Note: this summary was typed from a taped interview with Covington completed on Nov. 19, 1978, two days before his death. The interviewer was Jerry Murray and his wife. To make sense the transcript had to be edited for clarity and fluency. Please listen to the original interview, available from Free Minds, Inc. For sample WAV files, click here.
Not everything on this site is negative towards Jehovah's Witnesses. In fact, they are fine people with a heart for the better things in life for the most part. This file is an example of some of the hard and fearless workers that once graced the halls of Bethel, in spite of how they were treated thereafter.
Bro. Murray: Brother Covington, anybody can listen to you and tell you are from somewhere in the southwest, but exactly where and when did you come on the scene?
Covington: I was born in January 19, 1911 in East Texas. I was raised on a farm in a place east of Dallas. I worked my way through school after that. My father was on the Texas Ranger Force and he was transferred to San Antonio, Texas and that's where I went to law school.
Bro. Murray: How did you happen come into the truth then?
Covington: I came into knowledge of the truth because my father was transferred from San Antonio, Texas down to the valley as a Texas Ranger. After that transfer I had to have a place to stay, so I stayed with two friends of mine that I went to school with. They asked me to move in with them and the father who was the head of the family was in bad health and he had all of us come on Sunday and listen to him talk about world conditions. He interested me and I got very interested in what he had to say because I was myself fed up with the way things were going and like all young kids I was dissatisfied with the establishment, and I was very much so at the time and I was flirting with controversial ideas and he was full of controversy against this system of things. What he preached appealed to me very much and so I listen to him and he would turn on the radio station KTSA that had the recorded broadcasts of Judge J. F. Rutherford, as he was as called and known; so he insisted on our listening and I was very pleased with what I heard. [Note Covington did not become a Witness due to his love for the scriptures or God but out of youthful rebellion].
Bro. Murray: Was the fact that Brother Rutherford was a lawyer, did that impress you too? Did that make it more interesting?
Covington: Well he presented the thing in a way that was incontrovertible by me. As a lawyer I could see that he knew what he was talking about 100%. He was very persuasive and I was a ready, willing listener, and I was willing to join up with him in his opposition, for the truth.
Bro. Murray: You were ripe for the truth! When did you first meet Brother Rutherford?
Covington: In Houston in 1900 and, I forget the year, way before I came to Bethel. I went over to Houston with a group of brothers that knew they were having a special meeting over there, and Brother Rutherford was there because Brother Isaac lived down in Houston at that time. He's dead now, Joe Isaac, he was a great friend of the judge, and I heard his name all over Texas.
Bro. Murray: Tell me this, when you took the truth, and you began to go to meetings, how did your Daddy react to that?
Covington: Well he got to be very hostile against what I was doing when I was going to the Witness meetings because he had great ambitions for me to be a politician ... And I was then working in the county court house, in the county clerks office, and I had a political job. Whenever they were out campaigning, I was out preaching. So I had a political job and a political office, but I didn't go along with it.
Bro. Murray: When were you actually admitted to the bar?
Covington: I was admitted to the bar in year of 1933.
Bro. Murray: So you practiced law for a little while before you went to Bethel?
Covington: Oh yes, I was an active practitioner at the bar in San Antonio after I took the bar examination, and, incidentally, I took the bar examination a year before I graduated and passed it.
Bro. Murray: Then you still had to go the extra year?
Covington: I had to go the extra year to get my certificate of graduation.
Bro. Murray: Did you set up your own law firm or did you join a law firm there?
Covington: I was working for a big law firm when I was admitted to the bar and I passed it with such high grades that the head of the law firm "Moffison - Burkeson" came and offered me a job.
Sis. Murray: How did you get involved then in defending Witnesses and working Brothers?
Covington: That came about after I quit the Morrison firm and went over with R. H. Mercer, who was a defender of damage suits for the Maryland Casualty Company in San Antonio. And there was some brothers who got arrested down in the valley because of a meeting that was held down there and I went down and appeared on their behalf and got the case thrown out. And then it was my name reached the Society and they assigned me to represent the Society in a will contest case up in Curville, Texas, and I handled that for the Society And then the Brothers got involved in controversy with the San Antonio police and that is when we get into the matter of Brother Heath. We were having information marches, and the cops were trying to stop us. And it became necessary for me to have a conference with the Mayor of the City of San Antonio on whether Jehovah's Witnesses have the right to engage in information marches, carrying the sign that religion is a snare and a racket.
Bro. Murray: And that made people mad didn't it?
Sis. Murray: But how did you win that case?
Covington: By pleading with the Mayor he saw then that we had the right, I made him, well I didn't make him, the Lord made him, but I was the one that offered the proposition (Brother Heath was in San Antonio on the occasion of that visit). Brother Heath was the secretary for Brother Rutherford at the time.
