Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Edward "Ned" T. Breathitt, Jr., March 3, 1994

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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BREATHITT: Oh, yeah, his father and mother. Mother's still living. Well, Hech just died a few years ago.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was gonna--

BREATHITT: But--but--Dutch Lackey was the reform mayor in Hopkinsville, owned CBS station, and Katie Peden was his manager.

KLOTTER: Terry has some Hopkinsville roots.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. I was living there when you were elected governor and I went to school with Mary Fran.


BIRDWHISTELL: And Coffman, Jr.

BREATHITT: No kidding!


BREATHITT: Good golly.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then when you--when you moved to Frankfort, we moved to Lawrenceburg. (Laugh) We were kind of following you.

BREATHITT: Yeah. Yeah.

KLOTTER: Just couldn't quite get as far up the road.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so I can remember a couple of times when you were governor, we played Frankfort, and Mary Fran was a cheerleader--

BREATHITT: Yeah. Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: --and I'd see her at those--




KLOTTER: You were a star on the team 'til Jimmy Dan Connor came along. 00:01:00(Laughter)

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, he had a better jump shot than me. Yeah, he was pretty good.

BREATHITT: Well, did you play after high school?

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, I went to Georgetown College --then after high school, I didn't play.

BREATHITT: Okay. Well, I've signed it. What are all these pages?

BIRDWHISTELL: All you need to do is--we can fill in the rest--if you'll just sign all three of 'em--

BREATHITT: All right.

BIRDWHISTELL: --and that way we'll hit--we'll--we'll send you one with the tape, and then we'll give Jim one for the Society. (Long Pause)

BREATHITT: Did we decide against having an announcement of the foundation over at the rotunda?

KLOTTER: We--there seems to be two schools of thought on that. One, we're trying to get everything prepared, you know, get the ---------- (??) in place and we haven't done that yet.



KLOTTER: Which, it will probably be another couple of weeks. There was some thought that we needed to go ahead and do an announcement just about Jim Gray, because the budget's being put together right now.

BREATHITT: Where now?

BIRDWHISTELL: Just date it.

BREATHITT: Oh, date, okay.

KLOTTER: But the budget's being put together this week and next week, and that we should do a single announcement. Some thought, though, was that it would be better just for Jim Gray to call those people in the House and Senate, himself, and if we're just gonna do a single announcement with him, and then follow that up with an announcement later on.

BREATHITT: Okay. That's--

KLOTTER: I'm not sure what's the best approach.


KLOTTER: He has been out of the state. I just talked to him yesterday, day before yesterday. I guess he just got back in last night.

BREATHITT: He's a--fine young citizen of the state.


KLOTTER: He's been--we've been--we went over with the U.K. Development Office and they outlined what a chairman of a campaign should be doing, what his role should be, so he's really getting into it and--

BREATHITT: Yeah. Yeah.

KLOTTER: I hope we can push it and get everything going.

BIRDWHISTELL: You probably remember that. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Gosh almighty.

BIRDWHISTELL: We are--we have things on you at the library, you know.


BIRDWHISTELL: We --we keep track of you. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: I sure don't remember it.

BIRDWHISTELL: That was during the campaign.

BREATHITT: Yeah, umhmm. I (Pause)--I don't even have that picture.

BIRDWHISTELL: Maybe we can make a copy of it for you.

BREATHITT: This has gone to Murray with my papers, I'm sure, 'cause I sent everything down there.

BIRDWHISTELL: I would imagine--


KLOTTER: You might check with us too, Terry. We may have that in our files. We have Mason there. We can--we can take a picture too.


BREATHITT: I'd like to get the picture. I don't know who did the picture. Probably Zimmer McClaskey had it--

BIRDWHISTELL: Somebody had it painted.

BREATHITT: Well, it would have been Zimmer McClaskey. Yeah. Huh. Okay--Cut loose.

BIRDWHISTELL: All right. We're running.

KLOTTER: Everything working okay?


KLOTTER: Well first of all, we'd like to just start with your early life and growing up in Hopkinsville. I know that you were the only child of Edward T. Breathitt and Mary Jo Wallace Breathitt. Your mother was from Trigg County, and her father was Alex Wallace, who's described in what we've seen as a Trigg County Farmer. And her mother was Evelyn Southern Wallace. Could you just tell us something about your mother?

BREATHITT: Yes. My mother was--was born in Trigg County, born on a 00:05:00farm in Cerulean Springs, Kentucky, which was a town on the Illinois Central Railroad where they had one of the old spas. And people would come to the hotel there, and they had a skating rink and a dance hall. And of course, you know a lot of the folks didn't think that was very nice, having a dance hall, but--(Laugh--Klotter & Birdwhistell)--in the county. And my--my--my grandmother, Eva Southern Wallace was quite a remarkable lady. She was determined that my daughter get a good education and that she see something of the world other than just a farm life in Trigg County. She went to Hopkinsville, Kentucky before my mother entered the first grade and talked to Mrs. Gabe Paine, who 00:06:00was the teacher in the schools in Hopkinsville and had two sons, later. But--and my grandmother asked her if my mother could room with her and go to the Hopkinsville schools. And she would get on the Illinois Central train and ride to Hopkinsville Sunday nights and--and then would live with Mrs. Paine--they called her Miss Annie. She was a legendary person, taught me Latin in high school, had two sons who are doctors. But my mother did that and then would come home Friday afternoons. And that was quite a decision for a mother, to give up her daughter during the school year, from the first grade on through high school. And then my grandmother would raise extra money. She raised 00:07:00turkeys and--and she sent her two boys, her other two children, to high school at the University of Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wait--at the Academy there?

BREATHITT: There at the Academy there. And they--and they went to ---- ------(??) Institute which was a private school at Cobb, Kentucky, which is in Trigg County. And she was determined they have an education. Then, when my mother graduated from high school, she was determined that she go to college and she would have Hopkinsville girls down to visit in the summer, visit my mother on the farm, and--and so that she could keep up those relationships with--with the girls in Hopkinsville 00:08:00that she went to school with. And mother had long-term friendships. Then she sent her to Breneau College in Georgia, which was a private girls' school down in Gainesville, Georgia, just north of Atlanta, and my mother went to school there. And then she sent her to a school in Washington called Moret(??), which was a French-speaking school with French teachers. And it was really a finishing school, as they used to have in those days. And that was during Woodrow Wilson's time as president. I remember mother's telling me they would always go to church where Woodrow Wilson and his wife would go. But they could only speak French, it--in class or at the dining table. And so they had 00:09:00that opportunity to have that experience in Washington. There were a lot of young ladies who were the children of the diplomatic corps, particularly the French Embassy. And so my mother had an opportunity to see a whole lot more of the world than the average daughter of a farm family.

BIRDWHISTELL: Why do you think your grandmother felt so strongly about that? That was, as you've just pointed out, very unusual--sending her off to Hopkinsville on--during the week and then to these other--other schools. Why--what--?

BREATHITT: My--my grandmother was educated in a--at a Catholic parochial school in Henderson, Kentucky which was a boarding school, and so she had the opportunity and--and she--I think she felt somewhat limited 00:10:00in her opportunities for self-expression as a farm wife at Cerulean Springs. And she was determined that her children get a broader opportunity for an education. And--and--and she was a remarkable woman. I--my grandfather's father was a Confederate soldier. He fought through the war in Colonel Woodard's Company D of Confederate Cavalry. Was with him at--the legend is, was with Forrest at the battle at Fort Donaldson and got out when Forrest led his men out. My grandfather told the story that--that Forrest was there meeting with the other generals and they saw Forrest pick up his hat and leave, 00:11:00and they said, "Forrest, where're you going?" Said, "You guys, you men are talking about surrendering to the Yankees. I'm getting my men and getting the hell out of here." And he said, "I promised these mothers that I'd never let their sons die in a Yankee prison camp." Now, he was--was a bridge builder, built this country bridges, and a druggist in Princeton, Kentucky. And he had a brother who lived in Princeton and he--and one of my cousins is the tax assessor still, over at Princeton, Jimmy Wallace. And then my grandfather had a real fine farm down in Cerulean and he raised cattle and tobacco and typical--farmer, 00:12:00did well in farming in those days. He--I quizzed him about the night riders and I always accused him of being a night rider. And he says well--and my grandmother and my mother told me this story, he--he wouldn't join the association at first. And they threatened to burn his plant beds, and his barns, and--or scrape his plant beds they called it. And he sat up every night with a shotgun and his dogs, in case he fell asleep, to wake him up. And told 'em--told 'em, "You come, won't all of you leave." (Laugh--Klotter) And--but when they had the raid on Hopkinsville, I asked him one time, I said, Grandpa--I called him Grandpa--I said, Grandpa, did you go on the raid with Dr. Amos? And he says, "No, but I lent him my horse." (Laugh) So he obviously came over 00:13:00and joined the association over sympathetic--or at least was not looked upon as an opponent and get his plant beds scraped. (Laugh)

KLOTTER: And you must have been asking about that when you were pretty young then?

BREATHITT: Umhmm. Yes, 'course my Grandfather Wallace lived until after I--he helped me write my announcement for the legislature. And I would spend time on the farm--I spent my first three years on a farm because my grandmother had a malignancy and--and she lived for three years and my mother went in to nurse her. That's the way you did in those days. And--but you know, she was active for a good part of that time, I remember, and I remember her churning butter. I just was fascinated with how you could take milk from an old Jersey cow, and 00:14:00wind up with butter. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) But then you also wound up with buttermilk, and they fed that to me, and I have promised that I will never drink buttermilk again. (Laugh) Once they did--I got away from farming, and I haven't. I have it in cornbread, but I don't like buttermilk. And--but my granddaddy was also a Democratic Politician, an old-time--style Confederate Democrat Politician. He ran for sheriff and was one of the few people to ever challenge the Broadbents' and beat 'em.


BREATHITT: In Trigg County. But I always accused him, I said, yeah, but they took you over in thirty days 'cause he wound up being in the purebred Herford(??) business with Mr. Smith, Senior. And I've got a picture of Mr. Smith, Sr. and my grandfather sitting on--on Lookout Mountain on a rock as they were on their way to a cattle show down in Atlanta.


BIRDWHISTELL: How about that?

