Posts tagged Kennedy
Posts tagged Kennedy
A new documentary following the Kennedys on an emotional journey to Ireland has given a fascinating insight into the private life of this very public family.
‘Coming Home With the Kennedys’ chronicles the family’s visit to New Ross, County Wexford in June this year as they retraced John F Kennedy’s own historic visit to his ‘homeland’ 50 years earlier - just four months before his assassination.
In a trip that spanned seven days, executive producer, Daphne Barak, and her cameras were given unprecedented access to the clan’s inner sanctum.The result is an extraordinary portrait of a family propelled forward by a sense of ‘dynasty’ borne of their history.
The itinerary of the Kennedys’ recent trip recreated the one made by JFK in almost every detail. That trip to the Irish coastal town from where his ancestors Patrick and Mary left Ireland in 1849 was a pivotal moment in the nation’s history.
Then, he travelled with his sisters Eunice Kennedy and Jean Kennedy-Smith and spoke of his delight at making a journey it had ‘only taken 115 years and 6000 miles to make.’ He vowed to return.
Instead, according to executive producer Daphne Barak, it fell to his daughter, Caroline Kennedy, to lead this voyage, along with his sister Jean, and to ‘bring home Ireland’s lost sons,’ in paying tribute to their family’s fallen.
Publicly the family rededicated the Kennedy family Homestead, opened a new visitor centre and museum and lit a torch called the Emigrant Flame in a moving ceremony that brought the official visit to a close.
Behind the scenes Barak’s film is a chronicle of the clan’s rivalries, competitions, shared grief and hopes as they look to the next generation – Kennedy’s grandchildren - to secure the Kennedy future in American and world politics.
Caroline Kennedy, 55, travelled with her husband Edwin Schlossberg and children Rose, Tatiana and John ‘Jack’. Kathleen, 62, daughter of Robert F Kennedy, travelled with her husband David Townsend and nephews Chris and Max.
Younger sister Kerry - the ex-wife of the current New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo - is also spilling her heart out in this rare documentary.
They were joined by many of the extended clan including the reclusive Sydney Kennedy Lawford McKelvy, 57, daughter of Patricia Kennedy and actor Peter Lawford (the man responsible for introducing Marilyn Monroe to JFK), Grace Kennedy Allen, 19, daughter of the late Kara Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s oldest child, Kiley Kennedy, 19, Ted Kennedy’s granddaughter, Jean Kennedy Smith, 85, JFK’s sister, and her daughter Kym, 41.
In all 35 family members were there. But however dizzying the array of the Kennedys en masse the key relationships and dynamics that emerged over their few days in Ireland were, according to Barak, clear.
And the central force throughout was the clear sense of leadership shown by cousins Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Caroline Kennedy. It was all about excelling.
Barak said: ‘You cannot miss that there are two princesses there: one is Kathleen who is the eldest of the second generation of this dynasty (Robert Kennedy’s daughter) and the other one is Caroline, the only surviving child of President Kennedy. The camera doesn’t lie.
‘They are very interesting women and very different.’
On Thursday 20 June a state dinner was held just as it had been to honour JFK 50 years before. Everything was exactly as it was then, the table settings, the menu – the Kennedys joked that only the wine which was a 2007 vintage was new.
But there was one other key difference: Caroline Kennedy was seated in her father’s place.
Yet if that might seem to suggest that she was comfortable and secure in her position as defacto head of the clan the truth, according to Barak, is not so straight forward.
Often Caroline cut a lonely figure amid the crowd of family and the good and the great of Ireland who clamoured to meet them.
Barak said: ‘Caroline is on guard all the time. She knows how to make an entrance. And then she relies on the script, even when she is with her own family.
'She is very protective of her private life including her husband and children.'
Where her brother John Jr was, Barak said, ‘a fun, outgoing and charismatic’ man, devastatingly handsome and full of easy charm, Caroline has always been ‘quiet and serious.’
Some who know her best voiced concern at how she might handle the pressures and public expectaions of her recently announced role as US Ambassador to Japan.
Barak said: ‘Of course there is an element of envy even among her family – that things are handed to her because of her position.
‘But I think she has always felt in the shade of John Jr and her mother who was so glamorous. When JFK died Jackie told the children that they were a “unit of 2” and that was all that mattered. ‘
That supportive ‘unit’ no longer exists. Jackie Kennedy Onassis died in 1994. Caroline’s brother John Jr, who died alongside his wife, Carolyn, when the plane he was piloting crashed on a stormy night in July 1999.
Barak observed: ‘Caroline often cut a very lonely figure.’
In stark contrast Kathleen Kennedy proved spontaneous, witty and at ease on and off camera.
Barak noted: ‘In many ways Kathleen had been the promising one [politically] of the family. She was Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and she got everything through hard work. It wasn’t handed to her.’
Kathleen was 11 when her uncle JFK was shot. Her father, Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy, wrote her a letter in which he reminded her that she was ‘the oldest Kennedy of her generation’ and as such she had a duty to honour her uncle’s values, to serve her country and to help others.
