movement as such. The only thought I ever had was whether or not I should have stayed to vindicate the principles of academic freedom and academic integrity, and I was in a unique position to do it. By resigning, I prevented a head-on collision between what they seemed determined to do, which would have resulted in a loss of accreditation of the Law School, and by resigning I just prevented the consummation of that contest in which either the principles that were important would have been vindicated and those people would have lost, or else they would have lost and those principles would have won. But in either event, it would have, I thought from time to time, been a better thing for the state to have had the ultimate confrontation, however it would have been resolved. But it was only in that sense that I really had second thoughts, and those second thoughts lasted for a long time. As to whether or not I might have done a better thing for those principles by staying to vindicate them further.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Had it become just impossible for you and your family?
Were you just taking too much?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, that's the reason we left is because it was just a constant strain, and I couldn't even count the hours' sleep that my wife and I lost over a four-year period. I finally got to the point

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where, as I say, I didn't know where my income was coming from that September. And I had three kids. And it really got to be, there at the very end, a matter of economics. And there does come a point, I guess, where that has to be taken into account. But I left because we had just had as much of the personal travail as we felt we could take, or wanted to take.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Those are the big concerns I had. There were a couple of specifics I wanted to get to. One is the incident with Clennon King when the ACLU asked you to check and make sure his rights weren't being violated. And there was some correspondence in your files between yourself and, I gathered, one of your former students.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
And that incident interested me. It seems as if he's one of those people that you talk about, if you did some good it was in the form of instructing these people and having them go out into their communities and be a temporizing force in their community. But in his correspondence he was being real careful to let everybody know that he wasn't really with you.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
That's right.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
You can't say he was repudiating you, exactly, but he was definitely keeping you at a distance, and I just wondered if I read the correspondence wrong or if that's the way it happened.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, I think that's a fair statement, but what doesn't come through in the correspondence is that this former student was in his forties when he came to law school. And he was trying to establish a legal career late in life, and he had cut his ties with

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New York, where he lived before. He was a native Mississippian who had gone to New York to try to make it as an actor. He had modest success but never hit the big time and finally reached a point in the middle years where he decided to come back to Mississippi, go to law school, and practice law. He absolutely couldn't afford to do anything to jeopardize his chances of building up a law career, which he was just starting out in in his middle forties or maybe even …
SEAN DEVEREUX:
He was a little bit older than you were.
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Oh, yes, he was older than I was. Bald-headed. [Laughter] So I could fully understand why he did not want to do the ACLU any favors, and why he didn't even want to do me a favor when I was doing the ACLU a favor. And I never thought anything about that one way or the other.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
It sounded as if, when you first wrote to him, that you had at least some hope that he might, not represent King, but he might get involved further than he did. Were you disappointed in him that he didn't?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I can't remember now whether I had that hope or expectation or not, but I do think I can tell you that whatever it was, no, I didn't suffer any sense of disappointment. We continued to be good friends, and when he and his wife would come back to Oxford or we went to Jackson we would see them. No, it never affected our personal relationship at all.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
I couldn't tell. In his letter it sounded like he might just be putting all that on the record in his letter to you, and it

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might have sounded overly formal just to …
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I think that's exactly what he was doing, was keeping his distance. He didn't want anybody in Jackson to believe for one second that he had any connection with the ACLU, and he did the very, very minimum that he could do in order to reply to my request. As I say, I can't remember whether I hoped or expected he would do more, but no, it never affected our personal relationship at all.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Is he still practicing in Mississippi?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
He's dead now.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Did he practice for some …
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, he did well in Jackson. He died back in the sixties, I think.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
You said your grandparents were from Missouri, so how many generations back would you say that you were a southerner?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
If you want to count Missouri as a southern state, as far back as you go. On my father's side, they came over from Ireland in 1849, I believe was the year of the big potato famine in Ireland, and on my mother's side, they are English. I think they'd been here from the beginning.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
They came to the South or to somewhere else?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
They lived in Missouri. The first connection with Tennessee, as I say, was back in the middle 19-teens, when my mother's parents moved to Memphis. He went into business in Memphis, and then she joined them after my father died in 1919.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Then your wife is a native Mississippian, you said?

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WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Actually she's a native Memphian. She was born in Memphis. Her father was a businessman in Memphis at the time. Her mother is from Mississippi, but her mother was working in Memphis at the time, so she was born and went to school… Part of her school years were in Houston, Mississippi, and part in Memphis, and so she is both, I guess you could say, a native Memphian and a native Mississippian in about equal proportions. And then her father had a serious illness in the thirties and they had to move to Florida, so she spent part of her years in Florida. But I think it's fair to say she thinks of herself as both a Memphian and a Mississippian, in about equal proportions.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
When you issued your "cult of crackpots" statement, what kind of reaction did that get from the Citizens Council?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I was told—and I can't remember by whom now—but the report circled back that they were just absolutely enraged. They just saw purple and red and every other color when that sentence was written. And the sentence is a little out of character, really, for me. But by that time, you have to realize [Laughter] , I'd been going through this for a long time, and I had had it up to here (and let the record show that I put my hand up above my teeth). And I just felt that I had to… I was just so fed up and so frustrated and so angry and everything else that I just was determined to say at least one thing to these people to tell them what I thought of them, and that was the one sentence, I believe, in the whole period of time, in which I used language that might have been a little intemperate. What did I say exactly now? "I do not intend to tailor my teaching to satisfy any cult of crackpots." But I also coined the phrase "willful ignoramus," didn't I? I've always been proud of that phrase. You know,

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a lot of people are ignorant because they can't help themselves [Laughter] , but these people had just made up their minds they were going to stay ignorant. It was willful ignorance. That was the one sentence there where I really kind of let myself go.
END OF INTERVIEW