Tag Archives: 1960s

Of Kennedys and Kings: Remembering 1968

* On the 40th anniversary of the MLK Assassination last year, our founding editor New Frontier wrote this remembrance of the tragic events which took place this week in 1968. We wanted to share it with you again today.

MLK and RFK

RFK and MLK

MARCH 31-APRIL 4, 1968 - A WEEK THAT CHANGED AMERICA

“Even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.”

 

– Aeschylus, as quoted by Robert Kennedy upon the death of MLK

Φ

40 years ago this week brought us to a critical turning point in the American experience.

By March of `68, with the peace movement rapidly growing and anti-war sentiment at its’ peak, it seemed that things might finally be turning around for the better. Robert F. Kennedy had just entered the presidential race opposing the war. There was a brewing sense of hope that a Kennedy presidency would be restored five years after the death of JFK.

Little did America suspect that the era known as “Camelot” was not to rise again. On the contrary, it was about to come to an abrupt, ironic, tragic, and bloody end.

Over the course of just five short days, we watched in shock as President Lyndon B. Johnson stepped aside and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was brutally murdered. We saw race riots erupt in the streets of our cities, and wondered if the whole world just might burn. We heard one of the most stirring pleas for peace and unity ever spoken by any politician when Robert F. Kennedy delivered the news of Dr. King’s assassination in the heart of an Indianapolis ghetto.

Looking back with the hindsight of history, we can now fully comprehend the importance of this pivotal moment. Those who lived through it will never be able to shake the memory. For for the ones who weren’t old enough to remember or had not been born yet, the events of that week still fascinate, even when experienced secondhand through books or grainy old news footage.

It’s a tale of stunning upsets, unimaginable horrors and stark contrasts: of presidents and peace, of war and love, of confusion and clarity, of Kennedys and Kings. Of pain which cannot forget – even after forty years.

LBJ GETS OUT OF THE WAY

The first jolt came on March 31, President Lyndon B. Johnson stunned the nation with the surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election to the presidency in 1968.

Appearing on TV at 9 p.m. that evening, LBJ first announced that he was taking steps to limit the war in Vietnam. He outlined his plan at some length; then, in what seemed almost an afterthought, dropped this unexpected bombshell:

“Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God’s, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.

United we have kept that commitment. United we have enlarged that commitment.

Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.

Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.

What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.

Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.

With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

LBJ's address to the nation, March 31, 1968

President Johnson addresses the nation on television – March 31, 1968 

At that exact moment, Kennedy (who had just announced his intention to run for the presidency two weeks earlier) was coming in for a landing at La Guardia airport. The New York State Democratic chairman, John Burns, raced aboard the plane and breathlessly told Kennedy, “The president is not going to run.”

Kennedy just stared at him. “You’re kidding,” he said.

On the drive in from the airport, RFK seemed lost in thought. Finally, he said, “I wonder if he (LBJ) would have done this if I hadn’t come in.”

MLK ASSASSINATED

Bobby wouldn’t have much time to ponder Johnson’s motivations. While on the campaign trail four days later — again on an airplane — he recieved word that Martin Luther King had just been shot and killed by a sniper in Memphis.

Kennedy “sagged. His eyes went blank,” said New York Times reporter Johnny Apple, who delivered the news to RFK.

By the time Bobby arrived in Indianapolis, King had been reported dead. Fearing a race riot, the chief of police advised Kennedy to cancel his scheduled appearance in a mostly black neighborhood. Ignoring the warnings, RFK arrived at the speech site – a wind-blown lot surrounded by tenements – in his brother’s old overcoat with the collar turned up.

About a thousand people were gathered there, rallying and cheering for Bobby with all the usual excitment generated at his campaign stops. The crowd awaited his speech, happily oblivious to the news that Dr. King had been shot down. 

Throwing out his prepared remarks, Bobby pulled from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper with his own hastily scribbled notes and began to speak in quiet, reverent tones, his voice occasionally cracking with nervous emotion:

“Ladies and Gentlemen – I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening. Because…

I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

(Audible gasps and cries of “No! No!” can be heard from the crowd)

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black – considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible – you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.

 

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

(Interrupted by applause)

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

(Interrupted by applause)

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Thank you very much.”

 
Listen to the entire speech 6:12

The murder of MLK, Lorraine motel, Memphis
(The murder of MLK. Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN. April 4, 1968.) 

PAIN WHICH CANNOT FORGET

Late that night, a sleepless, restless Kennedy was seen wandering the halls of his hotel alone. At 3 a.m., he knocked on the door of Joan Braden, an old friend who had also worked on JFK’s 1960 campaign. Bobby confided to her the true source of his agony.

“Joanie,” he said, “that could have been me.”

Two months later to the day Robert Kennedy was gunned down during a celebration following his victory in the California primary, June 4, 1968. He would die 26 hours later.

While it would be easy to look back after 40 years and dwell on 1968′s sorrows, its’ crippling series of tragedies, perhaps we should instead remember and take to heart Bobby Kennedy’s advice:

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

 

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermon.

 Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968

 

 

Copyright RFKJrforPresident.com

14 Comments

Filed under election 2008, JFK, John F. Kennedy, lady bird johnson, LBJ, lyndon b. johnson, politics, president kennedy, RFK, RFK Jr., robert f. kennedy, robert kennedy jr., senator robert kennedy, the kennedys, Uncategorized

JFK On Presidential Leadership

John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail, 1960

“Vote for Kennedy!”: Flashback to 1960, the last time a sitting (or in this case, standing) U.S. Senator won the presidency in a general election.

A FEW WORDS FROM JFK ON PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP

This election year, we all must have a heart-to-heart with ourselves and ask, “what qualities do I want in a president? What truly constitutes leadership?”

We’d like to draw your attention to a speech President John F. Kennedy gave in 1962 which is rarely noted or quoted. Sadly, this address seems to have been somewhat lost to history, but reading his words again should strike a deep resonant chord in all of us today.

This speech hits home now when we look at our plunging economy, the national debt, the death of American industry, the downfall of labor unions, our failing education system, corporate profit-taking, the war, escalating tensions around the globe, the pillage of our natural environment, the election, and perhaps most importantly – the powers properly granted to the president under the Constitution of the United States to fix these problems. What is within his or her power, and what is not?

After eight years of George W. Bush, it’s a hot question in 2008.

WHEN IS AGGRESSIVE USE OF PRESIDENTIAL POWER A GOOD THING?

Let’s look at just one historical example.

President Kennedy made these remarks during a speech to the United Auto Workers Union in Atlantic City in May, 1962. Addressing the issue of how much influence the President should have over the nation’s economy (or perhaps put more bluntly, whether he should bow and do the bidding of his corporate puppetmasters), Kennedy vigorously defended his recent actions which had forced the steel industry to eliminate a price increase.

“I speak,” he said, “as President of the United States with a single voice to both management and labor . . . I believe it is the business of the President of the United States to concern himself with the general welfare and the public interest . . . I believe that what is good for the United States—for the people as a whole—is going to be good for every American company and for every American union.”

Unjustified wage and price demands, said the President, are equally “contrary to the national interest.” His Administration “has not undertaken and will not undertake” to fix prices or wages or to intervene in every little old labor dispute. Instead, it depends on labor and management to reach settlements within “guidelines” suggested by the Administration.

This aggressive policy had been the subject of “a good deal of discussion, acrimony, and controversy on wages and prices and profits,” Kennedy acknowleged, but he added this justification: 

“Now I know there are some people who say that this isn’t the business of the President of the United States, who believe that the President of the United States should be an honorary chairman of a great fraternal organization and confine himself to ceremonial functions. But that is not what the Constitution says. And I did not run for President of the United States to fulfill that Office in that way.”

OK, stop. Go back and read that paragraph again, because it’s terribly important. What did he just say?

He just stated that he did not run for the Presidency for the honor of being corporate America’s puppet. Or the Military’s puppet. Or anybody’s puppet,for that matter. He said that he was well aware of the immense powers granted to the president under the U.S. Constitution, and that he fully intended to make use of those powers when necessary.

Those are dangerous words when spoken by a president.

For those who still seek an answer to the neverending question – “why was President Kennedy killed?” – it could be argued that he had to be “replaced” becasue he interpreted the Constitution literally. JFK thought that “goddamn piece of paper” (as future presidents would refer to this now-arcane historical document) actually meant what it said.

Kennedy continued:

“Harry Truman once said there are 14 or 15 million Americans who have the resources to have representatives in Washington to protect their interests, and that the interests of the great mass of other people, the hundred and fifty or sixty million, is the responsibility of the President of the United States. And I propose to fulfill it!

And there are those who say, “Stay out of this area–it would be all right if we are in a national emergency or in a war.”

What do they think we are in? And what period of history do they believe this country has reached? What do they believe is occurring all over the world?

Merely because vast armies do not march against each other, does anyone think that our danger is less immediate, or the struggle is less ferocious?

As long as the United States is the great and chief guardian of freedom, all the way in a great half circle from the Brandenburg Gate to Viet-Nam, as long as we fulfill our functions at a time of climax in the struggle for freedom, then I believe it is the business of the President of the United States to concern himself with the general welfare and the public interest. And if the people feel that it is not, then they should secure the services of a new President of the United States.”

 – JFK to the United Auto Workers Union, May 8, 1962

THE PRESIDENT IS NOT AN “HONORARY CHAIRMAN OF A GREAT FRATERNAL ORGANIZATION”

My point exactly. After eight long years of a president who could care less about the general welfare and the public interest, it is now up to the people to secure the services of a new President of the United States. And we’re going to do it this November.

But who among the current crop of candidates posesses the kind of leadership qualities JFK not only talked about, but exhibited during each of the thousand days?

To my mind at least, true presidential leadership requires the kind of courage and compassion exhibited by JFK in the example below. Please take a few moments to watch excerpts from his UAW speech and other remarks on the economy in this video montage entitled “Mankind Is Our Business.”