BREATHITT: So I've had a close relationship with the Broadbent family since that time through my grandfather. My grandfather then, mortgaged his farm in the late twenties when--well, in the early twenties when my--my uncles got out of the Army--World War I--after having been educated at the Academy at the university and then graduated from the university, were in a fraternity and knew a lot of the Lexington boys. When I came to school, they told me about a lot of their friends and I met 'em, and I met their children that went to school here. So they had that kind of a life--up here. My grandfather mortgaged his farm to buy them--also mortgaged--but to buy them a showplace in Christian County called the O'Casey Place. That was in South Christian, and that 00:16:00was a very fine farming area and the two boys and their two wives lived on that farm, 'course that created tensions. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) If you get two strong-minded wives and both of the wives were from South Christian families. One was Lucille VanCleve, which was a very famous old farm family in Christian County that raised standard-bred horses. And he rais- --bred, and trained, and raced standard-bred horses, and had some good ones. And Lucille was well educated and then--that was my Uncle William Wallace, Billy Wallace they called him. And Uncle Roy Wallace married Myra Winfrey, which was another South Christian farm- 00:17:00--farming family that were well-to-do farm families in South Christian. The Depression hit. The banks foreclosed, not only on the two boys' farm, which they lost, the showplace, and they went big-time, you know. During the "Roarin' Twenties," they had all these fine, expensive purebred cattle and they showed everywhere and they were living the life of the--of the country gentry. (Laugh--Klotter & Birdwhistell) And it all came to an end. And it also cost my grandfather his farm. Now, he held on. He held on for a couple more years, but then they finally foreclosed on him. And I remember as a child going to the sale where they sold all the farm equipment and the whole works, and 00:18:00it was a very sad time. And I remember my--they had guineas, and the guinea hens wouldn't come in and my daddy--they were all up in trees. I remember my daddy shooting 'em with a .22 rifle to bring 'em home to eat, and--but that was sad. And that was an experience of mine, seeing a farm foreclosure sale for--down at Cerulean.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was your grandmother still living?

BREATHITT: Yeah. She was still--yeah--

BIRDWHISTELL: When the farm was foreclosed?

BREATHITT: --no. No, she died before that farm sale. And--and I'm so happy that she didn't have to see it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. So your grandfather was facing several things all at once.

BREATHITT: Well, he faced--faced the loss of Eva, and the loss of his sons' farm, and the loss of his. You know. He mortgaged everything to give them the best possible start.

BIRDWHISTELL: At the worst possible time.

BREATHITT: At the worst possible time. So the two boys, then, got 00:19:00jobs with Johns-Mannville Company. They were college graduates and attractive young men. And they got jobs with Johns-Mannville Company as traveling salesmen, and they both stayed until retirement with Johns-Mannville Company, and--and did pretty well with them. But they traveled and were--Billy was all over everywhere. And he was a lot in Kansas City, and St. Louis, and New Orleans, and Birmingham--the principal places where he was. My Uncle Roy was a traveling salesman, but stayed out at Hopkinsville. And--but that's on my mother's side.

BIRDWHISTELL: What did your Grandfather Wallace do after the farm was foreclosed?

BREATHITT: Well, it was very interesting. He--'course being a big Democrat, he backed "Happy" Chandler in his race in `35. He saw this 00:20:00young man who was challenging the old establishment and it--he just was swept up in Chandler's--and I remember as a child, I was then eleven years old, in that `35 race, he had me tacking up Chandler signs (Laugh--Birdwhistell), "Chandler for Governor" signs. And I remember they had a big rally at the just-completed W.P.A. football stadium in Hopkinsville.


BREATHITT: And they had Fred Wallace, who had lost in the run-off, down there and the big event was he was going to endorse Happy Chandler in the run-off against Tom Rhea. And I remember I--they had free doughnuts and coffee and that helped draw a crowd, (Laugh-- Birdwhistell) as you can imagine in 1935. And I was carrying boxes of doughnuts, and I remember when the rally was over there was one box left, and I can remember 'em now. They were small, cake-type with the powdered sugar on 'em, and I brought 'em home. My mother said you didn't steal those, did you? (Laughter) I said, no ma'am, they gave 00:21:00'em to me 'cause I worked hard all day. And I remember we --we ate doughnuts--(Laughter)--for a week. But then, Happy made my grandfather the old-age pension worker, and he was older than most of the people applying for pensions. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And he was the old-age pension worker, and lived with my parents, and lived with me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh really? So he moved to Hopkinsville?

BREATHITT: Moved to Hopkinsville and lived on 1804 Hopper Court in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: How do you spell that?



BREATHITT: Which was--go up Eighteenth Street--you know where Giles Grocery is? You go up Eighteenth Street, and there's a court in to the right there. At the end of it is a wonderful old home that Dr. Austin Bell lived in. And then other houses down both sides. My parents had a very modest bungalow house that--and my mother became very active 00:22:00in the community in the Literary Club called the Philomathean Club and she'd give book reviews on WHOP, the Lackey station. And regularly would give book reviews and I had a very happy childhood. Could walk to Virginia Street School and come home for lunch, only had 25 minutes off. I could get home, eat lunch, and get back. (Laugh) And--and I said that's why I eat so fast today. (Laugh) But I had a Columbia bicycle my parents bought me for--for Christmas that I used to ride back and forth to school. Then Hopkinsville High School was just on the other side, on Walnut Street, and I'd walk to Hopkinsville High School.

BIRDWHISTELL: Very compact.

BREATHITT: Yes. Then my grandfather--after Happy's term as governor, 00:23:00my grandfather got a job working for Young's Tobacco Loose Floor, soliciting tobacco from farmers. He'd go out through the country and he bought a--a--old V-8 Ford. I remember that, one of the first V-8's after--after the Model A Ford came. And he would travel, and that's the only car we had in the family. And the whole family used that one car. And that was a wonderful opportunity, though, living with my grandfather, and then when he finally retired, he would get up every morning, and go to the post office, and get the mail, and take it to the old-age assistance office--


BREATHITT: --and--and that sort of thing. He would find things to do that--instead of sitting around the house. And he was quite a fellah.


BIRDWHISTELL: Was he--was he bitter at--about the loss of his farm? And did that--

BREATHITT: I never heard him express it.

BIRDWHISTELL: --stay with him?

BREATHITT: Never heard him express it. He just--


BREATHITT: --picked up and his--and went on with his life, and he had an ulcer, I remember that. Thought he was gonna die 'cause he thought he had the stomach cancer like his wife had--Eva, but it was just an ulcer. And they put him on a very strict diet, and 'course he lived to be a very advanced age. He was 92 years old when he died, and-- approximately that old. I've forgotten the exact date of his death. But he--he talked politics to me.


BREATHITT: Now my father was not political. And when I talk about my father, I'll explain really why.



BREATHITT: And was also a Republican.


BREATHITT: And my grandfather was a "yellow-dog Democrat," (Laugh-- Birdwhistell) and then of course when--when Roosevelt came in, he loved Roosevelt.


BREATHITT: And--and then he split with Chandler when--when Chandler ran against Alben Barkley--


BREATHITT: --and backed Barkley.


BREATHITT: He had always also supported Barkley 'cause he was from down in the First District.


BREATHITT: And that was the first split in the family between Chandler and our family. Well, the other one was with my uncle, which I, when I get on my father's side, I'll talk about that at the Woodland Convention.



KLOTTER: Was that `35 race where you were putting out the--were in the campaign, was that really the first time you really got--

BREATHITT: I'd never--

KLOTTER: --involved in politics?

BREATHITT: --I'd never been involved and really had--had never known much about politics. Now on my father's side, it's a real old Kentucky 00:26:00family that came over from Danville, Virginia. And two or three lines came over. One was Ira Ellis, who--who was a Methodist circuit rider, and came into Kentucky at the very beginning, came over with Charles Wesley and--when the Methodists came from England after that great period in--and he ro- --his assignment was Kentucky, and establishing the Methodist Church in Kentucky. And he was a circuit-riding preacher, Ira Ellis. And that is on my father's side of the family. I have a book on the Ellis family, which tells all about that. You probably--it's probably in the library. If not, I'll get a copy for you. The others were--came into Kentucky, and I've checked the records 00:27:00in the courthouse when I was practicing law in Hopkinsville. 'Course we were part of Logan County, and William Wallace was the first one to actually locate in what is now Christian County. Some of 'em were in Logan County and Russellville.

KLOTTER: William Wallace or William Breathitt?

BREATHITT: William--William Thompson, excuse me.


BREATHITT: No, William Breathitt. William Breathitt. William Breathitt, excuse me. Excuse me, it's William Breathitt. I'm sorry. And he--he acquired land on Tradewater Creek. At that time, when the first settlers came in, North Christian was a desirable place 'cause it had the timber, and the water, and the game. And of course, South Christian was just a big plain and 'course, that turned out to be the 00:28:00great agricultural part of the county. And--but--there were three brothers in--that lived in Russellville, and they allied with Andrew Jackson. One was John Breathitt, the first Democratic governor of Kentucky, who died in office, and--after two years. And the other one was John--I mean George Breathitt who, as a reward I think for Governor John Breathitt supporting Jackson, took him up as his secretary to Washington when Jackson was president. I've checked books on Jackson and I can't find only sparse res- --reference to him. But one--in one of the books that I got, pointed out that he sent George Breathitt 00:29:00down to meet with Calhoun to try to negotiate some sort of a peace treaty or some sort of alliance. George died while he was serving President Jackson. The story in the family was that he went on a western trip, and 'course that was quite an adventure in those days, to go, and caught pneumonia and died. And--but then the other Breathitt, who--who was my direct ancestor, was James Breathitt, and he stayed in Russellville and was Commonwealth Attorney. And the Breathitt home there is now the--the Women's Club in Russellville. And that's the old Breathitt home in--in Russellville, and it was a--it's right downtown. And as you come out of Russellville, it's on the right, going toward Elkton. And has some sort of columns in the--and--[Phone Rings] but 00:30:00that was--that side. The Breathitt family, then, went down to four brothers that I--this is the part that I know, one of whom was my great-grandfather, and his name was John Breathitt.


BREATHITT: That's right, John W., who was a major in the Union Army and rode with Sherman on his March to the Sea. When I was campaigning in the Confederate parts, I didn't mention that much. (Laugh) I talked about old ----------(??) Wallace who rode with Colonel Woodard in the cav- (Laugh)--in Company D of the Confederate Cavalry. (Laugh) And- -but--there were four brothers, Breathitt brothers, two on the Union 00:31:00side, and two on the Confederate side John Breathitt that I mentioned, my great-grandfather, and then he had a brother named Gus Breathitt, Uncle Gus, and I knew Uncle Gus.


