REALIZING THAT I AM THE SURVIVOR FROM A BYGONE ERA
July 10, 2020 Kelley Kidd. One of the strange consequences of getting very old is that you remember stuff that no living contemporary can recall. So it is with me. I remember being an employee in the United States Senate in 1959. I was fifteen years old and it was only a summer job. But I can tell from memory how that Senate was conspicuously different from what that body is like today, and the differences are large. Several years ago a judge said i was the only person left who could tell about how it was in the Senate back then. And an old indian friend of mine has urged me to write about those memories so there would be some record of that subject. This is what I have done here.
I got the job through the efforts of my step mother. She and I had spent about a week in Washington in June of 1968. We went up that way because to watch Jack Gladden graduate from the naval Academy. Since the academy is at Annapolis right around the corner from the Capital, she decided it would be a good idea to take in a little bit of that too. So we did and that got the idea rolling that I was going to go back as a page in the office of our representative, Mr. Carl Vinson.
You may wonder how it was that my stepmother was in a position to suppose that Mr. Vinson would want to bring little Kelley up to work for him. working for a member of the House of Representatives would not be a usual ambition for a fifteen year old in 1959 or ever I suppose. So I am gonna back up and tell you some more about my step mother and my relation to her. If you want to skip that part and go right on to memories of 1959, you go right ahead. The caution I would add is that between here and the tale of 1959 lies some stuff that might help you get a better grasp of the tale. A dog that barks a lot is one who has been through some stuff before. Knowing the stuff helps to appreciate the dog barking today.
HOW I GOT THERE: ME AND MY STEPMOTHER IN 1958 AND 1959
Harriet Oxford Kidd was my Father’s third wife. She was his last. They were married in 1950 and he died in 1961. My Mother had been his first, and they had fifteen years of tumult caused largely by my Father’s alcoholism. Although she got custody when they divorced, he spent a weekend with his twin boys every month in Milledgeville, Georgia where we were born in 1942. Harriet inherited the man who would not give up on getting to live full time with his kids. In 1955 he succeeded in getting just that. My Mother justified giving us up because Milledgeville offered education in the military high school associated with the junior college named Georgia Military School.
So for five years i was a military cadet of sorts. i had a paper route to throw every evening and Sunday morning, a ping pong tale in a small room my father had built at the back of the garage, and a portable transister radio to catch the only audible station’s music after school. But my chief preoccupations aside from school lessons was the Presbyterian church located only two blocks away on the same large square as the military school.
The first Presbyterian Church as well as other denominations had been given state land for construction in the planning that had gone into the construction of the village of Milledgeville in 1803. These were all protestant churches of course and all had become or been founded as sanctuaries for white freemen aad their families. The building in which I went to school had housed the Georgia legislature and the Supreme Court of Georgia. I had become a Presbyterian–despite the Methodist and baptist roots of my parents– largely because Harriet was one and i greatly admired her.
Harriet oxford Kidd was a relatively world wise person compared to the small town experience of most of my contemporaries and their families. She had been a semi-professional ballet dancer, lived most of her life in the big city of Atlanta—where se had become the first female claims investigator for a large insurance company, made herself a confidente of a famous Presbyterian minister, directed plays and fashion shows, and served as a member of the first unit of female Navy seamen. That latter distinction endeared her to a prominent citizen of Milledgeville who had become the father of the modern Navy, Congressman Carl Vinson.
She used that last connection to obtain an appointment to the naval Academy in Annapolis for Jack Gladden, a poor boy who worked after school in my Father’s small haberdashery in downtown Milledgeville. four years later she took me to his graduation. It was June of 1958 and the graduation speaker was the President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. After the ceremony she and I spent three days in the capitol city. We visited all the famous places and used letters of introduction from prominent Milledgeville Republicans to meet J. Edgar Hoover and Vice President Nixon. I was fascinated by the glories of national government. Harrie went to work to get me an opportunity to work as a page in Carl Vinson’s office the next summer. And when that fell through, she hornswagled Senator Richard Russell’s administrative chief Bill Jordan into taking me on as a worker in the Senate. Somehow Bill got me a job wrapping and mailing books that Senators gave to various celebrants trough their franking privilege. the bargain was that I would volunteer time doing menial administrative jobs in Russell’s office after regular working hours. I was more than willing.
