1960 June 24

Senator John F. Kennedy Praises Sit-Ins


On this day, Senator John F. Kennedy, candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, praised the sit-ins challenging segregation in the South, which began on February 1, 1960. Kennedy declared that “the American spirit is coming alive again.” He added that the inevitable unrest, turmoil, and tension were “part of the process of change.”

Once he became president, however, Kennedy disappointed civil rights leaders by failing to push for civil rights legislation or take other action. He did not, for example, support the Freedom Rides that began on May 4, 1961. On May 20, 1961, for example, he made a statement on the Freedom Ride that included a moral equivalence between the Freedom Riders and the racists who were committing violence against them. He delayed for almost two years a limited ban on discrimination in federally-assisted housing, which he had promised to sign during the 1960 campaign. He finally signed the order on November 20, 1962.

Kennedy transformed his image on civil rights, on June 11, 1963, when he gave a famous nationally televised speech calling for a federal civil rights bill. Nonetheless, however, he tried to talk civil rights leaders out of what became the famous March on Washington on August 28, 1963.  Finally, in response to pressure from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General authorized wiretaps on Martin Luther King on October 10, 1963.

Learn more about Kennedy and civil rights: Nick Bryant, The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality (2006)

Watch the 1960s sit-ins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbbcjn4d1cE

And more about President Kennedy’s record on civil rights and civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more: Hugh Davis Graham, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960 – 1972 (1990)

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