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John F. Kennedy and the Civil Rights Movement


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 03:04 PM

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy gave a series of interviews with Anthony Lewis and John Bartlow Martin about his brother’s political career for the “John F. Kennedy Library” on the understanding that they would not be published in his lifetime. In fact, the interviews did not appear until the publication of “Robert Kennedy in his Own Words” in 1988.

In these interviews RFK is very honest about their attitude towards the subject of civil rights. For example, he admits that JFK voted against the 1957 Civil Rights Act. He confesses that because of their privileged life-styles, they only black people they knew when they were young were servants. In an interview with Anthony Lewis (4th December, 1964), RFK explains that they were not interested in the subject of civil rights: “We weren’t thinking of the Negroes in Mississippi or Alabama – what should be done for them. We were thinking of what needed to be done in Massachusetts.”

http://www.spartacus...USAkennedyJ.htm

http://www.spartacus...USAkennedyR.htm

This was a problem for the JFK in the 1960 Presidential Election. RFK admits that “Negroes… were traditionally Democratic; but they had reservations about Senator Kennedy and they didn’t think badly of Nixon.” RFK claims that Harris Wofford, who was special adviser to Martin Luther King, later became the Special Assistant to President Kennedy for Civil Rights, played an important role in trying to persuade civil rights leaders to trust JFK.

http://www.spartacus.../JFKwofford.htm

However, RFK admitted in these interviews that although JFK wanted the support of African-Americans, it was even more important not to lose the votes of white people in the Deep South. RFK went to see white leaders in the Deep South during the election campaign to promise them that the Kennedy’s would not pass civil rights legislation. This included Governor John Patterson of Alabama, who had become a personal friend of RFK in 1959.

This friendship was always going to be a problem for the Kennedys. As Attorney General of Alabama (1955-58), Patterson banned the NAACP from operating in the state and blocked the black community's boycotts in Tuskegee and Montgomery. With backing from the Ku Klux Klan, Patterson defeated a young George Wallace, who was backed by the NAACP in the Democratic primaries and was elected Governor in 1958. Paterson’s defeat of George Wallace is often credited with turning Wallace from a civil rights supporter to an ardent segregationist.

RFK had also made promises about JFK’s refusal to push for civil rights legislation to Jim Eastland (Mississippi), John McClellan (Arkansas), Sam Ervin (North Carolina) and Olin Johnson (South Carolina). They were obviously convinced of RFK’s honesty about this matter as they all voted for him when he was nominated as Attorney General.

RFK points out in an interview with John Bartlow Martin (1st March 1964) that he played a major role in getting the support of the racists in the Deep South: “I spoke a lot in the South, my area of chief responsibility even as campaign manager. I had a special responsibility in the South, a lot of friends in the South. And there was also the fact that I had worked against corruption in labor unions. A lot of them thought, Well, he must be against labor unions generally.”

After his election as president, JFK, as a favour to Martin Luther King, appointed Harris Wofford as his Special Assistant for Civil Rights. Wofford also served as chairman of the Subcabinet Group on Civil Rights.

Civil rights became a major issue in 1961. Transport segregation continued in some parts of the Deep South, so the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) began to organize Freedom Rides. After three days of training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they travelled through the Deep South. On 4th May, James Farmer, national director of CORE, and thirteen volunteers left Washington for Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was destroyed and riders on another were attacked by men armed with clubs, bricks, iron pipes and knives.

During the Freedom Riders campaign RFK was phoning Jim Eastland “seven or eight or twelve times each day, about what was going to happen when they got to Mississippi and what needed to be done. That was finally decided was that there wouldn’t be any violence: as they came over the border, they’d lock them all up.” When they were arrested RFK issued a statement as Attorney General criticizing the activities of the Freedom Riders.

RFK sent John Seigenthaler to accompany the Freedom Riders. In Birmingham the passengers were greeted by members of the Ku Klux Klan with further acts of violence. At Montgomery, the state capital, a white mob beat the riders with chains and axe handles. Seigenthaler was knocked unconscious when he went to the aid of one of the passengers. The Ku Klux Klan hoped that this violent treatment would stop other young people from taking part in freedom rides. However, over the next six months over a thousand people took part in freedom rides.