WHAT I SAW AND HEARD IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE. I was there for about ten weeks. The Senate was a very very different place from what it seems to be in 2020. I lived in a tiny room at the YMCA, which was only a few blocks from the White House. Buses ran up and down Pennsylvania Avenue to take me to and from the Senate five days a week, sometimes six. At the Senate office building, where I worked in the basement wrapping and mailing books, I entered through the main entrance. There may have been a single guard for the entrance to the building that housed the one hundred Senators and their staffs. I do not remember ever feeling that security was an issue for anybody.
I got my breakfast in a tiny restaurant in the basement of that building. Sometimes there were half a dozen other customers, never more. The other two regulars for breakfast at the same time were the “whips” of the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate. Dircksen of Illinois was the minority leader and I believe Aiken of Vermont was his whip. The Majority Leader was Lyndon Johnson, who was often referred to publicly as the most powerful man to ever hold that position. His whip was Mike Mansfield. The two whips talked quietly over their eggs and toast.
That amiable breakfast meeting I now regard as a microcosm of the way the Senate operated then. There was a complete lack of the kind of bitter partisanship that is now constant. Legislation originated in bills proposed by individual members of either the House or Senate. Frequently these proposals were offered by a member from each party. Proposed legislation was then printed and readily available to all members of Congress and to the press. Each bill actually had to be considered by a committee of the House in which it was proposed. No legislation was proposed by a party caucus. All of the bills had to be read several different times out loud in the chamber of the House in which it had been proposed. All were subject to proposals to amend before being voted on by the members of the House. Differences between House and Senate were ironed out in “conference committees” before final vote. I never heard a single rancorous comment said by any Senator to or about another. The Democratic leaders in both houses consulted frequently with the President regarding legislation, and the President usually consulted them about any dramatic executive order or action.
A few years before 1959 the so-called McCarthy era had come to a quick end after Senate committee hearings showed the American people that the anti-communist finger pointing and bullying of that Senator were products of an immorally reckless man. The even worse such behavior by the House Un-American Activities Committee was ended soon after. Most Committee inquiries and hearings seemed to be legitimate and frequently bipartisan efforts to do the nation’s business.
In the summer of 1959 the most celebrated hearings were conducted by the Select Senate Subcommittee for the Investigation of Improper Activities in the labor and Management Field. Despite the inclusion of management as one of two targets for investigation, in fact the subcommittee’s public hearings all centered on allegations of bad conduct by labor leaders. Jimmy Hoffa, president of the powerful Teamsters Union, was the most conspicuous target and witness. His attorney was Edward Bennett Williams, who later owned both the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Redskins. I attended several hours of their appearance before the Committee. Their principal antagonist on the committee was the attorney for the committee, Robert Kennedy. His older brother, John Kennedy was one of the committee members. The thing that left the strongest impression was the presence of John Kennedy. When he was in the room he dominated it with the magnetism that got him elected the next year. It seemed barely possible that anyone could dislike him and I certainly did not.
Of course the Senate at that time was filled with famous and influential men. Three would eventually become the President of the United States—Kennedy Johnson and the presiding officer, Richard Nixon. Others included Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell and Paul Doulas, Wayne Morse and Harry Byrd, Everett Dirksen and William Fulbright, Scoop Jackson and Wayne Pastore, and many more.They all showed each other respect and even affection, regardless of party affiliation or other association. They appeared to be determined that the Senate would live up to its reputation as the ‘greatest deliberative body in the world.” Maybe it was.