DR. JENNIFER HENDERSON INTERVIEW WITH JERRY BERGMAN

ON WATCHTOWER ATTORNEY HAYDEN COVINGTON

 

Interview completed on SATURDAY MAY 18, 2002 by Dr. Jennifer Henderson, assistant professor, department of communication, Trinity University, San Antonio, TX. Minor errors corrected and edited for space and fluency only.

 

HENDERSON:  This is the end of my Ph.D. dissertation.  I will be finishing and defending it in July, and, hopefully, I will be making it into a book after that.  If it gets to that stage, I’ll let you know.  It is primarily about Hayden Covington, the literature distribution cases, and his plan to bring these cases to the Supreme Court.  Tell me about your background in the Witnesses.

 

BERGMAN: I was raised a Witness.  My mother became a Witness around 1956 when I was still in elementary school. I started to go to meetings then.  I had two brothers, both active in the Watchtower during much of our growing up.  My father was not a Witness and it resulted in a divorce, which is common in a divided household.  My parents used to argue about religion a lot.  My father was an agnostic to an atheist, and found the whole religious worldview to be ludicrous.  As often happens, we three boys all followed mom and became involved in the Watchtower. 

            As I was growing up, one of my heroes, as was true of many Witnesses, was Hayden Covington.  He was thought of very favorably in the organization for years.  Witnesses were commonly criticized because not many of us were professionals.  Covington was a lawyer, so he was one that we could look up to.  I was raised in Royal Oak in a congregation located in Berkeley, Michigan (later it moved to near Birmingham, Michigan).  This was an unusual congregation—a doctor attended later, and Eugene Cyran, who was president of Modern Engineering Company in Berkeley, MI, went there for many years.  It was a relatively wealthy congregation compared to many.  Some of the people there knew some prominent Bethelites, so Covington came to our congregation a couple of times and, of course, that was a big deal.  We got to shake his hand.  He was a very imposing man, not fat, but a big man (I would guess 6’4”) and a very confident, very articulate man.  One thing that impressed me when I visited his home was he had many, many books (I didn’t count them), and at least thirty or forty books on building vocabulary and how to use words effectively.  Most Witnesses don’t own a lot of books.   

 

HENDERSON: Books were obviously very important to him.

 

BERGMAN: I went to his house on Nichols Street in Cincinnati, OH, and spent about four hours there.  I used to talk to him a lot on the phone.  He was going through some emotional problems and I was teaching in the psychology area at the time.  I wasn’t licensed yet, but I was working under somebody who was.  Covington called me a lot, and we talked about his concerns.

            At any rate, about 1973 I started collecting material mainly on legal cases.  He had file cabinets in his basement full of Watchtower legal cases.  So, I thought I would go down and visit him.  Through other Witnesses I got his phone number.  I called him up, and talked to him on the phone two or three times.  He said, “Sure, that would be great, drive on down.”  So, in 1974 I took my first wife (When you leave the Witnesses, divorce is very common.  I went through a divorce when I left the Witnesses) and visited him.

            Covington lived in a lower-middle class neighborhood, in a very well-kept, small brick house.  I knew of his wife, but I never personally met her until that time.  She was a very attractive, very articulate woman.  I was really impressed with her.  I don’t know how many kids she had, but she had a daughter who later went to law school.  She was very petite, but she was only a teen when I met her.  I believe that Covington also had son, but I never met him, so I’m not sure.

            When I got there, Covington wasn’t at home.  It turned out he was at a bar, drinking.  So, his wife had to find him.  When she brought him back, he was kind of tipsy.  She apologized and so on….  This was disappointing to me because, I was raised as a Witness not to drink.  But drinking has been a problem among Witnesses, and I knew that it had been a problem with Covington (and was part of the problem why he left Bethel).  His being tipsy was good, in a way, but bad as well.  Good because he was very open with me, willing to talk about just about everything.  I was very curious about a lot of things about the Watchtower Society, like: Did the leaders really believe that they had a straight line to God?   He openly answered just about everything I asked. It became very clear that he really idolized Rutherford.  For example, I knew that Rutherford’s wife had a stroke and that she wasn’t in too good of health (she died in 1962).  There were rumors about his philandering.  So, I asked him about that.  I remember he was laying down when I asked him about the philandering rumors, and he got up, obviously very, very angry…very angry… and he looked at me and said, “If your wife was paralyzed, what would you do?”  Number one, I thought I’d better not pursue that line of questioning.  It was not welcome.  Number two, he seemed to be saying that, yes, he did have paramours, but …

