Discuss John F. Kennedy’s transformation concerning the issue of civil rights during his presidency.

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During his campaign and the early years of his presidency, John F. Kennedy was largely uninterested in taking a firm stand on civil rights, primarily because he thought doing so would endanger his standing with southern Democrats. Events, however, forced him to take positions that he and his inner circle would have liked to avoid. During the presidential campaign, for example, he placed a phone call to Coretta Scott King when her husband was jailed for his participation in protests. He also used his influence to secure Dr. King's release. While president, the Freedom Riders posed a major domestic challenge, one which he and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, attempted to push to the back burner. Eventually, the Kennedys were forced to use executive power to protect the Freedom Riders, and to deal with white riots at the University of Mississippi. In one of the most famous events of his Presidency, he confronted Alabama governor George Wallace over integrating of the University of Alabama. Over time, events like these forced Kennedy to take a stand on civil rights, which he had increasingly come to view as a fundamental issue in American society. He gave a seminal speech on the issue in 1963, in the wake of the brutal crackdown on marchers in Birmingham, Alabama, and crafted a civil rights bill that he attempted to push through Congress before his death. The bill passed under Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In short, Kennedy became more active in civil rights over time. At first he hoped to focus on foreign affairs—the Cold War—but over time he saw civil rights as crucial in even that struggle.

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