Sis. Murray: So when he saw you there he invited you to Bethel?
Covington: Well, he invited me not to Bethel, he invited me to attend the Madison Square Garden Convention.
Bro. Murray: Is that the one where they had all of the riots?
Covington: That's where the Catholic Action tried to break the meeting up in 1939. On the the record Government and Peace and you can hear the mob action from up the stairs. When the mob started, Brother Heath got down off the speaker's platform because he was in charge of all the ushers; and headed up there and when he headed, I headed too. He went up the meandering stairway up into the old Madison Square Garden, not the one that's there today. I followed him and we went together. They were screaming and mad, this was the same sort of noise that you hear on that Government and Peace record was yelled into our ears as we was going up there to maintain law and order in that religious gathering.
Covington: The cops were on the outside and acting "hands off," allowing those Coglanites to go ahead and to break up the meeting, or try to break it up. We went up and we had canes to maintain order and we tried to push the mobsters out of the way and when we did one mobster grabbed Brother Heath and hurt him very badly, physically. And that's also written up in the Society publications. They grabbed him by the private parts as he was going up the stairway and he hit the mobster over the head with a cane in order to break up the crowd that was coming around us. And when he did that then the cops moved in from the outside (they were in conspiracy working with the mobsters) and they put Brother Heath under arrest because of his having hit one of the mobsters with the cane. He was in the right, Brother Heath was, but the cops didn't think so and they went ahead and did their part helping the mobsters and took Brother Heath into custody. Then I became the chief witness for the defense, meaning Brother Heath, and when the case went to the courts, I was called up from San Antonio, Texas, to testify. I made two or three trips up on the train, they were two or three day trips. Anyhow, in the end Brother Heath was tried by three judges, that were black robed representatives of the State of New York to enforce the felony law and they were going to try and get him. But the judges ruled, based on the testimony
that I gave supporting Brother Heath's self-defense, that he was not guilty. They held that the testimony was given by a member of the bar whom they believed was more credible than the mobsters that had testified against him ... so Brother Heath was acquitted as a result of Jehovah's provision of having me there to give testimony on his behalf
Sis. Murray: I remember Brother Rutherford on that record saying that they will not break up this meeting and he just went on non stop.
Covington: He says "By God's grace the Nazis and the Fascists will not break this meeting up." And that is the way that it was, not broken up because the brothers maintained law and order.
Bro. Murray: It was not broken up because you used those canes ... at that time there was already some litigation going on for example, I think, the Lowell case.
Covington: The Lowell Case had gone on up and the judge had authorized the appeal of that and Mr. Moyle, who was at that time at Bethel, handled that case. I had nothing to do with that case. I didn't come into any of the Society's Supreme Court cases until after the Snyder case was argued. Brother Rutherford argued the Snyder case, Snyder against Irvington, New Jersey. Brother Rutherford and I were in that case together. This case was an ordinance against literature distribution case. Now the Flag case was a different case and that came up for a hearing in 1940; that was adverse to us, the first one, and then later they reversed themselves as a result of our taking that up.
Bro. Murray: So that was the point where you went to the Madison Square Garden case?
Covington: That's the one where the mobsters tried to break the meeting up in 1939.
Bro. Murray: So it must have been shortly after that you were invited to Bethel.
Covington: ... on account of the fact that I had made a firm defense for Brother Heath and the lawyer for the Society pulled out. He didn't believe in the self-defense. And he quit. Brother Rutherford was in need somebody so he called on me and I was not aware of what was going on at the time. But when it did happen, he invited me to come, and I came.
Bro. Murray: You were in one field of law, but you almost got into Constitutional Law.
Covington: Yes. I was originally in casualty insurance, defense, personal injury, and representing insurance companies in damage suit cases; then bond forfeiture cases and bond obligation cases. Then, when I went to Bethel I was in a different area altogether. But, still I had had enough trial experience in appellate argument and court experience that it was easy for me to shift into the position of defending Jehovah's Witnesses and it was good because I was able to do what I liked which was to defend my client. Also having got a righteous cause gives you a double barrel.
Sis. Murray: That's right, a cause that you really believed in.
Covington: I went to Bethel in 1939. Brother Rutherford called me in, but that was after the Madison Square Garden Riot case and that was because the fact that other lawyer by the name of Moyle quit, and left Brother Rutherford holding the bag. I got an invitation to come by special delivery from Rutherford, and I went immediately. I had to transfer cases to a dozen or two lawyers in order to make that change.
Bro. Murray: You and Brother Rutherford were on a couple of cases together you mentioned. I always think of you as a lawyer and him as a writer, but was he a pretty good lawyer?
Covington: Oh yes he was! He was a very, very good, he was an eloquent speaker and he maintained dignity and he got very high respect from members of the court that listened to him arguing the Gobitis Case.