She took the words to heart. And she is still working hard with charitable causes.
Similarly, when Barak spoke with Kerry Kennedy she learned that she has been working hard for Civil Rights as well as coping with simply being a Kennedy.
In 2006 then Rhode Island Rep, Patrick Kennedy, bowed out of politics following an incident when he ploughed his car into a barrier near Capitol Hill while on Ambien. But he shared with Barak how happy he is with his new life with his wife, Amy, and their baby, Harper.
He said: I am the happiest I have been for a long time.’ Patrick is dedicating his time these days to raising awareness on mental health issues.
Unlike her younger cousin Kathleen does not guard and edit her every word.
But the two women are united on one front: their mutual desire to see all Kennedys get a fair shot for exposure in this trip.
On one occasion, Barak recalled, Caroline was scheduled to make a public speech when she graciously passed the opportunity to Kathleen who took the podium.
‘She was very charming and flattering,’ Barak said. ‘She said, “Caroline agrees that there are more Kennedys than her and that she should not be the only one to speak at all things.”
‘Then she went onto introduce her nephews, Max and Chris who made a wonderful speech.’
The boys had been working on that speech together at the bar of the hotel the previous night, Barak recalled. ‘Goofing around with their cousins,’ in between focusing on the job in hand.
Later in the visit Caroline got her own back as, according to Barak, she effectively ‘crowned’ her son Jack. Even though the programme had her name in it to speak, she introduced her son in her place to make the final speech of the journey.
It was nearing the end of the official aspect of the visit, before the symbolic lighting of the Emigrant Flame – a light taken from the eternal flame at Arlington and lit on a replica ship of the one in which JFK’s great-great-great grandparents left Ireland in 1849.
Barak said: ‘Caroline introduced her son and effectively crowned him as she did. She said, “My father always said the best is yet to come…and here is my son Jack.”’
As Jack took the podium, Barak said, ‘the girls went crazy,’ – hardly surprising, Barak reflected, given this 20-year-old is tall, dark, handsome and brimming with Kennedy charisma.
There was, according to Barak, really one moment in which the rivalries fell away and the family seemed truly to unite.
She said: ‘When the Emigrant Flame was lit there were tears and Caroline and Kathleen just hugged each other, and hugged Jack and it was really a very emotional moment for them all.’
It took them back to the purpose of the trip which, Barak believes, many of the clan had embarked on thinking of it as little more than a vacation.
‘It truly felt like a Homecoming and like they were doing it to honour JFK and Bobby and Ted and John Jr…all Ireland’s lost sons. They were bringing them home too.’
Barak’s book to accompany the film, ‘Coming Home With the Kennedys’ is out soon with half of the proceeds going to the JFK Foundation in Ireland.
She said: ‘It’s a story of immigration and it’s a story of hope. It’s the American story.’
(Source: Daily Mail)
”With her dazzling blond head set firmly on her elegant shoulders, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy confronted a ravenous spotlight—and the inevitable comparisons to Jackie—from the moment she stepped out of that tiny Cumberland Island chapel at John Kennedy’s side. But to those around her, she showed a face of laughter, a wealth of tenderness, and a profound commitment to her husband, friends, and family during her brief but spirited life.”
Remembering Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in “The Private Princess”, Vanity Fair (September 1999)
At a gathering for Rose Kennedy’s 100th birthday, Senator Edward M. Kennedy described his mother as “the quiet at the center of the storm, the anchor of our family, the safe harbor to which we always came.” Rose, who died in 1995 at the age of 104, had strong ideas about child rearing. Reading and religion were important but so was having fun together as a family — whether it be sailing, skiing, or playing football.
The new book “Rose Kennedy’s Family Album” (Grand Central) features excerpts from letters and a selection of images from the thousands in the archives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The photographs date from 1878 to 1946 when John F. Kennedy won the Democratic nomination during his first campaign for Congress. In the final picture, Rose, already a veteran campaigner, is at her son’s side. Decades earlier she had accompanied her father, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, on his rounds of Boston’s neighborhoods as he campaigned for mayor.
After President John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 his mother re-purchased the house in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he had been born. Rose Kennedy oversaw every detail of its restoration, even recording an audio tour for visitors to hear as they explored the rooms where the future president spent his boyhood years.
At its dedication to the nation in 1969 Rose said: “When you hold your baby in your arms the first time, and you think of all the things you can say and do to influence him, it’s a tremendous responsibility. What you do with him can influence not only him, but everyone he meets and not for a day or a month or a year but for time and eternity.”
Rose gave birth to nine children between 1915 and 1932 and dedicated her life to perfecting them: “My ambition was to have my children morally, physically, and mentally as perfect as possible.”
Born in 1890, at the height of Victorian mores, Rose’s commitment to perfection resulted from a devoutly Catholic upbringing, including a year spent studying in a Prussian convent. Never a feminist, she rose to prominence in a patriarchal family, religion and society by mastering the secondary female roles ceded to her. Yet it was Rose’s propensity to micromanage her household that helped create the face of the Kennedy political dynasty.
The era of the Kennedy presidency is often referred to as an “American Camelot”.
It was Rose’s daughter-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy, who first made the comparison just one week after JFK’s assassination.
“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, known as Camelot,” recited Jackie: her husband’s favourite lyric from the Broadway musical about the mythical King Arthur.
“There will be great presidents again but there will never be another Camelot,” she lamented and succeeded in ensuring that, even a half-century after its tragic end, mention of the Kennedy presidency conjures up the idea of a golden era.
However, it was Rose who had produced the princes of this legendary realm. She learned to present a flawless public persona as the daughter of John Fitzgerald, the first US-born Irish-American mayor of Boston.
Christening ships, presiding over parades, campaigning at her father’s side; Rose, the Belle of Boston, loved the spotlight.
She fell for Joseph P Kennedy as a teenager. Married in 1914, they produced their first child nine months later. While Joseph made millions on Wall Street and in Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties, Rose supervised their children’s physical, mental and spiritual health.
Only two generations from the Irish potato famine, she guarded the children’s well-being and kept track of health records, diet, exercise and weight. Fanatical about oral hygiene, Mrs Kennedy spent years ferrying her offspring to orthodontists who perfected the famous Kennedy grin.
She led her children on daily walks and visits to the nearby Catholic church. Her youngest child Teddy, who would serve nearly a half-century in the US Senate, attributed his policies for the poor and afflicted to the faith his mother instilled in him. Rose encouraged due diligence in writing, grammar, public speaking, foreign languages, and history, as well as travel abroad.
At the dinner table she promoted current events discussions, often posting newspaper articles for the older children to read and debate over meals. Jack’s haphazard approach to his studies prompted maternal letters to the headmaster, informing him that her son “hates routine work but loves History and English, subjects that fire his imagination.”
Jack’s slovenliness and tardiness also agitated his punctilious mother. Even when he was president she admonished him not to place his hands in his pockets because it ruined the tailored look of his jacket.
The Kennedys had burst on to the political scene as Joe worked to elect Franklin Roosevelt president in 1932.
Simply having nine children garnered attention and Joe’s stint as a Hollywood producer made him a mass communications impresario. Meanwhile, Rose became a media maven, following photographer Hal Phyfe’s advice to present her family in flattering poses for newspapers.
Joseph became US Ambassador to the UK in 1938 and Deborah Mitford, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, declared that the Kennedys “caused a sensation because no diplomat had ever arrived with nine children attached. And the chief thing that amazed [the British] was Rose”.
Her girlish figure and fashionable wardrobe drew media in droves. Until the Second World War forced Rose and the children home, she honed her diplomatic skills during weekends at Windsor with the Royals, presentations to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace and dinner for the monarchs at the American embassy.
Teas, receptions, balls and banquets, where she hobnobbed with the statesman and intelligentsia of pre-war Europe, gave her a lifetime of anecdotes to share on the campaign trail, starting with Jack’s standing for Congress in 1946. Her presence was crucial to that win, and all of his victories on the road to the White House.
Kennedy teas became the family’s quintessential weapon in its campaign arsenal. Women voters received engraved invitations to attend receptions with Rose, Jack and his sisters at posh hotels. Coiffed and primped, attendees would queue around the block to shake the Kennedys’ stories of her London experiences.
By 1962 former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson hailed Rose Kennedy as “the head of the most successful employment agency in America”. With Jack in the White House, Bobby in the Cabinet as attorney general and Teddy in the US Senate, she had reached the pinnacle of maternal success. Yet over the next seven years she would lose Jack and Bobby to assassinations, and Teddy would destroy his chances to restore a Kennedy presidency.
The matriarch spent her next two decades burnishing the family’s image with her 1974 memoir, media appearances, and prodigious philanthropy for the disabled in honour of her eldest daughter Rosemary, diagnosed with mental retardation as a child and ultimately the victim of a botched lobotomy ordered by her father.
In public Mrs Kennedy embodied courage, stoicism and unshakable religious faith. The private woman behind the public icon, however, suffered from the unfathomable tragedies that befell her. For solace she turned to travel, shopping and sedatives. Yet this touch of humanity only adds depth to her one-dimensional persona familiar to Camelot fans. When Rose died in 1995 at 104, Teddy looked forward to the day when she “would welcome the rest of us home” to heaven.
A Victorian mother, dedicated to shaping her children’s public virtue and masking their private failings, Rose Kennedy paradoxically lived a classic Irish-Catholic myth of birth, death and resurrection.
An event at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester to celebrate the book that had been scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8, has been postponed because of the federal shutdown and will be rescheduled. Rose’s nephew Thomas Fitzgerald and her granddaughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend were set to share family stories. Former Boston Globe columnist Eileen McNamara was scheduled to moderate.
