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Janis F. Kearney

Born in Gould, Arkansas, Janis Kearney was one of eighteen children of parents Ethel V. Kearney and James Kearney. After graduating from Gould High School in 1971, Kearney attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, earning a B.A. in journalism in 1976. She continued on with her education while working, earning thirty hours towards a M.P.A. from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

After earning her B.A. degree, Kearney was hired by the State of Arkansas in 1978, where she spent three years as a program manager for the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program, and another six years as the director of information for the national headquarters of the Migrant Student Records Transfer System. Leaving government work, Kearney purchased the Arkansas State Press newspaper from Daisey Bates in 1987. She published the weekly paper for five years before joining the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in 1992, where she served as director of minority media outreach. The following year, Kearney joined President Bill Clinton’s transition team. She began with the White House Media Affairs Office before being appointed as the director of public affairs and communications for the U.S. Small Business Administration, where she worked until 1995. That year, Kearney became the first presidential diarist in U.S. history, chronicling President Clinton’s day-to-day life. She remained in this capacity until President Clinton left office. Kearney came under scrutiny during the Starr Committee proceedings when her diary and testimony were subpoenaed. No wrongdoing was found.

After President Clinton left office, Kearney was named a fellow at Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute in 2001, where she began work on a book about President Clinton entitled Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton-From Hope to Harlem. Kearney and her husband, former White House director of presidential personnel Bob Nash, are no strangers to the issues of race that still plague America. They were racially profiled by police following a car-jacking of a vehicle similar to theirs while still employed at the White House. Kearney served as the Chancellor’s Lecturer at the City Colleges of Chicago and continued her DuBois Institute writing project, as well as her work on Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir until moving with her husband and son to Arkansas.

Kearney was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 7, 2003.

Accession Number

A2003.262

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/7/2003 |and| 12/3/2003

Last Name

Kearney

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

F.

Schools

Iowa State University

Gould High School

University of Arkansas

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Janis

Birth City, State, Country

Gould

HM ID

KEA01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Depends on audience

Favorite Season

Fall

Speaker Bureau Notes

Works from home, willing to be flexible with her schedule for speaking arrangements.

State

Arkansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

New Orleans, Louisiana

Favorite Quote

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Arkansas

Birth Date

9/29/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Little Rock

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Collard Greens

Short Description

Presidential diarist and presidential appointee Janis F. Kearney (1953 - ) was President Clinton's personal diarist.

Employment

Arkansas State Press

Clinton-Gore Presidential Campaign

U.S. Small Business Administration

Favorite Color

Sapphire Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Janis Kearney's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney describes her family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney describes her parents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney talks about working in the fields with her siblings as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Janis Kearney describes her father, James Kearney

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Janis Kearney talks about her childhood aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Janis Kearney describes her childhood community and church

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Janis Kearney describes her grade school years

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Janis Kearney describes her grade school experiences in Gould, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney talks about her experience at Gould High School before and after integration

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney talks about race relations at Gould High School after integration

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney describes her high school activities at Gould High School

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney describes her experience at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, pt.1

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney describes her experience at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, pt.2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney talks about her first marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney talks about working in CETA while a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney describes the CETA program

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney talks about her work at the Migrant Education Program

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney explains why she joined Daisy Bates at the Arkansas State Press

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney describes her mentor, Daisy Bates

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney describes her father's political initiative and his admiration for Daisy Bates

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney talks about purchasing and running the Arkansas State Press

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney talks about the challenge of running a local paper while raising her son

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney describes her efforts to improve the Arkansas State Press

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney talks about meeting Bill Clinton and becoming the Director of Minority Media Outreach in the White House

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney describes her role as the Director of Minority Media Outreach during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney describes working on her first presidential campaign for Bill Clinton

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney describes a memorable moment from Bill Clinton's presidential campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney talks about her experience at the Democratic National Convention in 1992

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney talks about challenges during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney talks about her interactions with HistoryMaker Avis LaVelle and Dee Dee Myers as a press officer in Bill Clinton's presidential campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney describes different roles in a presidential campaign and how she got hired

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney describes the transition period before President Bill Clinton entered the White House

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney talks about working on Bill Clinton's inaugural committee

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney shares her personal experience of Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney describes moving into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney describes her early days in the Media Affairs Office

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Janis Kearney talks about working with Jeff Eller during her first year at the Media Affairs Office

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney describes her transition to the U.S. Small Business Administration

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney talks about her husband, HistoryMaker Bob Nash, who also worked for the White House and in federal government

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney talks about background checks on presidential appointees

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney describes her work at the U.S. Small Business Administration

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney talks about her role as President Bill Clinton's personal diarist

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney remembers when President Bill Clinton bestowed Congressional Medals of Honor upon the Little Rock Nine

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney talks about African Americans appointed by President Bill Clinton

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Janis Kearney talks about the impact of the Monica Lewinsky Scandal

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Janis Kearney talks about traveling with President Clinton on his 1998 trip to Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney talks about moving to Chicago where she focused on writing

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney describes the significant events in her life that are chronicled in her memoir

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Janis Kearney reflects upon her family, her values, and her volunteer work

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Janis Kearney describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Janis Kearney reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Janis Kearney reflects upon her hopes and regrets

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Janis Kearney describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Janis Kearney narrates her photographs, pt.1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Janis Kearney narrates her photographs, pt.2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

