This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
An Interview by Cobey Black
September 11, 1993
CB: Today is September 11, 1993. My name is Cobey Black and I’m at sea aboard the S.S. Constitution. Also on board is Judge Elbert Tuttle of Atlanta, Georgia, who is a founding member of the Outrigger. Judge Tuttle is enjoying the cruise with his wife and son and has graciously agreed to be interviewed for the Outrigger Oral History Program.
Judge Tuttle, you are 96 years old and one of the original member of the Outrigger Canoe Club. Could you tell me how you happened to come to Hawaii?
ET: Well, my father was with the Immigration Service in Los Angeles and he didn’t see my prospects there, so my mother had some friends who grew up with her in Allerton, Iowa, who had moved to Hawaii. She wrote to one of these friends, Mrs. Dave Halloran, and asked if she knew of any position open that my father could have in Honolulu, Oahu. So they wrote back and said that there was an opening in the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Experimental Station which, at that time, was located on Wilder at Keeaumoku Street in Honolulu, and my father said he would be glad to take the job as bookkeeper. So we went to Hawaii under these circumstances.
CB: What age were you?
ET: Well, let’s see … about nine. I graduated in 1914 from Punahou School at age 16, so that would be fifth grade, I skipped sixth grade at about nine.
CB: You and your brother were in the same class. He was a year-and-a-half older than you.
ET: I skipped a grade so I could join him in the same class so we could go off to college together, we would probably want to go at the same time.
CB: I think it was because you were so bright, too.
ET: Oh, no. At any rate I was able to skip a grade.
CB: You were bright enough to become president of your class.
ET: That was later on. That was in high school, which we then called Punahou College.
CB: Now to go back to the first summer you spent at the beach. What did Waikiki beach look like at that time?
ET: Well, it was wide open, and as I remember it there was a Seaside Hotel where the Royal Hawaiian is now, and the Moana Hotel next to it. The Outrigger Canoe Club later was founded in between the two.
CB: I see.
ET: And, the Hawaiian boys, maybe about five or six of them took the tourists out in Outrigger Canoes to surf in the canoes. At that time there were a few of these Hawaiian boys that were still surfing out in what they called Canoe Surf and Queen’s Surf, which was about opposite the Queen’s former home. The beach… those two hotels were the only ones there rather than like downtown New York as it is now.
CB: That’s true. Who were some of those Hawaiian boys?
ET: Duke Kahanamoku I know was one of them.
CB: I think, some of his brothers were some of the others. You and your brother used to have surfboards?
ET: Yes. After we’d been here about a year, there was a British journalist named Alexander Hume Ford, who went around the world as a public relations expert in different parts of the world, and when he got to Hawaii, he got to thinking it would be a nice thing to revive the art of surfboard riding which was practically dead at that time, so he got together with local businessmen who were willing to assist him in forming what they called the Outrigger Canoe Club. That was 19. . .
CB: 1908, it was.
ET: 1908, yeah.
CB: What was “Pop” Ford like? What did he look like?
ET: I am not sure what he looked like. He looked like an English character, not formal. About what you’d expect from a public relations man.
CB: But, he encouraged you to form a canoe club. How many youngsters were there?
ET: At the beginning I would say there were only about 20 of us altogether
CB: Do you remember the names of any of the others?
ET: No, I can’t remember the names of any of the boys, but there was an older person they called “Dad” (George Center) ….
CB: How much older was he?
ET: He was 18 or 19, about Duke’s (Kahanamoku) age.
CB: Was he a good surfer?
ET: Yeah, he was a good surfer. Of course, we all started on Little Surf which at that time was outside the Seaside Hotel, and then we graduated to Canoe Surf about opposite the Moana Hotel, then Queen’s Surf, opposite Queen Emma’s old home.
CB: Judge Tuttle, where did you get your (surf) board?
ET: They had them for sale at the beach, I guess. I’m not sure.
CB: Were they big?
ET: They were redwood boards, they had no fins in those days as they do now, and they were elongated, and then spread out about eighteen inches then came to a near point at the top. They were about seven or eight feet tall.
CB: That’s pretty big board for a little boy.
ET: They didn’t seem so heavy when we put them on our backs and carried them down.
CB: Would you carry them down from you home?
ET: Oh, no, we left them at the Outrigger Club.
CB: I see, after Outrigger Club started. What kind of a clubhouse was it, do you remember?
ET: A little grass shack was the main office, and a pavilion built out over the lagoon.
CB: It was really just a grass shack.
ET: Yes, there was a locker room and a dressing room, a wooden structure.