Bro. Murray: You got started in 1940. What were some of the first major cases that you were involved in? I know a little bit about some of the cases but what were some of the first ones? The "Flag Salute Case?" came along in 1940,
Covington: The first Flag Salute case I worked along with Brother Rutherford, but I had nothing to do in the argument in that case. Brother Rutherford argued that one, but he did a good job. The reason that it was lost was not because of Brother Rutherford, but because of the times we were in. The war was going on and the heat was on us from every angle
Bro. Murray: Then for a while the cases just piled up.
Covington: Oh my, yes! They were coming at us fast and furious. It was an eighteen hour day for me to cope with it, but I was young and dedicated and devouring of any opposition that we had. I kept on going all the time. I was happy to do it.
Bro. Murray: Some of these things here that I'm not too familiar with; you can tell me about some of them. For example I know about the Harlan, Kentucky case, but what can you tell me about this Connersville, Indiana case?
Covington: Well that was a mob situation that occurred while we were trying that seditious conspiracy case in Connersville, a hot bed of American Legion action and they ruled the whole town. In the Connersville case I used Brother Franz as my witness and then the jury was put on and it was necessary for me to get to out the case and I finished the argument of the case at Connersville and I tried to get a postponement of the case in Maine but they wouldn't put it off. As result I had to race from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to catch the plane to Boston and that saved my life because that night they had conspired to kill me. I went to catch the airplane in Cincinnati out of Connersville, and then Brother Victor Schmidt, who was with me as co-council, he is now dead, he stayed, And he and his wife, Sister Schmidt, were mobbed by the crowed and as they mobbed them that night, in the darkness, after the case was over, they were screaming and yelling that they were going to kill me that night. The Lord delivered me at the right time and I would have been killed that night. I wanted to stay there for the verdict. The verdict was adverse and I took an appeal. I had to go back in to take the appeal afterwards and the same group of conspirators were there and I got in an out in a hurry. We made the appeal effective and got the case reversed on appeal, but that was after a tremendous effort was put forth and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears was involved. It was a part of the conspiracy to wipe us out in Connersville but by Jehovah's undeserved kindness they didn't. The good testimony was given but some sisters were convicted of conspiracy and were given jail terms I got them out of jail on bail and we appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Indiana. It was reversed and they were acquitted by the court on appeal (the decision came down on Pearl Harbor Day).
Bro. Murray: I noticed that you got a note here about Oscar Pillars, a Brother that was in Texas.
Covington: Yes, he was a Brother that was down in East Texas to show the intense prejudice in that area. They literally mobbed him and hung him up on a telephone pole and the rope was cut by the steel bars on the telephone pole the angle bars, that was the thing that saved his life
Bro. Murray: That later went to court, and the persons that were guilty of trying to hang him to kill him fled the state. Now of course this Harlan County, Kentucky, Sister Murray and I served over there near Harlan County and we heard some interesting stories about Harlan, Kentucky.
Covington: And Somerset too, Somerset and Harlan were both involved.
Bro. Murray: Now what was their objection to the Witnesses in Harlan?
Covington: Well the same as here. That was where the prosecutor said that if he got me back down into Harlan he was going to boil me in oil. They had a conspiracy charge against the Brothers, seditious conspiracy charge I then filed an injunction against the prosecution of that case in Federal court in London Federal Court And I got a injunction against the State of Kentucky and it's standing yet today, knocking that sedition law out as unconstitutional and the federal judges that heard the case gave us a vindication. It was highly controversial and hotly contested case. The thing that was interesting was that the prosecutor said he was basing his charge on the grounds that this literature was conspiratory and seditious. Then that chief federal court judge said "Mr. District Attorney its now 11 o'clock and court will adjourn and you be back tomorrow with the proof." So court was adjourned and when he came back the next day of course he had no proof. All he had were all those books and that's when he was making that statement to the other guys in the room that he if gets Covington back down to Harlan he's going to boil him in oil.
Bro. Murray: I understand that some of the Brothers roomed next to his room that night.
Covington: Yes they were, because we had taken up all the hotels, and all the officers of the law had to bunk up.
Bro. Murray: Is that where they spent the whole night researching the literature?
Covington: Yes, and that's where the Sheriff and the Marshals said to old Daniel Boone Smith to turn out the light we need some sleep. Oh that was funny.
Bro. Murray: Yes, that's real funny now to tell about it, but it was pretty tough at the time.
Covington: Yes, our life was at stake. When you are batting with your back to the wall, but Jehovah gave us vindication, but it was a tough time.
Bro. Murray: You're not kidding!, You know, there are a couple of cases that you don't have down here, but that I know about personally. For example, did you fight the case about Jones versus O'Blancon?