CLASH OF THE TITANS

At the time, Kennedy was roasted for his aggressive use of presidential power in the showdown with Big Steel  – by the business community, by academia, the press, members of Congress, and even his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower.

In the May 18, 1962 issue of Time magazine, Ike strongly criticized the President for “the strenuous efforts of the Administration to increase greatly the power of the executive branch of the Government. It has long been my judgment that the real threat to liberty in this Republic will be primarily found in a steady erosion of self-reliant citizenship and in excessive power concentration.”

To back up his charge that Kennedy is asking for too many powers, Ike cited Kennedy’s requests for authority to modify income taxes when he decides it is necessary, to finance emergency public works by diversion of funds, to “regiment all agriculture,” to “take over a whole host of state and local responsibilities, notably including the proposal for a Department of Urban Affairs,” and “to dilute the independence of the Federal Reserve Board by presidential appointment of its chairman.” Added Ike: “The objectives under lying many such proposals are not in themselves controversial. I do not agree, however, that in every instance more presidential power is needed to achieve them.”

Ironically, while it was President Eisenhower who had cautioned against undue influence by the Military-Industrial-Complex two years before, the truth of the matter is that during his presidency Eisenhower sought out the Titans, respected their advice, and treated them as they thought they deserved to be treated — in other words, as representatives of the most influential body in the nation.

By contrast, Kennedy kept his distance. Prior to his election he had had little contact with industrial circles, and once he was in the White House he saw even less of them. Businessmen were generally excluded from the Kennedys’ private parties. Not only did he “snub” them (in the words of Ralph Cordiner, President of General Electric), he also attacked them. Kennedy did not consult the business world before making his appointments. The men he placed at the head of the federal regulatory agencies were entirely new. Since the end of the war, the businessmen had become accustomed to considering these bodies as adjuncts of their own professional associations. They were more indignant than surprised. They attempted to intervene, but in vain.

If the Titans thought that John F. Kennedy was going to be their puppet, they had another thing coming.

“Honorary chairman of a great fraternal organization” who should “confine himself to ceremonial functions?” Not this president. 

Kennedy had just let let them know: This president had a mind of his own – and if you don’t like it, perhaps you boys should go get yourselves another president

HAIL TO THE CHIEF

Even nearly 45 years after his passing, I still look to President Kennedy’s words and deeds for strength and inspiration – I think many of us do – and every election year since then, we have searched for a political candidate who embodies that same spirit. Someone who understands and achieves that perfect balance between exercising presidential power and the public interest, while avoiding the temptation to become drunk on their own power and take the country into a dictatorship.

It’s always a difficult balancing act for any president, but the example of JFK’s administration showed us all that a president can use his power forcefully and effectively when the need arises – but that such use is only acceptable and reasonable if this flexing of executive muscle is done to benefit the national interest. (And, more often than not, to force corporations or industries into doing the right thing – what they should have done in the first place – for their fellow citizens.)

“The American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans.”

– President John F. Kennedy, April 11, 1962

In my own personal dictionary, you look up “presidential leadership,” and there’s Jack Kennedy’s picture.

President John F. Kennedy, fall 1962

When the people said, “we want action, not talk“, Kennedy delivered.

THE PRESIDENT HAS THE POWER 

So the next time you suffer sticker shock at the gas pump, and you wonder aloud, “who can fix this?” – remember that the president has the power. All a president needs is a plan and most importantly, the courage to stand up to The Men Who Rule The World because he knows the Constitution and the people will back him up.

Next time you feel obliged to curse the oil companies for sticking it to millions of people while they enjoy record profits, remember who our president is now.

Next time you bitch about the modern day industrial robber barons of Wall Street who are stealing us blind and wonder why Congress does nothing to stop it, remember President Kennedy.

Remember that he went to bat for all Americans and fought the Titans just to shave what amounted to a rather paltry price increase in steel down to a reasonable amount. Remember that he won that battle, too.

Remember that if our current president, or any future president, should have the political will and the courage, they can also fight the Titans and curb these out-of-control oil industry profits, bring an energy revolution to the table, get us off of foreign oil and out of debt to dictators quicker than you can say, “all in a day’s work!”

Remember that when you choose a presidential candidate this year.

`Nuff said!

 

Copyright RFKin2008.com.

 

For further reading on JFK’s showdown with U.S. Steel, we highly recommend:

“John F. Kennedy and the Titans” by Laura Knight-Jadczyk at http://laura-knight-jadczyk.blogspot.com/2006/11/john-f-kennedy-and-titans.html

“A Diversity of Dilemmas”, Time Magazine, May 18, 1962 article at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,896150,00.html

15 Comments

Filed under climate change, election 2008, environment, global warming, hillary clinton, impeach Bush, jackie kennedy, JFK, John F. Kennedy, politics, president kennedy, RFK, RFK Jr., robert f. kennedy, robert kennedy jr., the kennedys, Uncategorized