CB: And it was just for boys, about 20 of you started it. And did your fathers then raise money to start the Club?
ET: I guess they did. I wasn’t familiar with that, just took advantage of it.
CB: What happened to Pop Ford?
ET: After about two years in Honolulu he decided to move on to someplace else. I don’t know where he went, he left Hawaii.
CB: Pop Ford disappeared because he was a wanderer, and what happened to the Club? Who took over?
ET: By that time they had a pretty good organization, and I’ve forgotten who the first President was, but my father was elected the second President of the Club. Incidentally, I want you to tell me the name of the present President of the Club.
CB: His name is Charles Swanson, Captain Charles Swanson, we call him Chuck Swanson, he is the one you had dinner with the other night.
ET: I know. Charles Swanson.
ET: Before we leave I want you give Mrs. Tuttle his address.
CB: I shall. And so your father took over as sort of an interim President? I think Pop Ford was the first President.
ET: Yeah. The first time he was President he took Ford’s place to the end of the year and then he was elected for a second term.
CB: He was elected, I believe, as the fourth President.
CB: Let’s go back to the beach at that time. Was the surf up? Was it big surf?
ET: Like it is now, I think.
CB: Did it take you long to learn to surf?
ET: No, it was very easy in the smaller surf, you just pull the board in and jump in, and then once you learned how to do that then you could paddle out, catch a wave at Canoe Surf.
CB: Did Duke Kahanamoku show you how to do this?
ET: No, no he didn’t. Spent his time making money carrying tourists out.
CB: I see.
ET: You know, later on he wanted to swim in the Olympics, and at that time the Olympic tryouts were run by the American Athletic Assn. and he had to get a special permit to swim because he was a professional at that time. They gave him a special permit because they had no amateur sports in Hawaii in those days.
CB: Yes, was he a remarkable swimmer. When you were on the beach you noticed that?
ET: Oh, yes, yeah. Everybody could tell he was a remarkable swimmer.
CB: And he did go on to the Olympics and he won.
ET: He won the Olympic 100-yard race; they ran it in yards instead of meters. He knocked six seconds off the 100-yard swimming record.
CB: Were there many tourists on the beach?
ET: Oh yeah, a good many tourist then. Nothing, of course, like they are now, but as I remember the beach was pretty well filled on Saturdays and Sunday afternoon.
CB: Who did teach you to surf?
ET: Nobody. We just followed and saw what other people did.
CB: And, did you get very proficient? You went all the way up to Queen’s.
ET: Oh, yeah. We thought we were proficient.
CB: Would you say that you were the first haoles to surf?
ET: No, no.
CB: There were others?
ET: Yes as far as I know. Dad Center, for instance, was a haole.
CB: Yes, but you were the first little boys to really be in the Outrigger Canoe Club, weren’t you?
ET: Well, I think maybe Marston Campbell was at the Club at the same time we were. He was a classmate of ours at Punahou School.
CB: I see. What was his name again?
ET: Marston Campbell. He moved to the West Coast after he graduated from Punahou. He has relatives now in Hawaii as far as I know.
CB: Well Judge Tuttle, we are going to move up Mauka now and go up to around Punahou and I want you to tell me a little bit about your years at the school because you became quite famous, you and your brother, for building the first flying craft. I believe it was a glider. Could you tell me a little about that?
ET: Yes, we were graduated from Punahou Academy, which was a grade school, I was then… let’s see … 12 years old, Malcolm was 13 and we built a model airplane which was the exact copy of the Wright Brothers’ plane. The Wright Brothers had just flown for the first time in heavier-than air machines in 1903, and there was a lot of publicity about it. So at that time we thought it would be interesting for the class graduation program for us to build a model airplane; we put a little electric motor in it, and propellers and a battery in it, it ran the propellers. It made quite a hit.
CB: Of course, it was not that little. It had a wing span of about four feet.
ET: About four feet.
CB: Yes, it wasn’t a little toy; it was a good size model.
ET: Of course, it wasn’t supposed to fly. Then after that, during summer, we got a little good publicity in the Advertiser about that event. That summer we built a glider which was about 18 feet across, a bi-plane with two wings, one over the other and a tail piece behind it and you were supposed to run down the hill to hang glide and a bit of wind caught him on the left side of the thing, tipped it over on its side and broke it. [Laugh] so I never got a chance to fly it.
CB: I believe you were living up in Kaimuki at that time weren’t you?
ET: We lived in Kaimuki at 10th Avenue and 6th Avenue.
CB: So you actually went up the hill there in Kaimuki and …
ET: Up the hill behind Kaimuki and ran down the hill to glide.
CB: I believe your brother was actually able to go about 40 feet, wasn’t he?
ET: That’s right he did
CB: So in effect, you brothers were the first to be airborne in Hawaii.
ET: That’s right, in a heavier-than-air machine.
CB: Heavier-than-air machine which you built yourself.
ET: That’s right … at the age of 13.
CB: At the age of 13, isn’t that extraordinary.
ET: That Christmas at the Central Union Church, at the Christmas party in the Sunday school, I built a cable down from the gallery to the dais in front, and Malcolm flew that glider down that cable as Santa Claus.
CB: Did he really? [Laugh]
ET: He got a lot of publicity in the Advertiser.
CB: I am sure he did. You said, speaking of your Punahou days, that they were influential in your feeling of racial equality which later in your life became a very important force. Was it because there were so many classmates who were all different races?
ET: No doubt about that, because in my class there were full-blooded Hawaiians, there were part Hawaiians. hapa haoles, and there were Japanese and Chinese, we had a couple of Chinese, we had three Chinese students, one of them was the valedictorian of our class. He was about six or seven years older than the rest of us.
CB: What was his name?
ET: I am sorry, I can’t remember. The other two were John and Alfred Yap and the Japanese student was Sakamoto who later came to the Mainland or the States, as we used to say and became a professional baseball player.
CB: That’s interesting.
ET: Of course, we had Portuguese, and we had people from Puerto Rico and the Philippines, so I got to know people of all races and creeds and colors.
CB: Right. And, I am going to take you back to the Mainland now. How did you happen to go back? Your father was transferred?
ET: No, we went back to the Mainland because a professor at Cornell, in the German class, recommended that we go to Cornell University because Malcolm was going to study engineering, and he could study engineering as an undergraduate there, and I could study pre-law and get ready to go to Harvard Law School in the same school, so we decided to go to Cornell for that reason.
CB: I see.
ET: A fraternity brother of mine invited me home for the summer in 1917, I went south on a ship with him to Jacksonville, Florida, where he lived with his family, and as I said the other day, we got off the ship at ten o’clock in the morning, and at 12 o’clock I met this friend, a little girl who lived next door, and a year later we became engaged and got married. [Laughter]
CB: You remember that 74 years later! [Laughter] 75 years later, was it love at first sight, Mrs. Tuttle?
ET: It was, for both of us.
CB: That was Sarah Tuttle. There’s a story about you, Judge Tuttle, sitting on the porch with your mother and seeing the bus come by, can you tell me that story?
ET: That was before I came to the Islands, was it not? My father, at that time, was a clerk in what was called the War Department, later it became the Department of the Army. We were in Washington, and one afternoon I was sitting on the front porch with my mother, right at the corner of the street where the streetcar stopped. The streetcar came by and there was a black woman standing on the corner. The streetcar passed her by and didn’t stop, and she waited until another came by and passed her by. So my mother got up and went into the house and put on her hat and went down and stood at the corner.
CB: Your mother did that?
ET: Yeah, and she stood next to the lady and then a streetcar came by and of course it stopped for her, and she said to the black woman “Go ahead.” Then she turned around and came back to the porch and sat down.
CB: And the black lady had her ride. That’s a wonderful story. Later in your career, you were very responsible for the integration of some of the universities in the South. Can you tell me a little about that because it is really historic, you became a judge then?
ET: When I went to the South, I had been interested in politics and in government, I mean, not in politics particularly, but I couldn’t belong to the Democratic Party because it was then known as the White Democratic Party, and no black person was allowed to vote, nor even allowed to register to vote, so I helped to organize the fledgling Republican Party and when it was time for election in 1952, General Eisenhower was running for President. I organized a group of Republicans in Georgia to support Eisenhower and went to the convention and there was an opposing delegation for Senator Taft. That ended in quite a fight, but Eisenhower was finally nominated, and shortly after he was nominated he appointed me General Counsel of the Treasury Department which took Sarah and me to Washington. Two years later I got a call from a friend of mine in New Orleans who asked if I would be interested in filling the judgeship, the seventh judgeship that had just been created in the Fifth Circuit and I told him I wasn’t able to because I promised to be with the Secretary of the Treasury for two years, and I said, “John, however, before you appoint somebody else I would appreciate it if you would give me another call.” So about two months later Bill Rogers, who was the Deputy Attorney General called me on the phone to say, “You’d do us a great favor if you would take that job on Fifth Circuit, because the man that Texas wants we don’t consider to be worth filling the job as a dog catcher let alone a judgeship. They have a lot of demands on us because they have more cases in the Fifth Circuit in Texas than in any other State.” So I said, I won’t shy away from taking that kind of a job. So I got a job on the Fifth Circuit.
CB: And during that tenure, it was in the Sixties you said, you ordered the integration of the state universities in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
ET: That’s right.
CB: As judge you really did a great deal for integration, didn’t you?
ET: You asked if I knew Martin Luther King.
CB: Yes, I did.
ET: I was elected to the Board of Trustees of Morehouse College and Tuskegee University, historically black colleges, and on the board of each of those Martin Luther King, Sr. was a member at the same time I was. Actually, after I was appointed to the bench I, of course, did a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr., but I never actually met him. We attended the dinner given in his honor the year he received the Noble Peace Prize ….
ET: So I met him and spoke to him but actually on the Court I wrote many opinions which supported him.
CB: Yes. I’d like to just for a minute say that Jimmy Carter said that you were a “beacon of light of judicial temperament, of personal courage, and of commitment of the finest elements of justice in this country at a time when it was not easy to do.” President Carter said, “He’s always been a hero of mine.” That’s you Judge Tuttle. And another lawyer, a NAACP lawyer, Constance Baker Motley, said this of you, “He brought the deep South kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.” I think that’s a wonderful quote, and I think what you did must have been very courageous. Were you, at any time, threatened or intimidated?
ET: Not on account of those actions. Some of the judges who participated in desegregating on the Fifth Circuit were John Winston, who was the man who got me on court and later came on the court fortunately, and John Brown of Houston, and Judge Richard Reeves of Montgomery. Richard Reeves was a Southerner so he had a much harder time with his friends with actions he took than many the rest of us, also in the smaller town of Montgomery. He was insulted and booed and people in his own church who wouldn’t sit on the same seat with him, and they painted his son’s grave with red paint, and that sort of thing.
CB: He suffered the most.
ET: Yes, he suffered. I was fortunate that in Atlanta the editor of the Constitution, Ralph McGill, was a very liberal editor and he supported our actions and so did the Catholic archbishop, I can’t recall his name…
CB: I am sure you will later.
ET: … and the rabbi of the Jewish temple there was very helpful in supporting our actions.
CB: I wanted to skip another couple of [Laugh] centuries, not centuries, but generations and bring you up to the time when you were 87 and I hear you had a triple bypass operation. Is that right at the age of 87?
ET: That was so unimportant I’ve forgotten all about it.
CB: Well, what’s important is the fact that you got out of the hospital in September and by Thanksgiving you were out playing golf again.
ET: That’s right.
CB: I think that’s pretty sensational [Laugh]
Tuttle (son): I think to be correct he was 89. They asked me, his son and I’m a doctor, they said, you know, this is a big operation and he’s 89 years old, and I said, “Oh, he’s not really 89”, but I think that was his chronological age, but he did get back to playing golf.
CB: Well, I see you now and you look great. You certainly have total recall, which is remarkable, and your wife’s a lovely as ever.
ET: Thank you.
CB: I’m going to take you back now again, a little bit, to Punahou. What were some of the other memories there that you can recall, to ask you just cold, like that, is a little difficult, but were there any events that took place that time other than the flying one that you would like to talk about?
ET: Well, during the years at the Oahu College I played the King in “Love’s Labor Lost,” and I remember the glee club as I recall it, and I was business manager of the Oahuan (yearbook) my last year.
CB: You were in other sports, too weren’t you?
ET: Yes, I tried to play football, I was on what they called the third team, and during scrimmage one afternoon I tried to tackle Bill Ingram who weighed about 200 pounds and woke up the next morning. Not quite true, but almost.
CB: [laugh] Almost true. [Laugh]
ET: In those days we didn’t even have helmets …
CB: It’s amazing.
ET: … then I took up cross country running which was not quite as ….
ET: …. dangerous, is right.
CB: Who was the head master at that time?
ET: Arthur Griffiths.
CB: And about how many students were there in the Academy and also Oahu College?
ET: In my Oahu College class there were 38 students, let’s see, four times that would be about 200 students in Oahu College.
CB: Much has changed in the near-century of your life, Judge Tuttle. From 20 young boys, the Outrigger Canoe Club has grown to 4,100 members. Punahou’s enrollment of about 300 students is now more than 10 times than number. But your outlook on life is as young as ever. Thank you for sharing with us, Judge Tuttle.