Scenes from a marriage: 1996-1999
"In the 13 years since he died, I remember Kennedy whenever I exit the Franklin Street subway station by Bubby’s, the corner restaurant where the paps so often staked him out, across from the Tribeca loft he shared with his lovely, restless and unhappy bride until the day they died."
~ Nina Burleigh, The New York Observer
Washington DC, September 19 2013 - Caroline Kennedy and some Kennedy family members during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination for Ambassador to Japan.
WASHINGTON — Former first daughter Caroline Kennedy said Thursday that she would be humbled to carry forward her father’s legacy if confirmed by the Senate to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee, the soft-spoken Kennedy described the crucial bond between the United States and its Asian ally, especially in promoting trade and ensuring strong military ties. She spoke of her own public service and work with the New York City school system.
She noted the significance of her nomination on the 50th anniversary of her father’s presidency, focusing on his tenure rather than on John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
"I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented — a deep commitment to public service, a more just America and a more peaceful world," Kennedy said. "As a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, he had hoped to be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan. If confirmed as ambassador, I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies."
Kennedy faced gentle questioning from Republicans and Democrats on the committee, signaling that she faced no obstacles to confirmation.
"You have a good sense of what national interests are," said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the panel. Corker told Kennedy she would be a "great ambassador."
President Barack Obama chose the attorney and best-selling book editor for the diplomatic job. If confirmed, she would be the first woman in a post from which many other prominent Americans have served to strengthen a vital Asian tie.
New York’s two senators, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, introduced Kennedy to the committee. Schumer noted that Kennedy and her daughter Tatiana made a three-mile swim in the Hudson River last weekend for charity, swimming from Nyack to Sleepy Hollow.
Her testimony came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a panel on which her father served when he was a Massachusetts senator in the late 1950s.
Attending the hearing was Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Caroline Kennedy helped propel Obama to the Democratic presidential nomination with her endorsement over Hillary Rodham Clinton — the only time she’s endorsed a presidential candidate other than her uncle Ted in 1980.
Japan is one of the United States’ most important commercial and military partners and has been accustomed since the end of World War II to having renowned American political leaders serve as envoy. Former U.S. ambassadors to Japan include former Vice President Walter Mondale, former House Speaker Tom Foley and former Senate Majority Leaders Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker.
Kennedy, 55, doesn’t have their foreign policy heft or any obvious ties to Japan, a key ally in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. She would replace John Roos, a wealthy former Silicon Valley lawyer and top Obama campaign fundraiser.
Kennedy’s confirmation to the post by the Senate would bring a third generation of her family into the U.S. diplomatic corps. Her grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambassador to Britain, while her aunt Jean Kennedy Smith was ambassador to Ireland under President Bill Clinton.
Caroline Kennedy was five days shy of her sixth birthday when her father was killed, and she lived most of the rest of her life in New York City. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, got a law degree from Columbia University, married exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg and had three children.
Kennedy is president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and chairs the senior advisory committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard. She has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, helped raise millions of dollars for New York schools and edited numerous bestselling books on history, law and poetry.
She considered running for political office after Clinton resigned the New York Senate seat to serve as Obama’s secretary of state. But Kennedy eventually withdrew herself from consideration to fill the seat, once held by her uncle Robert F. Kennedy, citing unspecified personal reasons.
The marriage of Washington’s best-looking young senator to Washington’s prettiest inquiring photographer took place in Newport R.I. this month and their wedding turned out to be the most impressive the old society stronghold had seen in 30 years. As John F. Kennedy took Jacqueline Bouvier as his bride, 600 diplomats, senators, social figures crowded into St. Mary’s Church to hear the Archbishop of Boston perform the rites sand read a special blessing from the pope. Outside, 2,000 society fans, some come to Newport by chartered bus, cheered the guests and the newlyweds as they left the church. There were 900 guests at the reception and it took Senator and Mrs. Kennedy two hours to shake their hands. The whole affair, said one enthusiastic guest, was “just like a coronation.”
- Life Magazine, September 12 1953
FORT WORTH — Bill Paxton can still remember the excitement and anticipation in the crowd — and the magic of the moments that followed.
An 8-year-old boy at the time, he was part of the crowd of thousands who watched President John F. Kennedy walk outside the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth and give a brief speech the morning of Nov. 22, 1963.
“There was a real electricity in the crowd,” Paxton, now a well-known movie and television actor, said Wednesday night. “Everybody was so excited.”
He said he didn’t remember a lot of Kennedy’s speech, but he did remember the president said he was sorry his wife couldn’t make it. He said she tended to take longer to get ready than he did.
Paxton’s memories were among those shared Wednesday during a “Fort Worth Remembers JFK” program at Texas Christian University geared to make sure that the president’s overnight visit to Fort Worth nearly 50 years ago is not forgotten.
