Tag Archives: History (U.S. president) – John F. Kennedy

August 28, 1963: the 72-minute MEETING AT THE WHITE HOUSE OF CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS WITH PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY following the historic March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

FEATURE image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial.) by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Sensing a national breakthrough for civil rights, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined civil rights leaders to plan a March on Washington for Wednesday, August 28, 1963. The great march filled the VIP section at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall to past the Washington Monument, a distance of almost one mile. The March on Washington is remembered for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the massive crowd’s hopeful jubilation. The meeting with President Kennedy was more than a polite courtesy call to the White House–it helped coordinate political strategy for the movement that would have concrete ramifications for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 following Kennedy’s death.

By John P. Walsh

President John F. Kennedy watched the march—and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech—from the White House on television.

Both Kennedy and King were young men—King was 34 years old, Kennedy was 46 years old. Mature beyond their years, each American proffered green oak in some ways—Kennedy was especially more personally sensitive than his “cool” public persona belied him to be. King, too, was mostly uncomfortable on August 28, 1963 with the particular attention, from the media and others, that he was receiving for his remarks at the Lincoln Memorial.

As the civil rights leaders filed into the Cabinet Room at the White House the first thing Kennedy said when he took King’s hand was “I have a dream…” The president was repeating King’s line that immediately impressed him and the nation when they heard it on TV live only a short time before.

King deflected the president’s compliment and immediately asked him what the president thought of United Automobile Workers president Walter Reuther’s excellent speech. It had included a criticism of Kennedy for defending freedom around the world but not always at home. Kennedy replied to King: “Oh, I’ve heard [Walter] plenty of times.”

King and Kennedy hardly talked any more during the visit, though when they did it led to an outcome for action.

Civil Rights leaders in this group photograph at the Lincoln Memorial followed-up the March on Washington with a visit to the White House to meet President Kennedy. Seated left to right: National Urban League executive director Whitney Young (1921-1971); chairman of the Demonstration Committee Cleveland Robinson (1914-1995); labor union leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979); Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968); National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Roy Wilkins (1901-1981). Standing left to right: director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice Matthew Ahmann (1931-2001); Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902-1998); Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis (1940-2020); Protestant minister Eugene Carson Blake (1906-1985); Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leader Floyd McKissick (1922-1991); labor union leader Walter Reuther (1907-1970).
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at the March on Washington from the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Following the successful march for jobs and freedom, civil rights leaders went to the White House to visit with President Kennedy and pushed measures to strengthen the Civil Rights bill.

Kennedy and NAACP leader Roy Wilkins talked at length about strengthening the civil rights bill following that day’s completely peaceful march. King moved away from the president and down the line to near then-23-year-old John Lewis, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

One section to the civil rights bill these activists wanted the president to add was a ban on employment exclusion based on race.

As White House and other photographers filmed and snapped pictures of the historic White House meeting of leading progressive personalities of the early 1960s, the civil rights leaders told the president about the accelerating automation in the job market that would potentially depress the availability of jobs.

They also discussed the plight of the inner city, telling Kennedy that Black teenagers were dropping out of school in epidemic numbers. A. Philip Randolph told the president that the entire current generation of young Blacks “had no faith” in whites. They also dismissed Black leadership, government and God. To these young Americans, U.S. society as it was presently constituted meant nothing to them but despair.

During the visit, Kennedy was lobbied to re-insert into the act a section that was stripped in 1957 giving authority to the Attorney General to investigate and initiate lawsuits on behalf of blatant civil rights infringements.

President Kennedy responded that with Robert Kennedy, his Attorney General, he had looked into joblessness and the school drop-out rate among Blacks in Chicago and New York City. At the August 28, 1963 meeting Kennedy encouraged the civil rights leaders to have the Black community do more.

“It seems to me,” the president said, “with all the influence that all you gentleman have in the Negro community that we could emphasize…educating [your]children, on making them study, making them stay in school and all the rest.”

Any add-ons now to the civil rights bill joined existing legislation that was already on the brink of defeat in the Democrat-controlled Senate and too close to call in a Democrat-controlled House.

Despite these close margins, Wilkins countered that the Speaker of the House had assured him that an even stronger civil rights bill could pass the House and would work to pressure the Senate to act. Wilkins suggested that the president go over the heads of the Congress who obstructed passage of the bill and lead a crusade to win voter approval for the civil rights measures.

Kennedy replied frankly to the leaders that civil rights must be a bipartisan effort. For a Democrat president to lead a crusade would allow Republicans to support civil rights and blame the Democrats for it which would hurt the Democratic Party in the South. Kennedy assured the civil rights leaders that “treacherous” political games were being played in the Federal legislature on the bill by both Republicans and Democrats.