 

HENDERSON: He was going to defend Rutherford…

 

BERGMAN:  He defended him to the hilt.  He really admired Rutherford, no question whatsoever.  I raised a few other questions about him.  For example, I asked “who wrote the articles in the Watchtower?”  It was Rutherford.  Was there a committee?  No.  Rutherford wrote them.  He had help, but Rutherford was basically responsible. 

            Of course, the question of Knorr came up.  He kept calling Knorr a cobra.  So, I asked him, “Why do you call Knorr a cobra?”  He said, “Do you know what a cobra does?  They’re sneaky.  They’ll slither behind you, and they’ll strike.  Viciously.”  It became very apparent that he detested Knorr, absolutely detested Knorr.   That’s of course, when his problems began.  He brought out that he claimed that he had the vote to become President.

            But there was a conflict between Knorr and him.  I never had that much respect for Knorr because I was biased (Knorr only had a high school education) but I had more and more respect for Knorr as Covington talked.  There was obviously a conflict between Knorr and Covington, but he really didn’t say anything bad about Knorr.  So, I began questioning him,  “Why didn’t you like Knorr?” “What was the problem?”  He gave me no definitive evidence that Knorr had a problem.

 

HENDERSON:  So, it was really a personality conflict?

 

BERGMAN:  I didn’t know this at first…but in many ways I can see Covington’s personality was very much like Rutherford’s, very much in contrast to Knorr.  He did give me one incident that, to him, said why Knorr was not a good person.  This was the Madison Square Garden fight between Witnesses and Catholics, the case which you probably read about.

 

HENDERSON:  I have.

 

BERGMAN:  His feeling was, you should fight like a man.  Another thing that surprised me was that he was very free in his use of profanity. 

 

HENDERSON:  Do you think that came from his Texas upbringing? 

 

BERGMAN:  I don’t know.  Witnesses usually don’t swear.

 

HENDERSON:  I wondered because I read his father was a Texas Ranger.  So, it might be from his early days before he was a Witness.

 

BERGMAN:  It might have been.  Anyway, he used very off color language.  He basically said Knorr should have stayed and fought and beat the s--- out of those bastards, referring to Catholics.  Knorr snuck out like a coward and was not willing to physically fight.  He just snuck out.  My thought was, I would have done exactly what Knorr did.  I would have gotten out of there and not hung around and fought.  As a result, he lost respect for Knorr.  Knorr wanted the Society to become more respectable, and so, there was a basic conflict of interest, and of goals, and how to achieve those goals.  The average of Witness certainly had much more respect for Covington than Knorr.  But, as time went on, I lost more and more respect for Covington because I felt that’s just not the way to deal with problems.  You don’t beat up your critics. 

            Covington was a fighter, and I think that is why that is why he did so well in court.  He could fight, not only physically, but he had no qualms about fighting physically.  He told me, “If someone looks at me the wrong way I’ll beat the s--- out of him.  You could tell he was good with words and was very aggressive in court.  He loved a good court fight.  Also, I think part of his downfall was, as the Society won more and more cases, there was less and less of a need to fight.  In the early 1960s all there was left was the draft cases, and these cases were pretty straightforward.  I think his aggressiveness was less and less needed by the Society and, therefore, he began drinking more and as he became more unhappy.  Eventually, he was asked to leave the Society headquarters. 

            I was concerned not only about his experiences, but about the early history of the Society, and the controversy they had gotten into.  It turned out he knew little about the early history of the Society.  He knew a lot about the court cases, he could tell me much about these people.  When I mentioned a case, he could go into detail about what kind of people they were, what they did for a living, the conflicts they got involved in, and this stuff.  But, when asked about Russell, he said “I don’t know much about Russell.”  What about the miracle wheat controversy?  “I don’t know anything about it.” 

 

HENDERSON: So his life was the law as much as it was the Witnesses?

 

BERGMAN: The law much more important than Witness doctrine.  Also, he didn’t have that good of a knowledge of the scriptures.  We would talk about the scriptures, but his interest was in the scriptures that related to the law, but mostly the law.  In one interview he talked about when he first became a Witness and why.  He said he did so because he was a rebel; he wanted to fight against something.  I think if the Witnesses wouldn’t have come along, someone else would and he would have joined that group and would have fought for them.  He was crusader, a fighter, and needed a cause to fight for, and this was the cause he found.  The Witnesses were persecuted quite a bit back then, and were in the papers a lot.  He joined up and said “I’m going to fight with these people… and we’re going to win.” 

            I had a chance to talk to his wife for quite a while, too.  They had some pretty severe marital problems.  I perceived that she was a lot more like Knorr.  She was aggressive in a way, but not in the way that he was.  For example, I mentioned when I was with Hayden that I was impressed with her.  Some people you talk with for fifteen minutes and you are really impressed with them.  She was that kind of person.  She was very articulate and had a good handle on his problems, and on the Society’s problems.  I mentioned that to him, that I was very impressed with her, and that she was a good wife.  He said something, basically, very, very disparaging: “Well, she’s a woman, she’s supposed to take care of things.”  He clearly demeaned his wife.  He felt she was a good wife because that is what a woman is supposed to do.  She was resentful because after he left Bethel, he couldn’t make a living. 

 

HENDERSON:  I wondered what they did following his leaving.

 

BERGMAN:  I had asked her about this because he was in the news a lot because of the Cassius Clay case.  He represented Cassius Clay.

 

HENDERSON: Right.

 

BERGMAN:  Cassius Clay never paid him for the case.  They had a falling out.  She felt resentful because he couldn’t make it as a lawyer on his own.  She had to take care of the family and work full time.  She worked for a Cincinnati newspaper in the pressroom.  She did make a good living, but, I think she still ran the house, and was able to do ok because she basically ran everything.   He spent his time…

 

HENDERSON: Drinking.

 

BERGMAN.  Drinking.   In fact, not too long after I visited they separated.  She stressed that Hayden couldn’t get along with anybody.   I think that is not totally true, because he obviously got along with Rutherford (Rutherford was his kind of man).  Otherwise, he had a falling out with just about everybody.  She told me he would always blame it on them; it was always everybody else’s fault.  It was Knorr’s fault.  It was the lawyer’s fault.  It was always someone else’s fault.  She said he really had a hard time getting along with people.  He wasn’t very diplomatic, but was great in court.  He did well in court when he was fighting:  He could really be aggressive, but that kind of temperament just doesn’t help one do well outside of court.  He shined in court, but that was where his life was.  Winning for him was losing because when he won his purpose in life was gone. 

            Also I felt sorry for him.  I felt, here was this man that I looked up to (and most Witnesses looked up to) for years.  I remember driving home with my wife, and feeling really depressed.  He was not a God, he was a sorry man.  I still admired him for what he did, but I felt really disappointed.  That, for me, was an important day in my questioning the veracity of the Watchtower Society and whether they were God’s organization.  I had major questions before this, but from that point on I no longer believed the Watchtower Society was God’s organization.  That was the end for me. 

 

HENDERSON: How did he come back to the Watchtower?  I know at the very end of his life, the Watchtower took him back in. 

 

BERGMAN:  I think he really hit bottom.  He just drank and drank and drank and ended up with health problems, liver problems, and he realized that if he didn’t change his life, he was going to die.  He left his wife and lived on his own.  It wasn’t that long after that and he died. 

 

HENDERSON:  1978?

 

BERGMAN: Something like that.  It was about four years after had I visited him.  We were on the phone a lot, probably from 1974 to 1976.  He would always reverse the charges.  He hit bottom then, from being vice-president of the Society and a highly influential lawyer.  At that time, too, there were a lot of articles coming out about his work.  Not so much about him, but what he’d accomplished and what lawsuits the Society had fought and won.  I think he realized there was a heritage, so he could live on his laurels and reclaim some of the prestige that he had.  His doctor’s said, “You’d better stop drinking or you’re going to die.  This is critical.”  He realized he had to change his life, as a result, he did.  He had some friends who felt sorry him, who put themselves out to try and help him, so he was eventually reinstated. 