JFK and RFK were now in a difficult position. With the local authorities unwilling to protect the Freedom Riders, JFK decided to send Byron White and 500 federal marshals from the North to do the job. RFK explained in his interview with Anthony Lewis: “I had this long relationship with John Patterson (the governor of Alabama). He was our great pal in the South. So he was doubly exercised at me – who was his friend and pal – to have involved him with suddenly surrounding this church with marshals and having marshals descend with no authority, he felt, on his cities… He couldn’t understand why the Kennedys were doing this to him.”

http://www.spartacus...USAfreedomR.htm

JFK and RFK were strongly opposed to the strategy being used by Martin Luther King. In an interview with Anthony Lewis (6th December, 1964) he claimed that “there was a lot of feeling that the Negroes didn’t know exactly what they wanted and that they were not very well led”. This is a ridiculous statement to make, especially as JFK and RFK had no problem working out what the racists in the Deep South wanted from the administration.

RFK admitted to Anthony Lewis (22nd December, 1964) that in 1961 he came to the conclusion that King was closely associated with members of the American Communist Party and he asked J. Edgar Hoover “to make an intensive investigation of him, to see who his companions were and also to see what other activities he was involved in… They mad that intensive investigation, and I gave them also permission to put a tap on his phone.”
Hoover reported to RFK that was a “Marxist” and that he was very close to Stanley Levison, who was a “secret member of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party”. Hoover informed King that Levison, who was a legal adviser to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was a member of Communist Party. However, when King refused to dismiss Levison, the Kennedys became convinced that King was himself a communist. We now know that Hoover was lying about Levison. Recently released FBI files show that they knew that Levison had broken away from the Communist Party in 1957. In fact, it is possible that by 1960 Levison had been turned and was working as a spy on the civil rights movement. He was questioned twice by the FBI, on 9th February and 4th March, 1960. He also testified at an executive session of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, on 30th April 1962. This testimony is still classified.
RFK admitted in an interview with Anthony Lewis (4th December, 1964) that he told Richard Russell, the leader in the Senate of the Deep South politicians fighting against civil rights legislation, that Martin Luther King was a Marxist. According to RFK: “He (Russell) said that he felt that Martin Luther King wasn’t a Communist. He was too smart to be a Communist.” RFK admitted that Russell was unwilling to use this information in a smear campaign against King.
JFK sacked Harris Wofford in 1962 as the Special Assistant to President Kennedy for Civil Rights because of his support for the Freedom Riders and the protests being led by Martin Luther King. RFK told Anthony Lewis (4th December, 1964): “Harris Wofford was very emotionally involved in all these matters and was rather in some areas a slight madman. I didn’t want to have someone in the Civil Rights Division who was dealing not from fact but was dealing from emotion… I wanted advice and ideas from somebody who had the same interests and motivation that I did.”

While it is true that JFK kept his promise to the racist politicians in the Deep South that he would not introduce civil rights legislation, he began to take a more enlightened view by 1963. This is also true of his views on the Cold War and the oil depletion tax. It has been argued that his relationship with Mary Pinchot Meyer may have been responsible for this change in political consciousness. Others have argued that it was the Cuban Missile Crisis that moved him to the left.

http://www.spartacus...k/JFKmeyerM.htm

The fine speech he made on television on the issue of civil rights on 11th June 1963 is often quoted in support of this more “enlightened” view on race. It included the following passage: “I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public - hotels, restaurants and theatres, retail stores and similar establishments. This seems to me to be an elementary right. I'm also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence.”

According to RFK the speech was mainly written by Ted Sorensen, based on ideas given to him by JFK. Sorenson was always the most liberal of his advisers. RFK claims that most members of staff, including “Kenny O’Donnell and Larry O’Brien and really, generally everybody in the White House was opposed to that.” The main opponent was Lyndon Johnson who argued against it on ideological grounds. Others agreed with the sentiments in the speech but believed it was impossible to get the legislation passed. RFK admitted that: “He (JFK) always felt that maybe that was going to be his political swan song.”

http://www.spartacus...JFKsorenson.htm

#2 John Simkin

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 04:12 PM

James Zwerg was one of the Freedom Riders criticized by Robert Kennedy. In his hospital bed he pointed out: "Segregation must be stopped. It must be broken down. Those of us on the Freedom Ride will continue. No matter what happens we are dedicated to this. We will take the beatings. We are willing to accept death. We are going to keep going until we can ride anywhere in the South."