BREATHITT: He was police chief in Hopkinsville, and when I was a little child, he gave me a little--little car that you could pedal, called a Hudson Super Six. I mean, was on the (Laugh--Birdwhistell)--on the emblem of it, and gave it to me as a little child.


BREATHITT: And that, 'course was the biggest present I'd ever gotten as a little--little child. And Uncle Gus was Union and Republican, along with John. And the other two brothers were Peyton and William, named for that original William, and they joined the Confederate Army. And- -but the family legend is that they never reconciled after the war. And Peyton was so traumatized by everything, he wound up in Western 00:32:00State Hospital, which they called the asylum in those days. My daddy said they used to go out and play baseball for the patients, and he'd see Peyton out there, but Peyton never--never got over it. And--and I don't know a whole lot about Will, either--William. But they--had that family split and I'm sure they--they would have been Democrats or William was a Democrat, but I don't know. Haven't--never followed that up, and I didn't know anybody in the family when I got to the age that I could--to find much about 'em.

BIRDWHISTELL: What did you make of that as a kid, the fact that you had these relatives who had served on both sides of one of the most interesting aspects of American history? Did that make an impression on you?

BREATHITT: Well--well, it was so common in that county. The people in North Christian, most of all, were Republican.



BREATHITT: The people in South Christian had slaves.


BREATHITT: And were wealthy planta- --in town, if you were the business- -now, my grandfather was a lawyer, represented tobacco companies and the railroad and a lot of them were on the Union side, economic interests. And--plus he grew up that side. His father was appointed postmaster and I think, was county judge at one time. But 'course the Demo-, the Confederate side was pretty strong politically, although Christian County was a Republican county, really, up until Roosevelt came in and got the black vote, which--which the African-Americans were over half the percentage at one time of the county.


BREATHITT: And--and they were all registered Republican until Roosevelt came in. And--and then a group of political leaders down there--Vigo Barnes, who was later Human Resource--and R. D. Smith, the circuit judge; my law partner, Oglesby Sawyers; Jimmy Breathitt, my uncle, all 00:34:00really helped turn the county Democratic. But there's still a residual, strong sentiment of Republican--shows up in national elections.


BREATHITT: That's right, and--and their sentiments are that way. And 'course North Christian, up around Crofton and that area, is still Republican.

KLOTTER: What about in your own family, where--you know, you had--on one side of the family, had been Confederate and then the other side did have a lot of Union--was there--

BREATHITT: My mother--

KLOTTER: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: --my mother grew up as a--as a strong Democrat all of her life. And her husband was, of course, a Republican. Although my--my-- my grandfather, James Breathitt, his ambition was to be a federal judge. 00:35:00He went to Cumberland College and got his law degree. And I think he got it--didn't take him three years. You went down there for sometimes six months to a year.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was curious how he chose Cumberland College. You know, there's--all these different colleges show up in your family.

KLOTTER: That's in Tennessee, right?

BREATHITT: Yes, right down in Tennessee.


BREATHITT: Where Cordell Hull--


BREATHITT: --graduated from Cumberland College. And--and you could graduate from law school and then you'd--the bar exam was--you'd go and have a panel of circuit judges, and they'd ask you questions. And so he practiced law and ran for--was active in Republican politics. The story in the family was that he managed Taft's campaign for president. Now, I don't know whether that's Christian County or state. I never have checked that out. That was just a story, and he was a "Taft" man. And--and--he was orthodox Republican, Union. 'Course he was too young 00:36:00to fight in the war. He was born 'til well after the war, but--well, after the war. But he--during the Night Riders, when my Grandfather Wallace says he loaned him a horse, at least that's all he would admit to--they--they said to my grandfather they were gonna burn his house down because he was representing tobacco companies and the railroad. And he says, "There are eight members of my family. Each will have a gun at a window in my house. You come." Daddy remembers it. They--he- -he gave--there were seven living children, and--and my granddaddy and they--they had all their guns lined up at the window, and they never touched 'em. They stayed away.

BIRDWHISTELL: Where did they live?

BREATHITT: They lived on South Virginia Street, the corner of Eighteenth 00:37:00and Virginia. It was Gilmer Bell's property, Colonel Gilmer Bell, who was--and then right behind that was Giles Grocery. Their backyard backed up there--where they used to have their stable? They sold to Giles Grocery so they could run through to the alley.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?

BREATHITT: And--and enlarge the grocery. So it was right there. And old--well, it's not a real old house. When my grandfather came back from being attorney general to practice law, my grandmother built the house. She didn't like politics.

BIRDWHISTELL: About 1911--1912?

BREATHITT: Yeah. And I remember she said that it cost her 4,850 dollars- -(Laugh)--to build a house. And--and it was a brick Victorian with gingerbreads, and you'd walk in center hall. It's still there. And on the right was the parlor that you were never in, (Laugh--Birdwhistell) 00:38:00except for guests, or Thanksgiving or Christmas or--or Easter. And then right behind that was a great big dining room, and my grandmother always had a cook. And she had--every meal was a formality. You sat down and you said grace, and the whole family sat down. And it became the center of conversation. And it was very interesting when Jim Breathitt was there, the son who was--went to Centre College and he was a Woodrow Wilson-inoculated Democrat. And--and they practiced law, Breathitt & Breathitt in Hopkinsville. And--(Laugh)--I--after church, we'd all gather there for Sunday dinner at my grandmother's. And I remember we always had beaten biscuits, and I didn't think much of beaten biscuits, but we all had to take beaten biscuits,--(Laugh- -Birdwhistell)--and a great big dinner. I mean, she'd have three or 00:39:00four vegetables and--and either turkey, chicken--well, it was usually chicken except on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or beef roast or a leg of lamb. I remember she rotated 'em and, I knew which Sunday was gonna be,--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--and it was one of those three. And--but they would always have a discussion, and it usually turned to politics.

BIRDWHISTELL: Even though your grandmother didn't--

BREATHITT: She didn't--

BIRDWHISTELL: --care for it?

BREATHITT: Well, she presided over the dinner. And occasionally, she'd chime in. Now, she was a big "Dry" and a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. My grandfather wasn't, by any means. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And--and--and she was very active in the Methodist Church and she was there every Sunday with everybody in the family that she could recruit to go. Had one pew, like they did in the old days in Hopkinsville, at the First Methodist Church. And but--they 00:40:00were very interesting conversations, and of course, in those days, children just listened.


BREATHITT: And--but it was interesting to me to hear that. And then a visiting politician might come to town, and if they did that, they'd have dinner or lunch and sometimes I'd get invited to that, if it wasn't on Sunday. And sometimes they weren't there on Sundays.

BIRDWHISTELL: I guess they were Republican politicians, right?

BREATHITT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, sure. And--but--I did that right on up 'til I went to college. My grandmother still had meals after my grandfather died in `34. She'd still have a Sunday dinner. She held onto that. Now, of course the--it really just turned into a family dinner after my grandfather died. And my uncle died the same year. They both died in `34.


BREATHITT: But I really think that had a formative effect on me 00:41:00politically. And then I remember my grandfather, the night he died, had just won a jury trial in Christian Circuit Court against an old adversary in the courtroom. And I don't think it was a big verdict, probably four hundred dollars or something, but he was recounting how he beat this lawyer. And he was chuckling and laughing and then--that night, he had an easy chair in what was called the living room, which was opposite the parlor--


BREATHITT: --and he had a fireplace there always that--it was a coal grate. When--in cold weather, they always had a fire going. And had a radio sitting right by, and I remember it was one of those that stood 00:42:00up. And then I sat down, and he peeled an apple and he'd eat a slice, and I'd eat a slice. He said, "Son, be a lawyer. You never have to quit." And he went to bed that night and died. And that made an impression on me. And--but I remember he--my daddy tells a story that on--that he would slip out and take him fishing down in--Little River in those days was a good fishing place. It wasn't polluted. And--

BIRDWHISTELL: I did some fishing in Little River. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Yeah. And he would go to Striped Bridge or Huffman's Mill, and he'd hook up the buggy, and they'd leave at dark because he'd round up the minnows, have them arranged to pick up somewhere. Somebody'd get 'em and he'd get my daddy, and take him, and they'd leave 'way 'fore daybreak. They didn't want anybody to catch 'em riding out the 00:43:00wrong direction from church on Sunday. And they wouldn't come back 'til after dark. (Laughter) And my grandmother would never say a word. My daddy said she would just--she just was so upset about it, you know, and she would stiffen for--all day (Laugh) the next day. But--

BIRDWHISTELL: Gotta turn this over.

[End Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]


BREATHITT: But that was--I guess helped develop my keen interest in the outdoors and fishing and hunting 'cause my father was in the tobacco 00:44:00business. And he married Mary Jo Wallace--Mary Josephine Wallace, and after he got out of the Navy in World War II. My father did not go to college. He was a high school football star, and the quarterback. And then the minute he finished that, he went into the Navy and was on the U.S.S. Mongolia, which was a troop-carrying ship. But he ran--he was on the gun crew on the ship in the Navy. And he made a number of crossings in the North Atlantic. They never, their convoys were never attacked by submarines and he was amazed at that. His two brothers were in the war, Jim Breathitt, who was later lieutenant governor, was a Marine Corps pilot. And John Breathitt, his--one of his other brothers was an Army pilot. And neither of which saw any action in the 00:45:00western front. But they were pilots.

BIRDWHISTELL: And they were both older than him?

BREATHITT: Yeah, they're both older. Correct.

BIRDWHISTELL: Jim Breathitt was seven years older?

BREATHITT: Yes, uh-huh.

BIRDWHISTELL: And John Breathitt would have been--

BREATHITT: Well, they went.

BIRDWHISTELL: --somewhere in between?

BREATHITT: Yeah. There were eight children originally. There were--the boys were Jim, John, George, who died in infancy, who was named for the George Breathitt who served Andrew Jackson as secretary. In those days, the president didn't have a great big staff. And I don't know what that title secretary meant. What important role he had, but he was with the president and I could never find anything in anything that I read about Jackson that would--identified other than they sent him down to see Calhoun in one story, ----------(??) that kind 00:46:00of reference. But then the--the daughters were Elizabeth, who was the oldest of the girls, and Louise, and Julia, the youngest. Julia married Tom Funk, who was the brother of the attorney general, A.E. Funk. Yeah. And he was a football player at Georgetown College, played with Rumsey Taylor from down at--


BREATHITT: Rumsey's still living. And Rumsey became a famous bank-- football official. Was--officiated at a Rose Bowl, and--and my uncle became a football coach after he played football at Georgetown College. And wound up coaching Glass High in Lynchburg, which was state champion. They were a perennial power. And then he went into the Navy 00:47:00in World War II, and coached with Bear Bryant--


BREATHITT: ------------(??). He was assistant coach. And--but any rate, then he wound up in the insurance business after the war in Cincinnati. But they were the children and my father, then, after he got back from the Navy, got a job in the tobacco business, and worked for the old Tennessee Tobacco Company which was headed by the Fairleigh family. Mr. Tom Fairleigh and then he had sons, one who owned the monument company there in Hopkinsville. And he worked as a tobacco buyer for the old Tennessee Tobacco Company, and a big part of their business was buying dark-fired tobacco for the Italian government. 00:48:00And then when Mussolini nationalized the tobacco industry and they got their tobacco--they raised their own or got it from Sardinia or different places, they lost their contract and the Tennessee Tobacco Company went into decline, and my father lost his job because of it.

BIRDWHISTELL: What year was that? Do you know when he lost his job?

BREATHITT: About `32 or three--

BIRDWHISTELL: You were about eight or nine years old then.


BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: I did. I well remember it. I remember him coming home with tears in his eyes. And I came home from school, and I said, "Daddy, what's wrong?" He was looking the closet to see if we had enough clothes for the winter. Well, we never suffered during the Depression. The next--that year, he pinhooked, which was legal in those days. He'd buy tobacco on the market when he thought it was going low, and then sell it when he thought it was going high. And he made a living. 00:49:00(Laugh--Birdwhistell) He would go bird hunting, and we always had plenty of birds, and--and he--my mother was a real good cook and she up her activities. We were living in the same house. We had plenty of good food. And I never knew that we were being deprived, but it was strain on my father. Then he got a job with the George W. Helm Company as a tobacco buyer there at Hopkinsville, and--which was a national stock exchange company. And he--he worked with them until he retired and wound up the head of the leaf department for the company. But it was a wonderful job for a hunter and fisherman, because he didn't have anything to do in the summertime. Well, from about March 00:50:00until about October, didn't have a thing to do except get out a monthly shipment. Now, they would--they would put the tobacco in hogsheads in those days and--and--at the plant. At the George W. Helm Company plant, in storage. They had a lot of storage warehouses. Then they'd get out shipments to the--where they made snuff. And--but that was great, 'cause he'd go fishing all the time. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And I remember--I remember before--right after he lost his job, he rented a little cabin down at Lake Tandy, which was a water company lake from Mr. E. P. Barnes, who owned the E. P. Barnes dry goods store, which was a department store. I remember that they had cables that ran up to the office, and when you'd buy something, you'd given 'em the money, and they'd put a ticket in it, and then pull the thing like that, and these things would run up on this cable to the--and I was fascinated with going in, seeing how they did that. And then when they'd make 00:51:00the entry and send the change down, down it would come--(Laugh)--to that station. And to the clerk that waited on you. We rented that cabin down there, which was a very modest little cabin, and we'd live there all summer long and we fished. And my mother would have her bridge club down or the Philomathean Club down there, and they loved to come 'cause she'd always fix 'em fish for lunch and boy, I'd eat fish. Golly, I'd eat fish and turtles. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And--and-- then in the winter, he'd hunt ducks(??) down there. And it was Hun- --Hopkinsville Hunting and Fishing Club. I don't know if it's still in existence, but I'd catch all kinds of fish, and I loved it, and I developed a very keen interest in fishing. Then my father would take me on float trips later down the Little River. He had built, up at Young Hardware, Cap Smith and my father built a little three-sectioned 00:52:00boat that you could put--each section was smaller than the other, and they put 'em in and you'd stick it in the trunk of the car, and we'd float Little River, and--and that, and fish. So--and every Saturday, we went bird hunting, 'cause the farmers in those days would love to have a tobacco buyer hunt on their place.


BREATHITT: And--and--and we would hunt in South Christian and over in South Trigg County, and I remember he'd take me, and I would go and I--first, I used to kind of dread it, 'cause we'd get there in the field before the sun was up good. And we'd pack a little lunch, and I said if I can just make it 'til lunch, I can sit down and eat lunch. (Laugh--Klotter & Birdwhistell) And--and then he would hunt until you could see the flashes out of the gun barrel if you got a covey coming 00:53:00in and--but he would always have a bagful of birds. And then we'd go home, and have to clean those doggone birds. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And--but we had--my mother could--was just a wonderful cook and she could cook quail better than anybody I ever--in my life. And they were wonderful, but then I got to really liking it, and liking the work of the dogs. My father had--always had dogs and kept them--the factory had a great big--tobacco factory had a great big, open kind of courtyard in it. And then he'd take the dogs out and work 'em and run 'em the rest of the year in the summertime. And--and I loved that. And I loved the hunting and fishing with him, and it has been a consuming interest of mine, the outdoors, which I think led me toward my interest in protecting the environment and the environmental legislation because my father would teach me about the birds, all 00:54:00the water birds. And there was an old osprey, and I remember we were duck hunting and saw an osprey land up a tree, and he--I started to shoot it, and he said, no. He wouldn't let me do that. I mean, we'd shoot ducks, but he--and he said, they--he told me they were great birds, magnificent birds and they should be protected. And he says people shoot the hawk, said, and he told me they don't ever get any good game, they just get crippled game or some game that's been shot and lost--he told me those stories. And I've always been a catch and release fisherman 'cept for what I eat. And I--I owe that wonderful relationship to him. And then we just fished together, and we'd--went down to the lake every day! We'd fish together every day, all summer long! (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And you know, he'd talk and tell me about his experiences on the U.S.S. Mongolia and what the--those troops 00:55:00would say, and some of the funny stories and--and--and he knew so much about bird dogs and so much about hunting and wildlife, that I treasured that relationship. Then, when things got better, we would go with my cousin, Roy Wallace, who was Roy Wallace's son, and we went through grade school and high school and college together 'til we went into World War II. And we went up to Minnesota two summers, six of us in a little Chevrolet automobile, if you can imagine. (Laugh-- Birdwhistell) Everything we took, that was crowded, and drive all the way to northern Minnesota, just south of the Canadian border up at--up at Marcel, Minnesota, which is near Ely, near the border on a lake called Smith Lake and it was a cabin that was owned by an author named Rolvaag, who's son was later governor of--of Minnesota. And we went up 00:56:00there and we'd eat walleye pike. That's all we'd eat, would be walleye pike 'cause they were so good. And we could go just right out front of the cabin, pull on the oars, they didn't have motors--we'd just pull on oars and troll with a june bug spinner and a minnow, and you'd catch all the walleye pike you wanted, and--and we'd have just fillets, and-- and that was a great experience for two summers.

BIRDWHISTELL: What two summers? What--what time period are we talking about?

BREATHITT: Thirty-seven, `38.


BREATHITT: Then in the--then--no, it was `38-`39, I guess, because Mr. Hetley, who was a Norwegian, looked after the cabin. He looked after several cabins on the lake. And I know there was a girls' camp down at the other end of the lake, but Mr. Hetley--

BIRDWHISTELL: Just remembered (Laugh)--

BREATHITT: --Mr. Hetley was so upset at the beginning of the war, 00:57:00'cause the Germans invaded. Oh, and his brother was an officer in the Norwegian army. And I remember he hadn't heard from him. He was really upset about it. And I thought about that during the Olympics about those Norwegian people. And--but then the next year, 1940, my father really splurged and took me on a trip to Canada with Mr. Keatch, who owned a furniture company, and his son who was a medical student. And the four of us went up in Mr. Keatch's big old Buick to a really fine fishing lodge. My father later told me that he knew the war was coming and that I was of the age and I'd get into it, and he wanted to have that one experience in case I didn't make it. He never told me that until after the war. And--but that was a great trip and, you know, we had guides and canoes--Indian guides and canoes and shore lunches and the works, you know. Well, I've been going up to Canada 00:58:00every summer--since I been married. And Lucy, 'course was injured in the Canadian trip this time, but I just love it. It's the thing I love. Let's take a break.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. (Pause in Tape) How did your parents--

BREATHITT: You-all want any more coffee?


KLOTTER: I'm fine.

BIRDWHISTELL: Appreciate it.

KLOTTER: How did your parents meet?

BREATHITT: Okay. Where were we? (Pause in Tape)

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, we've been talking about your father as an outdoorsman.

BREATHITT: Oh yeah, okay. Okay. All right, after the war I--my father, of course, after the war, went into the tobacco business and 'course Mary Jo was working then after she graduated from college at the 00:59:00Planter's Bank & Trust Company in Hopkinsville, Kentucky as a teller. And it was hard to get a job as a woman in those days, and working in a bank or teaching school were the two respectable jobs for a single lady. And--and Mr. Al Feckler hired her, who was president of the bank, and my father met her and started courting her, and--and they got married. And--and she was living--then when she was at the bank, with Miss Annie Paine and--Mrs. Gabe Paine. And she had a tremendous influence on my mother's life, and on my life, 'cause she taught Sunday 01:00:00School, she taught--I had her in the third grade at Virginia Street School. Then I had her in the eighth grade at Hopkinsville High School when the junior high was there then.


BREATHITT: And she taught social science, which--an eighth grade social science course, and then, she also taught Latin, and I didn't like Latin at all. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) But she was so fascinating as a teacher that I took four years of Latin, just to be in Miss Annie's class. But she inspired me, when I was in the third grade--my mother had a lot of books that she'd gotten--she had got all the books from down at Cerulean, the farm, and I was reading--I'd always read a lot, and--and she had a lot of history books--English histories, and I 01:01:00remember I'd read those and I came back to class one time in the third grade and Miss--Miss Annie was asking some questions, and I was able to answer them. And she kept encouraging me about the fact that I read and I knew so much, and you know, that just fed the fires. And my mother always saw to it that I had books to read, and really impressed upon me the fact that your education never stops if you read books. And 'course she gave book reviews and she'd get these books and then she always had a big stack of books she'd get from the library. And when she'd finish one, I'd read it 'fore she'd turn it back in, 'fore they were due. Boy, she never let one get due 'cause money was tight. And--but we had an old Carnegie Library down in Hopkinsville.

BIRDWHISTELL: This is an interesting situation in your family, where your father, you know, doesn't--didn't go to college and--



BIRDWHISTELL: --was an outdoorsman and sportsman.

BREATHITT: And a tobacco--and she was the college-trained--

BIRDWHISTELL: College-trained reader in the family.

BREATHITT: Yes, she was. And--and my Grandmother Wallace was, in that family, the strong one. She had been educated in a convent boarding school, which I guess was a high school level, but--but a good stiff education. And--but they were "Campbellites." I mean Alex Wallace was a "Campbellite," and the church down at Cerulean Springs, they had a church and they'd have a different preacher each Sunday from a different faith: Methodist, Baptist, and "Campbellite,"--(Laugh)--would come in, everybody go to church, but you never--but you'd identify with one of the churches. (Laugh)

KLOTTER: This is our Sunday.

BREATHITT: (Laugh) Yeah. That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you feel pulled in different directions then by your father's interests and your mother's interests? Or did you feel like you had enough energy to do everything? The--the--


BREATHITT: Well, I loved--I loved to hunt and fish with him. That particular relationship, and then I was an only child, so mother had a lot of time to develop and nurture me in those directions. And then the political side of it came when my grandfather moved in with us and at those dinners where I'd hear the political talk between my grandfather and my Uncle Jimmy. And 'course I remember my Uncle Jimmy talking about his race for governor. And I remember the first political speech I ever heard on the radio was my uncle giving one.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, really? (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Yeah. And we had a 50,000 watt clear channel station in Hopkinsville, WFIW, the whitest flour in the world down at the old Acme Mills, that the Anderson family owned. And then they sold it to Nashville and they had a fire, and they sold it, and they sold it to Nashville, and became WSN. And--but it was a--really, a 50,000 watt 01:04:00clear channel station in Hopkinsville. But I--my Uncle Jim--'course those early years, he influenced me because he would talk about his great disappointment in that race. He--he was elected--he ran with the Jockey Club, with Flem Sampson in the bipartisan combine. It was never a public sort of thing, but those alliances--the Louisville crowd, the Louisville political machine was in the Jockey Club, and his running mate was Beckham, but he was really--all his folks were allied to elect Sampson 'cause they said that was gonna make Jimmy Breathitt the most powerful guy in the state as lieutenant governor. And he had the backing of Dan Talbot, and Ben Johnson, and all those political leaders that were allied with that side. Somehow or other, he fell out with 01:05:00Ben Johnson, and Ben then switched to --at the Woodland Auditorium. And Jimmy had people like George Hart at Murray and later Chief Justice Vincent, Fred Vincent was for him, Saul ----------(??) and Doug, the Howards up at Prestonsburg, R.D. Smith, the Hagers in--who are still--the paper in Owensboro--Lawrence Hager was his great friend and ally. 'Course Jim was, I remember, was a courtly fellah that graduated Centre, always dressed impeccably.

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: Yeah. Yeah, I guess that's where he was.

BIRDWHISTELL: Fred Vincent was--

KLOTTER: That's right.

BREATHITT: I guess it was. Yeah. John Sherman Cooper knew him. I don't think they went to school at the same time, but he knew him in- -in Kentucky. And--but--but he thought Happy was with him, but Happy 01:06:00lined up with--with Ruby Laffoon, that side. And now that side of the family, Jimmy's family, and his widow, broke with Happy over that. And 'course he lost at the convention. And--and then he came back to Hopkinsville and he ran for the state senate, was elected, and I don't think he served a day in the state senate. I think because he got up out of a sickbed to go Beckham's funeral--it was miserable weather. Came back and got pneumonia and that was just before--`34--before they got the sulfa' drugs, and he lingered. I remember going to see him, and he lingered, then died, and that was traumatic because here was a really colorful, attractive, wonderful personality. And his wife was--oh, Colonel Martin's daughter--Natalie, from Frankfort, had the 01:07:00house on Capitol Avenue, where the Capitol Apartments were on the left? I don't know what they call 'em now, but a great big, old, rambling house right next to the house that--that the president of the bank, Pat Sullivan, had. And my aunt's mother was--we used to call her Mam a, and I remember when I was in Hopkinsville High School Band, we went up to Happy's or Keen's--well, it was Keen's inauguration. Happy was on the stand, and I went--it was cold as--like it usually is inauguration day, and I went down to Mama's--'course she had everybody in to watch the parade, like they do in Frankfort today. And she had a lot of food, and the first time I met Pat Sullivan. And--and--but Natalie was a very attractive lady, and she and Jimmy had a house in Hopkinsville, 01:08:00and--which my cousin now owns, right on Main Street, Lathan, corner of Main and Lathan--and his death and my grandfather's death--my grandfather, you had to expect it at 84, but Jimmy's death really hurt me. And the family was traumatized because they thought he was gonna be governor and all this, and--and that had an influence, I know, on me, in some sort of way. And I always wanted to be a lawyer and I always wanted to come back and re-establish Breathitt & Breathitt, put their names on the letterhead, but of course, is deceased and--and--and that influenced me at the time.

BIRDWHISTELL: You felt like--am I hearing th- --you correctly in that you--maybe not in 1934, after the death, but at some point you felt 01:09:00like you were sort of the person in the family that was gonna carry on the tradition? Was that--

BREATHITT: Yeah, I had a--yes I--yes, I did.

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: I did. I never did express that, but I did feel it. I wanna be a lawyer in Hopkinsville, re-establish that law firm that got snuffed out, and get into politics, and be governor. And so after- -after the war, I went back to the University of Kentucky. I went to the university just before the war, right out of high school, went to summer school and the fall semester and then enlisted in the Air Force.

BIRDWHISTELL: Let's go back to--just a second, one--I wanted to--your Grandmother Breathitt's name--what was--

BREATHITT: Thompson. Olivia Thompson.

BIRDWHISTELL: And you're named--

BREATHITT: Edward Thompson. Now they're, of course, Scottish. All my antecedents were Scottish except Breathitt, which originally was Braithwaite--


BREATHITT: --and they--the family says that when they came over from 01:10:00Virginia, that the recorder spelled it phonetically, and spelled it Breathitt. And they just--they stayed on that way and maybe--and it was Breathitt. I've got--some genealogist, when I was governor, made me a great big genealogical chart like they do, and sent it to me. I assume it's accurate. I don't know, and I never have checked it. When I really retire, I'll be like all these other retired folks. I'll be haunting you--the Kentucky Historical Society to verify all that. (Laugh) And--but I know it's right as far as I know. It's right that far, but--

KLOTTER: Something else you mentioned earlier. You said your father was not actively involved in politics and so--

BREATHITT: When I ran for governor, he changed his registration to 01:11:00Democratic to vote for me in the primary. Changed it back immediately after the primary. (Laughter) And my aunt, Louise Breathitt, who was trust office down at First City Bank, the other bank at Hopkinsville, changed her and just stayed. (Laughter)

BIRDWHISTELL: You've given us a good description of your--your father and, you know, his growing up and establishing his own life, but he was doing this in the context of a family that had this long political tradition on both sides and--and so he--he was sort of outside of that- -that family tradition in a way. How did he deal with that?

BREATHITT: Well, I'll tell you why. And he told me why. He says, "Don't get into politics. My grandfather had a good law practice and he could provide for his family comfortably. My brother, Jim got into politics 01:12:00and he was a good lawyer, went to college. Graduated from Centre, and he got caught up in politics and broke his heart. "My grandfath- -- my father--" he told me--this was, you know, we'd go down, riding down to Lake Barkley or Lake--Kentucky Lake in the latter stages of his life when we fished down there together and he got into these--he says, "My grandfather always wanted to be federal judge. That was his goal in getting into politics, to get appointed as a federal judge, which never happened," and says, "When he came home from being attorney general, he came home dead broke. My mother had to build a house, and it was really hard for him to rebuild his law practice. And it was--he had frustrated ambitions," says, "There's nothing but heartache and heartbreak in politics." And he had no interest in it. He--he had been 01:13:00an athlete in high school. He wanted me to be successful in whatever we wanted to be, business or law. And stick to it. He discouraged me from ever getting into politics. My mother never encouraged me. Now, my granddaddy thought it was wonderful, Alec Wallace. (Laugh- -Birdwhistell) He helped me write out my--my announcement for the legislature. But that's--that's why I'm--I'm certain. Plus, he was that type of personality. He had his close friends and--but he didn't glad-hand and, you know, he wasn't that type.

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: Yeah, he wasn't that kind of a fellow. But he--he saw his opportunity: to have a son was important to him. And he--he wanted to devote all his time to his son, like he did his bird dogs, like he did 01:14:00the things he liked.

BIRDWHISTELL: You and the bird dogs, huh?

BREATHITT: Me and the bird dogs--(Laugh)--and his wife. He--he and my mother had a very good marriage.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did he get along well with your Uncle Jim?

BREATHITT: Jim? Yeah, they were friends.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. So there wasn't any kind of tension in--in regard to one being--

BREATHITT: No, no, no, no.

BIRDWHISTELL: --lieutenant governor--

BREATHITT: No, no. No.

BIRDWHISTELL: --a politician and attorney.

BREATHITT: Well, you see, my Uncle Jim did like to fish and occasionally--he would come down to the lake--I mean, yeah, Lake Tandy, and I remember going fishing with him a couple of times, but my Uncle Jim wanted to fish with a fly rod. He was the classicist, you know. And 'fact, my daddy fished with fly rods some, but he mainly fished with a casting rod.


BREATHITT: And they got along fine. And--and then my Uncle John, 01:15:00who was in the Air Force, caught TB. And he fought TB, and he was divorced, so I only knew him when he was living at my grandmother's as a patient, and he would go over to Ridgetop. In those days, they'd put you up on a hil- --high hill and freeze you to death with the windows open as treatment.


BREATHITT: Yeah, in those days, and he got better. But then he got pneumonia, and his tuberculosis came back and he died in `38, though he had been a tobacco fellah after the war until he got TB.

KLOTTER: Well you--you talked about growing up and the hunting and the fishing and the going to the lake and when you were in Hopkinsville itself, what kind of things did you do as a young boy?