 

HENDERSON: That was very close to the end of his life, right?

 

BERGMAN: Yes, although when I talked to him, ironically, he was disfellowshipped.

 

HENDERSON: Which is very interesting in terms of the interviews.

 

BERGMAN:   I didn’t know that.  His wife thought that maybe I was someone who could help him.  I was working as a therapist at a clinic, so I was someone who could help him.

 

HENDERSON: Did his wife and family stay with the Witnesses even after his disfellowshipping?

 

BERGMAN:  Yes, they did.  As far as I know they are still Witnesses.  His daughter became a lawyer.  I don’t know if she dyed her hair, but as I remember she was a redhead.  Very attractive, very petite.  His wife was very petite, too.  She was probably 5’4”, maybe 5’5”. 

 

HENDERSON:  He must have met his wife while he was at Bethel?  Or, before that?  Do you know?

 

BERGMAN:  They were married for a long time.  My guess is she would have stuck with him through anything.  She wouldn’t have left.  Period.  But, she was really discouraged, really disappointed that he couldn’t support the family, couldn’t get a job. 

 

HENDERSON: I had assumed that he had his own local law firm when he was disfellowshipped in 1963.  That is a long time not to do anything. 

 

BERGMAN:  She probably worked for over 20 years.  Her feeling was, “Here I am taking care of the kids, raising the kids, and supporting the family.  I’m working full time and taking care of you.  I’m doing everything.  You are just going out drinking.”  I think she was really resentful, but was willing to do it.  I think she would have, but felt, “You could at least get a job, any job.”

 

HENDERSON:  Do you think maybe he was too proud to get a job?

 

BERGMAN:  No, he just couldn’t get along with people.  That’s what she told me.  He tried.  He would get a job for a law firm and he would handle a case or two, but then because he couldn’t get along with people he would be let go.  He had so much respect for Rutherford that when Rutherford said, “Look, do this,” he would do it.  He could humble himself to Rutherford.  He could take anything that Rutherford gave him.  If Rutherford lambasted him, he could deal with it.  But anybody else, he couldn’t.  He didn’t think like anyone else, and, therefore, there were just too many conflicts.

            At any rate, my visit was the beginning of the end for me as a Witness.  I had major questions before, but after that, I really had questions.   After I began to question the Society more, my marriage fell apart.  My first wife had a hard time with my questions.  I ended up leaving.  I was not disfellowshipped, I left.

            But, when you leave, what happens is that you alienate your friends and your family.   As a result, when I left, I was pretty much on my own.  The people I was raised with, the people I knew all my life, other Witnesses, wouldn’t talk to me.  To me it was a very traumatic period in my life.  I was teaching at that time at Bowling Green State University.  They made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that they did not appreciate my involvement the Watchtower. So they terminated me, very openly, on the grounds of religion.  So I went to court.  The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was the last court I went to.  The University basically lambasted my Witness affiliation, which I thought was interesting because, by that time, I had left for several years.  But there feeling was that my leaving was a ruse.  They thought, “You’re going to pretend you’re not a Witness anymore, and then you’ll get tenure, and you’ll go back to them.”  Their feeling was that I did not have honest doubts, my leaving was just a ruse.  I should send you the transcripts of the testimony.  There is page after page where they talked about my religion….my being a Witness.

 

HENDERSON:  I find that fascinating.

 

BERGMAN:  Then the NEA filed a lawsuit because that is illegal.

 

HENDERSON:  Right.

 

BERGMAN:  I think the judges pretty much worked with the University.  At the trial the judge basically indicated that he was going to rule in my favor.  After the trial, he ignored all of the evidence and rubber stamped the University’s allegations.

 

HENDERSON:  Where they concerned that you were…

 

BERGMAN:  Proselytizing. 

 

HENDERSON:  In class? 

 

BERGMAN:  In class.  But they had no evidence.  They were concerned about handouts that I used.  I used a handout on the flag salute once.