He joined a crew of journalists — CBS’ Bob Schieffer, a former Star-Telegram reporter, historian Hugh Aynesworth, former Star-Telegram reporter Mike Cochran, former KLIF radio anchor Gary DeLaune and former KRLD radio announcer Bob Huffaker — as they recalled events surrounding the president’s visit in November 1963.
President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrived at the then-Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth late on Nov. 21, 1963, to a crowd of thousands and much excitement.
“Fort Worth opened up its heart to the Kennedys,” Cochran recalled. “It was something to behold, the affection Fort Worth had for the Kennedys.”
The next morning, the president spoke outside the Hotel Texas, now the Fort Worth Hilton; talked to those gathered for a breakfast of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; and rode in a motorcade seen by thousands from downtown to Carswell.
About an hour later, Kennedy had arrived in Dallas and was assassinated while riding in the presidential motorcade.
‘Biggest story I almost got’
Schieffer tells the story about how he was the Star-Telegram’s night police reporter and unfortunately not involved with covering the president’s visit to Fort Worth.
His brother woke him up on Nov. 23, 1963, telling him the president had been shot.
He hurried to the newsroom, only to find phones ringing off the hook and an empty newsroom because most of the reporters had been sent to Dallas to cover the president’s assassination.
Trying to help, he answered a phone and heard a woman on the other end ask if someone could give her a ride to Dallas.
“Lady, we don’t run a taxi here,” Schieffer recalls telling her.
The woman told him she believed her son had been arrested in the shooting of the president.
Schieffer quickly got her address.
He and another reporter soon picked up Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother.
He interviewed her on the ride over and said she talked about how people would feel sorry for her daughter-in-law, and send her money, but nobody would care about her and she would starve.
“The woman was truly deranged,” Schieffer recalled.
He took her to the Dallas Police Department, stayed with her, and thought he was going to be in the room when she and her son finally spoke.
About that time, an FBI agent in the room asked who he was and Schieffer admitted he was a reporter.
The man told him to leave the room and told him that “if I ever see you again, I’ll kill you.”
Schieffer quickly left and still believes that was the “biggest story I almost got.”
Aynesworth is widely considered one of the most respected authorities on JFK’s assassination — he witnessed Kennedy’s shooting, the arrest of Oswald at the Texas Theater and the shooting of Oswald by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Initially, he said, he was irritated because he was one of the few reporters at The Dallas Morning Newswho didn’t have an assignment.
But he decided to go ahead and watch the motorcade because it’s not very often people had a chance to see the president. He stood near the depository and heard shots shortly after the president’s car passed him. He said there was pure chaos — people screaming, crying, running around in the street.
Trying to determine the best place to be, he soon heard on a police scanner that a police offer had been shot. Having a feeling that it was connected to the president’s assassination, he ran to the theater and arrived in time to see the police arrest Oswald.
DeLaune was the first person to tell the world that Kennedy had been shot, “perhaps tragically.” He also was standing just feet from Oswald when he was shot by Ruby.
‘A healing going on’
Schieffer said there are moments in history etched in people’s memories “because they were so overpowering.”
For many, one of those dates is Sept. 11, 2001.
For many, another of those dates is Nov. 22, 1963.
“It was the weekend that changed America,” Schieffer said.
After all this time, Paxton said, he was glad to get a chance to be part of Wednesday’s event that remembered the country’s fallen president.
After the assassination, he said, “everyone in North Texas wanted to pretend like it never happened,” he told the Star-Telegram. “It was like it never happened. It was such a dark time.”
For so long, he said, Texans simply wouldn’t talk about the trip or the shooting.
“We forget what a great trip they had until it all went wrong,” he said. “There’s still a healing going on.”
By David Matthews
(CNN) — On a day when so many Americans felt joy, peace and life-long inspiration from the March on Washington, then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was so nervous he could barely sit down.
“Pacing around the room,” described Jack Rosenthal, Kennedy’s deputy press secretary on August 28, 1963. “The attorney general (was) off and on the phone, talking I presume to march organizers or to the White House.”
Rosenthal was with Kennedy inside the “command center” that Justice Department officials used to monitor the march inside the Justice Department headquarters.
This week marks 50 years since the march and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s pivotal “I Have a Dream” speech. While the event has been analyzed by countless historians, the Kennedy administration’s relationship with the march wasn’t so easily understood.
“The Kennedys were almost morbidly afraid of this march. They understood there’d been nothing like it,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, who helped plan the march 50 years ago.
Yet President John F. Kennedy and his attorney general brother knew the march had to be successful, so they assigned a small staff of Justice Department officials to help.
That help was so considerable that the head of the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department at the time, Burke Marshall, would later say about the march: “The person who organized it, as a matter of fact, was the attorney general.”
Critics of the march accused the Kennedy administration of being too involved.
After referring to it as the “Farce on Washington,” Malcolm X would write in his autobiography, “there wasn’t a single logistics aspect uncontrolled. The marchers had been instructed to bring no signs. … They had been told how to arrive, when, where to arrive, where to assemble, when to start marching, the route to march. … Yes, I was there. I observed that circus.”
