I woke up this morning and eagerly flipped through the pages of The Washington Post (yes, the hard copy). I was looking for something commemorating this day, June 11, in history. I didn’t find what I was looking for in the print version so I went to The Washington Post online and found an interesting AP story about Peggy Wallace Kennedy who has spent her life living in the shadows of her father, segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace.
It was fifty years ago today that Wallace came face to face with Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach over the integration of the University of Alabama. The photograph capturing the stand in the school house door is one of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement (see my post from June 11, 2011) https://sixdegreesofmillicent.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/the-stand-in-the-schoolhouse-door/.
Tuesday, June 11, 1963 started off tense in Alabama. Later that day President Kennedy was forced to mobilize the National Guard to insure that two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were able to register peacefully at the University of Alabama. But as that day turned to night violence erupted shortly after midnight. Civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot and killed in his own driveway in Jackson, Mississippi as his wife and children looked on in horror.
Their nightmare was just beginning shortly after President John F. Kennedy gave a watershed speech on civil rights in which he equated civil rights as a moral issue for the first time. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution,” said President Kennedy, “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” A year later the Civil Rights Act was passed to do just that, but President Kennedy never lived to see that day nor did Medgar Evers or many other foot soldiers in the civil rights movement. My fear this morning was that history was being forgotten. But by the end of the day I learned otherwise. To mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s civil rights speech the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library announced the launching of a new website that documents “the 1963 civil rights narrative … drawn principally from the Kennedy Library archives.” Thus history lives on.