Why do African-Americans still honor JFK?

mlk_jfk_ap_328

I have long been puzzled by why so many African-American families have portraits of John F. Kennedy in their homes in a place of honor alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

President Kennedy was a hesitant and lukewarm supporter of civil rights, which is better than nothing.  If you wanted to honor a white champion of civil rights, why not honor Abraham Lincoln or even Lyndon Johnson?

The historian and writer Vijay Prashad asked this question of an African-American friend and social justice warrior when he was living in Providence, Rhode Island.

Alice Hicks has two pictures on the wall of her living room: portraits of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. [snip]

I remember Alice, even as she struggled with her own health, coming to meetings, sitting down and quietly fulminating about problems, or being on the street at a press conference or demonstration.  She was a pillar of strength. 

Each time I went to pick her up at a meeting, and as I waited for her to get her things or to get me something to drink (which was part of her obligatory kindness), I stared at the portraits.

One day, casually, I asked her why she had a picture of JFK on the wall.  I could understand the King picture, but not that of a man who had not given King and his movement the kind of support necessary.  And besides, I said, it was LBJ who pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

She smiled at me, ready to indulge my impertinence.  “Of course President Johnson did those things.  And those acts were important.  But were they enough?  What did they get us?  This … ”   Her weak arms opened expansively to encompass not only her living room but her neighborhood, her world.

“President Johnson gave us something.  I accept that.  But it was Dr. King and President Kennedy who allowed us to dream.  President Johnson’s real gift was not even a pale shadow of those dreams.”  [snip]

She prepared me [snip] to see the 1964-65 laws both as a culmination of a struggle and the opening of a new struggle. 

A portrait of President Johnson might have meant that the story ended with the laws.  But the presence of the portraits of President Kennedy and Dr. King indicated that the unfinished dream was more powerful than the small victories that come on the way.

The quote is from Vijay Prashad’s book, Uncle Swami: South Asians in American Today (2012). He currently teaches at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Why do African-Americans still honor JFK?”

  1. Bill Harvey Says:

    What baloney?

    ‘ “President Johnson gave us something. I accept that. But it was Dr. King and President Kennedy who allowed us to dream. President Johnson’s real gift was not even a pale shadow of those dreams.” [snip]

    She prepared me [snip] to see the 1964-65 laws both as a culmination of a struggle and the opening of a new struggle.’

    Kennedy “allowed” us to dream? Not my kind of dreamin’.

    Hicks/ Prashad needed to go to Kennedy to understand how the 1964-65 laws fell short of the best hopes and aspirations of African-Americans? And how would she/ we have gotten such understanding from Kennedy?

    I’ll accept this as a depiction of the thought passageways of some misguided liberal thinking, but not as a prescription for our dreams.

    B

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: