"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.
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.
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.