 

HENDERSON:  I used a handout on the flag salute once.  I’d better watch it.

 

BERGMAN:  It depends on the area.  Although where I teach now, they don’t appreciate my Witness background either, so there is still a lot of hostility against me.  I physically left the Witnesses in 1975, but, did not formally resign until 1980.  So, it’s been 25 years now since I’ve left.  Even though that is the case, I still have problems where I teach.  I’ve been a Methodist for 20 years, even a lay speaker in the Methodist Church, so, when they brought my Witness background up, I said, “Look I’m a Methodist now.  It’s been 25 years since I left.”  After I left Bowling Green and went on job interviews, religion still came up over and over.  The school would call Bowling Green, and Bowling Green brought up the religious issue.  I think this is ironic, because I began to seriously question the Watchtower before 1973.

 

HENDERSON:  Fascinating.  You have your own book to write about that. 

 

BERGMAN:  Now I’m in some ways right in between.  I’m sympathetic with the Witnesses but, yet, they caused a lot of turmoil in my life.  Once I left, of course, they turned against me.  They used my problems at Bowling Green to try to discredit me.  When I testify in court, they often bring up that I was denied tenure at Bowling Green and try to infer that it was my criticism of the Watchtower that got me in trouble! 

 

HENDERSON:  Wow!  I will have to follow that up.  That will be a very interesting paper to write about.  I am very interested in academic freedom as part of my free speech interests. 

 

BERGMAN:  I do think my case should be talked about because it was not something that was hidden.  It was openly talked about both by my supporters and my detractors.   They both were very, very open about this, and spent hours and hours of conversations about this.  They brought up the handouts I used, such as the one on the flag salute.  They just didn’t think that this was appropriate. 

 

HENDERSON:  Wow!  I can’t imagine that really happens. 

 

BERGMAN:  But on the other hand, I can understand the antagonism that they have in academia against the Watchtower.  Their feeling is that anyone who follows that religion is incompetent.

 

HENDERSON: It is interesting because, whenever I do this work, the first thing people ask me is if I am a Witness. 

 

BERGMAN: That is the first question my wife asked about you.  “Oh, she is doing her doctoral thesis on Covington.  Is she a Witness?”

 

HENDERSON:  No, I’m not a Witness.  I’m interested in how the Witnesses expanded rights for everybody. That’s why I’m doing this.  It’s fascinating that the first thing people want to know – my religious affiliation – did it drive me to do this.

 

BERGMAN:  Ironically, many people who do work on the Witnesses either are or were, or their spouses were, Witnesses.  The flag salute book done by Manwaring, his wife was a Witness.

 

HENDERSON:  Oh, really?  That is a great book, an excellent book.

 

BERGMAN:  It came from his dissertation at the University of Chicago, as you may know.  Anything else that you want to know?

 

HENDERSON:  Did Covington seem to be especially proud of any one case or series of cases that he worked on?  Did he talk about any more than others?

 

BERGMAN:  I didn’t notice any pride.  I just noticed the fighting spirit.  He missed the fighting and the court battles.  My thought is, if he could have become an attorney for the ACLU, and could have continued to fight, and he might have been ok. 

 

HENDERSON:  I know that he had a lot of contact with the ACLU in New York City – a lot of correspondence back and forth with their lawyers.  He would have done very well there.

 

BERGMAN:  It is just too bad he lost his calling….that he couldn’t find another calling, whether it was civil rights or something similar.  Representing Cassius Clay could have been a door to civil rights work.  But, he never did.  I don’t know how much he accepted of Witness teaching, but the Witnesses believe all other religions are evil, although they have less antagonism toward Methodists because some of the early adherents were Methodists. Some Methodist ministers became prominent in the Watchtower in Russell’s day.  As a result, Russell had the least amount of antagonism toward Methodists and the greatest toward the Catholic Church. 

