Interview with Harris Wofford


Harris Wofford:

But, but I… I… I… although John Kennedy was slow in his first year to ah, strongly state the moral issues, which he had stated in his campaign, and he relied perhaps unduly on the law and order argument, and support the courts, and no violence, ah, rather than the basic moral issue that ending segregation was right, ah, nevertheless, once the Freedom Riders rode and got in violence, um, he was all out to say, you know, "We must send people down. We must stop the violence." And… and within… within two weeks, with his backing and goading the justice department had moved to the Interstate Commerce Commission to get an order to end all kinds of discrimination in interstate transportation. So he responded, ah, he wasn't pleased that they… the… that the Freedom Riders changed his agenda. In fact he was irritated at them. But he then responded. And it's partly because I think, one of the best things about John Kennedy is he had a real sense of humor, and he didn't take himself that seriously. And if he… if he blew his stacks and got angry, ah, you know, five minutes later he would be laughing about it, partly at himself. And… and he did that with John… with… with… on this issue… issue on a number of occasions. There was one time when, ah, after the um, March on Washington, which he also had wondered whether it was welltimed and things like that, while Martin King was telling him, at the end of the successful march and Kennedy was paying tribute to them, um, ah, Martin Luther King said, and you know, "Mr. President there were even some who ah, advised that we should not have ah, undertaken the Birmingham Movement." And Kennedy laughingly interrupted and said, "I believe the Attorney General was one of those." I mean he was able to see that they were wrong on… on… on um, a number of occasions like that.