Interview with Harris Wofford
QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

CAN YOU DEFINE WHAT WAY THE… A VERY STRONG CIVIL RIGHTS COMMITMENT WAS PERHAPS A LIABILITY FOR KENNEDY IN… IN CONGRESS?

Harris Wofford:

Not… a… a strong stand on civil rights by the candidate John Kennedy or by the President John Kennedy, um, was… was a very ah, dangerous or controversial thing for Kennedy to do. Ah, and he felt that, because he came out as he once explained to me, he came out of a Boston Irish background where there was a lot of prejudice toward black people. And he worried a lot about a general backlash among white people, north as well as south. But he knew it… it… it endangered his chance of holding the majority of the white opinion in the south and carrying the south in the election. And then he won the election by that razor-thin margin just about a 100,000 votes, and it teetered all night as to whether he would have enough electoral votes to win. Um, and he won a majority in Congress that might not really be a majority. It was so narrow that if a few southerners defected to the republicans he wouldn't have a majority in Congress. And so civil rights was… was a very, very difficult political problem for him, that might lose his hold on Congress if he moved too far, and he feared it might lose his chance of united the American people if he moved too far.