Do you think that the president did everything in his power to better the situation at the time?

Patricia Anderson:
I believe that both sitting presidents, Kennedy and Johnson did everything that they thought was necessary during the time of the movement. I don't believe that either of them fully realized the impact that the media would eventually have on the entire country. The visions of Black children being attacked by police dogs, and sprayed with fire hoses by 'Bull' Conner being shown on national television had a great impact on the general thinking of the populace. Much like the vision of the soldiers being killed in Vietnam eventually made that war come to a close, the people suddenly realized that what was going on was very real....and that something had to be done in a positive manner.

Bruce Hartford:
No, he did the minimum he could given the public pressure he was under. Throughout the whole time both Kennedy and Johnson, and also Congress, were afraid to anger the Southern segregationists who controlled a large bloc of votes in Congress and the Electoral College. So they dragged their feet and did as little as possible.

Gabe Kaimowitz:

Joan Mandle:
The President chose to ignore the situation as long as possible and not protect the civil rights workers. Only with the violence that was perpetrated on the movement by white racists did the nation and later the President begin to take notice. Only when political pressure was put on him and other elected officials from millions who understood the horror of segregation did elected officials reluctantly pass the legislation that meant that racism was against the law. This was a huge victory. People mobilized to force politicians to do what they don't want to do — the people made the change! This is the basic model of the goal of any social movement and the Civil Rights Movement stands as the model for that success.

Wazir (Willie) Peacock:
No, Kennedy did not do all that he could do. We should have gotten federal protection, because we were doing voter registration. The citizens had the right to vote. It's a right, not a privilege. In the South, they were treating it like it was some kind of privilege. It was in the law and the power of the President to order the Justice Department to give us protection, but we had a director of the FBI at the time [J. Edgar Hoover] who boldly said that he was not going to protect those Civil Rights workers. He had that kind of clout, he could say that.

Of course, President Kennedy could have ordered him, but he never did. He never did order it, and for good reason for himself. He was already getting himself ready to run for a second term. You had Senator Eastland and Senator Strom Thurmond [both Democrats at that time] and all those other politicians. He had to play politics. He couldn't come out, and be elected again, because Blacks in the South did not have the vote yet.

For example, when Fannie Lou Hamer, in the fall of '62, was shot at for trying to register, Kennedy spoke about it the next day, but that's all. At that time, he had the opportunity. He could have justified sending Federal marshals in to protect us but he didn't do that.

Jean Wiley:
I was so naive, especially about Kennedy. I wasn't fully aware of the kinds of games that Kennedy was playing. I got caught up, as everybody around me got caught up, in he's young, he's bright, he's not a racist, he's gonna do something. So there was an enormous amount of optimism about Kennedy. I didn't really know until maybe my senior year when I started looking at the judges he was appointing — Carswell and people like that — and asking what's this all about? He's saying one thing and he's appointing these judges in the Deep South. That's around '62 when the violence is taking place with the Civil Rights workers in Mississippi.

Then, of course, he's assassinated and I'm in Ann Arbor at that point. By then, nobody in the White House would have satisfied me at all. Certainly Johnson didn't in any way. I was looking forward to my graduation from graduate school and I found out that they invited Johnson to speak. So I was on the train going back to Baltimore when the others were gathering for graduation because I just wasn't going to sit through Johnson. It was my personal protest.

By the time I'm on my way to the South as a young teacher and an activist, everything coming from Washington is, at best, suspect. I simply didn't believe in Johnson, because of his pronounced Southern drawl. I just could not believe that he was going to be any better and probably a lot worse than his predecessors, all of them. At that time I had had no contact with the FBI, ever. So I didn't really know the worst of it, but I knew by then that nothing was going to happen unless you pushed it.

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