Civil Rights: The Most Pressing Domestic Issue for the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations

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Civil rights was the most pressing domestic issue by far for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in 1961-65, although initially John F. Kennedy was extremely slow and reluctant to intervene in the South for fear of alienating white voters in that region from the Democratic Party. Even so, when forced to take sides during the Freedom Rides of 1961, the integration fights at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the University of Alabama the next year, Kennedy chose to support the side of integration and equal citizenship, and this did indeed cost him popular support among Southern whites. After the marches to desegregate Birmingham in 1963, he publicly endorsed the Civil Rights Act, although this did not become law until after his death. A century after the abolition of slavery, as Martin Luther King noted in "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, blacks still faced segregation, discrimination and lack of voting right in many parts of the United States, not only the South. Racism was far more overt in the South, and the civil rights movement had been very successful in exposing it for the world to see, through protests, marches and sit-ins. King's central theme was that the promise of America had not been kept, and until it was, there would be no peace in the country without justice and equality. King also admonished his black listeners not to give into bitterness and hatred, cautioning that although the repression against the civil rights movement was extreme. After the
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