BREATHITT: I was very active in Boy Scouts. I had a friend who was a 01:16:00year older than I was, named Jimmy Saunders, who had had osteomyelitis and you know, had an operation. In those days, they'd scrape the bone and--and he recovered. And his father was our physics and chemistry teacher. He'd taught in a small college, but he inherited from his wife's side, a farm very close to the O'Casey place, called the Peeble Place down in South Christian, fine farm. And I would go down with him during the summer and we'd spend a night on the farm. We'd hunt for Indian arrowheads in the creek or freshly plowed fields, and we--

BIRDWHISTELL: There were plenty, weren't there? (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Oh, there were plenty in those days. And I don't know what happened to 'em. Somebody took 'em. In all my moves--I've got a few left, but I had a great collection of arrowheads. And he was a fellah that--also he--loved marksmanship, and he had rifles and in those days, 01:17:00to be a member of the American--I mean, the National Rifle Association was like going to church for a boy. And he was a member and had the magazine, "The National Rifleman." He had a range in his backyard. And he and I would shoot and he'd get into postal matches. You'd--you'd have witnesses to shooting and you'd send those in and you'd be matched against others and whoever had the best grouping would win? You'd get a little piece of paper.

BIRDWHISTELL: Used to have college competitions that way. U.K. was competing against other schools.

BREATHITT: Well, I--when I--when I went to Boy--then I would go to Boy Scout Camps. I went for years, and ultimately became a counselor, just 'fore the war. And I became an Eagle Scout. I was very active in scouting, which is another outdoor activity that I really liked. And I had some fine Scoutmasters. One just died two or three months ago in 01:18:00his nineties, Mr. Freeman, who had Freeman Fur Shop? He was from Trigg County. And he was in the Methodist Church and he was Scoutmaster and he taught us about trapping animals. I never did trap. My father didn't think much of trapping animals. And--but Mr. Freeman trapped animals and then he got into the fur business, selling 'em to people. Then he decided why do that? Why don't I make 'em? So he then would buy furs, cull out the best, and he built a wonderful business, which they still have in--for making fur coats, and--with animals from game farms. They didn't buy any wild animals now--but he had an influence and we had a scout--the fellow that was head of the council named G. Warren Taylor that had these camps and we--we had kind of poor camp. We'd just go down and pitch it you know, no big buildings or anything. But Scout camp, our council had Clarksville, Tennessee and 01:19:00Guthrie, and Elkton, and Cadiz, and Hopkinsville. And it--and I really enjoyed those games. I really did. And that was all during the 30's. And then I was a counselor and a lifeguard. I was never any great lifeguard, but I just got to the point that I'd passed my--(Laugh-- Birdwhistell)--American Red Cross thing and--but I shot there, and got as high as you could go on the medals at camp. They had a rifle range. When I came to the University of Kentucky, I got on the rifle team, and--and--and shot in matches--this was before the war. 'Course when I went through basic training, I just--nobody could do as well as I did. (Laugh) I always got top grades at the rifle range. And--

KLOTTER: Kentucky Marksman.

BREATHITT: (Laugh) Yeah. Yeah. And--but then--and it saddens me 01:20:00today to see the NRA having been taken over by the gun lobbying, the gun--dealers and manufacturers and runners and everybody else. But it --because it was a wonderful organization in it--in its original formation, I thought, but it was a part of that culture, young--a father taught a boy how to shoot because three or four generations ago, they'd--that's how they got their meat.


BREATHITT: When they came to Kentucky, but you know, that's going.

KLOTTER: It still is going on when--I mean, your father, you said, hunted and--

BREATHITT: Well--it went on with him and went on with me. I got--my first gun was a .410 shotgun, and a single shot--

KLOTTER: That's some gun.

BREATHITT: --and a single shot rifle that he got from Young Hardware, both of 'em--both used 'cause we didn't have a lot of money. And we'd go out and plink at cans. He said, "Don't shoot glass 'cause it'd 01:21:00break it up." He said, "Shoot a can." And we'd shoot cans and targets with that rifle. That got me started, and then we'd go hunting. And we'd go dove hunting and--with that .410, then he moved me up to a twenty gauge, and ultimately to a twelve, but that was the way boys were raised in Kentucky. That's why it's been so hard to pass a gun bill, because the opponents tried to say we're taking that heritage away from you. Well, of course, it was a whole different agenda, but--but that's the way they would rally all these folks. And--but--I did that. Then I was in the band. I was very small. I'd had a hernia when I was very young. Had a hernia operation, and my parents were afraid that I--if I 01:22:00played football, that that'd come back, I'd have problems with it. And my father, having been a football player, you'd have thought he'd have had the desire to--to relive that experience through me.


BREATHITT: And--but in the afternoons, I had this cousin, Roy Wallace. And he and I would go bird hunting in the afternoon after school, and you could hunt around town. And we knew where the coveys were, and he would do it all the time. I'd go with him quite a bit. And--and--and then I played in the band. And then I got interested in oratorical declamation and the debate team. And we went to the state finals of the--of the debating. I remember we debated Hazard and they beat us. We--the issue that year was--was "Should the government own and operate the railroads?" (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And I wanted to debate 01:23:00'em on the negative side. And we drew the affirmative for the finals, and they beat us. And that convinced me ----------(??) (Laughter). My partner was Kath- --Katherine Peden. She was my debating partner. And that--she was a year behind me in school, but that sort of developed our friendship and then when I ran for governor, she became my chairwoman and--

BIRDWHISTELL: What'd you think about having a girl as a partner in the debate? Was there many--

BREATHITT: Didn't--there were a lot of girls that debated, yes. The Trigg County team had Frances White, who was the best of their debaters. Women were encouraged in oratorical declamation, and debating, in those days 'cause they didn't have many other opportunities, had no sports for 'em, at all. They could be a cheerleader or a drum majorette. They couldn't be the drum major, but they could be a drum majorette, or they could go into debating. And 01:24:00they could compete in literary sort of things, but they didn't have any program for girls at Hopkinsville High School except --now they could be on the annual staff or that sort of thing. I--it didn't occur to me--didn't occur to me anything about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you like the debate team because you'd already decided this future of being an attorney, you thought this fit? Or did you just--?

BREATHITT: Oh, yes--

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: Miss Annie Paine thought I ought to go into oratorical declamation, and 'course, she kept telling me that Latin was important to a lawyer. You got all these Latin phrases. I never used it one lick. (Laughter) But--but there's not question that the self- confidence--and I always had this feeling that I was not much of an(??) athlete, and here was a way to compete, and I--and I was active as a--in scouting, which wasn't a sissy sort of thing. You know, they 01:25:00thought you were sissy if you were in the band and didn't play athlet- --athletics.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hopkinsville is real athletic.

BREATHITT: Oh yeah--

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??) sports--

BREATHITT: Oh yeah--

BIRDWHISTELL: It may have been a little difficult--

BREATHITT: Yeah, well what I did was--I guess over-compensated in getting in competitive things like oratorical declamation, and I got into the state tournament, and they rated you. You didn't have competition, you had--they rated you, got a medal whether you were the best or next best or next best in oratorical declamation. But I had a coach there at Hopkinsville who helped me on that. Bob Babbage's aunt--great-aunt, Miss Florence Klouter(??), was my English teacher, and she coached oratorical declamation. And--and--she was an influence 01:26:00to go that way, but Miss--Miss Annie Paine's the one said, "Go heavy in oratorical declamation. Go heavy on the debate team," and said, "That'll help you as a lawyer." 'Course I always read history. I love to read history, and particularly biog- --biographies of--of people who have made a mark. I love to read biographies. They just fascinate me. And I just--when my wife was operated on, I read one of your books that--well it--no, it's the University Press' book on Barry Bingham, the ones on his oral history interviews?


BREATHITT: And it was a very fascinating thing 'cause that gave a--a picture of his life, a lot of things that I didn't know and weren't included in any of these books that were made to sell or to--had an agenda. (Laugh) But--

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??) (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Umhmm. And--but I would say that Miss Annie Paine had one 01:27:00of the greatest influences on my life 'cause I always would talk to her, as well as my parents, about my future. And then we had a high school principal who played football up at U.K., Charles Petrie, and he's the one that--he'd plug everybody to go to U.K. And--and then if you just wanted to be a schoolteacher, he'd say, "Might as well go over to Western." (Laugh) ----------(??) And--but he said, "If you had any ambition to be professional at all, go to U.K." He--he was always pushing that, and he convinced me to take the combined course. You'd save a year. You could take three years of either Arts & Science or Commerce in those days. And then law school, and your first year of law school counted as your fourth year. And he said--he said that's a great program. So that's what I did.


[End Tape #1, Side #2]

[Begin Tape #2, Side #1]

BREATHITT: (Laugh) Yeah, yeah. Oh, that was the way we grew up in Kentucky.

KLOTTER: You were talking about some of the teachers. What was the quality at the high school, both--both the grade school and the high school of the--the teaching overall in your mind?

BREATHITT: Excellent. Excellent. The Hopkinsville High School, we didn't have a county system comparable to the high--to the Hopkinsville 01:29:00High School, because the brightest and the best of the young women, particularly those who didn't marry--and some who married--had only one place to go for fulfillment and to use their education and their minds--was to teach. And we had just wonderful teachers, all the way through grade school at Virginia Street School, and at high school. I had the last of the great ones. Now we had a few of 'em that were coaches, that were maybe not quite up to that level. But we had a math teacher who was a cousin of mine, Cousin Julia Arnold, that had taught my parents. She was still there, just 'fore she--she retired, and she was a strict, tough disciplinarian and math teacher. I never did like math and I didn't excel in math, but she helped me. Then I had--had 01:30:00a super teacher who taught civics, Miss Elizabeth Walker, who was unmarried, and then I had--and she also taught some history courses. And I had her all the way through. And then I had Miss Juanita Barkley in the seventh grade, and then I had her sister, Mrs. Patty Duffer, Miss Patty Barkley who was married to George Duffer, taught me in the eighth grade. In the eighth grade, you had one homeroom teacher and--and junior high. And she also taught me a couple classes. But we had excellent--and of course, Dr. Saunders had his Ph.D. in chemistry and he also taught physics. And he didn't have much equipment, but he 01:31:00was great. And the quality--and our students from our high school at Hopkinsville were encouraged to go to college, and did, and were able to compete.

BIRDWHISTELL: Didn't the best students normally come to U.K., or did they go to--?

BREATHITT: Vanderbilt and U.K.

BIRDWHISTELL: Vanderbilt--

BREATHITT: Murray and Western, they were the only schools that they went to.


BREATHITT: They went to those four schools, and depending on what they wanted to do. Some of 'em didn't wanna be far away from home and the-- the tuition was low and--more went to Western than Murray in those days. And--but--an awful lot went to U.K., particularly if they couldn't afford tuition at Vanderbilt.


