My questions about how my dad ended up with Roosevelt Tatum's deposition were not all answered by the FBI file, but outlines of the story did emerge.
On May 11, 1963 at approximately 11:00 PM two bombs exploded on the property of A. D. and Naomi King. Following the explosions, Mr. and Mrs. King and their children fled the house without any injuries. The next day, on May 12, FBI agents made a routine neighborhood investigation. In their report Roosevelt Tatum stated that
he was seated on the porch at 820 12th Street, Ensley, and borrowed a match from EVA MAE MILLER. As he lighted the match to light a cigarette there was an explosion in front of the residence of Reverend KING about 150 feet from where he was seated. He ran toward the explosion after the passing of a few seconds and he had crossed the intersection of 12th Street and Avenue H and had almost reached the curb when a second explosion occurred. This explosion threw him back across the street and to the ground. En route from where he was seated to the intersection, a car passed very near him traveling east on 12th Street and he assumed it had passed in front of the KING residence at about the time of the first explosion. He noted that this car was a small American make car that he believed to be Corvair. He could not be sure of the color, but believed it was dark, possibly black. He did not notice anyone in the car or the number of persons that were in the car. He said he did not see the car after passing it while running toward the intersection. He did not recognize the car as one that he had seen previously.About six weeks later, on June 22, 1963 at around 9:00 AM, Roosevelt Tatum appeared at A. D. and Naomi King's house. By Tatum's own account,
He stated that he went into the KING house and got one of the small children. Mrs. KING was getting the other children out of the house at the time.
He stated that he was not aware of the cars that were parked in the vicinity and could not describe any of them. He did not observe any suspicious activities on the part of any persons prior to the time of the explosion. He stated that he did recall that Car #22 of the Birmingham Police Department was parked in front of Foster's Delicatessen, located at the corner of Avenue I and 12th Street. (Roosevelt Tatum. FBI HQ-0460048526. Prosecutive Summary Report, Names And Addresses Of Witnesses And Testimony Of Each, 12)
I was crying and I told Rev. King that I had something in my heart and I wanted to tell somebody. . . . I have had this thing on my conscience since the date it happened, and I wanted to tell somebody about it so I would feel better. (19)Since I first obtained Tatum's FBI file, I've learned that there are, in fact, two published accounts of these events surrounding the bombing of the King residence in Birmingham. The first is in Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Assassination of Martin Luther King by Mark Lane and Dick Gregory, originally published as Code name Zorro in 1977. Around the time I received Tatum's file in the mail, a new book came out by Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. Both books provide valuable original research on these events, but neither book gives voice to Tatum himself. As far as I know the only available recorded accounts of these events that Tatum gave are in the four depositions he made—three to the FBI in Birmingham and in Washington and the additional one he made in Washington that I found among my father's papers. Given the previous unavailability of these statements, I will here reproduce the most fulsome account of what Roosevelt Tatum told A. D. King the morning of June 22—the statement he made to the FBI later the same day:
On the night of May 11, 1963, I was at a place called The Lounge on Avenue C between 17th and 18th Streets in Ensley from about 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. I left there about 10:00 p.m. and walked a short distance to get a Lee Cab. I did not recognize the driver of this cab. He drove me to the the Foster's Delicatessen which is on the corner of 12th Street and Avenue I, Ensley. The delicatessen faces Avenue I. I estimate I was at this place from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. and was standing outside watching two men play checkers. One of the checker players was CHARLES HARPER. The other player is a young boy whose name I do not know, but I do know where he lives and I can point that out to Agents. There were several other men there with me watching the checker game. There must have been five or six of these men, and the only one I can name is a man named ARTHUR. I would estimate that about 11:05 p.m. Birmingham Police car No. 22 drove up in front of Foster's Delicatessen. There were two uniformed policemen in this car. I have seen these men almost every day but I can't call their names. I have been arrested several times and placed in Car 22 by the officers who work the shift from 3:00 to 11:00 p.m., but I do not recall that the officers who were in the car this night have ever arrested me. Car 22 is a four-door white Ford, but I do not know what year model. I would guess that it was a 1962 model.
