Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Alben W. Barkley, July 18th, 1953

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Now I think we're on the air, Senator. This is just a test...

Segment Synopsis: The interview is introduced, with the date being stated.

00:00:12 - "Crawly sugar"

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Partial Transcript: Uh, whi- which dry goods store have we been talking about? That wasn't the place...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley tells of a fondness he had in his youth for a type of coarse brown sugar.

Keywords: Lowes (KY); crawly sugar; dry goods store; hogshead

00:02:39 - Anecdote from the 1924 Democratic National Convention

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Partial Transcript: ...became somewhat tired and exhausted and... sent work down on the floor of the convention...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley retells a story of how he was unwittingly stranded as the chair of the Democratic Convention for two days. Exasperated with this situation, he let slip some foul language, forgetting that this was the first convention to be broadcast over the radio.

Keywords: Charles W. Bryan; Democratic National Convention of 1924; Senators; deadlock; delegates; foul language

00:05:03 - The humor of Thomas Corwin, Irving Cobb, and Adlai Stevenson

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Partial Transcript: [Chuckle] Last night you mentioned a Thomas Corwin...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley opines about the humor of Thomas Corwin, Irving Cobb, and Adlai Stevenson.

Keywords: Adlai Stevenson; Irving Cobb; Thomas Corwin; monuments; use of humor

00:08:10 - Meeting European dignitaries

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Partial Transcript: Senator, we're jumping around before our chapter on memorable, uh, personalities...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley recounts various diplomatic encounters, in the US and abroad, with European dignitaries between the end of World War I and beginning of World War II.

Keywords: "hero of the Marne"; Battle of the Marne; Belgians; Belgium; France; General Joffre; General Syringee; Marne; Rene Viviani; WWI; WWII; World War I; World War II; cathedrals; churches; destruction; national treasures; rose glass; the French; war

00:14:34 - Tour of Nazi concentration camps

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Partial Transcript: Uh, it might be appropriate here to jump a generation and, uh, to give your, your impressions...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley reports on the skepticism of US congressmen regarding the horrors of concentration camps- until the congressmen visited them.

Keywords: Buchenwald; Dachau; Nazis; Nordhausen; concentration camps; gas chambers

00:19:54 - More on Nazi concentration camps

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Partial Transcript: Relating what you saw there to present-day problems. Doesn't it make you a little uneasy...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley explains that the concentration camps in Germany were in existence before the war, and thus were not a war measure. He also states that he finds it "incredible" that few German civilians were aware of the camps' existence.

Keywords: 1933; 1939; Hitler; Jews; Weimar; concentration camps; the Jewish people

00:21:08 - Cynicism of politicians

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Partial Transcript: Do you think a man in political life could ever have his mind so rigid that he has...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley supposes that "mental rigidity" in the face of evidence is forgivable, given the atrocities of World War II.

Keywords: concentration camps; cynicism

00:22:11 - A "party hack"?

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Partial Transcript: Well, you've been a regular Democrat throughout your whole career, but you've never been...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley avers allegiance to the principles of the Democratic Party. However, he declares that he supported any measures that were beneficial to the people, regardless of which party proposed the measure.

Keywords: "party hack"; Democrat; Democratic Party; political integrity; public office

00:23:02 - Name change

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Partial Transcript: Senator, let's jump way back to the day your were born. What was your name...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley gives his views on parents' naming of their children, and why he chose to change his own name. He also speaks of his father's peculiar pronunciation of "Alben".

Keywords: Alben; Willie; name changes; names; namesakes

00:25:38 - Telephones and guitars

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Partial Transcript: On page 91 of your manuscript, you have the story of the first telephone...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley shares how his first use of a telephone was to sing "Sweet Marie" over the line to his girl.

Keywords: guitars; singing; telephones

00:27:42 - The old dry goods store

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, another little bit of Americana, uh, uh, we all see in the movies now...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley recounts how, in his youth, it was customary for merchants to give a token of appreciation to customers with large bills of goods.

Keywords: Americana; dry goods stores; general stores; notions

00:29:21 - Stockings and socks

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Partial Transcript: Up until then you wore the black [inaudible] stockings...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley describes how his mother knitted and dyed all of his stockings and socks.

Keywords: country life; socks; stockings; sumac berry; yarn

00:31:06 - Mama and papa

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Partial Transcript: You were telling me yesterday about your mother, who was a wonderful cook...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley shares what he called his parents and why. He also speaks of his mother's visit to Washington, D.C. and the graciousness of Calvin Coolidge.


Keywords: Calvin Coolidge; White House; etiquette; mommy (informal title); papa (informal title)

00:32:57 - More on name change

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Partial Transcript: What did she call you?

Segment Synopsis: Barkley revisits his own name change and gives his views about naming children.

Keywords: Alben; Willie; name change; names

00:34:52 - Family and family vacation

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Partial Transcript: Uh, while we've been off the tape, you've told me about your grandchildren and your children and their names...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley discusses spending time with his children and grandchildren. He also describes his own style of parenting.

Keywords: family; family vacations; parenthood

00:39:26 - Providing for the family

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Partial Transcript: Well, do you want to tell us some of the things you had to do to supplement your income?

Segment Synopsis: Barkley tells how he went about earning extra income for the purpose of paying for his children's education.

Keywords: practicing law; supplemental income; tuition

00:41:34 - The first Mrs. Barkley

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Partial Transcript: Uh, this is a rather somber personal note, but I remember the first Saturday Evening Post...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley further discusses how he supplemented his income to pay for the first Mrs. Barkley's medical bills.

Keywords: first wife; illness

00:43:13 - Traveling by air

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Partial Transcript: Uh, have you ever made any effort or could you reconstruct how many miles...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley talks about his frequent travel by airplane and gives an anecdote about a flight mishap.

Keywords: air travel; airlines; airplanes; flights

00:47:07 - Chimneys

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Partial Transcript: Well, let's go back to 'My Old Kentucky Home' in the manuscript.

Segment Synopsis: Barkley describes the one-room log house with a stick-and-dirt chimney that his family lived in for a time when he was a boy.

Keywords: chimneys; fires; kitchen; log house

00:49:30 - Going barefoot

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Partial Transcript: ...like a clay. Yeah, like a clay, that's right.

Segment Synopsis: Barkley remembers how, as a boy, he did not yet have shoes for the coming winter.

Keywords: boots; frostbite; rural conditions; shoes

00:52:27 - Boyhood fights

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Partial Transcript: Senator, you wanted to go back and amplify what you said yesterday about early boyhood fights...

Segment Synopsis: Barkley recounts various fights in which he engaged as a boy and how his opponents sometimes later became his friends.

Keywords: John Elliot; fights; friendship; name calling

00:58:06 - Americans are not a warlike people

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Partial Transcript: Well, by that, uh, that, uh, that little quirk of his... both of us avoided a terrible fistfight, and both of us are glad of it.

Segment Synopsis: Barkley opines on the current state of nations. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Eisenhower; Malenkov; friends; peace