Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Wilson W. Wyatt, December 17, 1986

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:07 - Being away from family

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Wyatt, to, um, day of course we're going to be covering, uh, the period of time, uh, during which you served as the mayor of Louisville.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt laments that his public responsibilities required that he be away from his family for so much of the time, but explains that he nevertheless enjoys close relationships with his family in the present day.

Keywords: Mayors; Practice of law; Public life

Subjects: Children.; Family life.; Work.

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.250, -85.767
00:07:35 - Mayoral campaign--General observations and supporters

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, as I said, today we'll be talking about the, uh, period of time when you, you, served as mayor, and, uh, I think that, uh, uh, your book gives an excellent description of, of, uh, the projects that you set out to accomplish and, and what you did accomplish during those years.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his mayoral campaign which he undertook in 1941, explaining the differences between campaigning within a city and campaigning across the state. He discusses several friends who supported his campaign, and he observes that honest, constructive criticism is hard to come by for those who serve in a public office.

Keywords: Barry Bingham; Campaigning; Charles R. Farnsley; Doe-Anderson Advertising; Ernest Clark; Estes Kefauver; George Buechel; Mark Ethridge; Political clubs; Warwick Anderson

Subjects: Mayors.; Political campaigns.; Politicians--Kentucky

00:24:54 - Mayoral campaign--Overcoming opposition

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Partial Transcript: Now the, the primary campaign, of course, wasn't as difficult as the, uh, general election because you were the candidate of the, uh, of the Democratic organization, as I understand it.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt, after describing the primary campaign as straightforward, discusses the difficulties he faced in the general election, including mudslinging from his Republican opponent Robert S. Ball (whom he explains was a friendly man outside the political arena), as well as criticism from Catholics regarding Wyatt's imputed support of birth control.

Keywords: Catholics; Mudslinging; Robert S. Ball

Subjects: Birth control.; Catholic Church.

00:34:01 - Gaining expertise in urban planning

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Partial Transcript: I wanted to ask you, I was intrigued by the, uh, item in your book where you talk about spending the time in Chicago, uh, at the institute up there, and, and your wide reading on urban affairs and urban planning.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt explains that after his election as mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, he paid a visit to urban planning experts in Chicago, Illinois, headed by Louis Brownlow. He discusses particularly the knowledge he gained in the area of public education.

Keywords: American Municipal Association (National League of Cities); American Society of Planning Officials; Chicago (Ill.); Harland Bartholomew; Louis Brownlow; Public Service Administration; Public education; Urban planning

Subjects: Brownlow, Louis, 1879-1963; City planning.; Public schools.; Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924.

00:43:45 - Urban renewal / Louisville and Jefferson County

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Partial Transcript: In developing your twelve-point program that you campaigned on at, uh, for mayor, I guess your experiences at Chicago and your rea--your wide reading helped you put together that, that program.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his study of urban renewal, thanks to his contact with urban planning expert Harland Bartholomew. He describes the urban renewal work he supported in Louisville, Kentucky which led to the construction of the Galleria, the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and the Belvedere. He discusses his efforts to consolidate functions of the Jefferson County and Louisville governments, and he explains the decline in Louisville's prominence as a result of the shrinking of the city's size relative to the county.

Keywords: Harland Bartholomew; Jefferson County (Ky.); Louisville-Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Commission; Urban planning

Subjects: Bartholomew, Harland, 1889-1989; City planning.; Louisville (Ky.); Urban renewal.

00:59:35 - His support of national defense

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Partial Transcript: Uh, before I forget, one of the issues that you campaigned, uh, on, uh, was national defense.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his efforts to bring the United States into a more active involvement in the Second World War, in view of the importance in the war effort of Louisville as a manufacturing center and of nearby Fort Knox.

Keywords: Fort Knox (Ky.); Manufacturing; National defense; Pearl Harbor; World War II (WWII, WW2)

Subjects: Allied Powers (1919- ); Industries.; World War, 1939-1945.

GPS: Fort Knox (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.893, -85.975
01:02:54 - Resigning from company boards

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned in "Whistle Stops" how difficult it was to, to give up the positions that you, that you held, that we talked about earlier, that, uh, were actually brought up in the campaign.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his resignation from the boards of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville Times, and Louisville First National Bank when he was elected mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. He describes difficulties he faced during his term of office with the newspapers, regarding not only erroneous articles but also stories that were, in his view, printed too soon, such as stories on the controversy over his choice in the appointment of a police chief and in the appointment of a fire department chief on account of both men being civil servants. Explaining that these controversies were partly the result of miscommunication, he recalls that years later when he was United States Housing Expediter in the administration of President Harry Truman, he found that communicating his intentions so as to prevent corruption and favors was often difficult.

Keywords: Chief of police; Civil service; Fire department chief; George Barry Bingham, Sr.; Jimmy Pope; Louisville Courier-Journal; Louisville First National Bank; Louisville Times; Mark Ethridge; Mike Griffin

Subjects: Bingham, Barry, 1906-1988; Conflict of interests.; Ethridge, Mark, 1924-1985; Newspapers.

01:18:53 - The General Assembly--Issues in the 1942 session

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Partial Transcript: Uh, of course, the General Assembly began after the first of the year, uh, during your, your first full year as, as mayor.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses the first meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly in 1942. He particularly discusses the issue of home rule in taxation and pensions for fire fighters.

[[Recording is silent for 10 seconds at 1:25:28.]]

Keywords: Firemen; Kentucky Legislature; Revenue sharing; Taxes

Subjects: Fire fighters.; Home rule; Kentucky--Politics and government; Kentucky. General Assembly.; Pensions.; Taxation.

