Interview with Judge Griffin B. Bell, June 15, 2004

Collection: Richard B. Russell Library Oral History Documentary Collection

Dublin Core


Bill Shipp interviews Griffin Bell about his career and his tenure as U.S. Attorney General (1977-1979). Bell comments on the integration of Georgia schools and the University of Georgia, the Kennedy presidential campaign in Georgia, and Martin Luther King's releases from jail in Georgia. Griffin discusses the abolished county unit system and on the E.F. Hutton and Exxon Valdez cases. Bell recalls his time as an attorney supporting the civil rights movement, his relationship with Charlie Block, and the confirmation of Judge Alex Lawrence. He reflects on the estrangement between President Johnson and Richard B. Russell and his own confirmation as attorney general. Bell discusses his time as attorney general under President Carter, attending the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and his support of President George H.W. Bush. Bell also weighs in on the Iran-Contra affair, his role in the Florida Election Controversy, and the Watergate source Deep Throat.

Griffin Boyette Bell was born in 1918, in Sumter County, Georgia. After attending Georgia Southwestern College for a time, Bell left to work in his father’s tire store in Americus. He was drafted in 1942, serving in the Army Quartermaster Corps and the Transportation Corps at Fort Lee, Virginia. Upon his discharge in 1946, he enrolled in Mercer University Law School, and became city attorney of Warner Robins before graduating or passing the Georgia bar exam. Following his graduation he worked in Savannah and Rome before joining in 1953 the lawfirm that would become King and Spalding in Atlanta. His interest in politics led to his appointment to chief of staff for Governor Ernest Vandiver and his subsequent involvement with the Sibley Commission, organized to oversee desegregation of Georgia’s public schools. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Bell to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and he spent 14 years on the bench, returning to King and Spalding only to be nominated U.S. Attorney General by Jimmy Carter in 1976. He served in that position from 1977 to 1979, returning to Atlanta to practice law. He led investigations of E.F. Hutton in 1985 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and also served on the Commission of Federal Ethics Law Reform at the request of President George H.W. Bush.

Murphy, Reg. Uncommon Sense: The Achievement of Griffin Bell (Atlanta: Longstreet, 1999).






Oral History Item Type Metadata


84 minutes


Griffin Bell and Bill Shipp, “Interview with Judge Griffin B. Bell, June 15, 2004,” UGA Special Collections Libraries Oral Histories, accessed September 20, 2020,