As Car 22 drove up, I knew they would get me for being out after 11:00, so I left the place. I wish to state that I never did go inside the building which is the Foster's Delicatessen. I stayed out in front where they were playing checkers. After Car 22 arrived I left, walking toward 12th Street looking for a match. On 12th Street I turned toward Avenue H and walked over to the home of EVA MAE MILLER, who lives at 820 12th Street, Ensley. She was sitting on the front porch of her home, and I asked her for a match and sat down on her front porch and talked to her about two minutes. She started crying, saying that the next day was Mother's Day. The reason she was crying was because one of her youngsters had given her a handkerchief as a Mother's Day present and the rest of them had not given her anything. I know EVA MAE has at least three children. I left EVA MAE's porch and walked across 12th Street walking in the direction of Rev. A. D. KING's house. As I was approaching Avenue H, a police car came up Avenue H and turned left on 12th Street. As I saw this car approaching, I looked at the number on the car and it was Police Car No. 49. As I saw the car, I ducked behind a tree to keep from being arrested, as I knew they would pick me up after 11:00 p.m. As I stood behind the tree, I noticed that as the car stopped in front of Rev. KING's house on the far side of 12th Street, the driver of the police car tossed something out toward the house and that it landed near the sidewalk. It seemed to be something which was afire and looked like a firecracker sparkling. I then heard the driver of the car say, "The son of a bitch didn't hit the house." The other officer jumped out of the car on the other side and ran behind the police car toward Rev. KING's house. He crossed the sidewalk in front and passed the burning package that was first thrown out. He then got close to the house and tossed something else toward the house on the righthand [sic] side of the steps. He then ran back to the car, and as he got in the righthand [sic] side of the police car, they took off, and when they got about two houses away, the first bomb exploded.
At that point I left my place behind the tree and ran toward Rev. KING's house. I crossed Avenue H and when I was standing on the corner next to KING's residence, the second bomb went off, knocking me back across Avenue H in the same direction that I had come. I hit in the middle of the street of Avenue H. I did not lie there long but got up and ran toward the back of KING's residence to see if I could help anybody. I ran up to a fence which is back of the KING residence, and as I arrived there, Rev. and Mrs. KING both were coming out of the house with at least two children. Mrs. KING had one child in her arms, and she handed that child to me across the fence. Rev. KING had the other child with him. I do not recall whether he was walking the child or carrying the child. The first I remember after I took the child, I noticed that Rev. KING and his wife were crossing the fence and I helped Mrs. KING over the fence. I then went back across Avenue H on the opposide [sic] side of the street from KING's residence. About that time, which I would say would be between 5 and 10 minutes after the bombing, I noticed Car No. 49 returned to the scene. Both of the officers got out of Car 49 and went up to talk to Rev. KING. A few minutes later several police cars arrived and also motorcycle policemen and a paddy wagon. Some policeman who seemed to be in charge and was in uniform also came up to talk to Rev. KING. He may have been a Sergeant.
By this time, there was a large number of Negro people around and they were getting pretty angry. They wanted to fight the police or anybody they got their hands on. I stayed on Avenue H on the side of the street opposite Rev. KING's house until about 3:00 a.m. that morning. There were a number of Negroes throwing bricks and rocks. After people in the crowd started throwing rocks and bricks, I noticed a county sheriff's car and one of them got out. I saw him get hit on the side of the head with some object. He then got back in the car and all four men in the Sheriff's car left the scene.
I was still standing on the opposite side of the Avenue H at the time I heard another explosion. I ran over to my house at 1109 Avenue J to see if the church which is across the street from me might have been bombed. St. James Baptist Church is located across the street from my home. When I saw that no bomb had gone off, I returned to the scene of the KING residence. I learned the next day that the last explosion I heard was the one which occurred in downtown Birmingham at the Gaston Motel.
I would estimate that Car No. 49 stayed at the scene near the KING residence until about 4:00 a.m. In fact, several police cars remained there because their tires had been cut by Negroes.
After the second explosion and I landed in the street, as I was getting up I noticed that CHARLES HARPER who was playing checkers at Foster's Delicatessen a few minutes before. CHARLES HARPER was also knocked over by the blast as I saw him when I was getting up. I don't know what happened to CHARLES HARPER after I started toward the KING's [sic] to see if I could help anybody. As I saw CHARLES HARPER getting up, I also saw Police Car No. 22 turn right onto 12th Street off of Avenue I and head away from the scene of KING's residence. I did not see car No. 22 again that night and did not see them until about 6:00 a.m. on May 12, 1963. At that time they were patrolling in the vicinity of the KING house.
