Kennedy And Civil Rights; Yesterday And Today

Cruise Ship, Maritime and Personal Injury Attorneys Serving Miami, Florida & Nationwide

Posted: December 18, 2013

President Bush, in marking the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, said:

John F. Kennedy has been gone nearly as long as he lived, yet the memory of him still brings pride to your nation, and a feeling of loss that defies the passing of years. We remember a man who welcomed great responsibilities, and had a gift for awakening the idealism and sense of duty in others. We remember a leader who called our nation to high purpose, and saw America through grave dangers with calm, discernment, and personal courage. We recall, with much affection and respect, the charming and dignified manner that became familiar to us all in the years of President Kennedy’s service. On this day, we especially think of a young father, whose wife and family faced sorrow with dignity and courage of their own.

John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President on January 20, 1961. Certainly, it was still the 50’s. America was still in its post war high with attitudes and thoughts which today may seem naïve.

But those were not high times for everyone. Prejudice and inequality toward African Americans had become institutionalized. The times, however, they were a changing. President Kennedy was probably the first President to bring civil rights to the forefront of thought and action in America. On June 11, 1963, JFK addressed the nation about civil rights and said: “We face … a moral crisis as a country and as a people.” These were strong words back then.

On August 28, 1963, 200,000 Americans marched on Washington in a protest. The Reverend Martin Luther King shared his dreams with us and said that he “had a dream where one day all men will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” On September 15, 1963, a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed killing four school girls. Medgar Evers was assassinated.

Then on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas President Kennedy was assassinated. Even the famed CBS anchor, Walter Chronkite, cried on the air as he reported the slaying to us.

The life of JFK inspired us; the death of JFK incited us. This one event, certainly in the context of all the others, may have been the subconscious flame which lit the fuse and ignited the 60’s.

If we fast forward to today, in many ways we see a better society. Yet there are struggles, and we must not let the ideals of JFK or those times escape us. One of the ways in which we ensure that the words and deeds of the 60’s were not lost is thorough diversity.

The Dade County Bar Association is naturally concerned about diversity because its members are diverse; because its Board membership includes members of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Bar Association, Cuban American Bar Association, Caribbean Bar Association, and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers; and perhaps most importantly because diversity is right. The DCBA also sponsors programs in conjunction with these bar associations, and maintains a tutorial program for bar exam passage by minority law school graduates.

This column has been about civil rights right from the beginning. (All of my columns can be found in the resources section of my website. In August, 2003, this column, entitled “Atticus Finch Lives”, was about Atticus Finch in the novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, a white lawyer who defends a Black man wrongly accused of molesting a white woman in the rural south in 1932. It said that even though the actor Gregory Peck died, the spirit of Atticus Finch did not.

Most recently, in the November issue of The Bulletin, I wrote about Oswaldo Paya and the Varela Project (Proyecto Varela) in Cuba. Paya founded the Varela Project, the dissident movement which is fighting for the civil rights of all Cubans. Paya has been instrumental in bringing to the international stage the crimes of Castro including the recent imprisonment of 75 dissidents, 43 of whom are associated with the Varela Project.

In my October, 2003 column, “Atticus Finch Part II”, I wrote about the late Chesterfield Smith who was among other things a civil rights fighter. I also wrote about the late Honorable Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr., Federal Judge and civil rights fighter. I mention the October column last because the DCBA, in its November Board meeting, passed a resolution supporting the naming of the new Federal Courthouse building after Judge Ferguson. A copy of that Resolution should appear in this edition of The Bulletin.

Keep that eternal flame alive.

John H. (Jack) Hickey is Board Certified by The Florida Bar as a Civil Trial Lawyer, Listed in Who’s Who in America and in American Law, and President of the Dade County Bar Association. Hickey graduated from Florida State University (B.A., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and from Duke Law School. He handles cases in the fields of personal injury and wrongful death, and admiralty and maritime. 

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