The Oval Office

"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." — John F. Kennedy, Address to the Nation, June 11, 1963

About the Exhibit

This exhibit contains film footage from 1963 related to the civil rights movement. The events portrayed include the April civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama; the June 10th integration of the University of Alabama; President Kennedy’s June 11, 1963 televised address to the nation on civil rights; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s August 28th speech, “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington  D.C. On display is a selection of personal items which President Kennedy displayed in the White House Oval Office as well as a replica of President Kennedy's desk, the HMS Resolute desk.

JFK with Civil Rights Leaders

During President Kennedy's administration, one of the most explosive domestic issues was the cause of civil rights. African Americans were demonstrating against social and economic injustices, and against segregation. While he received strong, perhaps decisive support from black voters, at the outset of his administration, JFK deferred civil rights legislation to avoid alienating southern Democrats, whose votes were essential to the passage of his overall domestic program. He relied instead on the use of executive authority to implement a number of progressive measures. Most civil rights leaders, however, urged a more aggressive approach.

Influenced by these leaders, Kennedy used the power of his office to send troops to southern states to enforce the racial integration of schools such as the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the University of Alabama in 1963.

President Kennedy addresses AMVETS by telephone from the Oval Office, 23 August 1962

Finally, on June 11, 1963, Kennedy committed the full powers of his office to the cause of equal rights. He gave an audio televised address from the oval office on the problem of racial discrimination, calling it "a moral crisis" and submitted comprehensive civil rights legislation to the Congress. When civil rights leaders announced plans for a March on Washington that summer, Kennedy initially opposed the idea, fearing a large demonstration in the capital could turn violent and jeopardize the civil rights bill. After a meeting with the leaders, he was persuaded that the march was "in the great tradition" of American protest. The main leaders of the march were A. Philip Randolph (who had initiated the idea), the heads of the five key civil rights organizations, plus longtime activist Bayard Rustin, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each one played an important part in America’s struggle for civil rights.

 

Exhibit Highlights

Commodore John Barry's Flag

Pennant composed of an anchor encircled by thirteen stars on a blue field. President Kennedy displayed this pennant on the wall of the Oval Office in the White House.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.4885a


Breton Fisherman's Prayer Plaque (MO 63.4861)

Bronze plaque on wedge shaped wood block with raised lettering that reads "Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small." This Old Breton prayer was given to new submarine captains by Admiral Hyman Rickover, who gave this plaque to the President. President Kennedy favored this quote and used in his remarks at the dedication of the East Coast Memorial to the Missing at Sea, May 23, 1963. He kept the plaque on his desk in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.4861


Replica of the HMS Resolute Desk

Replica of the Victorian period desk originally designed and built by William Evenden at Chatham dockyard in England. The front of the desk has an inserted panel carved with the Presidential Seal, an addition carved by the White House carpenter and ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wished to install a safe as well as block his leg braces from view. The desk disappeared from public view for a number of years and early in the Kennedy Administration, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy discovered it in the White House broadcast room. Because of President Kennedy's love of the sea and interest in naval history she had the desk returned to a place of honor in his Oval office on February 4, 1961. Replica made by Robert Whitley (Master craftsman, American).

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 79.242


President Kennedy's Oval Office Desk Chair

Black leather and fabric upholstered swivel chair with a solid cherry brass-capped base on 2-inch rubber wheels. The interior frame is made of solid maple and the chair's back and seat are foam-filled over a spring foundations. The chair has a removable back pad for extra support. Made by W.H. Gunlocke Chair Co. (American, established 1902).

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy Official Presidential Inaugural Medal

Single mintage, 14K gold Inaugural Medal of President Kennedy in profile facing left with raised inscription "John Fitzgerald Kennedy."  The reverse shows the presidential seal in center with "Inaugurated January 20th 1961" below. President Kennedy had his inaugural medal encased in lucite, which he kept on his desk of the Oval Office. Designed by Paul Manship (American 1886-1966).

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA.


Photographs of John F. Kennedy and his daughter, Caroline

Two framed black and white photographs of John F. Kennedy with his daughter Caroline. The President kept these photographs on his desk in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.6121


Photograph of John F. Kennedy Jr.

Color photograph of John F. Kennedy Jr.  President Kennedy displayed this photograph of his son in the Oval Office of the White House.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. 


Carolina Rocking Chair

On 6 June 1963, President John F. Kennedy, with top civilian and military leaders, boarded USS Kitty Hawk to witness a carrier task force weapons demonstration off the California coast. Addressing the men of the task group from Kitty Hawk, President Kennedy told them that, as in the past, control of the seas still means security, peace and ultimate victory. It was on the Kitty Hawk that Capt. William F. Bringle and crew presented him with this rocking chair, which he used in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.1339


Ship Model of the Danmark

This model of the Danish maritime training ship the Danmark was presented to President Kennedy by Kirsten Runge in the Oval office during a New York Herald Tribune forum for students to visit the White House on February 15, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 79.185


Model of the Clipper Ship "Sea Witch"

The Sea Witch was the first Clipper ship to go around Cape Horn to California in less than 100 days, and twice broke speed records from Canton to the United States. This ship model was part of President Kennedy's personal model collection. He displayed it in the Oval Office of the White House.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 79.189

More information


Scrimshaw

Whale tooth engraved a frigate running before the wind under full sail on front. The back is engraved in black and red image a woman in a full length dress with a checkered apron holding a tiny parasol in her right hand and handkerchief in her left. It was used as a bookend in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.6112

More information


King of Norway Scrimshaw

Whale tooth engraved with a profile image of the King of Norway. Inscribed "Christian VI, King of Norway" in gold on the wood base. Tooth is mounted vertically on oval shaped wooden base.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.6111.2

More information


Signing Desk

This desk was part of the furniture in the Oval Office during President Kennedy's Administration and was used by President John F. Kennedy in signing bills, Executive Orders, and treaties.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 98.172


Bookends with Models of the USS Constitution Cannons

Two L shaped wood bookends with handmade, working replica models of USS Constitution ship's cannons, 24-pounder long guns mounted on sliding carriages. These bookends, given to President John F. Kennedy by Lt. Commander Rutledge E. Barry, were displayed in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.4858


Carved Miniature Lion

Carved reclining lion in the act of eating. The sculpture has a hollow core and is set on a black painted wood base. Made in Egypt, 610-595 BCE, 26th Dynasty.

This lion, a gift from President Kennedy's friend Lem Billings, was displayed on his desk in the Oval Office of the White House.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA.


Reproduction of an Old North Church Lantern

This lantern is a reproduction of the original tin lantern which hung in the Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts on the night of Paul Revere's famous ride in April 1775, made by William deMatteo, Master Silversmith of Colonial Williamsburg (American, 1923 - 1988).

A pair of these lanterns was presented to President John F. Kennedy at the White House Correspondents' Association's Annual Presidential Dinner on February 25, 1961 in Washington, D.C.  President Kennedy displayed the lanterns in his Oval Office of the White House.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA.


Desk Lectern

Wooden desk lectern covered in brown felt, with an open compartment along back holding 2 microphones, speaker cord runs from microphones underneath the lectern. President Kennedy used this lectern when giving press conferences in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA.