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“Polit­i­cal language…is designed to make lies sound truth­ful and mur­der respectable, and to give an appear­ance of solid­i­ty to pure wind.”

— George Orwell, 1946

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Con­tin­u­ing our vis­its with Jim DiEu­ge­nio, we alter our focus some­what to JFK’s civ­il rights pol­i­cy. Although the sub­ject is pre­sent­ed in JFK Revis­it­ed, we delin­eate a deep dive into a mag­nif­i­cent group of four essays that Jim did on his web­site www.kennedysandking.com: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

To make a VERY long sto­ry short: “The Kennedy admin­is­tra­tion did more to advance civ­il rights in three years than the pri­or 18 did in near­ly a cen­tu­ry. This is sim­ply a mat­ter of record. (See the chart at the end of Part 3.)”

A sum­ma­ry of the major points cov­ered in these three pro­grams:

  1. Recon­struc­tion end­ed up as a fail­ure for the lib­er­at­ed slaves of the South. And due to sev­er­al odd and adverse Supreme Court deci­sions after­wards, the Recon­struc­tion laws and amend­ments were neu­tral­ized. (Part 1, sec­tion 1)
  2. From 1876 to 1932, no pres­i­dent did any­thing to alle­vi­ate what had occurred in the South thanks to the rise of the Redeemer move­ment. In fact, some of them clear­ly sided with that move­ment. (Part 1, sec­tion 2)
  3. Franklin Roo­sevelt and Har­ry Tru­man, respec­tive­ly, passed the FEPC law and inte­grat­ed the mil­i­tary under pres­sure from the promi­nent civ­il rights leader Philip Ran­dolph. But they were con­strict­ed from doing much else by the south­ern bloc in Con­gress and the threat of a fil­i­buster. (Part 1, sec­tion 3)
  4. Charles Hamil­ton Hous­ton began the mod­ern civ­il rights move­ment by ini­ti­at­ing a sys­tem­at­ic chal­lenge to the Supreme Court deci­sion in Plessy v Fer­gu­son. This end­ed in the epochal Brown v Board deci­sion. (Part 1, sec­tion 3)
  5. Because of the Brown deci­sion, Dwight Eisen­how­er had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to move in a major way on the issue, since he won two resound­ing vic­to­ries in 1952 and 1956. For polit­i­cal pur­pos­es, he and Richard Nixon large­ly avoid­ed the issue. (Part 1, sec­tion 3)
  6. Sen­a­tor John Kennedy was not enthralled by south­ern inter­ests on the race issue. This is shown by his 1956 pub­lic state­ment of sup­port for Truman’s civ­il rights bill; his speech declar­ing his sup­port for the Brown deci­sion in 1957; his vote for Title III of the civ­il rights bill, also in 1957, and his ref­er­ence to the issue in sev­er­al speech­es in the 1960 cam­paign. (Part 2, sec­tion 1)
  7. Sen­a­tor Kennedy addressed the issue dur­ing the 1960 cam­paign sev­er­al times, accen­tu­at­ing its moral dimen­sion. He spent sev­er­al moments crit­i­ciz­ing the Eisen­how­er admin­is­tra­tion on their per­for­mance dur­ing his sec­ond debate with Richard Nixon. (Go to the 13:45 mark here)
  8. Pres­i­dent Kennedy did not delay in address­ing the prob­lem once he got into office. In fact, he got to work on it his first day, orig­i­nat­ing an affir­ma­tive action pro­gram that would even­tu­al­ly spread across the entire expanse of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. (Part 2, sec­tion 3)
  9. It was not pos­si­ble to pass an omnibus civ­il rights bill in 1961. The evi­dence in sup­port of that con­clu­sion is over­whelm­ing. (Part 2, sec­tion 1)
  10. It was also not pos­si­ble to alter the fil­i­buster rules in 1961. The Democ­rats had tried to do this pri­or to Kennedy, and they tried to do it sev­er­al times after Kennedy’s death. It was not achieved until 1975. (See pages 6 and 7 of this paper)