BREATHITT: And, you know, and 'course I had the G.I. Bill of Rights. I could've gone anywhere, but I had started at U.K. and I had just 01:32:00a deep feeling about U.K. that had been in--bred really by Charles Petrie, my principal in high school. And then Jimmy Saunders, a year older than me, came up here, got in a fraternity, and invited me up spring of my senior year to spend a weekend at the fraternity and that kind--it got--and they had a big dance or something over at the fraternity house and, man, I thought that was great. (Laughter)

BIRDWHISTELL: Which fraternity?




BIRDWHISTELL: That's the one you ended up with.

BREATHITT: Yeah. I wound up active in that, but Jimmy had an influence. He then went on to--got his doctorate and was a research chemist for Monsanto. We still are in close touch. But he was, I guess, my closest friend through high school. He had gone--from there, he went 01:33:00to the University of Illinois and got his Master's, and then got his doctorate there. And he was very close. I had a lot of other good friends. Faxon(??) Paine, who was Miss Annie's son, was almost a brother and--and he's a doctor now, radiologist over at Vanderbilt in medical school. And then the older brother, who was the ring bearer in my mother and father's wedding, Gabe Paine, is still living in Hopkinsville. Well, actually lives in Trigg County, practices in Hopkinsville, had a house down at the lake next to mine. And I'm very close to Gabe and--and Faxon, Roy Wallace, and Jimmy Saunders, I guess- -my cousin, the two Paine boys, and Jimmy Saunders were--were the clo- 01:34:00-- greatest influence as young men--and friends.

KLOTTER: You mentioned, you know, traveling to--when you were doing the debates and then traveling to hunt and fish and things like that. Did your family travel for recreation, other than the hunting and fishing?

BREATHITT: Didn't have enough money to. I mean, we didn't have money to travel. We went down to visit Uncle Billy one summer, and I remember we rode buses. That was the cheapest fares, cheaper than train, to New Orleans. And you talk about a trip in the early 30's. They'd have flat tires and the roads, half of 'em were gravel, and--and we went down to see 'em and had a great time in New Orleans. I remember it. That was one of the high- --highlights of my early childhood, to go to New Orleans. And then we visited him in Chicago, rode the L & 01:35:00N up there; that's easy. And we visited him when he was in Chicago with the--Johns-Mannville. And--and then we went to visit him in St. Louis, and went to visit him in Birmingham. Now those are the only trips--we--we'd travel cheap and then stay with relatives. I mean, it wasn't any resort. We didn't go to--then one summer, we got a cabin with my Uncle Roy Wallace and his family when he was living then in Evansville. Saw my first horse race. We went out to--in those days, Dade Park they called it and--and we had a cabin on the Ohio River, and--with--with Coleman lanterns and--you know--I enjoyed that, and watching the steamboats and boats come up and down the river. There were still a few steamboats on the river in those days.

BIRDWHISTELL: You know, most people who--who think of Ned Breathitt and your childhood would assume because of your relatives being state 01:36:00officials and the Breathitt name and everything, that you had been wealthy growing up--


BIRDWHISTELL: --and yet you--you have a story that's very similar to--

BREATHITT: They--they never has been a--

BIRDWHISTELL: --a lot of peoples.

BREATHITT: --I never felt deprived 'cause everybody else, except for a few families in Hopkinsville, were pretty much in the same boat.



BREATHITT: The farmers were struggling, or lost their farms, and the lawyers just made a living. The only wealthy lawyer in town was Doc- -was the father of my future law partner, Seldon Trimble, who bought my grandfather's law practice. He came from Elkton to Hopkinsville and bought his law practice when he became attorney general. And--and then took over all his clients. And of course, Mr. Seldon Trimble, all we're going to do was make money and buy more stock in the Planter's Bank. And he was a splendid lawyer, but he--but he had an old roll-top desk and his files were the kind you rolled up and tied with a string. 01:37:00And when the desk got so full of stuff--he knew where everything was, but nobody else could find it--he'd just lock that door and moved to another office--(Laugh)--and started over. And when we were cleaning up after his death, it was something. I was up in those offices over the Planter's Bank with Seldon and Oglesby Sawyers(??), and Melburn Keith(??) for a short time, and--(Laugh)--it was something to go through those old files.

BIRDWHISTELL: I wanted to raise the issue, you know, your grandfather losing his farm and your family, as you described it, not being poor but certainly not being wealthy during this period--I was talking to [Phone Rings] another person involved in politics recently and, you know, you keep hearing in today's media about, you know, the last president--we've seen the last president who served in World War II. And we're going through this changing of a generation in Congress, but in fact, it might be more significant that you are the--are the last generation of public officials who lived through the depression and 01:38:00felt those economic tensions personally.

BREATHITT: Yeah. They--they--I guess constraints is a good word to use about it, too. Your lifestyle centered around your school, your church, your community activities. We'd go to Little League baseball games and if we didn't have money enough to get in the game, we'd sit up on the bluff, up there where the library is in Hopkinsville now, and you could see the game over the river and over the fence. (Laugh) And we'd take our glasses and watch it. And then when they'd hit a homerun or a big play, you'd hear the hollering and we'd talk and--I went to a lot of games that way. (Laugh) And--and--I never felt deprived. I really didn't. Now there were--because--there were children who had 01:39:00to have handouts, none--we never accepted anything ever, and that was true of the families. Now if you--if you were getting stuff from the Salvation Army, from the churches, those children had a--really felt a--they had a--it--it scarred their lives. And I knew a lot of them, that were in my classes in high school, because they were really hurt by it. And they'd get taunted by children and--wearing the Salvation Army clothes and--'course that was--and then, of course, the welfare programs hadn't really started. I mean, there was churches and the Salvation Army to help folks, and--but, you know, we were active. My 01:40:00mother was in bridge clubs, she was in the Philomathean Club. She was active in the P.T.A. We just couldn't take expensive trips. We never went to Europe. We never went to stay in real fine hotels. We'd visit relatives. And now my mother took me to those places through books, and--and--you have to give a lot of credit to the members of families that recognized those times and--and helped the children as they grew up in Kentucky through books and education in school. And books were the--my salvation. And still are. I love--I just love books.

BIRDWHISTELL: Didn't I read someplace you bought--brought the first bookmobile to Christian County?

BREATHITT: Well, yeah I was state representative and my father, of 01:41:00course, was at that time well established with the George W. Helm Company and--and headed the leaf department, which was headquartered in Hopkinsville. And that's where they bought all their tobacco, was in that area. And I talked him into getting his company to buy a bookmobile for Christian County. That's the way we get--got 'em. And I was in the legislature. And we rode up there and got the delivery of it at--at the old state fairgrounds and my father and I drove it back to Christian County. (Laugh) They loaded it up with books, and--and we drove it back to--(Laugh)--Christian County. And I helped--we--we set up a li- --bookmobile board that was separate from the regular library board. And we got our first driver, and I--I took that on as a project to support that for a long time. And Mrs. Eads(??) drove it. But I 01:42:00got all my books from the local library. Senator Tom Underwood's two aunts ran the library, Miss Fan Underwood and Miss Willie, and Lisa Underwood--next office to me. I first came in, I said, my gosh, the wheels keep turning. (Laugh) Miss Fan wrote a column in the paper called "The Office Cat" and it on the ed--, op-ed--no, it was on the editorial page, right in the center. And when I first came back to Hopkinsville, I'd been active in extracurricular activities and been president of O.D.K. and stuff like that, you know. And she wrote this glowing little story about "another Breathitt's glorious return" and it sort of helped me, you know, get launched. (Laugh)

BIRDWHISTELL: Get a little boost there.

BREATHITT: Yeah, well it--everybody read "The Office Cat." And everybody 01:43:00in the county knew I was back. It was better than advertisement. (Laugh) And so I always thought very kindly of that. But they'd always save me books. A good book'd come in, and they'd give me a call up the law office, and I'd hightail it over and get it before it got checked out. And--

BIRDWHISTELL: When you were growing up, you mentioned your grandmother had a cook in her home. Did--

BREATHITT: Always did.

BIRDWHISTELL: --you-all have a cook or a maid in your home--?


BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)----------

BREATHITT: We had a--a maid, but--yes. And my mother was a gardener, and loved wildflowers, and always had a wonderful garden. And we had fresh-cut flowers all summer long. And she loved to arrange 'em. Now she used a lot of ingenuity. We had an asparagus bed, and you know the asparagus greenery looks beautiful in floral arrangements, and she did what--now the wildflower people frown on. She had her own wildflower garden. (Laugh) She'd go out "wild-flowering" and then they would go 01:44:00out antiquing. They'd go out through the country and buy --not fine, eighteenth century, seventeenth century English antiques--they'd fine the old ones that had been handmade in Kentucky out in--in cabins in the country, or sales--farm sales. And she furnished our house with that sort of furniture, gradually, a piece at a time. She'd save up enough to do it. And in those days, they'd refinish, which the antique people now frown upon. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And--and--but they were so beat up, some of 'em, they had to be refinished, and--but she loved to do that and--but she had a cook, or maid I guess you'd call it, that would come about three days a week. And then she had a--always had a man that would come and help her in the garden, about once a week. Weed 01:45:00the garden and transplant and do all the things in the garden. And we had that, but that was not an expensive--they didn't pay 'em anything.

BIRDWHISTELL: These were African-Americans, I assume?

BREATHITT: Oh yes, African-Americans. And, you know, you'd always--you gave 'em food and clothing is what you did, and a modest amount of money.

BIRDWHISTELL: The reason I ask, I--you know, I assumed even in the situation you-all were in, that you probably had people come in and-- and work. And I was wondering, you know--that as a sort of a lead-in to when you first became--you can't grow up in Hopkinsville without being conscious of race, of course.


BIRDWHISTELL: And how did that first play out in your childhood, in terms of race consciousness?

