President Kennedy and Black Civil Rights


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President Kennedy and Black Civil Rights

  1. 1. President Kennedy • John Fitzgerald Kennedy came from a wealthy Irish-American family. • In Boston, the family had been looked down on by rich families who saw their Irish background as lacking ‘class’. • The Kennedy’s hoped that New York would allow them to access high society. • This introduction to bigotry and discrimination should have given Kennedy some kind of understanding of what life was like for African Americans. • However, many Historians argue that the progress made in Civil Rights during the Kennedy administration was largely in response to crises. • Although the President grew to be a strong supporter of Civil Rights on occasions he also accused the movement of trying to achieve unrealistic goals, too quickly.
  2. 2. Kennedy before Presidency • In 1957 Kennedy voted against Eisenhower’s 1957 Civil Rights Act. • The Act protected the Negro right to vote. • The Democratic party were sharply divided into pro- segregation and anti- segregation sides. • The party leadership decided to vote against the Bill rather than see the party torn apart. • Kennedy had aspirations to be the Democrats next presidential candidate in the 1960 election and agreed to the plan.
  3. 3. The 1960 Election Campaign 1. During the 1960 election campaign Kennedy made it clear in his speeches that he was a supporter of civil rights. 2. Historians are divided as to why he was ‘suddenly’ converted. 3. Some argue that Kennedy recognised that he needed the ‘Black Vote’ if he was to beat Nixon. 4. Kennedy said in his campaign speeches that discrimination stained America as it led the west’s moral stance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  4. 4. Kennedy and King• On May 4, 1960 Martin Luther King was arrested in Georgia for driving with an out-of-state licence.• Kennedy’s call of sympathy to Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta, when King was in prison was well publicised by the Democrats.
  5. 5. The 1960 election debate• The Kennedy-Nixon debates were the first televised debates in US History.• Viewers of the debates believed that the young, good-looking Kennedy had defeated Nixon (who appeared to be unshaven and also sweated a lot!).• Radio listeners believed Nixon had won.• Kennedy won the election by 0.1% of the vote. He 1960: Kennedy versus Nixon gained 3 out of 4 black votes.
  6. 6. The impact of discrimination on African-AmericansKennedy had promised in his campaign speeches to act swiftly if elected.The 1960 report by the Civil Rights Commission made it very clear just how badly discrimination had affected the African American community.• 57% of African American housing was judged to be unacceptable• African American life expectancy was 7 years less than whites• African American infant mortality was twice as great as whites• African Americans found it all but impossible to get mortgages from mortgage lenders. .
  7. 7. 1961: Little Presidential ActionRegardless of his promises there were three reasons Kennedy achieved little for Civil Rights in his first year1. He was focused on international tensions with Russia.2. He knew that there was no great public support for such legislation. Opinion polls indicated that in 1960 and 1961, civil rights was at the bottom of the list when people were asked “What needs to be done in America to advance society ?“3. Kennedy was also concentrating his domestic attention on improving health care and helping the lowest wage earners of all races.
  8. 8. What did Kennedy do to advance the cause of civil rights?• He put pressure on federal government organisations to employ more negroes.• The FBI only employed 48 African Americans out of a total of 13,649 and these 48 were nearly all chauffeurs.
  9. 9. What did Kennedy do to advance the cause of civil rights?Kennedy did more than any president before him to have more African Americans appointed to federal government posts.In total, he appointed 40 to senior federal positions including five as federal judges.
  10. 10. Brothers in arms Kennedy appointed his brother (Robert) as Attorney General which put him at the head of the Justice Department. Their tactic was to use the law courts as a way of enforcing already passed civil rights legislation. No southern court could really argue against laws that were already in print!
  11. 11. Law suits against southern officials Altogether Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department brought 57 law suits against local officials for obstructing African Americans who wished to register their right to vote.
  12. 12. Enforcing Brown in the SouthLocal officials from Louisiana were threatened with prison when they refused to hand over money to newly desegregated schools.Such a threat prompted others in Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans to hand over finance without too many problems
  13. 13. Even Football…. Kennedy was very good at what would appear to be small gestures. In American football, the Washington Redskins were the last of the big teams to refuse to sign African Americans. Their stadium was federally funded and Kennedy ordered that they were no longer allowed to use the stadium and would have to find a new one. They integrated.
  14. 14. Was Kennedy pushed into action?1. The reaction of the KKK to the Freedom Rides of 1961 was shown on national television and clearly shocked the public.2. However, 63% of people polled believed that the Freedom Rides should not have taken place as they were too provocative.3. Kennedy condemned the Riders for “a lack of patriotism” at a time of international tension over the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  15. 15. Kennedy’s take actionIn Montgomery, Mississippi the Freedom Riders were violently assaulted.They gathered in a church and Martin Luther King Jnr addressed the crowd.A mob of several thousand angry whites gathered around the church, setting fire to cars.Martin Luther King called Bobby Kennedy at 3 am to explain that the congregation was trapped inside. Kennedy called Governor immediately and threatened to send in Federal troops. Governor Patterson bowed to pressure and sent in state troops to break the crowd up.
  16. 16. Voter Registration in the early 1960s Although the Constitution guaranteed negroes the right to vote in individual states like Mississippi there were significant barriers: 1) A Poll Tax had to be paid if you wanted to vote. Most blacks could not afford it. 2) A tough written examination had to be passed (only blacks would have to sit it). 3) Police arrested hundreds of demonstrators and activists. 4) Employees fired negroes who voted. 5) Landlords would evict the families of black voters. 6) Civil rights activists were beaten and killed if they attempted to register black voters.
  17. 17. Little action on Voter RegistrationKennedy’s administration did nothing about voter registration in its first year in office.Kennedy claimed that it was the duty of the states to reform this area and that it was not a federal issue.Here Kennedy was no doubt attempting to win the support of the southern states who believed that federal power was too big and trespassing in too many areas.
  18. 18. James Meredith • Kennedy only became voluntarily active when James Meredith forced his hand. • In September 1962, James Meredith applied to the University of Mississippi. • He was turned down. • Here was a man who had served in the US Air Force for 10 years being rejected because of his colour.
  19. 19. 1962: James Meredith The Supreme Court found in Meredith’s favour. When he went to enrol, Bobby Kennedy sent 500 marshals to ensure that law and order was maintained. Nearly 200 of the marshals were injured and two were shot by those who were adamant that Meredith would not go to college. To maintain law and order, something the state government could not do, John Kennedy sent federal troops to the university. Meredith did enrol in the university.
  20. 20. 1963: BirminghamKennedy was also provoked into action by the 1963 Birmingham affair.The actions ordered by Bull Connor "sickened" Kennedy.He spoke out angrily against Connor’s actions.The Justice Department was ordered to Birmingham by Kennedy and improvements quickly took place.Public facilities were desegregated and employment prospects for African Americans in Birmingham did improve.
  21. 21. Desegregating UniversitiesAlabama was the last state to have desegregated universities.Kennedy sent in federal troops and federalised the National Guard to enforce the law.Did the events in Birmingham convert him to the civil rights cause?Cynics comment that it may well have been a more concerted attempt by the president to target black voters for the 1964 election.
  22. 22. 1963: March on Washington• The 1963 March on Washington was initially opposed by Kennedy as it suggested that the leaders of the civil rights campaign were critical of his progress on civil rights.• Kennedy also felt that the march could antagonise Congress when it was in the process of discussing his civil rights bill.• A march might have been viewed by Congress as external pressure being put on them and cause them to act against the Civil Rights movement rather than appear to ‘give in’ to pressure.• Kennedy eventually endorsed the march when it was agreed that the federal government could have an input into it.
  23. 23. 1963: March on WashingtonThe march was viewed as a great success. It was a massive demonstration of support for the Civil Rights movement.
  24. 24. The assassination of KennedyThe assassination of John F. Kennedy, took place November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.Kennedy was fatally shot while riding with his wife Jacqueline in a motorcade.The assassin (Lee Harvey Oswald) was killed by Jack Ruby (a nightclub owner) before he could go to trial.The assassination has led to a wide range of conspiracy theories.
  25. 25. Lyndon Baines JohnsonTwo hours after Kennedy was assassinated his Vice President (Lyndon Johnson) was sworn in as President.The desire to honour the tragic death of Kennedy made the passing of the Civil Rights Bill easier.
  26. 26. The 1964 Civil Rights Act The Act Its impact• Outlawed unequal • Once the Act was application of voter implemented, its effects registration requirements were far-reaching and and racial segregation in had tremendous long- schools, at the workplace term impacts on the and by facilities that whole country. served the general public • It prohibited (e.g. restaurants) discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment. • It made the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. illegal.
  27. 27. The 1964 Civil Rights Bill Kennedy’s Legacy?