bureaucracybusters

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART FOUR (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 14, 2013 at 12:05 am

John F. Kennedy became President when civil rights suddenly became a burning issue throughout the Nation.

At Kennedy’s request, dozen of law firms sent lawyers South, so civil rights demonstrators would not lack  counsel.

Prominent blacks such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert C. Weaver and George L.L. Weaver were appointed, respectively, to the Supreme Court, the Housing and House Finance Agency and the office of Assistant Secretary of Labor.

But Kennedy was highly reluctant to push for a civil rights bill addressing the overall issues of racial discrimination.

The reason: Most of the chairman of House and Senate committees were deeply conservative racists–whether Republican or Democrat.  They decided whether Kennedy’s foreign policy initiatives would be approved or opposed–especialy his bills for increased foreign aid.

Kennedy believed he could not offend such men without jeopardizing the legacy he wanted to achieve in foreign policy.

This timidity, in turn, led many prominent blacks–such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X–to believe they would see no innovative moves on Kennedy’s part.

But events forced Kennedy’s hand.

On September 30, 1962, the President sent deputy U.S. marshals and National Guardsmen into Mississippi to restore order.  Rioting had erupted when, by federal court order, James Meredith, a black, was enrolled  at the state university.

Kennedy’s problems in winning support for his civil rights program arose in the folkways of the Nation.  When laws run counter to a nation’s folkways, the laws lose.

In backing the admission of Meredith, the President chose an incident which would set off shockwaves for black rights.

Kennedy held mixed emotions about the demand for civil rights by blacks.  On one hand, as an Irish Catholic, he grew up with stories about longtime discrimination against his ancestors (such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs posted by numerous employers).

On the other hand, he had been born into a world of power and wealth, and he had to grope his way toward understanding the problems of the oppressed.

Another major confrontation broke out between Kennedy and the forces of segregation on June 11, 1963.  Alabama Governor George C. Wallace personally blocked the entrance of two black pupils to the University of Tuscaloosa.

The President, watching on TV, federalized the Alabama National Guard, which Wallace had used to ring the school.  Wallace withdrew and the students were admitted and enrolled.

That same day, Kennedy addressed the nation on the need for genuine equality for all Americans: “The question is whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”

JFK addresses the nation on civil rights

And he called on Congress to pass his civil rights bill, which had been stalled by the legislators.

On August 28, 1963, 200,000 civil rights demonstrators flooded Washington, D.C., for a massive rally.

Fearing that violence would erupt–embarrassing his administration and setting back the cause of civil rights–Kennedy had sought to persuade Dr. Martin Luther King, the march’s chief figure, to cancel the proposed march..

But King and his fellow organizers were determined to go through with it.  They had, they said, waited too long for justice to be satisfied with anything less.

The dignity and peacefulness of the rally–and, most especially, King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” speech–won tremendous sympathy throughout the cuntry.  Kennedy met with civil rights leaders afterward to offer his support.

Martin Luther King during the March on Washington

But Kennedy’s civil rights bill remained stalled in Congress until 1964.   President Lyndon B. Johnson used the assassinated Kennedy’s new status as a martyr to gain enough support for its passage.

Meanwhile, on yet another front, the Kennedy administration was waging an unprecedented war against organized crime.

This was primarily the work of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.  As chief counsel for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during the late 1950s, he had interrogated hundreds of mobsters who had been summoned by subpoena.

And he had learned, firsthand, how ineffective the FBI and Justice Department were at bringing such powerful criminals to justice.

Upon taking office as Attorney General, he greatly expanded the number of attorneys assigned to the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Section.  And, more important, he used his status as brother to the President to jawbone FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover into attacking the Mob.

The FBI installed illegal microphones in Mob hangouts throughout the country and started building cases against such mobsters as Sam Giancana, Santos Trafficante and Carlos Marcello.

The administration’s attack on the Mob has led some historians to believe the assassination of President Kennedy was Mob-orchestrated.

The reasons:

  • Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, solicited Mob money and influence for his son’s 1960 Presidential campaign.
  • Through singer Frank Sinatra, the elder Kennedy assurred Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana that the mob would get a free ride if his son were elected President.
  • The CIA, seeking any way to topple Fidel Castro, enlisted the Mafia to assassinate him.
  • But Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, ignored the Mob’s “contributions” and pressed his war against the syndicates
  • As a result, mobsters felt betrayed and lusted for vengeance.

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