4$5

DATitle
Janis Kearney describes her mentor, Daisy Bates
Janis Kearney talks about her role as President Bill Clinton's personal diarist
Transcript
For those of us who may not know Daisy Bates except as a name, an icon if you will, The Civil Rights Movement, would you talk to us about Daisy Bates and her influence and impact on you?$$Oh, God. She was, she was definitely my mentor. The first time I met Daily Bates, I was sixteen years old. And, the way I met her was that I was a junior in high school and I heard that she needed someone to work for her. And, she didn't have the newspaper at this time. She was running a self-help program in a little town called Mitchellville. And, my father drove me down to her office, and I was gonna interview for her help, her clerical help. And, I went in and I saw this woman who I thought was gorgeous and, you know, little petite woman that had such a presence, wonderful presence. And, she said, "Okay, can I help you?" And, I told her I was there to interview for her job that I heard she had. She said, "Okay." She had a little typewriter, manual typewriter and she asked me to type. She gave me a sheet a paper and asked me to type. And, gave me a book, I don't know, a dictionary or something, it wasn't (laughter)--it was something that she just wanted me to type for a few minutes. And, I did. And, then she came back and said, "Okay, it time." So, I gave her the sheet of paper and it was filled with mistakes. And, she said, "Well, you don't fit. You don't fit. But, you should come back. You take typing. You go, go back to school and you take typing, and come back to me next summer." And, I didn't come back to her next summer, but I never forgot that. And, my father had always told us, you know, about the role she had played in the, in the 1957 integration crisis [Little Rock Crisis], so I knew what a great woman she was. So, I never forgot that. At least, I had that opportunity to meet her. So, when I find out that she had open--reopened the newspaper, I had kinda kept up with her, what she was doing and all. But, she was, she's a great woman. She passed a couple of years ago. But, she--I think a lot of people considered her our Civil Rights activist; Little Rocks' and Arkansas' Civil Rights activist. She, she sacrificed a lot to try to make things different for Arkansas. And, you know, there is no telling what she could have done, or what she could have been if she had giving up on Arkansas, but she didn't. And, we have, you know, we're all very, very, grateful to her.$$What did your father [James Kearney] tell you specifically? What do you recall him telling you about Mrs. Bates, and the time in which she was so active?$$Basically, about her, he told us that she was one of the women who, she was a woman--and back in those days my father was definitely a southern Baptist. So, he thought it was great that this woman had taken such a strong stance, and had played such an important role in the whole integration crisis. My father was very outspoken when it came to race relations and integration. So, he, he did talk about the 1957 integration crisis for a long time. He thought it was great the, you know, that we were able to do that in Arkansas, because he always thought we were backwards when it came to the races. We just didn't move forward as fast as we should have. So, he was very proud to have someone like Daisy Bates in Arkansas who made a difference.$What is the difference between a personal diarist to a president and the White House diarist?$$The difference is the White House diarist is a diarist for whoever comes in and everyone that comes in. And, she's more a diarist for the President, not the President, but the White House rather than a President. My job was being diarist to President [Bill] Clinton. To chronicle his presidency. To document what transpired during his presidency. I was brought on for that specific role.$$And, had there ever been a presidential diarist before?$$No. No, this was the first time that a President had hired someone to come on as a personal diarist.$$And, what does a personal diarist do?$$Basically, my job entailed chronicling on a day-to-day basis. Whatever happened in the presidency? What were the issues? What kinds of things were going on? What kinds of meetings were he having? How, I mean, who was coming in to meet with him and what were the issues they were discussing. And, I was also given the leeway to do anecdotal documentation. Things that nobody else would know except that there were somebody sitting there when he--when Chelsea [Clinton] walked in and they danced around the Oval Office. Or, he was complaining about his, you know, something had happened and, you know, it has nothing to do with the presidency. But, this was Bill Clinton saying something that might be of interest to somebody later on.$$Bill Clinton, and then Bill Clinton as the President.$$Yes.$$Well, then does that mean that you--well, how does that work? Literally, how does it work for a personal presidential diarist? Do you get to sit in on all the meetings?$$No. I got to sit in on a great number of meetings. The only meetings that I didn't, that I did not sit in on, on a regular basis, was the Foreign Affairs meetings. I could go into those meetings and I was there up until a certain time and then I left. What they call the top of the meeting. I was there until the top of the meeting was over and then I left.$$And, what is the top of the meeting, describe that?$$That's the press. That's the whole piece that goes to the press. That's when the President is greeting his--the people that are coming in to talk about the, the International issues. And, the press is there and they ask him questions about, you know, what does he think about this issue, and then they ask the visitor, if it's the king of, you know, Egypt or whoever. So, I was there for that and then I'd leave. And, then they really talk about some really top, top secret things that I wouldn't be--$$Cleared for--$$--privy to.$$What about the special events? The social events at the White House?$$I was able to go to most of those. Yes.$$And, those are working sessions or were you there--$$Working sessions. I mean, I was there to observe. I was there in my role. But, I could enjoy them as well. But, I would, when I'd go back either that night or the next day, I would document what happened.$$And, how long were you in that position?$$Until he left. And, actually until after he left. I was in his Transition Office for the six months after, after he left Office.$$And, the Transition Office was Washington [D.C.] or New York?$$Washington.$$Okay, for six months?$$Um-hum.$$Being involved as a personal diarist of a President, what does it feel like? And, something that had never been before, something that this President created?$$It was, it was a very special feeling and, you know, everybody let me know that it was a very special job. I felt very proud that he had chosen me to be his diarist. Because it had to be a person that he felt comfortable with. A person that he felt very confident in. Yeah so, I felt really good about that, and I took my job very seriously.$$Do you know how he came to that decision? I mean, was there a short list of one, or a short list of three or five?$$I have no idea. I know I was not the only person that was on that list. But, I don't know how many people was on the list.$$What did your family say?$$They couldn't believe it. I mean, nobody had heard of the role first of all. After they asked, what is it? They were all very proud, very proud.