01:30:05 - His relationship with Keen Johnson

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Partial Transcript: Of course, as I said, you mentioned in your book the specific types of legislation that Louisville benefited from during this particular legislative session.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his favorable relationship with Governor Keen Johnson (in office 1939-1943). He recounts the passing of a bill in Johnson's absence which took money away from the state and gave it to Louisville, illustrating the growing independence of the General Assembly from the governor.

Keywords: Keen Johnson; Kentucky Legislature; State government

Subjects: Governors--Kentucky; Johnson, Keen, 1896-1970; Kentucky--Politics and government; Kentucky. General Assembly.; Politicians--Kentucky

01:36:48 - The General Assembly--Its nature

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Partial Transcript: Of course, the, uh, the state legislature, even though it's grown in independence in the last few years, it was always an interesting body, I think, uh, part of Kentucky history in lower, maybe.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt describes the General Assembly as effective despite its seeming inefficiency. He discusses his association with Commissioner of Highways J. Lyter Donaldson, with whom, along with Governor Johnson, Wyatt worked much of the time in the General Assembly to pass Louisville's legislative program.

Keywords: J. Lyter Donaldson; Kentucky Legislature

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Kentucky. General Assembly.; Politicians--Kentucky; Willis, Simeon S., 1879-1965

01:48:54 - The 1943 gubernatorial election / overlooking party boundaries

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Partial Transcript: And I felt then and feel now that if Lyter Donaldson could have been elected governor, he would have been an excellent governor.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses Donaldson's loss to Republican Simeon S. Willis in the 1943 gubernatorial election, imputing it largely to Dondaldson's uncharismatic character. He discusses his working relationship with Governor Willis and the newly-appointed Judge Arthur Hopkins, as well as his cooperation with Republican politicians such as former Louisville mayor William B. Harrison.

Keywords: Democrats; J. Lyter Donaldson; Judge Arthur Hopkins; Political parties; Republicans

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Politicians--Kentucky; Willis, Simeon S., 1879-1965

02:01:28 - His relationship with Mark Beauchamp and Jimmy Henning

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Partial Transcript: What about the person who was Jefferson County Judge during this period, Mark Beauchamp?

Segment Synopsis: In discussing his relationship with Jefferson County Judge Mark Beauchamp, Wyatt explains that the relationship was facilitated by Jimmy Henning, an active member of the Democratic Party later appointed to the Jefferson County Commission.

Keywords: James W. Henning; Judges; Mark Beauchamp

Subjects: Democratic Party (Ky.); Jefferson County (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

02:07:03 - Difficulties in expanding Louisville

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Partial Transcript: I was wondering, too, in, in, in thinking about all that you accomplished, and all the change that came about, um, but, in looking back, uh, at your term as mayor, what would you have liked to accomplish--accomplished that you didn't, that you think would have made a difference in Louisville today?

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses what he wishes he had accomplished but did not: merging the governments of Louisville and Jefferson County, and passing laws to allow the annexation of land to Louisville as the city grew.

Keywords: J. Verser Conner; Mark Beauchamp

Subjects: Annexation (Municipal government); Jefferson County (Ky.); Kentucky--Politics and government; Louisville (Ky.)

02:14:07 - Friendships with other mayors

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Partial Transcript: During your term as mayor, you, you--it seems that you quickly became involved at a national level with national associations relating to, to city government.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his participation and leadership in national and state organizations of mayors. He discusses in particular his friendship with Fiorello La Guardia, mayor of New York City, New York and Hubert Humphrey, mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Wyatt explains that party lines often did not matter in the associations of municipal leaders seeking to help each other and learn from each other.

Keywords: American Municipal Association; Chicago (Ill.); Civil rights; Edward Joseph Kelly; Fiorello H. La Guardia; Hubert Humphrey; Joseph D. Scholtz; Kentucky Municipal League; Lame ducks; United States Conference of Mayors

Subjects: Humphrey, Hubert H. (Hubert Horatio), 1911-1978.; La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947.; Mayors.; Municipal government.

02:24:51 - The dignity of office

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Partial Transcript: Um, something I, I saw in the--reading in the newspaper during this period as mayor, uh, a--about the official car, use of the official car.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt reflects on the populace's negative reaction to his use of public transportation rather than the official car in consideration of the scarcity of supplies during the war.

Keywords: Cars; Democracy; Formal dress

Subjects: Automobiles.; Leadership.; Public opinion.

02:28:45 - His trip to Algiers

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Partial Transcript: I enjoyed reading about your trip to, uh, Algiers that you took in nineteen forty thr--1943.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses a mission he accepted from the Board of Economic Warfare which took him to Algiers (Algeria). He discusses the people involved and relates an experience in Algiers illustrating the behavior of officers of different ranks toward each other.

Keywords: BEW; Charles R. Farnsley; Elmo Roper; George Gallup; Henry Wallace; Morris Rosenthal; OSS; William J. Donovan

Subjects: Roper, Elmo, 1900-1971; United States. Board of Economic Warfare.; United States. Office of Strategic Services.

GPS: Algiers (Algeria)
Map Coordinates: 6.767, 3.217
02:36:26 - His presidency of the Louisville Area Development Association

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Partial Transcript: Of course, looking at your term of mayor, uh, I guess one of the most important things was the, uh, Louisville Area Development Association.

Segment Synopsis: Wyatt discusses his efforts as president of the Louisville Area Development Association, particularly in ensuring that the city was prepared for a flood of the Ohio River, in view of the 1937 flood. Due to these preparatory measures, he explains, the 1945 flood was not nearly as destructive or disruptive as the one in 1937.

Keywords: Emergency response; Flood walls; Louisville Gas and Electric Company; Topographical maps

Subjects: Floods.; Natural disasters.; Ohio River.