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Eyes on the Prize
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John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

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President John F. Kennedy, on television addressing the nation, August 13, 1962.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy called Coretta Scott King after learning of her husband Martin's imprisonment for leading a nonviolent civil rights protest. Many black voters, who had voted Republican for almost a century, since Reconstruction days, subsequently shifted their support to Kennedy, a Democrat, helping make him the 35th president.

In contrast to the Eisenhower years, blacks increasingly looked to the White House for leadership from the Kennedy administration. However, once in office, Kennedy was slow to support the civil rights movement. It would take the dramatic and televised violence against the Freedom Riders in 1961 and attempts to prevent James Meredith from integrating the University of Mississippi to spur federal intervention. In June 1963, Kennedy delivered a televised address on civil rights and subsequently introduced the first sweeping legislation on the subject since Reconstruction. He was assassinated that November, but his successor Lyndon Johnson saw the bill through to passage.

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