Kennedy was countered again – this time by Walter Reuther.

“Look, you can’t escape this problem,“ the white labor leader said, “and there are two ways of resolving it—either by reason or riots. But now the civil war is not gonna be fought at Gettysburg, it’s gonna be fought in your backyard, in your plant, where your kids are growing up.” Reuther further told JFK he didn’t much like the young president’s “seminar” style of governing where “you call a big meeting…and nothing happens.” Reuther told Kennedy that he preferred his vice-president’s governing style where Lyndon B. Johnson “jawbone[d]” an issue until he would “get difficult things done.”

King stayed silent for most of this back and forth debate. When King finally spoke he asked JFK that if the sitting president led a crusade then perhaps his predecessor, Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, might get involved. It would then, King suggested, become the bipartisan push Kennedy was looking for.

Kennedy snapped back at King: “No, it won’t.”

In reply, King made a knowing joke: “Doesn’t [President Eisenhower] happen to be in the other denomination?”

Ike’s personal pastor was Rev. Eugene Blake who was in the Cabinet Room. Blake, a powerful force and no pushover, had been the march’s only white speaker.

One reason that Rev. Blake spoke at the march was that he had been arrested in a civil rights demonstration in Baltimore and had gone to jail.

Just hours earlier, Rev. Blake orated: “We come late, late we come, in the reconciling and repentant spirit.” The Protestant clergyman embraced the march’s agenda of civil and economic rights for African Americans and the end to racism. Still, Blake rejected words like “revolution” and “the masses” used by some civil rights activists.

At that day’s White House visit, Blake told Kennedy that Ike could be approached about civil rights. The president pivoted and urged Blake to visit the former president at his home in Gettysburg to discover any political role Ike might be willing to take for the civil rights bill. Kennedy advised: “And include a Catholic and maybe a businessman or two.”

Then pointing to Reuther, Kennedy lightly said: “And leave Walter in the background.” Amid chuckles, Kennedy then left the room of civil rights leaders. Before exiting, the president turned to assure them he would keep in touch on the civil rights bill in the months ahead.

SOURCES:

TAYLOR BRANCH, PARTING THE WATERS AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS 1954-1963. NEW YORK: SIMON & SCHUSTER, 1988.

DAVID GARROW, BEARING THE CROSS: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AND THE SOUTHERN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, WILLIAM MORROW AND COMPANY, 1986.

On August 28, 1963 about 250,000 peaceful protesters descended on Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history.

PHOTO CREDITS:

Hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s, Lincoln Memorial Aug. 28, 1963. Public Domain/U.S. Government Photo.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial.) by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking from the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Aerial view of Washington Monument showing marchers.) U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Leaders of the march leading marchers down the street. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

INTERNATIONAL CRISES ACROSS A NUCLEAR AGE: On Donald Trump’s North Korea Crisis (2017) and John F. Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).

FEATURE image: Hawker-Siddeley Blue Steel was started privately in 1954. A contract was placed in 1956 for a stand-off missile to carry a thermonuclear device with a 1 megaton yield by the British Ministry of Supply. Blue Steel was powered by two Armstrong Siddeley Motors that were ignited on launch and enabled the missile to fly at supersonic speed. The missile was constructed of stainless steel with surfaces manufactured of titanium steel. Blue Steel first entered service in 1962 and remained as Britain’s nuclear deterrent until 1970. (see- https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/collections/hawker-siddeley-blue-steel/) “Hawker Siddeley Blue Steel” by hugh llewelyn is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

By John P. Walsh, dated August 9, 2017

In addition to Twitter, the media tells us that U.S. President Donald J. Trump loves to watch a lot of TV. Has he seen the film: Virtual JFK (2008)?

“Does it matter,” the film’s narrator states, “who is president on issues of war and peace? Can a president make a decisive difference in matters of war and peace? Can a president decisively lead his country into war or keep his country out of war? Or are the forces that drive nations into conflict far more impersonal (and) out of the control of any human being, even a president?”

Donald J. Trump and John F. Kennedy. Similar to JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Trump in 2017 must use the military and moral strength of the U.S. to seek and find a conclusion so that North Korea changes course on their nuclear weapons peacefully. Fair use.

Nine nations stockpile around 16,300 nuclear weapons. The U.S. possesses less than half of them.

In 2014 nine nations around the world—including North Korea—have around 16,300 nuclear weapons. Estimates are that North Korea’s arsenal today may be about 20 warheads or higher. In descending order of warhead amounts, the other nuclear states are Russia (8,000 warheads), the U.S.A. (7,300), France (300), China (250), the UK (225), India and Pakistan (about 100 each) and Israel (80).