So, how did the Kennedy administration go from being against the march to being so involved that they were accused of controlling it? Did President Kennedy and his brother help, hinder or co-opt the march?
The answer lies somewhere in between.
‘He thought it would be chaos’
When President Kennedy first heard of a proposed march on Washington, he wasn’t exactly thrilled.
It was June 1963 and Kennedy was meeting with civil rights leaders at the White House, including 23-year-old John Lewis, who had just been elected to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“It was a very moving meeting,” Lewis said. “The president was deeply concerned about what was happening in the American South. So the president wanted to know what could be done.”
Then A. Philip Randolph, the elderly labor leader revered by many in the civil rights movement, announced to the president that there would be a march on Washington.
“You can tell by the very body language of President Kennedy … he started moving and twisting in his chair. And his facial expression — he just thought it would be chaos,” recalled Lewis.
“And the president sort of said, ‘Well, I think we’re gonna have some problems.’”
Despite being in favor of civil rights, Kennedy’s reason for opposing the march was simple:
“The Kennedy administration was afraid that if there was violence on the march, it would mean that the Civil Rights Act, which John F. Kennedy had just introduced, would never get passed,” said march planner Rachelle Horowitz.
Kennedy explained his concerns to the civil rights leaders in his office.
“We want success in the Congress, not just a big show at the Capitol,” Kennedy is quoted as saying. “Some of these people are looking for an excuse to be against us, and I don’t want to give any of them a chance to say, ‘Yes I’m for the bill but I am damned if I will vote for it a the point of a gun.’
“The only effect is to create an atmosphere of intimidation – and this may give some members of Congress an out.”
But the civil rights leaders would not be discouraged.
The March on Washington planning committee set up an office on 130th Street in Harlem in summer 1963 and began the arduous task of trying to contact, recruit and deliver thousands of people to attend the march.
“When we first began planning the march, there was a concerted effort by the Kennedy administration to get it called off and to not let it take place,” said Horowitz, who was in charge of organizing transportation for the event.
Holmes Norton, who helped Horowitz with transportation planning, said march organizers “heard nothing but complaints from the Kennedy administration at the time.”
“They didn’t say, ‘Welcome to Washington, this is what I need. If you come to Washington, this will help me get the bill passed,’” she said, referring to Kennedy’s proposed Civil Rights Act. “It was quite the contrary.”
But as the Kennedys began to see the need for a successful and peaceful march, attitudes began to shift.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
The March on Washington organizers envisioned a two-day event that would take marchers around the White House and then to the National Mall, Horowitz recalled.
But she said the Kennedy administration squashed that idea.
“The White House absolutely did not want that to happen,” Horowitz said. “And they were able to convince people not to do it.”
As a result, the march ended up only being one day, and marchers traversed the mall, not past the White House or Capitol Hill.
The White House had moved past its initial opposition to the march. Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department started engaging the march planners, rather than trying to stymie them.
“They kept a watchful eye on the planning of the march,” said Lewis, one of the “Big Six” original leaders behind the march. “They stayed in touch with the (march) leadership.”
The march leaders, in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the event and widen the scope of its leadership, added four white leaders, changing the “Big Six” to the “Big Ten.” They included representatives of the Protestant, Jewish and Catholic faiths, and a labor leader.
Staunch civil rights advocate and United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther was recruited by the White House “to infiltrate the march and steer it away from radical rhetoric and direct action,” wrote Charles Euchner in his book “Nobody Turn Me Around,” about the historic march.
“And so he did.”
By this point, Kennedy had come around so far on the march that, according to march planner Courtland Cox, the president figured if you can’t beat them, join them.
“There was a proposal on the table that Kennedy speak to the March on Washington,” said Cox. “And (march organizer) Bayard (Rustin) knew this would have been a disaster because it would’ve been taken over by (Kennedy) just because he’s president.
“It would’ve been Kennedy’s march.”
So, Cox said Rustin and he excused themselves from that particular meeting and took a walk to the bathroom. Clearly flummoxed about the problem, Rustin took a sip from his back-pocket flask and came up with an idea on the fly.
“And Bayard got back into the meeting and he literally made this up,” Cox recalled. “He said that he heard … if the president spoke the Negroes were going to stone him.”
After that, the idea of Kennedy speaking at the march was never considered.
‘He was like a beaming, proud father’
Jack Rosenthal remembers the buzz of activity inside the Justice Department’s room 5110, Robert Kennedy’s office, on August 28, 1963.
“That was the command center,” said Rosenthal, who was the department’s assistant press officer at the time.
The attorney general was nervous that a disastrous or violent march would hurt his brother’s civil rights legislation, and the civil rights cause in general.
Justice Department officials were relying on various eyewitness reports to feed information back to them.
“Younger people should realize this is long before cell phones, e-mail or texting,” Rosenthal said. “The only way to communicate was by a few precious walkie-talkies or by making personal observations and then hoofing it back to the Justice Department.”