#3 J. Raymond Carroll

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Posted 02 April 2011 - 02:37 PM

In these interviews RFK is very honest about their attitude towards the subject of civil rights.....RFK explains that they were not interested in the subject of civil rights: “We weren’t thinking of the Negroes in Mississippi or Alabama – what should be done for them. We were thinking of what needed to be done in Massachusetts.”


I'd say RFK is being unduly modest here. Once JFK began running for national office, he made ending racial discrimination one of his goals as president. His campaign speeches often reflected that, and of course his phone calls to Martin Luther King & Coretta King, when King was arrested, were widely publicised during the campaign.

According to Richard Goodwin, JFK's FIRST OFFICIAL ACT as president was to order Goodwin to look into racial discrimination in the Coast Guard.
During the inaugural, JFK noticed that the Coast Guard marching unit had no black faces. JFK gave this order immediately after being sworn in, giving it a special symbolic significance. I thought it deserves mention in any fair discussion of JFK and civil rights.

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#4 Robert Morrow

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    ALSO ===>

    I would bet my house, my car, and my bank account that the Clintons & Buddy Young sent 3 Arkansas state trooper goons to beat the living hell out of and nearly murder Gary Johnson (the lawyer for Larry Nichols & neighbor of Gennifer Flowers) on June 26, 1992. They did this because Gary Johnson had security camera videotapes of Bill Clinton often entering Gennifer's condo. The Clintons were denying the Bill/Gennifer affair at that time. The Clinton thugs then stole the tapes. Watch the "New Clinton Chronicles" and go to minute 48 for the Gary Johnson interview.

Posted 04 April 2011 - 07:23 AM

After George Wallace lost to Patterson in the 1958 Alabama Democratic primary for Governor, Wallace said "I was out-niggered, and I will never be out-niggered again." Wallace then went on to lead a defense of segregation in its death throes. Wallace was a sharp politician, by the 1980's he was getting a signficant, though not majority, share of the black vote to win Democratic primaries and the governorship again. Not many Southern segregationist politicians from states with large black populations were able to to that. Sen. James Eastland, the "Voice of the White South," sure could not do that: Mississippi black Democrats gave him his pink slip in 1978 when they told Eastland that they would not support him in the Democrat primary which they dominated.

============================================
"We now know that Hoover was lying about Levison. Recently released FBI files show that they knew that Levison had broken away from the Communist Party in 1957. In fact, it is possible that by 1960 Levison had been turned and was working as a spy on the civil rights movement. He was questioned twice by the FBI, on 9th February and 4th March, 1960. He also testified at an executive session of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, on 30th April 1962. This testimony is still classified."

I think it is reasonable to assume that the reason the Levinson testimony on 4/30/62 is STILL CLASSIFIED - which I think is extremely important - is that it would embarass a lot of people and government institutions if it were released. Some needs to get that released.

Edited by Robert Morrow, 04 April 2011 - 07:26 AM.


#5 Daniel Meyer

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 06:07 PM

If JFK's civil rights policies seem tepid from the perspective of 50 years later, I think it is good to remember how radical it seemed at the time to the defenders of the segregated status quo.

I can recall southern whites of the generation who grew up in segregation -- including educating ones I didn't usually hear regularly spouting racist bile-- talking about Kennedy more than a decade after his death, deriding his policies; I remember JFK being described as (please pardon my accurate transcription of the odious language) "shoving niggers down our throats".

I've been to more than one Black household here in New Orleans that still has a photo of JFK on display along with MLK.

#6 Robert Morrow

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    ALSO ===>

    I would bet my house, my car, and my bank account that the Clintons & Buddy Young sent 3 Arkansas state trooper goons to beat the living hell out of and nearly murder Gary Johnson (the lawyer for Larry Nichols & neighbor of Gennifer Flowers) on June 26, 1992. They did this because Gary Johnson had security camera videotapes of Bill Clinton often entering Gennifer's condo. The Clintons were denying the Bill/Gennifer affair at that time. The Clinton thugs then stole the tapes. Watch the "New Clinton Chronicles" and go to minute 48 for the Gary Johnson interview.

Posted 05 April 2011 - 05:52 AM

If JFK's civil rights policies seem tepid from the perspective of 50 years later, I think it is good to remember how radical it seemed at the time to the defenders of the segregated status quo.