Covington: Yes that was the case that was taken up to the Supreme Court involving the validity of the license tax law. And that came up from Alabama. We lost at first, and that was a companion case of Jones against Opelika, and Jobin against Arizona, and another person against the state of Arkansas. Those three cases were put together and the Supreme Court heard them and they decided them adversely to us at first. Then on rehearing they set aside their opinion but that didn't come automatically. We had to argue with our backs to the wall and that's when Justice Murphy filed his dissenting opinion on the case; he complained about the Jehovah's Witnesses having been being persecuted by mob violence and all other sorts of conspiracies that public officials had used to stop their work. That's when Murphy gave his dissenting opinion in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses and then after that the other cases were taken in from Pennsylvania and that meant that the case would have to be reopened because that was a very serious question that the court hadn't grabbed a hold of and it was good too that they brought the other cases in because otherwise the case would have to stand and wouldn't be reheard.
Bro. Murray: As I understand license tax cases, a municipality would say to sell your literature in our town you've got to have a license.
Covington: Yes, if you wanted to come in to sell your literature here you've got to have a license.
Bro. Murray: But when you went in to get a license they wouldn't sell you one because you didn't qualify.
Covington: You didn't qualify. And that way we got prosecuted on account of not having the license, but we believed that the license was ungodly anyhow. We never would have got the license anyway, and we were defending the case because they were making an imposition upon our constitutional rights and contrary to our conscience. Justice Murphy filed a dissent in that case. Murphy got a good name among us because he was always dissenting in cases in our favor. They wrote an article about him in the Law Review, some guys did, to the effect that if Justice Murphy is ever sainted, it will be by the Jehovah's Witnesses, not the Catholic Church. He was a notorious Catholic.
Bro. Murray: It's odd that he would be so strong for justice when he had that background.
Covington: He was very much in favor of what we were doing. And he knew that the life of the country depended on it the success.
Bro. Murray: But not all the Justices were that way. For example Justice Frankfurter,
Covington: Oh! He was very adverse! He was so hostile yet he was a Jew. He was against us in the flag case and against us in the license tax cases.
Bro. Murray: I read some of his opinions and it's amazing that he, coming from a persecuted minority, the Jewish minority, that he was so tough on the Witnesses.
Covington: Oh boy, you said it. He was really vicious too. He tried to justify himself, but he was a hypocrite really, and my feelings about the matter is he was an enemy.
Bro. Murray: Let me go back to this other point. In the Flaxwood Case, the first one, we got an adverse opinion in 1940, and on Flag Day in 1943 it was reversed.
Covington: And the reason it was reversed was because I brought an injunction case in the United States District Court in the District of West Virginia, to restrain the enforcement of the state flag salute regulation that required compulsory saluting of the flag by children in the schools. I challenged that as unconstitutional and that gave me the opportunity to force the court into the position of deciding the matter again. I brought a injunction suit against the enforcement of the regulation and it gave me the right to empanel what they call a three Judge Statutory Court. Then that gave us automatically the right of appeal directly to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Bro. Murray: Now, I don't understand that part.
Covington: Well, it's a highly technical thing, but it gave us a speedy, quick decision and we needed a speedy quick decision. When we were arguing that case in the District Court, Judge John Jay Parker, who was from North Carolina, was presiding on the court. Then the Attorney General from West Virginia got up and said well it's not necessary for me to argue this case, because the Supreme Court of the United States has already decided this case for the Jehovah's Witnesses. As a consequence, Judge Parker said Mr. Attorney General if you are relying on the Gobitis Case you'd better argue this case. He said it wasn't necessary for him to argue. So Judge Parker said "You'd better argue this case." He was flabbergasted, the Attorney General was, taken off his feet; he didn't know what to figure.
Bro. Murray: I thought that once the Supreme Court decided on something that was the final decision.
Covington: The Supreme Court can always reverse themselves and reopen the thing, and that was the very thing that I had in mind when I filed that case to challenge that and get them to reopen it. And the only way I could do it quickly was to get a Three Judge Court and then bingo I could shoot right into the Supreme Court of the United States and bypass the intermediary appellate court and that way we have them on the run.
Bro. Murray: That's interesting, did somebody have some indication that the Supreme Court would be willing to hear it again or did you just think that.
Covington: I didn't have any inside information on that, because you never get any commitment out of the court. I knew that when Roy Gamble (who was one of Jehovah's Witnesses) who was painting the picture of Justice Murphy in Lansing, Michigan, as an artist there (he painted a picture to hang in the Capitol there in Lansing) said Justice Murphy made the statement to Roy Gamble, who complained about the adversity there that the Jehovah's Witnesses had been put in. Frank Murphy said to him, "I know that, someday we're going to do something about that."
Bro. Murray: Now Let's see, I want to ask you something about the sedition laws because some of my friends had been involved in those sedition laws, particularly that one down in Mississippi.
