Unfinished Business

September 3, 2020

About This Episode

While Senator John F. Kennedy was formally launching his run for president at the start of 1960, another movement was gathering steam. This week, we’ll find out how the emerging modern Civil Rights Movement affected Kennedy’s and Nixon’s campaign strategies, and hear how Kennedy worked to win over Black voters who were skeptical of his commitment to civil rights. And we'll also discuss how racist Jim Crow laws in the South prevented Black citizens from voting, with a look at where we are today.

Featuring interviews and archive audio from Stacey Abrams, Jamelle Bouie, James Farmer, John Lewis, Jill Lepore, Fredrik Logevall, John Lewis, and Tim Naftali.

View the transcript for this episode.

From the JFK Library Archives

2nd Kennedy/Nixon Debate, where the candidates discussed civil rights. October 7, 1960.

Address at Howard University, October 7, 1960.

The “Blue Bomb” Pamphlet, printed to publicize JFK's call to Coretta Scott King and his campaign's help in releasing her husband from prison. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Staff Files of Harris Wofford. Alphabetical File, 1956-1962. Civil Rights: Miscellaneous, 1960-January 1961.

Text of JFK's Remarks at the Constitutional Conference, New York City, October 12, 1960.

JFK's Reading Copy for his Remarks at the Constitutional Conference. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speeches and the Press. Speech Files, 1953-1960. National Conference on Constitutional Rights and American Freedoms, New York City, 12 October 1960.

Marjorie Lawson’s Campaign Files. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Presidential Campaign Files, 1960. Campaigns by State: Pre-Convention Political Files, 1960.

Martin Luther King Jr. letter to Marjorie Lawson, September 4, 1959. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Presidential Campaign Files, 1960. Campaigns by State: Pre-Convention Political Files, 1960. Alabama: Political: H-K.

Oral Histories

Ruth Batson (transcript)

Simeon Booker (transcript)

James Farmer, #1 (audio and transcript)

Marjorie McKenzie Lawson, #1 (transcript)

Marjorie McKenzie Lawson, #2 (transcript)

John Lewis, #1 (audio and transcript)

Louis Martin, #1 (audio and transcript)

Louis Martin, #2 (audio and transcript)

From the JFK Library

JFK Library Forum: A Conversation with Stacey Abrams, December 3, 2019.

JFK's Pre-Presidential Voting Record, 1947-1960.

Blog post: JFK and the Blue Bomb.

See full source list for this series.


Audio from the 2nd debate between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Photo of Martin Luther King at Atlanta protest courtesy of AP Images.

Hosts and producers: Matt Porter and Jamie Richardson

Co-producer: Rick King

Research assistants: Megan McKee and Cassie Marando

Special thanks to our Foundation colleagues, in particular Meaghan Hohl and Executive Director Rachel Flor.

We also thank all of our guests for lending their voices and expertise to this podcast.

None of this would be possible without the work by archivists and other staff at the JFK Library and Museum, who make much of the material discussed available to all online and to visiting researchers.

Logo: Brian Kang

Music: Blue.Sessions