Synopses & Reviews
In the summer of 1963, in the wake of the Birmingham riots and hundreds of other protests across the country, John F. Kennedy advanced the most far-reaching civil rights bill ever put before Congress. Why had he waited so long? Kennedy had been acutely aware of the issue of race--both its political perils and opportunities--since his first Congressional campaign in Boston in 1946. In this, the first comprehensive history of Kennedy's civil rights record over the course of his entire political career, Nick Bryant shows that Kennedy's shrewd handling of the race issue in his early congressional campaigns blinded him as President to the intractability of the simmering racial crisis in America. By focusing on purely symbolic gestures, Kennedy missed crucial opportunities to confront the obstructionist Southern bloc and to enact genuine reform. Kennedy's inertia emboldened white supremacists, and forced discouraged black activists to adopt increasingly militant tactics. At the outset of his presidency, Kennedy squandered the chance to forge a national consensus on race. For many of his thousand days in office, he remained a bystander as the civil rights battle flared in the streets of America. In the final months of his life, Kennedy could no longer control the rage he had fueled with his erratic handling of this explosive issue.
"In this critical look at Kennedy's handling of the civil rights struggle, Bryant, a former BBC Washington correspondent, provides a riveting but flawed read. From Kennedy's first campaign for Congress, when he targeted black voters, to his last days wooing Southern moderates in Texas, this narrowly focused book depicts Kennedy as a 'minimalist' whose 'sometimes cynical, sometimes sincere' manipulation of black opinion gave him a false sense of accomplishment. It shows how Kennedy swerved from rapprochement with segregationist Democrats during his failed bid for the vice-presidency in 1956 to the liberal vanguard during his run for president. Bryant claims that until halfway through his presidency, Kennedy viewed the race problem with 'cool detachment,' worrying mainly that the Soviet Union would cast the U.S. as weak on human rights. His taste for 'piecemeal reform' might have worked with the wider public, Bryant argues, but it emboldened both white and black militants, and his call for legislation to speed up school desegregation came too late. By the time he was assassinated, Kennedy had 'abdicated his responsibility to lead the great social revolution of his age,' Bryant asserts. While that may be true, this well-written book fails to consider the immense distractions of the other historic struggle that Kennedy faced: the Cold War, at its height. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Bryant's account of John F. Kennedy's engagement with the race issue reveals that Kennedy's cynicism caused him to neglect crucial opportunities to defuse the most explosive domestic crisis of his era.
The definitive account of JFK's engagement with the race issue--from his first campaign in Boston through his presidency--reveals a disturbing portrait of a great American icon
About the Author
Nick Bryant holds a Ph.D. from Oxford University. From 1998 to 2003, he was Washington correspondent for the BBC; he is currently the BBC’s Australia correspondent, based in Sydney. He has written for numerous London newspapers, including The Times, The Independent, and the Daily Mail. He lives in Sydney, Australia.