One Reason Why John F. Kennedy Mattered - by Taylor Marsh
Photos: public domain
Photos: public domain
photo taken today at Arlington National Cemetery
photo: public domain
Every year on November 22, I revisit the murder of John F. Kennedy. Having studied this man my entire life, doing a one-woman show on his life and times and how they intersect with my own, this event remains a seminal moment in my life. I witnessed the legacy through my big brother and sister, much older than myself, but also in the history of what happened in the aftermath.
We should never stop questioning the myths surrounding his murder.
We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief. – Ronald Reagan, 26 October 1984
If John F. Kennedy had said what Rick Santorum said, highlighted on “This Week”, Kennedy wouldn’t have been elected president.
From today on “This Week”:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You have also spoken out about the issue of religion in politics, and early in the campaign, you talked about John F. Kennedy’s famous speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston back in 1960. Here is what you had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: Earlier (ph) in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That speech has been read, as you know, by millions of Americans. Its themes were echoed in part by Mitt Romney in the last campaign. Why did it make you throw up?
SANTORUM: Because the first line, first substantive line in the speech says, “I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.
First question is, who’s going to define “the church”?
As we found out recently, the Catholic Church and other conservative religious Americans, including Democrats, don’t believe the First Amendment protects individuals equally as it does “the church.”
That’s a very negative modern day development for free-thinking individuals.
It gives you an idea of just how far right we’ve gone since 1960.
But even as Reagan spoke the words he did above, it was Ronald Reagan himself who emboldened religious conservatives after what they saw as defeats in Griswold and Roe v. Wade, which is why Rep. Henry Hyde struck back with the Hyde Amendment before the Reagan era.
Democrats have contorted themselves to try to prove their righteous worth, as seen by religious conservative standards, which Pres. Obama validated when he codified the Hyde Amendment into the Affordability Care Act. Before Obama, it had simply been part of the budget, voted on yearly; with help from Speaker Pelosi, Democrats changed that.
When the political self-loathing class of Democrats comes up against attacks by self-righteousness Republicans, that’s when we get wild statements by elite cable yakkers like Joe Scarborough, because no one ever holds them accountable. It’s nothing to suggest, as Scarborough did, that mandating female deacons in the Southern Baptist church is the equivalent of Obama’s contraceptive mandate, because as Santorum, Gingrich and Romney have all charged, Obama is attacking religious freedom itself. The implication and framing of the argument against Obama’s policy is what’s important, right? Why argue the facts and the false statements being used to tip the truth on its head?
In fact, Pres. Obama is upholding religious freedom, not government intervention as Scarborough falsely claimed, but as Reagan himself said, as did John F. Kennedy, that no American is required to choose any religion and I would add, be second to the interests of any.
It’s fitting religious conservatives would miss the beauty of the First Amendment swinging both ways.
Rick Santorum is the embodiment of George W. Bush’s calamitous “crusade” language made manifest in political flesh. He is the polar opposite of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and any number of the other French loving American founders.
Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII
[…] By our own act of assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of a God, or the Trinity, or asserts there are more gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or the scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offence by incapacity to hold any office or employment ecclesiastic al, civil, or military; on the second by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian, executor, or administrator, and by three years’ imprisonment without bail. A father’s right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guardianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put by the authority of a court into more orthodox hands. This is a summary view of that religious slavery under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of their civil freedom. The error(1) seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse. by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free inquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free inquiry been indulged at the era of the Reformation, the corruptions of
—(1) Furneaux passim.—
Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the, present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged . Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potato as an article of food. Government is just as infallible, too, when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the Inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error, however, at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The government in which he lived was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. In fact, the vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established, on the basis of reason, than it would be were the government to step in, and to make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature. […]
There are nearly a million documents associated with the life of Martin Luther King Jr. These pages will present a more dynamic view than is often seen of Dr. King’s life and times. The documents reveal the scholar, the father, and the pastor. Through these papers we see the United States of America at one of its most vulnerable, most honest and perhaps most human moments in history. There are letters bearing the official marks of royalty and the equally regal compositions of children. You will see speeches, telegrams, scribbled notes, patient admonitions and urgent pleas. This spotlight shows you a glimpse of the remarkable history within this collection. –The King Center – Archives
Oh, the irony, MLK digital archives arebrought to the world by J.P. Morgan Chase.
