Interview with Harris Wofford
QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

A LITTLE… A YEAR LATER ON THE FREEDOM RIDES?

Harris Wofford:

A year later he was President of the United States, ah, ah, he was heading to his first confrontation with Krushev, ah, he was concerned about his slim majority in Congress, and he had his own agenda and civil rights was not on top of his agenda then in his first months as President. And here the Freedom Riders came along. And they said this is… by their actions they said, this is the number one moral issue in the United States. It's the number one issue for us and we're going to dramatize it in such a way that it goes to the top of your pile on your desk Mr. President. And Mr. and Mrs. American people, we're going to put it on the top of your conscience by this action and by our… our courage and by suffering and by whatever happens, including the violence. And Kennedy's reaction then was, you know, "I'm in charge. I'm the President, and you know, this isn't what I want to do right now. I want to go and see Krushev and… and… you know, stop it." And he called me ah, and said, "Get your friends off those buses. You know, this isn't the time to be doing that. I'm going to Geneva, Vienna, ah, ah, you know, get your friends off those buses." And I said, "Well they wouldn't be my friends Mr. President if… if I tried to get them off those buses. And they wouldn't appreciate it from you either. He said, "Well all right, but work it out." And hung up.