Covington: That Mississippi Case we took up to the Supreme Court of the United States along with the second Flag Case, West Virginia Board of Education against Barnett. I took the appeal of the Mississippi case sedition based on the refusal, explaining the reason for your refusal to salute the flag was in literature that had been distributed and that's what the Brothers were doing, putting literature out explaining why Jehovah's Witnesses did not salute the flag. And they were accused then of violating this seditious conspiracy law of Mississippi on that account. That was the case that we brought up along with the rehearing of the flag case in the West Virginia case.
Covington: They all dovetailed in the court at the same time and only Jehovah could do it
Bro. Murray: The papers said that day was a field day for Jehovah's Witnesses
Covington: That was what Judge Waite said; that it was field day for Jehovah's Witnesses when they handed down those decisions on Flag day in 1943. Judge Waite wrote the article entitled the Constitutional Debt of the American People to the Jehovah's Witnesses, a long article in the Minnesota Law Review that covered about forty pages. He makes a detailed account of the decisions that were handed down on that day that including the Jones against Opelika being reversed, and Mississippi case being handed down and reversed at the Supreme Court of Mississippi. You see it was a field day for us! It turned the tide. Then the publicity turned the other way. The newspapers had been very adverse against the Jehovah's Witnesses all over the country and then when we gave them a licking, why then they went soft
Bro. Murray: It was like Jehovah got swallowed up a flood of adversity against these people It's getting late but there's a couple more cases that come to mind. There the one that one involved me, you never knew the one that involved me; the draft cases.
Covington: I was very much involved in the draft cases because I had to meet with all the military authorities in Washington when they were considering the case of whether Jehovah's Witnesses would be allowed exemption from the draft under the law as ministers of religion, and whether they were entitled to the benefit of conscientious objector status. They had a big room full of the guys that administrated the draft. And among that group was General Louis B. Hershey
Bro. Murray: Now you get the opinion from reading that he was more or less in favor of allowing conscientious objectors
Covington: He was in favor of giving us a good even break, he was really an honorable man, a man of integrity. I liked him very much. He died about three years ago in Indiana, in the country. He was an expert on the draft, the best in the world on conscription. That's why Roosevelt put him in charge of the draft administration registration. He was a corny type of a man, but very brilliant, sharp, quick. He defended himself very well before Congress and he was honorable and fair in his dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses. He agreed on certain of our demands and I said, well I guess we'll have to fight over the rest
Sis. Murray: I guess they got real emotional and Patriotic.
Covington: Oh, yes. But they were cold-blooded, too you know, those army men. To them that's just like cutting meat you know. They were as cold as a cucumber.
Bro. Murray: Yes, to them a man was just a piece of material.
Bro. Murray: How many of our Brothers finally wound up in prison during the war?
Covington There were about 2500 that went to jail during the war, but we kept an awful lot of them out. We had a tremendous number of cases that were taken up and appealed under the draft law, and there was a big day that we had a turning of the tide in the Supreme Court in the draft cases there were about 3 or 4 of them that were set together and I argued them.
Bro. Murray: I remember that, that was the early 50's wasn't it?
Covington: We lost the Fileboat Case, that was the first draft case and they ruled against us on the grounds that we had not exhausted our remedies by taking an appeal. An appeal was taken inside the draft law, they held that we were supposed to take a second physical examination. And that was not necessary because the first physical examination was enough to settle the guys eligibility physically for the draft. They took the position that it was necessary for him to go back and take the second one, and I argued that was unnecessary, unreasonable, and arbitrary and capricious in order to get the benefit of law. Frankfurter was dead against us and so was a large number of the other judges, but in the end we won those draft cases on the second go around. We established the right to be heard on our defense as ministers. At first they held that we didn't even have the right to make a defense and then because of this business of not having taken the second physical, which I said in my argument to the court was not necessary because his acceptability had been predetermined on the first physical
Bro. Murray: So that's the one that was established when I came along in 1957. By that time I wasn't pioneering yet but I just told them that I was one of Jehovah's Witnesses and they automatically gave me a conscientious objection.
Covington: We had a lot of difficulty in establishing that, but in the end we prevailed. Jehovah gave us the victory in these cases. Not all of us got a deferment without difficulty, but in the end we finally won in the draft cases. We got the decision from the Supreme Court of the right to make a defense in the case of Louis Dabney Smith, who is now a circuit overseer down in this area. William Esteph, the other one, was from Pittsburgh, and Smith was from South Carolina. Smith had an interesting case because his old man caused him to be kidnapped. His old man got the cops to kidnapped him from home, and took him down forcibly to the induction station. The old man knew that his son wasn't going to show up, so he forcibly took him down there. Louis was there, and then I had to sue to get him out of the army. We went around and around in his case and we also went around and around in the others. That was a big battle in that draft thing. We gave them a receipt for every blow. They were getting ready to indict me, you see. Yeah they were, really.
