The Kennedy Presidency And Its Impact On Memphis

(Memphis) In the 1960s, Memphis and much of America saw things in terms of black and white in photographs and in terms of race relations.

But in the African-American community, the election of John F. Kennedy ushered in a feeling of hope to end legal segregation.

Legendary Stax Records songwriter and producer David Porter remembers his emotions.

“Coming up in Memphis, I came up in the highly segregated time. When President Kennedy was elected, it was like a euphoric type of atmosphere throughout the African-American community and you could feel people were ready for a change,” Porter said.

Inside the homes of many African-American families, you’d find walls with portraits of Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK on them.

Otis Sanford is a WREG-TV commentator.

“They saw it as a turning point in the fight for racial equality, not just in the south, but around the country,” Sanford said.

In September of 1960, candidate Kennedy campaigned in Memphis speaking to a crowd on Riverside Drive in the downtown area.

Kennedy’s message energized young politicians such as Bill Morris who would later become sheriff and then mayor of Shelby County.

“It was a time for new faces, new energy, new philosophy, new patriotism and John Kennedy was the catalyst to make it happen. It made us begin to look at ourselves and how did we treat racial problems. How did we deal with school issues? How did we deal with civil rights?” Morris said.

As President, Kennedy’s main focus was foreign policy, but here at home the civil rights movement could not be overlooked.

Barbara Andrews is director of education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

“Kennedy didn’t like segregation, but also didn’t do a lot to fight in a public way to fight against segregation. I think he was reluctant to become involved in it,” Andrews said.

Ryan Jones is a tour guide at the NCRM and traveled to Dallas this week for JFK commemoration activities.

“Civil rights was terrible politics. Kennedy was emotionally moved by the infamous images he saw in Birmingham and other southern cities,” Jones said.

However, Kennedy did get involved in the integration of Ole Miss with student James Meredith.

“You had the strife over at Ole Miss when James Meredith tried to integrate the school it was later revealed JFK called Ross Burnett, the Mississippi governor, saying basically you can’t do this anymore. The winds of change are here,” Sanford said.

They are winds of change being carried on by others 50 years after JFK’s presidency.

“Because of what he represented and what he had already started it was entrenched and manifested itself through others,” Porter said

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