 

HENDERSON:  I have listened to Rutherford’s speeches on the Free Minds Website (they have a wonderful CD with the Rutherford speeches).  It is just fascinating to listen to him go on and on about the “snare and the racket” of the Catholic Church.  What I am writing about primarily is the plan they came up with to educate Witnesses in the field about the law and court cases and what to do when you are arrested.  Make sure you show your identification card, etc… I’m mainly  concerned about the literature distribution cases.  They have the most far-reaching effect on the media today because the idea of free distribution was upheld in those cases.   So, without those cases, we wouldn’t have the Internet or newspaper distribution we have today. 

 

BERGMAN:  The Watchtower used to prep us, tell us what to do and say when we were arrested.  We actually had rehearsals. 

 

HENDERSON:  Were those in weekly service meetings, when you had rehearsals?

 

BERGMAN:  On Thursdays at the service meeting we would have mock arrest trials.  Once we had a couple of brothers come in with uniforms and come up on the stage to arrest us.  They stressed:  be calm and cool, be polite, and don’t get upset.  Let them abuse you.  Which, of course, is good advice.  Don’t give them an excuse to abuse you.  Just meekly submit and be arrested.  Politely try to explain what we are doing, our reasons, and the law cases.  We had cards they would give us with court cases.  Call an attorney (we had a list of attorneys who were sympathetic).  Then find someone to set bail and so on.

 

HENDERSON:  Were most of the attorneys sympathetic to the Watchtower or Witnesses?

 

BERGMAN:  Most were sympathetic, but the Witnesses had more attorneys as members than any other profession.  In fact, we had an organization of professionals who used to meet in Chicago every year until the Society stopped it.  They discourage people from getting together outside of Society events.  But there were about 50 medical doctors in the United States in the Witnesses, and about 300 attorneys.  There are probably many more now.  They discourage going to college, but becoming an attorney was acceptable.  So, many Witnesses became attorneys.

 

BERGMAN:  Frank Mott-Trille was an attorney in Canada. My wife and I  stayed at his home once.  His daughter and one of his kids became attorneys.  So, that was an acceptable career route.  When studying law, you are not studying things that may contradict the Watchtower, like religion, or creation and evolution.  It is a safe area.  You are not apt to fall out of the truth because of learning the philosophies of the educators at universities.  The Watchtower is very negative toward education.  This is the first area I got into trouble because I went to college.  My Dad wasn’t a Witness.  But, I remember I was shunned by some long before I left them for being a college student.  The conflict started way back then for me, even though I was a very dedicated, very committed Witness.  That is why I collected all of this literature:  I wanted to be able to, when I knocked a door, and someone brought out something about Russell’s scandals, to be able to defend them.  I was a Pioneer, had a very short assignment at Bethel, and did some work for the writing staff (I still have the correspondence from them).  I was very committed, and this is one thing that got me in trouble at Bowling Green State University.  In the depositions they said they knew I was a Jehovah’s Witness the first year I was there.  It came out right away.  I think I was, as a Witness, kind of a proselytizer.  Not that I would be aggressive, but I just brought it up.  If someone would say something about world conditions, I’d say:  Well, I read about that in this magazine called The Watchtower.  I’ll get you a copy of it.  I don’t think I was that blatant at Bowling Green.  But, I did bring it up, so that got me in trouble, because I did talk about it fairly freely, although I didn’t bring it up with students.  I didn’t think that was appropriate to talk about it in the classroom. 

 

HENDERSON:  There probably wasn’t time.  There is never enough time in the classroom to get everything covered.

 

BERGMAN:  We would talk about the flag salute issue every now and then, and students were pretty lost.  They couldn’t understand why it was an issue.  They are a different generation.  So most students weren’t concerned about it one way or another.  It was a non-issue. 

 

HENDERSON:  I find students believe that these kind of things couldn’t possibly have happened. 

 

BERGMAN:  I remember when I was in third grade, I was shoved against the wall by a teacher and basically told I was a communist, un-American, because I never stood for the flag salute.  That got me in a lot of trouble.  I had a reputation of being different because of that.  Partly the students didn’t always know the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Methodists.  They saw the world as divided into the religious and the not religious, the Catholics, Protestants, Jews and the not religious.  I studied a lot of the scriptures then, and whenever a Bible issue came up in class, I could talk about it.  So, I got the name Bible Bergman (I was also very frugal with money, so they called me Bergy Jew.  So, I was either Bergy Jew or Bible Bergman).  Of course during the flag salute I wouldn’t stand, so it very quickly became well known throughout the school that I didn’t fit in.  Third grade was the worst, I think.  In fact, in seventh grade I remember, I didn’t stand up and there were a whole bunch of kids who didn’t stand up with me.  I felt proud that I had some support, that I wasn’t the only one sitting.  Of course, I don’t know if they knew why I was sitting. 

