Former President John F. Kennedy, considered a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., was disinterested in and naive about civil rights, a weak leader whose death 50 years ago helped pave the way for a surprisingly strong Civil Rights Act from Lyndon Johnson, according to Julian Bond, the former NAACP president.
In a blunt assessment of JFK as a "do-nothing president," Bond recalled that black leaders in the 1960s "were not enamored of him," and "he was not our favorite politician."
Kennedy, he added a new book of how leaders and celebrities recall JFK, "knew almost no black people and had few associations with them. This was alien territory for them."
His views are among the harshest of Kennedy in the book, "November 22, 1963: Reflections on the Life, Assassination, and Legacy of John F. Kennedy" by journalist Dean R. Owen.
Bond's recollection casts a darker shadow on JFK as the nation on Wednesday celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the "March on Washington," during which King gave his "I have a dream" speech.
King aide and Rep. John Lewis, who also offered Owen his remembrance of Kennedy, added that the former president was concerned that the March would bring violence to Washington. Lewis added that Kennedy was "reluctant to take action" on civil rights "because he was concerned about the next election, about holding on to some of the Southern states."
Bond, who in the early 1960s started the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, said blacks were inspired by Kennedy's campaign in 1960. But after the election, added Bond, "he had not done most of the things we had wanted him to do. He seem disinterested in civil rights. He was not our favorite politician."
When told of the Dallas, Texas shooting of Kennedy, Bond said "It did not seem that pressing to me."
When Kennedy died, he and his allies contacted associates of Johnson to see how the new president would handle civil rights, coming away concerned that LBJ was as nonplussed by it as JFK.
But he said Johnson pushed for stronger legislation than Kennedy. Noting Kennedy's introduction of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Bond said, "that was a wonderful act, but could not have been done without Lyndon Johnson. If Kennedy had lived, it would not have been the bill that Johnson put through Congress. It would not have been as strong."
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.