Interview with Harris Wofford
QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

OK, COULD YOU TELL US, REPEAT THE STORY THAT YOU TOLD ABOUT THE… ALL THESE PINS THAT APPEARED AT THE WHITE HOUSE AS A RESULT OF KENNEDY'S PROMISE TO… WITH THE STRUGGLE, THAT PLANNED TO SOLVE THE HOUSING… TO SIGN A HOUSING BILL?

Harris Wofford:

On… one of Kennedy's strong moves in the election in the Nixon-Kennedy debate was… was to promise that with one stroke of a pen, he would sign the executive order against racial discrimination in federal housing. And ah, Eisenhower had had this executive order on his desk for nine months and had done nothing. And Kennedy in the debate with Nixon said, "With one stroke of a pen, we can take action to see that in federally assisted housing discrimination is ended." And he repeated that in tbe election and it was in the democratic platform. And then when the… when the administration began, each time he was about to sign the executive order, major political reasons were given to him by Lyndon Johnson or by southern senators that you won't get this bill through or that this Congressman is going to lose the election if you sign it now. Wait a little while. So three times when he was about to sign it he delayed. And the civil rights movement decided that they would stick it to him, stick the pen to him, and so they started sending pens that said, "One stroke of a pen," to remind him. And Kennedy who attributed that first promise to… to me and to the civil rights section said, "Send them to Wofford." So the pens piled up, thousands and thousands of pens in my office. And um, they goaded me, I had to keep reminding the President that pile was getting higher and higher. He finally signed the order, whereas on balance, John Kennedy by the time he finished did everything he had promised to do in the campaign, and had taken the, you know, all the major great decisions that I had hoped he would, before he was killed, on that one matter, I think he… his timing, usually good, but on that one matter, his timing, ah, was probably wrong because he, the delays cause more frustration. Diminished the good and made the… made the issue even more controversial than if he had just signed it as he had promised in the beginning.