Monday, 21 December 2020 04:51

An Open Letter from James DiEugenio

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The MSM is at it again, so Jim DiEugenio writes an open letter to Joe Scarborough, Annette Gordon-Reed, Fredrik Logevall, Van Jones, Kevin Young, and Steven Gillon to correct recent gross distortions of President Kennedy's record on civil rights. He also refers them to his landmark 4-part series examining and exposing this great corruption of history.


Joe Scarborough, MSNBC Cable TV host

Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard historian

Fredrik Logevall, Harvard historian

Van Jones, CNN contributor and sometime host

Kevin Young, U of Mass/Amherst historian

Steven Gillon, U of Oklahoma historian, Scholar in Residence, The History Channel


RE: John F. Kennedy and Civil Rights


A reader of our web site,, recently sent me a clip of Mr. Scarborough’s 12/11/2020 program which featured Professor Gordon-Reed. The concept of the show was to enumerate certain past presidents and what our elected president, Joe Biden, could learn from them.

When Mr. Scarborough got to President Kennedy, he said that Biden could learn from JFK how to “brush back” on the civil rights issue, which President Johnson then had to take up the mantle on. Professor Gordon-Reed replied to this that Kennedy talked to people and eventually came around on civil rights, since he did not want events to overtake him.

On November 22, 2020, on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, a similar declaration took place. Professor Logevall made an appearance on the radio program Speakola. During that appearance, he said that, until the last year of his life, Kennedy was not really moved by the plight of those who were denied their civil rights; he added that this only came late to Kennedy.

Prior to this, in 2018, on the CNN documentary series, The Kennedys: An American Dynasty, Mr. Jones said that JFK was not really interested in civil rights when he entered the White House and he had to be lectured about the issue.

Going back to May of 2010, Professor Gillon made a speech at the Miller Center in Virginia, where he briefly touched on the civil rights matter. Included in his remarks, he said that LBJ did not think Kennedy was pushing the issue enough and that Kennedy did not submit a bill on civil rights until after he gave his speech the evening of his confrontation with Governor Wallace at the University of Alabama in June of 1963. He concluded by saying that it was only through Johnson’s dogged determination and parliamentary wizardry that the bill passed.

Professor Young might be the most extreme. In a much more recent article, November 21, of this year, at the web site Truthout, he wrote that Kennedy had done virtually nothing for civil rights for almost two and a half years. Only after the Birmingham violence did he finally send a civil rights bill to Congress, which passed the following year. Further, he said JFK only did this because of the threat of economic demobilization generated by a mass movement in the south. (I admit I really do not understand what Young means by that last statement.)

Let me begin by saying that none of this comes close to aligning with the actual record of events. And the fact that four of you are history professors makes this rather embarrassing for your profession.

The idea of making Lyndon Johnson some kind of hero on civil rights is, to be kind, misleading. From 1937–56, Congressman—then Senator Johnson—voted against every civil rights bill that was submitted to Capitol Hill. And this was not done passively. Johnson voiced the southern shibboleth of States Rights, which meant, of course, that there was never going to be any progress on the issue at all.

It was only in 1957 that LBJ began to change his tune on the subject. Why? For two reasons. First, he was contemplating a run for the highest office and he had seen what Richard Russell’s anti-civil rights views had done to his mentor’s aspirations. So he knew he had to begin to alter his previous voting record. The second reason was even more a matter of political expediency. The White House had sent a bill to Congress on the issue. President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon did not care about civil rights themselves. In fact, Eisenhower had advised Earl Warren to vote against the Brown vs. Board case. But Nixon and Eisenhower understood that they could split the Democratic Party geographically on the issue: northern liberals against southern conservatives. Johnson tried to soften the blow to his party. So, he produced a pretty much papier mâché bill. One which Senator Kennedy did not like. In fact, Johnson had to send an assistant to make sure JFK would vote for it. Later, Kennedy wrote a constituent that he hoped the Senate would pass another bill; this time with some real teeth to it.

That Robert Caro makes so much out of this, and the 1960 bill, is a classic example of the old adage: if you have lemons, make lemonade. As Harris Wofford wrote, the newly minted civil rights advisory commission, the new department of civil rights in the Justice Department, and the collection of voting data were all pretty much useless. For the simple reason that Eisenhower and Nixon had designed it that way; and LBJ went along with it. It was all a fig leaf to disguise the damaging facts that the White House did not support Brown vs. Board and Eisenhower had allowed Governor Orval Faubus to create a weeks long insurrection at Central High in Little Rock. Wofford should know, since he was the attorney for the Civil Rights Commission.

As Judge Frank Johnson of Alabama later said, this all changed under Kennedy. He said that when Kennedy and his brother entered office, it was like an electric current going off in the south. As noted above, virtually all of you have said that President Kennedy waited until his third year to do something, since he needed wise counsel on the issue. This is simply false. I don’t see how you can act faster than on the first day of your presidency, which is what Kennedy did. After watching his inauguration ceremony, Kennedy made a call to Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon that evening. He asked him why there were no black faces in the Coast Guard parade. Dillon said he did not know why. Kennedy told him: Find out.

Following from that, at his first Cabinet meeting Kennedy asked the members to bring in statistics on how many minority employees were in each department. Kennedy was quite disappointed when he heard the numbers. This caused him to write America’s first affirmative action executive order on March 6, 1961. In other words, far from waiting for two and a half years, Kennedy was acting right out of the gate. In a bit over six weeks, he had done what none of his predecessors had. Kennedy later extended this order to include all federal contracting and all federal programs concerning loans and grants. In other words, if you ran a textile mill in North Carolina which made uniforms for the Army, you now had to hire African Americans to work in your mill or you risked closing your doors.