  11. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Robert Kennedy took on school deseg­re­ga­tion with­in weeks of enter­ing office and did things in that regard in New Orleans and Prince Edward Coun­ty, Vir­ginia that Eisen­how­er had nev­er done. (Part 3, sec­tion 1)
  12. The Kennedys worked close­ly with the Fifth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in order to ensure vot­ing rights, inte­grate col­leges and enforce the Brown deci­sion. Again, this had not been done pri­or to 1961. (Part 3, sec­tions 2 & 5)
  13. JFK extend­ed fair hir­ing prac­tices to con­tract­ing com­pa­nies who did work for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and pri­vate col­leges which got research grants from Wash­ing­ton. This helped inte­grate busi­ness and high­er edu­ca­tion in the South. (Part 3, sec­tion 3)
  14. The Kennedy admin­is­tra­tion did more to advance civ­il rights in three years than the pri­or 18 did in near­ly a cen­tu­ry. This is sim­ply a mat­ter of record. (See the chart at the end of Part 3.)
  15. Kennedy tried to get a civ­il rights bill on vot­ing rights in 1962 but he could not defeat the fil­i­buster. (Part 3, sec­tion 3)
  16. In Feb­ru­ary of 1963, Kennedy announced he had gone as far as he could through exec­u­tive orders and the judi­cia­ry, and that he was sub­mit­ting an omnibus civ­il rights bill to Con­gress. (Part 3, sec­tion 6)
  17. The impli­ca­tions of the encounter between RFK and James Bald­win in May of 1963 have been wild­ly dis­tort­ed and pulled out of con­text. The dis­cus­sion Kennedy want­ed to have with those attend­ing that meet­ing con­cerned what he had been work­ing on with David Hack­ett: ways to approach racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the north. Bald­win and Jerome Smith hijacked the agen­da and there­by wast­ed a gold­en oppor­tu­ni­ty. The dan­ger of an erup­tion of inner-city vio­lence, which Kennedy pre­dict­ed and wished to talk about, was con­firmed 27 months lat­er with the Watts riots. (Part 2, sec­tion 3; Part 3, sec­tion 4; Part 4, sec­tion 2)
  18. Due to Fred Shuttlesworth’s high­ly pub­li­cized demon­stra­tions in Birm­ing­ham, JFK’s con­fronta­tion with George Wal­lace in Tuscaloosa, and his tele­vised speech on the sub­ject, the Feb­ru­ary 1963 bill was redrawn and strength­ened. It even­tu­al­ly passed in 1964 due to the efforts of RFK, Hubert Humphrey and Thomas Kuchel, not LBJ. This elim­i­nat­ed Jim Crow. (Part 3, sec­tions 5 & 6)
  19. John Kennedy was work­ing on an attack on pover­ty before his civ­il rights bill was sent to Con­gress. This effort had begun in 1961 with the research of David Hack­ett on the issues of pover­ty and delin­quen­cy. (Part 4, sec­tions 1 & 2)
  20. LBJ appro­pri­at­ed that pro­gram as his own, and retired Hack­ett. He start­ed it up before the research was com­plet­ed. It end­ed up being tak­en over by inter­ests who did not cen­ter it on the peo­ple it was designed for. The mis­han­dling of this pro­gram, it could be argued, exac­er­bat­ed the issue, and, as Bob­by Kennedy pre­dict­ed, Amer­i­ca descend­ed into a night­mare of riots and killings for four straight sum­mers, 1965–68. (Part 4, sec­tion 5)
  21. Repub­li­can strate­gists Kevin Phillips and Pat Buchanan advised can­di­dates on how to use this vio­lence to manip­u­late white back­lash and break up the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty coali­tion. Richard Nixon and Ronald Rea­gan did so, and this strat­e­gy, which has been used ever since, has risen to new heights under Don­ald Trump. (Part 4, sec­tion 5)



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