After I looked after the KING children, I went across to the home of CHARLES HARPER and would estimate this to be about 3:30 a.m. All of the brick throwing and commotion had quieted down by that time. I sat on CHARLES HARPER's front porch and talked to him, his mother, his sister and his brother-in-law. The brother-in-law of CHARLES HARPER is JIMMY WILLIS. We call CHARLES HARPER's mother by the name of "Bunch" and I call CHARLES' sister by the name of "Snook." I was at the CHARLES HARPER's house when they finally got the tires fixed on Car No. 49 and I believe it was driven from the scene about 4:00 a.m. I stated CHARLES' home until daybreak. CHARLES HARPER lives in the same block as EVA MAE MILLER and on the same side of 12th Street. I can point these places out to Agents.
At about daybreak I went to my own home to eat. I never did go to the scene of the Gaston Motel bombing. After I ate, I went back in the vicinity of KING's residence an stayed there most of Sunday. I was interviewed by FBI Agents about noon on Sunday at the home of ROSIE JOHNSON, 824 12th Street, Ensley. I did not tell these Agents about seeing Car No. 49 because I was afraid that policemen would beat me up or probably kill me. I did tell the other Agents that I recalled seeing Car No. 22 parked in front of Foster's Delicatessen at the corner of Avenue I and 12th Street. At the time I was interviewed by FBI Agents, I told them that a car passed very near to me traveling east on 12th Street toward Avenue F, and I assumed that that car had passed in front of the KING residence. There were several people who said something about this car and described it as a Corvair car. I described this car to Agents as a dark American-make compact car, believed to be a dark Corvair, possibly black.
On this date, June 22, 1963, I went to Rev. KING's house at about 9:00 a.m. I was crying and told Rev. KING that I had something in my heart and I wanted to tell somebody. I did tell Rev. KING that the car that did the bombing was Birmingham Police Car No. 49. He told me he would prefer to have me talk to the FBI, and he then called the FBI Office. I don't know what time Rev. KING actually called the FBI Office, but I did wait around his house until the FBI agents arrived. I then went to the FBI Office where I was interviewed by Agents GRAYBILL and MC FALL, and I then dictated this statement to a stenographer in the FBI Office. I have had this thing on my conscience since the date it happened, and I wanted to tell somebody about it so I would feel better.
I cannot describe the officers I saw in Car No. 49, but it is possible I may be able to recognize them if I see them again.
No one has told me to say the things that are in this statement. It is the absolute truth and I would swear it on the Bible. While I was at Rev. KING's home, he did not tell me what to say or talk to me about this thing. There was a white man there named GREENBERG, but he did not talk to me to tell me what to say. I repeat that no one has told me to tell the FBI the things I have said in this statement. I feel sure the officers in Car No. 49 did not see me on that night. (14-19. All-caps in original.)
Three days later, on June 25, 1963, Roosevelt Tatum was in Washington DC, flown there by A. D. King and my father. In Washington, Tatum was interviewed in the office of King's County, NY Congressman Emanuel Celler, a liberal Democrat who played a key role in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Later the same day, Tatum was interviewed by Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall and by Special Agents assigned to the Civil Rights Section of the General Investigative Division of the FBI.
My father was involved in the leadership of the Liberal Party of New York from around 1955 through the late 1980s. One of his friends from the Liberal Party whom I interviewed a few years ago asserted that the audience with Congressman Celler would have been obtained because of my father's Liberal Party connections. In any event, Celler's office must have been where Tatum gave the deposition I found among my father's papers. For reasons that may already be apparent, I'm speculating that my father and A. D. King brought Roosevelt Tatum to Congressman Celler's office to make an official record of Tatum's allegations outside of the local and federal halls of the Department of Justice. In Part 2 of this series, A. D. King and my father had wanted to avoid having Tatum testify to the FBI behind closed doors. It seems they continued to be concerned that interviews with FBI agents, presumably also behind closed doors, would not be the best conditions for Tatum to testify under. (Look here for an example of why Civil Rights activists may have distrusted the FBI.) I suspect the idea may have been for my father to hold on to the deposition in case it were needed to countermand another version of the story. And herein ends the record of his involvement in this case. What follows is sad and disturbing.
Stay tuned for Part 4.