What is the assessment of President Kennedy's record towards racial segregation in America?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the benefit of hindsight, I think that any political leader from the 1950s and 1960s can be criticized for "not doing enough" on the issue of Civil Rights.  Certainly, President Kennedy could have done more.  Yet, I do believe that President Kennedy's record on Civil Rights will be remembered for bringing attention to the issue in a way that transformed its perception into a human problem, one of ethical treatment of another as opposed to something in which there was mere political consideration.  President Kennedy was one of the first political leaders on a national level to raise the issue of the injustice in denying Civil Rights.  In addressing the nation in 1963, President Kennedy made the issue of Civil Rights one of a moral imperative, dating back to Scripture, as opposed to something temporal that required a more nuanced approach:

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue...It is as old as the Scriptures, and is as clear as the American Constitution....Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality.

President Kennedy laid the groundwork to view the issue of Civil Rights in a human manner, one that made its denial almost impossible to accept.  It is here where President Kennedy's stand on Civil Rights, even without significant legislation, is one that has to distinguish him from other leaders in recognizing how the "fierce urgency of now" can both be a part of the temporal moment and simultaneously transcend it.

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