While many consider the Kennedy Assassination to be a tragedy, I consider it to be both a tragedy and evidence of God. It is true that John F. Kennedy came from a Catholic family which was discriminated from joining elitist clubs that were limited to blue bloods-better known as Boston Brahmins- and was willing to embrace the idea of Civil Rights on a limited basis. However, he was also reluctant to lose the Southern vote and only proposed the Civil Rights Act in June of 1963 because he felt the violence which was shown during the Birmingham protests would’ve created more political damage which already stemmed from his failures to contain Fidel Castro. The manner which he proposed the law, which would’ve allowed the Attorney General to strongly enforce desegregation, also caught him off guard, as the racism which still persisted couldn’t guarantee this for small businesses. Lyndon Johnson, on the other hand, was a greater champion of Civil Rights who had grown up in poverty and had worked with a group of people who are still one of the biggest racial minorities in Texas to this day, Mexican immigrants. Unlike Kennedy, Johnson’s time in the Senate also made him an accomplished politician.
LBJ had served as Senate Majority leader and knew how to outmaneuver the Southern Bloc leader who lead the filibuster of the act, Richard Russell . Johnson also sought to use Civil Rights to advance his War on Poverty, which was popular even among poor white Southern segregationists. With the help of Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen and Senate Majority Whip Hubert Humphrey, Johnson was able to defeat the Southern Bloc by pushing an altered version of Kennedy’s mismanaged proposal of the law. Dirksen presented a compromise which gave state and local governments more power to enforce desegregation of private business and only allowed federal intervention on this matter if it were proven that state and local governments were too exhausted to comply . On May 26, Humphrey allowed Dirksen to introduce this compromise bill and the tough challenge of seeing the law pass in the Senate was accomplished on June 19. The law then easily passed the House of Representatives on June 2 and was signed into law by LBJ on the very same day.
Many SNCC and SDS activists have long argued that the violence which showed during the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Campaign and the President’s decision to allow delegates from Mississippi’s segregated Democrat party to represent the 1964 Democratic National Convention resulted in the President caving into pressure from the Selma campaign and only push for voting rights out of fear for his political future. However, a taped telephone conversion between Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. on January 15, 1965 proves otherwise. As revealed in this conversation, Johnson wanted MLK to push the voting rights campaign so it would go beyond just voting rights and advance the War on Poverty. The President had also made clear in his 1964 State of the Union speech that the War on Poverty could only succeed as a result of teamwork from the federal, state and local government, which was also the reason why he didn’t want to risk losing support southern segregationists by allowing the SNCC’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Freedom Party to represent Mississippi at the 1964 DNC.
Had JFK lived, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would’ve never been passed and War on Poverty measures such as Head Start, Food Stamps, Medicare and Medicaid would have never been passed either. Many myths and Tall Tales have long persisted about what John Kennedy and his brother Robert had done for the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, it wasn’t until February of 1962, just one year into the Kennedy Administration, when the FBI decided to take a good look into the Martin Luther King and the SCLC. Around this time, King was attempting to build on the success of the Freedom Rides with the Albany Movement. However, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy at this time allowed the FBI- which he supervised- to investigate King’s close advisor Stanley Levinson. In October of 1963- four months after the Birmingham campaign pressured JFK to push for Civil Rights and just one month before JFK was assassinated- Robert showed even greater disregard for Civil Rights by allowing the FBI to wiretap King and other SCLC members.
Despite mentioning the issues of poverty and civil rights his ”New Frontier” speech at the the 1960 Democratic National Convention, The Kennedy Presidential agenda was not at all focused on the broad picture of Civil Rights. He had voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1957 while in the Senate and later sent Robert to bailed King out of jail following an arrest at an Atlanta sit-in in 1960, but King declined to endorse the Kennedy campaign. In fact, the person who would bail King out of during the Kennedy Administration was no longer the Kennedys, but rather America’s Pastor and King’s close friend Billy Graham. The best effort by the Kennedy Administration at pushing for Civil Rights occurred in 1962, when President Kennedy sent federal troops to Oxford, Mississippi, to quell riots at the University of Mississippi following its integration by James Meredith and created the Voter Education Project (VEP). JFK, however, put little effort into funding VEP and even threatened to expel the SCLC from VEP in 1963. Hence, Kennedy was the Sacrificial Lamb and Johnson was the needed President
6. ibid [http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_kennedy_john_fitzgerald_1917_1963/index.html]