Bro. Murray: Lock you away boy.
Covington: When they told me that, I said "you know my address"
Bro. Murray: They knew where to get you. Did you get involved in Canadian problems?
Covington: Oh yes I did, quite a lot. I spent a lot of time up in Canada then there was that Quebec situation that was very bad and I worked very closely with Brother Hal. I used him in the cases up there up there because I couldn't plead any cases in Canada. I worked with him and he was my alter ego. We gave a them a good run for their money in Canada. Actually we got very good results out of the Canadian Supreme Court. We went in the seditious libel cases that were brought against Jehovah's Witnesses. Also in a large number of other cases we had the Supreme Court split in Canada and on that account and the court ruled in our favor, a split decision before they came around in our favor and it was some very good decision that they gave us in Canada. Canada is based on common law. We went in there under the freedom of worship statue in Quebec. We made use of that for the first time in history; it was written for the Catholic Church, They never had to use it, but we used it successfully in the case involving Laurent Samour. The Laurier Sumur, a witnessing case. The other case involved the Brother that ran the restaurant and that case was won too. They tried to break him because he was signing bonds for the Brothers. Brother Frank Boccerelli ran the restaurant. He was a very fine Brother, He stood up for Jehovah's name in a very courageous way and really gave Duplessis a run for his money and we gave Duplessis a run for his money too in the courts up there.
Bro. Murray: He said "I am the law!"
Covington: That's the way he felt about it. He was a mean guy, Duplessis was. Brother Franz and I gave testimony up there in the Laurent Samour case in the Trial court and then it went on through the Appellate Courts and I was around when we argued the case. The case was argued in the Supreme Court of Canada too (but Glen Howe handled the argument very well and very capably) we worked very well together. Finally, Jehovah vindicated his people and his name in a very big way in Canada, and this book here entitled Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada, Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship, by M. James Penton. It's a large book, several hundred pages long, three hundred and eighty six pages, and it's got references to a lot of our cases in Canada and elsewhere. It goes into the battle in Quebec, the second world war, and about our abstaining from blood. You know we had blood cases up there in Canada too, and it tells about the victory in the courts in Canada and that which involved the draft, alternative service, that was a draft case, and actually in one of the cases Leo Greenlees, who is on the governing body, I represented in the courts in Toronto That was in forties. It says here that the Leo case was back in the forties
Percy Chapmann and Hayden C. Covington, the American legal consul for the two societies, visited Minister of Justice, St. Laurent, to request that the ban on those organizations be lifted. Percy and I went to see St. Laurent who was Minister of Justice in charge of Canada. And it points out on page 161, MacKenzie King was the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister caused the bans to removed after that. But it was a hot time in Canada, a bad place. There was a lot of persecution then, and now it is a place of prosperity for the Lord's people.
Bro. Murray: Things have really changed haven't they? First we had to break down that wall. When you went to court, for example, in the flag salute case, and you go up to the Supreme Court, it must have involved a tremendous sum of money.
Covington: Well yes, but the Lord owns all the cattle on seven hills and he can afford it.
Bro. Murray: So when you win a case, though, do you still get paid?
Covington: Sometimes you get your costs back and sometimes you don't. When Uncle Sam or the State is involved you don't get anything back. But in Canada we got it all back. Oh my! We took it off their head. But in the United States you can't get anything out of Uncle Sam.
Bro. Murray: You got a chance to see ole Harry Truman one time.
Covington: Oh yes, sure. Ole Harry Truman. Murray, he was a great guy. He was a hot potato We went in to see Harry because we were trying to get the pardon petition for the Jehovah's Witnesses who had been convicted under the draft, considered and allowed by him, as the President of the United States. It is not easy to get in to see the President, but Harry was approachable. I knew his next door neighbor, Jim Blair, who was Governor of Missouri, and who was with me in the first draft case out there in Texas. When we got down to that, I got in touch with Jim Blair, and he came into Washington to set up an appointment in the White House.
And Jim, 1, and Brother Knorr wanted to get Brother Kennedy to come along because he was in the Army. That didn't make any impression on Harry. We went in and saw Harry Truman in the White House, in the Oval Room, and I'm going to tell it exactly as it is and if you want to censor it go ahead. Went in to see his honor, his nibs, and Jim Blair was there in the Oval Room and he found out what it was about, Ole Harry did, and he slammed his fist down on the desk and he nearly broke the presidential desk. He said, "I want to tell you, that I do not have a God damn bit of use for that SOB who didn't want to die for his country in time of war" and then Jim Blair threw his hands up and said, "Oh Mr. President, Mr. President!" So Harry, after we presented the matter to him, Harry come down off of his high horse, and out of his fury said "well I'll refer it to my Attorney General, that was Tom Clark who I knew, and who was from Texas incidentally. Old Tom was later appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, by Harry Truman. And after he was appointed, Tom Clark gave us some favorable decisions in some of our cases. Not because we had influence, but because we were right.
