How did President Kennedy's policies on Civil Rights change between 1961 and 1963?
President Kennedy did not see the immediacy of Civil Rights in the early part of his tenure as President. He was more concerned with issues such as Castro and Cuba as well as the Bay of Pigs. In this case, President Kennedy was a pragmatist who understood that any attempt on his part to intervene and make Civil Rights a foundational issue of his presidency would result in burned capital and "no bill being passed," as it would alienate Southern legislators who took a very conservative stand on the issue of Civil Rights. Yet, as confrontations between pro- Civil Rights crusaders and staunch anti- Civil Rights forces became more pronounced, President Kennedy saw what Dr. King would call, "The fierce urgency of now." His visible stand against Governor Wallace in seeking to integrate the University of Alabama, along with Kennedy sending in National Guard troops to protect Vivian Malone and James Hood became an instant where President Kennedy began to pivot away from a position of non- intervention and seize the mantle of Civil Rights Legislation. His evening televised speech on Civil Rights moved President Kennedy to a point where he recognized the need to pass the legislation. President Kennedy, like so many Americans, became impressed with the human stories behind the Civil Rights Movement. The peaceful demonstrations, the mass and broad appeal of Whites and Blacks, the intervening of clergy from the North, as well as Dr. King, as a leader, all cast an impression on President Kennedy. Once the March on Washington commenced and Kennedy heard Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, President Kennedy became convinced of both the moral imperative and political expediency that resulted from his advocacy of Civil Rights.
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