One of those on the other end of the walkie-talkies was RFK’s assistant, William vanden Heuvel. He was part of a team of “rovers” dispatched by the Justice Department.
“I was close up by the memorial itself, walking that area, so I had a pretty good overview of the program as it proceeded,” vanden Heuvel recalled.
“You know, (to) make sure things didn’t get difficult or things didn’t go in a bad direction. And if they did, just try to intervene.”
This was far from the only precaution the federal government took that day. Bars were closed, the National Guard was on standby: The government was prepared for the worst.
“They had a draft drawn up declaring martial law,” said Roger Mudd, who anchored the event for CBS.
Every little detail was analyzed, including John Lewis’ speech, the contents of which had been released to the press the night before.
“I received a note from Bayard Rustin, saying, in effect, that there was some concern about my speech,” Lewis recalled. “Archbishop (Patrick) O’Boyle, who’s very close to the Kennedy family, said he will refuse to give the invocation if I didn’t change the speech.”
Lewis’ original draft questioned which side the federal government was on, which would have greatly embarrassed the Kennedy administration.
“The Kennedy administration was using the archbishop as a conduit to express its views,” march planner Courtland Cox said.
O’Boyle wasn’t the only one to apply pressure to Lewis that day to get him to change his speech.
Reuther, the UAW leader who had been working on behalf of the Kennedys to steer the march to their liking, also joined in denouncing Lewis’ proposed speech.
“If John Lewis feels strongly that he wants to make this speech, he can go someplace else and make it,” Reuther recalled later. “But he has no right to make it here because if he tries to make it, he destroys the integrity of our coalition.”
So after more cajoling from A. Philip Randolph, Lewis and Cox made the necessary changes to his speech on a small typewriter underneath the Lincoln Memorial.
Reuther then called O’Boyle to inform him that the changes were made, and government vehicles were sent to get the bishop through the crowds and to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“I never saw a bishop look so good in my life,” Reuther quipped.
Even if Lewis’ speech hadn’t been changed, there is reason to believe no one would have heard its more fiery contents anyway. The Kennedy administration had the ultimate trump card, and perhaps its most calculating plan in place that day: control of the sound system’s on-off switch.
After the final speech by King, those hunkered down in the Justice Department command center in room 5110 didn’t relax, despite the fact that there were no outbreaks of violence.
“When the speaking stopped and people started to disperse, there was still the danger of some spark being lit as people were leaving,” Rosenthal said
Simultaneously, in another part of Washington, President Kennedy was congratulating the march leaders on a near-flawless event. He couldn’t help but already declare the day a success.
“After the March on Washington was over, President Kennedy had invited us back down to the White House,” Lewis said. “He stood in the door of the Oval Office and he greeted each one of us. He was like a beaming, proud father. He was so pleased. So happy that everything had gone so well.”
President Kennedy even had a message for King after his historic speech: “(Kennedy said) ‘And you had a dream,’” added Lewis.
President Kennedy’s assassination three months after the march raised fears that the civil rights movement would stall, but the next year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. In 1968, assassins would claim the lives of King and Robert Kennedy.
As the nation reflects on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which paved the way for an end to segregationist laws, Rosenthal reflected on the sometimes contentious and evolving relationship the Kennedy brothers had with the march and concluded, “The civil rights movement would not have been as successful when it was, had it not been for the work of the Kennedy administration.”
By Jack Schlossberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jack Schlossberg is a junior at Yale University, a contributor to the Yale Daily News and The Yale Herald. He is the grandson of President John F. Kennedy.
(CNN) — On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans marched on the National Mall in support of civil rights. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, asserting the paramount importance of civil rights for all.
The march forced the issue of civil rights onto the national agenda and into the lives of every American of every race. It was the culmination of years of tireless work and perseverance, all involving tremendous risk and quiet courage, much of it receiving little or no attention.
Wednesday, August 28, is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The march was one of the proudest days in our nation’s history, a day when all Americans heard what it might sound like to “hear freedom ring.” People gathered in excitement over the potential of major progress in the centuries-long struggle for American equality.
In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy had become the first American president to deem civil rights a “moral issue,” stating that it was an issue “as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution,” that America “will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.” Kennedy, however, was assassinated before seeing the full legislative fruits of his labor.
Following this inspiring March on Washington and with the strong support of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both major pieces of legislation that placed the primary responsibility and power to protect every citizen’s right to vote with the federal government.
Never again would the United States revert to the injustice and immorality of Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and literacy tests that defined and preserved systemic racial inequality in the South before the March on Washington.
Today, the most vital provision of the Voting Rights Act, in effect, no longer exists. The preclearance provision of Section 5 requires Justice Department approval of any significant voting change in a set of nine states and parts of six others covered by a formula in Section 4 on the basis of the states’ history of racial discrimination in voting.
Although Attorney General Eric Holder is wisely taking Texas to court under Section 3, experts insist that the crucial remedy was the preventive one provided by Sections 4 and 5. Yet in June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.