Bro. Murray: He had some character about him
Covington: Oh yes he did, and actually his son, the Attorney General, was quite a liberal. His son was well known for his liberality. It surprised everybody too, and embarrassed Clark, but Clark turned out to be a very fine judge.
Bro. Murray: Its amazing, some of those men had real character; like Murphy and Stone
Covington: Oh boy, that Murphy! He was the greatest guy.
Bro. Murray: The had character about them, they stood up for what they felt was right.
Covington: Actually, Ole Frank Murphy, if you read that dissenting opinion that he wrote in that child custody case, the Prince case (Prince against Mass.). That is an eloquent thing, and he squared off against all the rest of them and recited about how horrible the Jehovah's Witnesses had been persecuted. He was a righteously disposed man.
Bro. Murray: It is interesting with all these politician there is one thing I'd like to know about. For example, you only had a chance to work with Brother Rutherford for about three years rather closely, because he died in 1942.
Covington: That's right, I worked with him from 1939 to 1942. 1 was there in 1939, and we were very, very close. We had to be because of the things that we working together on, and I went out to work with him on the Flag brief, on the Gobitis case in San Diego, that's where we put the Gobitis brief together, in San Diego. And he was eloquent!
Bro. Murray: Yes that's right, he had a tremendous way with words. Was he that way in real life?
Covington: Yes he was. He was very much a man with a great sense of humor too, and he was great to fly off the handle too! Which is only human you know. But I loved him with all my heart and I never feared him at all.
Bro. Murray: I guess some people did fear him because of the authority he was.
Covington: Well that may be true, but he still was a great man. If he did anything wrong he'd moke up for it.
Sis. Murray: Do you know how Brother Rutherford came into the truth?
Covington: He had been, in his younger life, a book agent selling books. He was going along in Missouri and he slipped and fell through the ice, and took pneumonia. He thought he was about to die, and he prayed to the Lord that if he came out of that, he would never turn a book agent away. He was in his office and heard his secretary chasing a book agent out of his office. He ran out of the door and balled him out for running the book agent out. It turned out to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses with Pastor Russell's books.
Sis. Murray: I heard it was a Sister.
Covington: And after that he got so deeply involved in with what he read, just like I did when I was listening to the Judge; he was reading Pastor Russell and he just went head over heels and bag and baggage for what Brother Russell was doing and he went for it unlimited with out any constraint. Then Brother Russell got into litigation on account of his wife. That suit with the divorce and that stuff about the miracle wheat and everything else. Brother Russell had to have someone to represent him and he called on Brother Rutherford to come and represent him on these matters.
Bro. Murray: Rutherford was later arrested, but there was never anything to that trial and the imprisonment. He never would have been convicted.
Covington: His conviction was reversed and that wiped the slate clean. Actually the convictions were malicious prosecution anyhow. May 24, 1919 was the day he was admitted to the Supreme Court, and that's the same year that he was admitted to the bar in the state of New York. And then he became council for Pastor Russell after that. Pastor Russell died on the train in Texas and then there was a big hassle in the organization after that, which is a matter of history. I don't have too much clarity on that. You know as much about that as I do by getting the records out and reading them.
Bro. Murray: He really was a good lawyer then?
Covington: Oh yes, don't kid yourself about that later. Brother Rutherford had to get away from the intense cold in the East in the winter time. He had a collapsed lung and there was a danger he could contact pneumonia because of that experience when he fell in the water and nearly froze to death in Missouri. Remember he said he wasn't turning any book agents away from his office. When Rutherford was behind bars he put his hands on the bar and said to Jehovah, "If you ever get me out of here I am going to give the old wore [the Catholic Church] the worst licking that she ever had..." and he dedicated his whole life, remaining life, to that pursuit.
Sis. Murray: He sure did, he really let her have it!
Bro. Murray: You came out here to San Diego, were you with him when he died?
Covington: Yes. He died in San Diego because he had been operated on for cancer of the colon in Indiana ... cancer is a consuming thing, and it gradually began to eat his body down where there was little weight on him and he called Brother Knorr and Brother Franz and I out to San Diego. We went out on the Santa Fe train, the Chief and we went there to meet with him and he knew he was dying and he wasn't any maudlin ... he knew he wasn't going to live too long. So he put his hands on the heads of all of us boys and asked us to stick together. That's when I made that declaration that Fred Franz quoted at the assembly in Cincinnati. We all called him Pap, for short, meaning Pappy he was really our father, not our real father you know, but because of age we consider him to be giving us orders. So I said to him, "Well Pap, we'll fight them together till hell freezes over."