Dr. King‘s rhetoric was forged in fire and brimstone on the altar of confrontation. King was destined to pave the way, not just for Barack Obama, but for another Democratic president back in his day, including J.F.K. Pres. Kennedy impacted my life a great deal through my big brother, which I write about in my new book. It’s why I wrote, produced and directed a one woman show “Weeping for J.F.K.” back in 2005. It took the collision of two great men to dismantle the prejudice of America’s political history, even if civil rights remains a scarred wound that doesn’t take much to rip open.
Dr. King was forever challenging the U.S. media, but there weren’t many in the establishment that didn’t feel Dr. King’s heat. It’s certain that President John F. Kennedy did. But King lived in times of volatility, cataclysmic change and violent national shifts. He was a powerfully effective man of peace in a time of country and cultural wars.
Some believe that President Kennedy’s presidency was owed, at least in part, to Dr. Martin Luther King. In a moment of stunning political pressure inside his own camp, candidate Kennedy reached out to Martin Luther King when he was convicted of a probation violation after participating in a diner sit-in in Atlanta, Georgia. Forever the political pragmatist, Kennedy saw the light, with a big push from Bobby, and interceded on behalf of King to get him released from Reidsville Prison. That, as some tell it, changed history. King as an ally brought out the black vote, helping to defeat Nixon. But there were many other fault lines in 1960, including Texas, Illinois, but especially West Virginia, that played their part, too. So I’ll let you be the judge of whether King helped elect Kennedy. He sure didn’t hurt him. Neither did Kennedy’s pledge to right the wrongs being done to blacks.
However, once president, Kennedy was simply too obsessed with foreign policy issues to turn his attention to the home front. He just didn’t get the importance of King’s fights down south, at first, especially when juxtaposed against the crisis brewing overseas. The challenges escalating between East and West Germany kept JFK’s attention focused on nuclear confrontation, then came the Cuban Missile crisis. But eventually, JFK began to finally understand that the home front matters as much as what’s happening “over there,” especially in the face of horrible prejudice. Kennedy was a man who could change and he did.
Known as the Birmingham Campaign, King altered history and shifted Kennedy’s thinking along with it. His famous Letter from Birmingham Jail” is now legend. It was King’s incarceration in Birmingham that led Coretta Scott King to call President Kennedy, which resulted in him interceding once again on King’s behalf, forcing the Birmingham bigots to allow King to talk to his wife.
The March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” worried President Kennedy at the time. He was understandably concerned about violence breaking out, but eventually King won him over.
Watching the brutality in Birmingham and the subsequent political push from King and other civil rights leaders changed Kennedy forever. Months before King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, onJune 11, 1963 (audio), JFK proposed action that would offer “the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. had gotten through to Kennedy, revealing something from which J.F.K. had once been distanced, a world away.
John F. Kennedy’s address that June:
Good evening, my fellow citizens:
This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.
That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.
I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was rounded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Viet-Nam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.
It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.
It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.
The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.
This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or cast system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?
Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.
The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.
It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.
Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.
Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.
But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.
I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public–hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.
This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do.
I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last 2 weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.
I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to de-segregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow.
Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job.
The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.
Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.
In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.
Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom’s challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage.
My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all–in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a State university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United States.
This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.
We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can’t have that right; that your children can’t have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that.
Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents.
As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.
We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.
This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.
Thank you very much.
It took constant campaigning from King, but JFK came to understand that action was required. Kennedy became the first president since Truman to trumpet the cause of civil rights. President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights legislation was met with fierce opposition by the southern delegations of Congress. He was assassinated before it became law.
The legislation LBJ finally signed was Kennedy’s hope for a new America. Had John F. Kennedy lived, his civil rights actions would have been met hard in the south during his 1964 campaign. JFK never lived to fight this fight. The legislation LBJ signed was Kennedy’s final vision, and the words LBJ spoke upon the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encapsulized the moment for history: “We’ve lost the south for a generation.”
King’s eulogy upon JFK’s death proved the respect each man had won from the other and that politicians can change to forge great hopes for those oppressed. He said that John F. Kennedy lived his life to “move forward with more determination to rid our nation of the vestiges of racial segregation and discrimination.”
King made the men of the 1960s come his way, see the overwhelming injustices. Like many great men, history has given evidence that he was wholly human and flawed. His life force was gargantuan. His courage unbounded. His faith guided his life, because he knew his soul would live on and on. His memory has as well.
It’s not many a man who could change the course of John F. Kennedy’s life and his philosophy. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had the power to do just that and it changed America forever.