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Kennedy on Civil Rights
1. What problems were there for Black people in America on Kennedy's coming to power?
Most Southern blacks lacked the vote and suffered segregated housing, schools, transport and
public facilities. Some white racists used violence to prevent change. Southern blacks were politically,
legally, economically and socially inferior.
2. Why was JFK unable to act in 1961?
Kennedy had no great popular mandate for action. Civil rights legislation would be unpopular with
most voters, and with Congress, which contained many influential Southern Democrats. Finally,
Kennedy planned legislation for better health care and wages for the poor.
3. How did Kennedy promote Black people in federal employment?
Kennedy put a lot of pressure on the civil service to employ blacks so much so that they were almost
running in their haste to employ a black. He also made many black appointments to the federal
4. Why were his judicial appointments so significant?
He appointed 5 blacks which showed his support for the civil rights movement. However, he also
appointed many segregationists because he did not want to alienate white voters in the South.
5. What were JFK and his brother's approach to legal solutions to civil rights problems?
They brought 57 suits against illegal violations of black voting rights in the South. It threatened
Louisiana officials when they would not provide funds for newly desegregated schools in New
Orleans so much so that it hastened to desegregate New Orleans, Atlanta and Memphis.
6. What kind of issues was Kennedy strong on and what type of issues was he more
Kennedy was strong on making symbolic gestures as they were an easier way of giving the
impression of being dedicated to the civil rights movement. However, although Kennedy asked far
more blacks to the white house than any other president, he always rejected their requests for
7. What was Kennedy's view of using executive authority and federal intervention?
President Kennedy had not planned extended use of executive authority and federal intervention to
help blacks. However, Civil Rights activists forced his hand beginning with the Freedom Rides in 1961.
He probably hesitated in using it too long.
8. What were the causes and consequences of Presidential inaction?
When Kennedy's federal marshals could not control a white mob, Kennedy pressured Alabama's
Governor to call out the national guard and state troopers.
9. How did Kennedy react to the Meredith enrolment affair?
Robert Kennedy sent 500 marshals to help Meredith enrol as he was a black student trying to get
into a white university since his own college was terrible. The marshals clashed with a racist mob. Two
people were shot and one third of the marshals were injured. This meant that Kennedy had to send
the Mississippi National Guard and the US regular army.
10. How did Kennedy help in Birmingham?
They sent in justice department representatives who brought both sides together in preparation for
changes to segregation.
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How did Kennedy respond to the March on Washington?
Kennedy was initially resistant towards the march because he feared it would antagonise Congress
and jeopardise his civil rights bill. Eventually, Kennedy endorsed the March and worked hard to keep
12. What is Sanders' view of Kennedy's importance to the civil rights movement?
Kennedy's record on civil rights is mixed. He did a lot of things to no cost of himself that made him
look good towards civil rights.…read more