Covington: When we were at the assembly in Cincinnati Fred Franz told the Brothers about that quote, which I meant to. It was like we skated on the ice. The lord will make it so.
Bro. Murray: What happened the body, did he want to buried out in San Diego?
Covington: He had no desire to be buried in any place but he had to. He knew he was dying and would have to be buried. He was sensible enough to know that he didn't want to have his bones hauled all the way back to Brooklyn. So he suggested to us that when the time came for him to be buried he wanted to be buried out there. We tried to get him buried there in the Beth Serum property. That was a big property in behind there, went all the way down to Montezuma Road, and then Brother Heath had that big house over across the way that his mother had given him money to build. It would cost a half a million dollars to build and duplicate now, or more. We tried to get him buried at that property and the board in San Diego turned us down. They didn't want him buried anywhere out there, there was so much hostility and hatred against the Judge out there. The authorities turned us down, every turn we took. I filed a lawsuit then in the courts out there in San Diego to force them to let us bury him out there on that property. Judge Mundo, who was the judge of the Superior Court, heard it and passed the buck, jumping from one thing to another, from one technicality to another, and finally after looking at the matter in a reasonable way Bill, Bonnie, and Nathan and all of us decided that we have fought enough on this and it looks like its the Lord's will that we take his body back to Brooklyn, and have him buried in Staten Island, which we did. So Bill and Bonnie were on the train with his body. And Fred, Nathan, and I had already come back and were working. I was trying to get his bones under the ground by legal mandate and we couldn't get it, and there was no other thing to do. And we did, and that ended that. He was laughing down from heaven at us scurrying around trying to get his bones buried.
Bro. Murray: He was probably pleased that you finally decided to let it go! "Didn't I ever teach them boys anything?" He probably couldn't see how that was connected with anything. Since you loved the man that was why it was so important to you.
Covington: We wanted to do his will as best we could, not his will, but Jehovah's will and he had to be buried someplace. It wasn't reasonable to haul his body all the way across the country, but we finally had to do that.
Sis. Murray: Well how long did it take by train?
Covington: It took about two and a half to three days. Two and half days from San Diego and I made that trip a lot of times. From New York to San Diego; it takes two and a half days on a Pullman. Of course, we rode Pullman. We went first class, Brother Rutherford told me, "I want you, whenever you travel, to travel first class." And so I did, and Brother Heath did, Nathan Knorr did, and Freddy Franz did too, all the whole bunch of us did.
Sis. Murray: Well you needed your rest and it was more comfortable.
Covington: It's not our comfort, but we were entitled to: the laborer is worthy of his hire.
Bro. Murray: Through those years, you brought cases to court that you could see Jehovah's hand in it and how Jehovah built up a wall around his people. And the wall is still there as long as we don't abuse it, and the law will protect us.
Covington: Yes, right! As long as we don't put our foot in the door. I'm just using that as a figure of speech. Abuse of it is it and I don't think that most of us do and or ever will and I'm sure that Jehovah is with us all the way. There's no question about it; this is Jehovah's organization. Like Peter said, wherever we've got to go Lord, there's no problem.
Bro. Murray: It's good that you've really been engaged in a warfare. Paul talks about this spiritual warfare. This spiritual warfare has been on for a long time and sometimes has it been difficult to remember that we weren't fighting against men and their statues so much but we were fighting against unseen spirits behind the men
Covington: Yes that's right; that's always been my conviction. Like Paul says here in this scripture. Where is the one that says I am convinced that nothing will separate us from his love?
Sis. Murray: Romans, I think, the end of the seventh chapter. I think it was the seventh or eighth chapter of Romans.
Bro. Murray: In Ephesians 6: 10 he talks about the fight against the wicked forces.
Sis. Murray: Chapter eight, the end of chapter eight.
Covington: Yes right here it is, I've got it underscored.
Bro. Murray: "For I am convince that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor governments, nor things now here, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God's love that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord". So if you hadn't had Jehovah's backing you, you wouldn't be able to out maneuver demonic forces.
Covington: Oh no and we know we don't wrestle with flesh and blood but against the demons and that's what you got to keep in mind all the time and if you don't, you're sure to lose. And you have got to recognize the power that's against us, without the power that Jehovah's got helping us out, we're dead ducks.
Sis. Murray: That helps to keep us from hating people so much, because we know that they are just human.
Covington: Yes, that's right, they are just pawns in the hands of the devil.
Bro. Murray: Even someone who really dislikes the Witnesses very much, like old Frankfurter.
Covington: He was a pawn in the hands of the devil. And after all Jehovah doesn't hold it against people. The main thing is that we keep on and never throw the sponge in, that's my philosophy.
Sis. Murray: It was encouraging to me just listen to your experiences and to hear you talk has inspired me. I appreciate it very much.
End of Taped Interview
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