BREATHITT: There was a little--we called 'em colored boys in those days--that lived right down by the railroad track. And I met him in 01:46:00school, and he started coming up--he was a real short boy--to play with me. And I had a sand pile, and we'd play in the sand pile. And my father told me I couldn't play with him, and I couldn't understand it. And I never--I mean, I just was hurt by that. That was the first instance that I even knew there was anything that--and then I realized how children were taught this, and grew up with the class-consciousness between the races. And then I guess the next thing was serving in the Army, where we served with African Americans all the time and I--also with people from different parts of the country. They had a different attitude about this, and we'd have lots of discussions about it. And I--and I began to then, remembering that experience, which I guess was the only experience that I had that really made a deep impression. 01:47:00Then when I was in law school, the first law student was Hatch, who we're honoring here in May at Law Day. And I've gotten the university really involved in this. We're gonna get him--going Oberst was there. And when he came to class, he sat on a back row and we just--students got together, we went back and sat with him. Went to--over to the Student Union to eat, he'd go to a table, and a group of us would sit at the table with him. That was--I guess all these experiences sort of--and then when I was a lawyer, that really did it. I realized that if you were black and poor and you killed a white man, you had 01:48:00no chance. You were gonna be electrocuted and the juries were fast, and the trials were fast. And--and if you were white and could afford a good lawyer, you would usually either win or at least get convicted of manslaughter or something. I saw the two standards of justice, and that made a deep impression on me as a lawyer. And--and I always wanted to do something about it. My law partner, Tom Sawyers, who is a son of a farmer--he had been educated at Swarthmore and was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. You know, he was a liberal lawyer, later became circuit judge. He was appointed by Judge R. D. Smith for a--an African American who killed a liquor store guy down in Fort Campbell, and he had a--he was a moron. You know, I mean, very, 01:49:00very low I.Q. And hardly was able to distinguish what was right and wrong or anything. Tom defended him, took it to Court of Appeals, got the case reversed. And 'course, he was convicted, and death sentence, and Tom fought that thing. Cost our law firm one heck of a lot of money, but we backed him to the hilt in it. And it was, you know, an indigent appointment. And boy, they never did appoint him anymore. (Laugh) He wore out the court, and he finally got it to where the fellah got a life sentence. They--they agreed to a life sentence on a plea, and he never did question it. The real fight was on the death penalty and--and his mental capacity and--and so then when I came to the legislature, Earle Clements had--as chairman of the board at the 01:50:00university, had strong-armed the board of the university to support Donovan on admitting Lyman Johnson in that famous case. You got the history of that board meeting, don't you?


BREATHITT: It's a fascinating history.

BIRDWHISTELL: We'll go over it --we wanna go over it with you.

BREATHITT: Well, but the main thing about that is, 'course Judge O'Rear fought to the death. Judge Stoll initially fought, and then switched, and with his prestige, that went with the people that were with Earle Clements as chairman of the board and Donovan and admitted that they would not appeal the decision of Judge Church Ford to the Supreme Court. And 'course Judge O'Rear wanted to appeal it, and 'course that broke the back of that. Well, then that, in effect, amended the Day Law. And then we had a bill that came up in the legislature that was a further modification, I remember, of the Day Law. And--and then while 01:51:00I was in the legislature, the Brown Decision came down. Bang! And Lawrence Wetherby, who--I had managed his campaign and admired--took a very firm stand. When they asked him what are you gonna do, it's just very simple. He says, "We'll comply." And they went to "Jiggs" Buchman, who was attorney general--J. D. Buchman, and asked him the same question, and he said the same thing. And those two decisions, which I greatly admired both of 'em, saved our state a tremendous amount of trauma and dissipation of energies in fighting as other states did through interposition, and standing in the courthouse door, and all that sort of stuff, so that--I identified with that group. Then, when I ran for governor and went in to see Ed Prichard, who's 01:52:00picture is right up there--Ed Prichard--I was trying to get him for me. I knew he was close to Combs and I wanted to get Combs for me, and I knew Prichard had some influence on Combs' decision. First thing he asked me, "How are you about our colored folks?" 'Course he--he--it wasn't pejorative to him, he was just saying that term, and he knew I was from--(Laugh)--down there, and that was not a pejorative term in those days. He really tested me on it and probed me deeply on that question, and he was a constant prod to me on that, and he also--on the issue of civil rights--and he also was an education to me as a--as a young man from Western Kentucky and Christian County on really understanding it, the issue. So when I got into the race, you know, 01:53:00and Happy took great credit for having broken the color barrier in baseball, when he and I ran, we were trying to talk about how much- -wasn't any big African American vote in the state. I mean, you--you could make more votes on the other side, stirring up prejudice. But Happy and I were on the same side. (Laugh) But then, when Louie got into it, and Combs' executive order, Louie wanted to win and he saw this was his one chance, And I don't think Louie was basically a racist, but he saw an opportunity to make hay, and he made hay with that, and he went on television, with an American flag and the Kentucky flag and the bible and the Constitution of the United States, the Kentucky Statutes, and said that the first act would be to repeal that executive order and he'd leave that up --matter up to the legislature. And says, "My fellow Kentuckians, you know the legislature of Kentucky will know how to deal with this issue." I got a knot in my stomach that stayed there for the rest of that election. But I didn't recant. 01:54:00I just sort of wishy-washied around and tried to get through the election without recanting. And barely did. And--but once having won, and having had that, then I got on--I--but I had agreed to revoke the executive order, but to carry it to the legislature and pass it. That was kind of the position I took, the strategy that we took, and--but he of course, killed me on the issue. He got everybody on that side and nearly won with it. But then I tried and then--then I had Mary Helen Bick(??) was on--appointed her to the Human Rights Commission, had Paul Oberst on it, and Oberst had taught--that's the influence on my life, as a constitutional lawyer in law school, he taught it. And I think--well, I know he had an influence on classmates and making Hatch 01:55:00feel comfortable. And--and I was one of those that went along with it- -with that, that we thought it was the thing to do, that it was gonna be tough on this young guy.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you did it because Oberst wanted you to, or because you felt it was the right thing to do?

BREATHITT: I think it was both. I think--you--you think it's the right thing to do, but they're influences on your life that bring you to that, and that sensitize you to it and bring you up to a level--'course the great thing in this was when--when Johnson appointed me to the commission to fulfill these rights and I served with Bayard Rustin, and A. Phillip Randolph and Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King and Vernon Jordan and all those people for two years. That was a tremendous experience. These men had fought their life--Judge Higginbotham--Floyd McKissick--they even had one of the--one of the real militants on 01:56:00there. And when I served with them, as one of the only three Caucasian members on that Commission, I really think my feelings about the issue developed to the point that I really identified with their cause. And Johnson did that because I--I had--he had asked me to--to co-sponsor a resolution at the Governors Conference at--to support his civil rights bill. That's where he asked me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that ----------(??) picture on your wall?

BREATHITT: Yeah, and that's why I've got it below the signing of the Civil Rights Bill. He got me up there and boy, he was--persuasive guy--(Laugh)--, you know. I knew that wasn't gonna go over very well at home, but I'd already gotten out on a limb trying to pass the bill.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was gonna say, that's a long way for this boy from Hopkinsville--


BIRDWHISTELL: --to learn that he couldn't play in the sandbox with--



BREATHITT: Yeah, but at any rate, so I got Mark Hatfield. I got--I 01:57:00wanted to make--he wanted to make it bipartisan and he said, "Get your Republican to co-sponsor it." And I couldn't get one in the south. There weren't any. And so I went to Mark Hatfield, and 'course, he was a liberal Republican from Oregon and strong on that side, so we co-sponsored it, and that developed into a long friendship. We passed it, and before the passage of the Civil Rights Bill. And he sent Buford Ellington up to help, who was head of the Office of Emergency Planning. He was sort of Johnson's liaison with the governors, having been governor ----------(??) Buford from Mississippi, he was being a good soldier. (Laugh) He said "The president wants it." He never did say "I want it." (Laugh) But--all those things, you develop. There's no one single influence and I was just lucky that I had these various influences that helped shape my thinking and strengthen my position and 01:58:00understanding, and--but the real thing of course was--another one was the president had me, as Chairman of the Commission on Rural Poverty and I had--had some people there that really went into the whole problem of the--of the Afri- --blacks as they called 'em then. We'd gotten to the stage of calling 'em blacks then. The problems they had in the Deep South, in the delta, and how they immigrated to try to find some hope for their lives, the ones that didn't just give up and accept it. And that was--was helpful. But nothing like that other commission.

BIRDWHISTELL: But you know, thinking about what your biographer's going to want to know about your early childhood and this issue, I wanna see if I understand you that when--by the time you leave Hopkinsville for 01:59:00the service--you come to U.K. for awhile and then off to the service, you're still pretty much influenced by this segregated south that you grew up in, in a sense--


BIRDWHISTELL: --that, you know, you're--you see black people living on one side of--in their communities, and white people in their communities, segregated facilities in restaurants and movies--


BIRDWHISTELL: --and so that's--that's the world--

BREATHITT: That was the world that I grew up in--

BIRDWHISTELL: --you grew up--

BREATHITT: That's right. And was accustomed to, and I wasn't leading any fights to change it, as a young person.

BIRDWHISTELL: I understand. Right.

BREATHITT: But I did sense the injustice of this when my friend, just because--through an accident of birth he was black, couldn't play with me in my own sand pile. I didn't understand it, didn't think it was right, and resented it. I really did. And--and it hurt me. In talking to him, I just--when I'd go to school--'course he couldn't go to school with me, and--and--I saw all whites and then they were over and when we'd wear a desk out, they'd send it to Attucks, the grade 02:00:00school, or we'd send it to the high school. I mean Derricks(??) Avenue was the grade school and Attucks, the high school--we'd just given them the leftovers and old books. When we'd wear 'em out, they'd tape 'em up and send 'em over there. I didn't like that. And--but I was not an activist. I didn't do anything about it, except it was in me. Plus, the fact that my grandfather was Union and my grandmother went along with him, and they believed in Lincoln and the Union and the freeing of the slaves--they didn't own slaves so they didn't have a problem giving up their--their wealth, their estate. So you understand why it's easier for them than the farmers in South Christian that--that--that were dependent on slaves. And thought they were treating 'em well and--


BIRDWHISTELL: Were there any instances of racial violence during your youth that stand out, you know, incidents in Hopkinsville that.


BIRDWHISTELL: --that made an impression on you?

BREATHITT: There were no lynchings, and there was no violence--

BIRDWHISTELL: So that wasn't part of your--

BREATHITT: No, no. That wasn't a part of my early years, nothing there that had an influence. And I wasn't paying much attention to the lynchings in the Deep South. It just--I was more influenced by what I saw around me.


BREATHITT: And--and my mother was very kindly towards the people that worked for her, and Willie Mae and the other cook that we had, and Edna- -you know, I was a buddy and would sneak in and they'd give me cookies and stuff. You know how--the relationship they had in those days.


BREATHITT: We had a good relationship, but there was a clear caste system. They had their place, and we had our place, and I grew up that way. But they were the things that I guess--all of those things 02:02:00influenced me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Guess this is a good place to--to stop for this session.

BREATHITT: Okay. I'm enjoying--

[End Tape #2, Side #1]

[End of Interview]