According to the National Security Archive, the last tactical nuclear weapons left Cuba in December 1962. For a rogue state such as North Korea to possess nuclear weapons is dangerous and unpredictable to the region and world.

Like JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the U.S. must use its military and moral strength to seek and find a conclusion so that North Korea changes course on their nuclear weapons peacefully. Exactly what that change should look like is an important debate not explored here, but the U.S. must not or never start or provoke a nuclear war to achieve it.

Kennedy prepared for nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but always carefully stayed away from pulling the trigger. There can be no close analogy between Cuba, 90 miles off American shores, in 1962 and North Korea, over 6,000 miles away, in 2017.

The Cold War by the early 1960’s had become a well-worn competitive geopolitical game that hadn’t completely played itself out. The Russians built a wall in Berlin in 1961; Kennedy quarantined Cuba in 1962. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the missiles were clearly Russian nukes. In 2017 what sources can Trump hold accountable for the North Korean weapons deployment in addition to the rogue regime? China? Russia? Iran? If Pyongyang is as remote and obscure today as the Kremlin was in Kennedy’s time, today’s political and military equations appear to be more tangled and complicated.

JFK: “It will be worse before it gets better.”

Any calculations for war must include those who may or will get killed – and how many. Is American “hyper” power any good if its allies are casualties on a massive scale? No nuclear exchange must result with a hermit kingdom dictator who is not a friend of the U.S. or its allies in the region – especially if war may incalculably spread.

If the U.S. has allies in the true meaning of the word then an attack on them by North Korea (or China or Russia) is equal to an attack on the homeland – otherwise what’s the point of the U.S. having allies at all? The U.S. must protect its allies in the region to the highest degree so to defend and preserve its esteemed alliances. In this ongoing dangerous politico-military standoff there are ramifications with severe strong risk for the U.S. as a global superpower and markedly in East Asia. North Korea must somehow stand down for there to be success from the perspective of the U.S and its allies.

Similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis that endured for 13 straight days—the Korean crisis has gone on arguably for over 60 years — patience and cool-headed leadership joined to a calibration of carrot and stick (preferring the carrot) should serve as worthwhile qualities so to craft a necessarily peaceful and successful outcome.

“Because of the ingenuity of science and man’s own inability to control his relations one with another,” said JFK in 1961 in Virtual JFK, “we happen to live in the most dangerous time in the history of the human race.” The film states that experienced military advisers believed that whenever Americans committed military force – they won the conflict.

Kennedy avoided war –and was almost impeached for it.

But as frequent and strong pressure by many advisers is put on Kennedy to commit the U.S. to a war, the president time and again chose to avoid both conventional and nuclear war. 

It may not be well remembered today but after the failure of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, there was talk of John Kennedy’s impeachment for incompetence. Many in his own Democratic party wouldn’t support him because they had convinced themselves he wasn’t a serious political leader.

JFK: “The United States as the world knows will never start a war.”

In 2017 the defeat of 33-year-old Kim Jong-un’s nuclear threat short of war will not be simply a victory for the status quo but a step forward in terms of American leadership in that part of the world.

Carrot and stick

An actual war –even if nonnuclear and limited which is improbable -– cannot be in any civilized people’s self-interest. Certainly if Kim started a nuclear war, which is very remote but possible, war would come. As Trump stated plainly, on August 8, 2017, the U.S. response would be with “fire and fury.”

President Trump issues a stern warning to North Korea after the latest missile news, saying the nation “best not make any more threats to the United States.”

In October 1962 Kennedy’s speech to the nation on the Cuban Missile Crisis included his own “fiery” rhetoric:

“Third: It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

JFK concluded with the overall purpose of his actions: “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right – not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”

In 2017 we may look for a resolution to the North Korea crisis where history repeats itself.

All through the Cold War Kennedy looked into the face of strategic MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) without blinking and then chose to evoke the better angels of our nature. At the United Nations in his first year as president (September 25, 1961) Kennedy exhorted the world’s representatives: “Together we shall save our planet – or together we shall perish in its flames. Save it we can.  Save it we must. Then shall we earn the eternal thanks of mankind and, as peacemakers, the eternal blessing of God.”

President Trump would do well to aspire to the same.

NOTES:

Nine nuclear nations – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nine-nations-have-nuclear-weapons-here-is-how-many-each-country-has-a6827916.html

about 20 warheads – http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/791436/north-korea-nuclear-weapons-kim-jong-un-how-many

Last Cuba warheads removed – http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB449/

Iran and North Korea – http://thediplomat.com/2016/04/the-iran-north-korea-connection/

fire and fury – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/world/asia/north-korea-trump-threat-fire-and-fury.html?_r=0

United Nations speech – https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/United-Nations_19610925.aspx