 

HENDERSON:  For teenagers to do that anyway, that is nice.

 

BERGMAN:  To have some support. 

 

HENDERSON:  There was a plan to both get the cases to court, through arrests.  There was a plan to appeal all adverse decisions.  They started out with this idea that they were going to make sure they got these cases heard (a method now termed either “vigilant” or “disciplined” litigation).  Later, the NAACP in the 1950s and 1960s with the restrictive covenant cases (where Blacks couldn’t live in certain neighborhoods).  They had Blacks purposely apply to live in those neighborhoods, and then appeal the case.  So, it is the system I am really writing about, how it set an example for fighting civil rights cases in other areas. 

 

BERGMAN:  Covington looked for cases and people who could win.  They would interview a person and conclude, “He’s not quite right.  He loses his cool.  He’s not very articulate.”  They were looking for people who had good reputations in the community, who were store owners, or shopkeepers, who they thought would have a good chance of winning.  They were trying to eliminate all of these others extraneous things that are brought up in a court case, like: “Your son was kicked out of school.  Therefore, you are not a good person.” 

            He told me they deliberately looked for good cases.  This was a long-term struggle for them and were not looking at winning a case tomorrow and that would be the end of it.  They would lose a case, analyze it, learn from it, and then try not to make the same mistake in the future.  They would write letters to the local congregations and say, “If any case comes up, be sure and let us know.”  They wanted to be aware of all cases.  Even if they wouldn’t defend a case, they wanted to be aware of it, so they could find a test case.  They had a lot of cases to pick from, so they would evaluate 300, narrow it down to five, then narrow that down to two cases.  So, you are quite right, they had a planned strategy. 

            He didn’t tell me that they would deliberately provoke people, but they would send people into areas they knew would be a problem.  So, they did target different communities.  He even mentioned to me some of the criteria that they used.  The one I remembered was a very large Catholic population where there had been opposition, or that had a priest that was an active Witness opposer.  Then they would say, “You ought to go into this territory, it hasn’t been preached in a while.  Take some magazines and preach in this area.”

 

HENDERSON:  That’s interesting.  So, decisions of which communities to target were obviously made at Bethel by the leadership? So, there was very little questioning by the Witnesses about where they were asked to go. 

 

BERGMAN:  No one likely said, “Oh, they are sending us in here so we can get arrested.  This will be a test case.”  If someone would have said that, the Society would have said, “So what?”  This is God’s will, and God is fighting this battle.  We are just His instruments.  If God wants to use me, then let’s go.  But they wanted to get the right people.  They didn’t want people that could mess up the case. 

 

HENDERSON:  That is very important in terms of this being planned.  Many of the First Amendment scholars claim that the cases chosen were largely an accident.  I’m trying to set the record straight that this was not an accident but a plan from the start.  From prepping the Witnesses going into the field, to choosing the location, it was obviously a plan, and not an accident. 

 

BERGMAN:  They were looking for cases that would fit their criteria.  After awhile, when you lose a few cases, you learn what’s winnable, at least what cases have a chance of winning.  It is best to eliminate all of the extraneous factors, and get people who are good on the stand.  They wanted women, especially presentable, attractive women who were articulate and had children who they felt would elicit sympathy from the jury.  They wanted jury trials so they could play on the juries emotions and argue that the victim was just a mother who was doing “God’s will.” They had some cases with Blacks that they thought they could use, but thought that prejudice would mix the issues.  They felt they may lose if they were Black, so most all cases were White. 

 

HENDERSON:  Yes, Jones v. Opelika, which they did lose, but it was overturned a year later.

 

(At this point the interview had to terminate because Dr. Bergman had to prepare for commencement at Northwest State College).   

 


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