I can recall southern whites of the generation who grew up in segregation -- including educating ones I didn't usually hear regularly spouting racist bile-- talking about Kennedy more than a decade after his death, deriding his policies; I remember JFK being described as (please pardon my accurate transcription of the odious language) "shoving niggers down our throats".

I've been to more than one Black household here in New Orleans that still has a photo of JFK on display along with MLK.


Black people of the era 1960-1963 were EXTREMELY AWARE that John Kennedy was pushing the ball forward on civil rights. Take off your hindsight 20/20 googles and step into the minds of blacks, whites and other Americans in the early 1960's. Very simply, many Southern whites HATED the Kennedys for their civil rights policies, many black Americans LOVED the Kennedys for the civil rights policies.

I, too, have come across the pictures of MLK and John Kennedy in Southern blacks homes. I suspect those pictures were in hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of homes. But you don't see any pictures of Lyndon Johnson in those black homes do you? I have not run across one. But Kennedys yes. In fact after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act Lyndon Johnson himself went into a black family's home and saw a picture of JOHN KENNEDY and NOT himself, the sociopath in chief; LBJ typically was stunned and taken aback. In fact he told Doris Kearns Goodwin (his girlfriend/groupy/biographer who LBJ asked to marry him) that he felt hurt that his picture was not up there after all he had done for civil rights.

My response to that is: yeah, like murdering John Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson's assuming the JFK civil rights mantle was his ticket out of the JFK assassination and the sop that he had to give to liberals, many of whom suspected his role in a coup d'etat (imho).

Edited by Robert Morrow, 05 April 2011 - 05:53 AM.


#7 John Simkin

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 05:29 PM


In these interviews RFK is very honest about their attitude towards the subject of civil rights.....RFK explains that they were not interested in the subject of civil rights: “We weren’t thinking of the Negroes in Mississippi or Alabama – what should be done for them. We were thinking of what needed to be done in Massachusetts.”


I'd say RFK is being unduly modest here. Once JFK began running for national office, he made ending racial discrimination one of his goals as president. His campaign speeches often reflected that, and of course his phone calls to Martin Luther King & Coretta King, when King was arrested, were widely publicised during the campaign.


RFK also petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to draft regulations to end racial segregation in bus terminals. The ICC was reluctant but in September 1961 it issued the necessary orders and it went into effect on 1st November.

#8 John Bevilaqua

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 04:47 PM

Senator James Eastland as head of The Draper Genetics Committee and a proponent of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission as well as Chairman of SISS will one day be seen
as one of the main Oswald legend builders as well. From the Clinton, LA voter registration drive attended by Oswald as part of SISS to the Klein's Sporting Goods purchase by Oswald of
the Manlicher-Carcano, Oswald's connections to the eventual JFK hit were solidified by Eastland and Draper. Plus Eastland gave Edwin Walker carte blanche in Mississippi during
the Ole Miss riots. The flow of funds from Draper to the MissSovComm happened right after the murder of Medgar Evers, Jr., and right before the murders of the choir girls in Birmingham and just before the disappearance of The Freedom Riders in Mississippi. Why has this info been almost totally ignored?

#9 John Simkin

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Posted 09 April 2011 - 07:48 AM

If JFK's civil rights policies seem tepid from the perspective of 50 years later, I think it is good to remember how radical it seemed at the time to the defenders of the segregated status quo.


That is of course true. However, I prefer my politicians to have vision and to see beyond the prejudices of the time. JFK's supporters have claimed for him more than he deserves. As I have said before, I do believe that after the Cuban Missile Crisis he did move to the left, but before that, he was just your typical Cold War politician.

#10 J. Raymond Carroll

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 01:20 AM

JFK's supporters have claimed for him more than he deserves.


JFK was a prince among men, and most people -- adults, old people and even young children -- throughout the world recognized that fact AT THE TIME.

Not everyone did, of course, and I gather, John, that you were in the minority even then, like my old drinking buddy, Christopher Hitchins, a British left-winger who also claims that JFK was a war-monger.

I prefer my politicians to have vision and to see beyond the prejudices of the time.


THen by those criteria I nominate JFK as the best example of a great leader in the history of great powers

But please feel free to tell us which leader of a great power in the history of the world has shown greater wisdom under pressure than JFK




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