I will not go through each of Kennedy’s actions as I did the above, since this letter would get too long. Let me just list some of them:

  • The administration filed charges against the Secretary of Education in Louisiana for scheming to dodge court orders under Brown vs. Board. This was in February of 1961.
  • When the state of Virginia refused to fund local education in Prince Edward County, the Kennedys assigned William Vanden Heuvel to attain private funds in order to create from the bottom up an entirely new school district.
  • Attorney General Robert Kennedy spoke at the University of Georgia Law Day. For the first time in anyone’s memory, he spoke about civil rights in the South. He concluded by saying he would enforce the Brown decision. This was on May 6, 1961.
  • RFK did this in part to aid the Fifth Circuit Court in the South. That federal court was made up of moderate to liberal judges on the issue. He would use that court in his future civil rights cases after losing in lower court.
  • By September of 1961, the administration successfully petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to integrate travel between states.
  • In his first year, Bobby Kennedy filed twice as many civil rights cases as the Eisenhower administration did in eight years. By 1963, the Department of Justice had quadrupled the number of lawyers in the Civil Rights Division.
  • The Kennedy administration was the first to raise private funds to finance large voting registration drives in the south. In today’s currency, the sum would be well over seven million dollars.
  • Kennedy was the first to get the FBI to detect voting rights violations and to use that information to grant African American voters suffrage in Alabama and Louisiana. This was before the Voting Rights Act.
  • Kennedy tried to get a voting rights bill through congress in 1962. That effort failed due to filibuster. It evolved into the 24th amendment eliminating the poll tax.
  • Kennedy established the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which evolved into the EEOC to protect civil rights in hiring, employment and firing.
  • Kennedy was the first to use federal contracts and grants to force private universities in the south to integrate, e.g., Tulane and Duke.
  • The administration worked through the Fifth Circuit to sue the public universities of Mississippi and Alabama to force integration.

I could go on. Yet, just that list is more than FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower did put together. (See part 3 below) But let me add: Kennedy did not submit a wide-ranging civil rights bill to Congress after the confrontation with Wallace or after the violent confrontations in Birmingham. He submitted his bill in February of 1963. And as Clay Risen notes in his book length study of the bill’s passage, it did not owe its success to Johnson. The four major players who got it through were JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and Senator Thomas Kuchel. In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy began what was probably one of the largest lobbying programs in contemporary history. He brought in over 1500 people from professional groups all over the country: lawyers, mayors, and clergy to convince them to back the bill. It was the last group that Richard Russell later said ultimately forced the collapse of the filibuster.

Further, as most of us know, it was not Johnson who got the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. He told Martin Luther King he probably could not do so by himself. So King began the Selma demonstration, in order to give Johnson the torque to do so. And it was not Johnson who got the expansion of Kennedy’s housing act through either. He actually could not. It was the occasion of King’s assassination that allowed it to pass.

No post Civil War president ever did as much for civil rights as President Kennedy did. That is not conjecture, it is the undisputed record. And I demonstrated it in Part 3 of my series, which I attach below. The only reason he did not pass an omnibus civil rights bill sooner is that it would have been filibustered as his narrower bill was in 1962. And it was LBJ who advised him not to even try.

For historians and TV hosts to parrot a compilation of rightwing and leftwing myths in the place of this historical record is simply irresponsible. It is, in fact, pernicious to the public. Lyndon Johnson commandeered a ruinous presidency. Contrary to what Mr. Gillon said in his talk, LBJ could not have won the nomination in 1968. After New Hampshire, his campaign started to collapse on every leg in Wisconsin. He was given the word he was going to lose in a landslide. Contrary to what President Johnson had said, he did not “continue” what President Kennedy had begun, not in foreign policy and not in domestic policy. (See my Part Four below) He did not just wreck his own presidency. He ripped asunder the Democratic party. Staffer Carl Marcy wrote to Senator William Fulbright after the senator had discovered Johnson had lied to him about American invasions of both Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. Marcy wrote that what these dishonest interventions had done was:

… turn the liberal supporters of President Kennedy into opponents of the policies of President Johnson, and the rightwing opponents of Eisenhower and Kennedy into avid supporters of the present administration. … We have tried to force upon the rest of the world a righteous American point of view which we maintained is the consensus that others must accept. Most of the tragedies of the world have come from such righteousness.

It was this false righteousness that polarized the Democratic Party and paved the way for the election of Richard Nixon.

I would like to conclude by drawing your attention to a recent article in the Washington Post. It is entitled “Hijacking the Electoral College: the Plot to Deny JFK the Presidency 60 years ago.” Donald Trump was not the first to scheme to sabotage the electoral college. The electors from Alabama and Mississippi decided not to vote for Kennedy in 1960, even though he defeated Nixon in those states. They agreed to halt their scheme to negate the election results, if Kennedy would switch positions on the ticket with Johnson. In other words: Johnson would be President and Kennedy Vice-President. Kennedy had endorsed Brown vs. Board twice as a Senator, once in New York and once in, of all places, Jackson, Mississippi. These deep southern segregationists understood who JFK was in 1960. They had seen him up close. So should you.


(I did not annotate the above letter since my material is properly referenced in the series attached below)


The Kennedys and Civil Rights: How the MSM Continues to Distort History - Part 1


The Kennedys and Civil Rights: How the MSM Continues to Distort History - Part 2


The Kennedys and Civil Rights: How the MSM Continues to Distort History - Part 3


The Kennedys and Civil Rights: How the MSM Continues to Distort History - Part 4

Listen to Jim being interviewed on this subject on AM 1480 WLEA News.

Last modified on Saturday, 16 January 2021 19:50
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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