The court argued that the problem of voter disenfranchisement on the basis of race can no longer be assumed to persist in the jurisdictions identified after extensive congressional hearings in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 2000s. Therefore, the court decided, the crucial means of oversight — pre-clearance review — granted to the federal government in Sections 4(b) and 5 might no longer be necessary to secure the ends — the right of every eligible citizen to vote — for which those provisions were enacted and frequently re-enacted. Instead, the list of covered jurisdictions would need to be updated by Congress in a continuing manner on the basis of ever-changing data.
Many legal scholars across the ideological spectrum have explained why this unprecedented decision violates long-settled constitutional principles under both the Enforcement Clause of the 14th Amendment and the long-established principle and practice, established in McCulloch v. Maryland. The “McCulloch test” requires the court to defer to Congress regarding which means are necessary to achieve legitimate ends, so long as those means do not cross established constitutional boundaries among the branches of government or between government and individuals.
I am not a legal scholar, but I argue that there is another, more basic and compelling reason rooted in legal precedent why the court was mistaken.
Precedent dictates that the Supreme Court should exercise extreme restraint in extraordinary situations known as “political questions.” In Baker v. Carr, the court outlined the factors that identified the existence of purely “political questions.” One of those factors is “the impossibility of a court’s undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government.”
I do not claim that the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act is literally a “political question” entirely beyond the purview of the federal courts; such questions, I understand, are truly few and far between. What I do argue, however, is that many of the same factors that instruct the court to exercise restraint regarding political questions are applicable here. Namely, the court had every reason to defer to congressional expertise and political accountability when hearing this case.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the court entered into the political arena, heedless of the need for caution and deference, and the resulting decision expressed a blatant lack of respect for the other branches of government and, by extension, for the American people.
The Voting Rights Act is a monument to the long struggle, over more than a century, for racial equality. The act became law because of the courage and devotion of those involved in the civil rights movement and our country, and our government has, since the act’s original passage, understood its significance as something more meaningful than just one more act of Congress.
In fact, the act is extraordinary in that it has been consistently revisited and reaffirmed by both Democrats and Republicans since its passage almost 50 years ago.
Included in the 1965 law was a clause stating that unless Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act, it would expire after five years. In 1970, under President Nixon, Congress renewed the act for five more years. In 1975, under President Ford, Congress again renewed it for another seven years. In 1982, under President Reagan, Congress reauthorized it for 25 years, and in 2006, under President Bush, Congress did so again for another 25 years. Each of these presidents signed renewals of the act.
I will probably never be denied the right to vote. I am a white male with a valid form of identification living in a progressive state. In November, when I cast my first vote in a national election, I felt excited, proud and part of something larger than myself. I have trouble believing that I will be as excited and proud to participate in an election in which my peers won’t have the same protection against voter discrimination as they did last fall.
My whole life, I have heard that if one person in every precinct had voted differently or if one less supporter had made it to the polls, my grandfather would not have been elected president in 1960. Voting matters.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court showed a lack of respect for the efforts of all those who, both in government and out, worked over the generations to uphold America’s ongoing efforts to fulfill its promise of equality under the law. The ruling effectively erased a landmark piece of legislation that secured the culmination of a century-long struggle toward justice and equality for African-Americans and minorities in America.
Beyond its implications in the present, Voting Rights Act itself is a monument to all those who fought for a voice and a vote.
Not since Reconstruction had our government acted so strongly in the name of civil rights. In his majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts explained how successful the act has been in limiting racial disenfranchisement, which “is no longer the problem it once was.” He conceded that “these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act” itself. That argument makes logical sense only if one believes that discrimination in voting in America no longer exists. But, I think most of us would agree that is not that case.
The law was successful because it created an effective protection against racism by allowing the federal government to stop disenfranchisement before it became law, not after it became part of a local electoral system. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion, eliminating this law is “like throwing away your umbrella in a rain storm.”
"The civil rights movement didn’t end on August 6, 1965. … The work of creating a truly equal country never ends."
- Jack Schlossberg
The act’s effectiveness makes it an important symbol of the good that government can do. It reminds Americans that their government is capable of effective action and is committed to fostering a genuine democracy for everyone.
The civil rights movement didn’t end on August 6, 1965. It continued because the work of creating a truly equal country never ends. Racism plagued America throughout the ’60s, into the ’70s, through the ’80s; it continued in the ’90s and in the first decade of the new millennium; and it persists today.
King’s dream was not that he would be able to stop marching in a few years, once things got a little bit better. Racism and inequality may not be as severe as before, but when “stand your ground” laws in Florida protect those many believe to be guilty of racially motivated violence, then surely there is work to be done. And when state legislatures put new barriers in the way of voters, turning them away for not having certain forms of ID, then clearly we have yet to perfect the very process that makes America the democracy it promises to be for all of its citizens.
On Wednesday, August 28, let’s remember all the work that still needs to be done.