The Black Americans Who Worked for President John F. Kennedy


Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in a Georgia state prison for a traffic violation in 1960, at the same time when John F. Kennedy was in a tight fight with Richard Nixon for the presidency of the United States. Kennedy was advised to call Coretta Scott, King’s widow, to express his sympathy.

Still undecided, with some against the proposal, it was Louis E. Martin who helped convince Kennedy to place the telephone call. He expressed his shock over the jailing of her husband.

The Complicated Relationship of President Kennedy and Black Americans

John F. Kennedy won a lot of the Black vote in the 1960 presidential election thanks to that phone call. And it was all due to Martin’s efforts, which earned him the nickname “Godfather of Black Politics” for influencing some landmark presidential decisions about African Americans and getting more African Americans into government in the late twentieth century.

Martin served as a “publicity aide” for four Democratic presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, and then as an intermediary between African Americans and these presidents. During the Kennedy campaign, thousands of African Americans were put in government and judicial positions Kennedy’s administration thanks to this Black journalist and newspaper publisher.

Kennedy occupies a complex role in African-American culture. He sympathized with the Black struggle more than any other president before him, according to some older African Americans. Others, however, believe he failed to make a strong case for civil rights legislation Variety of historians also say Kennedy took that position to avoid losing southern support for legislation on a variety of issues.

What is however debated is that he promoted an extraordinary number of African Americans to high-level positions in the government approximately 50 men and women.

Black Americans Who Served in Kennedy’s Administration

According to Martin, the positions Kennedy offered were not only “advisory,” but were for “Negro Decision-Makers,” unlike previous presidents. Some of the African Americans who served in his regime include:

Rowan, Carl

During World War II, the American journalist, editor, and public official was one of the first African-American officers in the US Navy. When Rowan was named deputy assistant secretary of state during the Kennedy administration, he broke color barriers in the State Department.

Hatcher, Andrew T

In 1960, he became the first African American to hold the rank of associate White House press secretary, one of the highest positions in the US government. The White House press secretary at the time was Pierre Salinger. According to reports, Hatcher, as the White House’s number two communications official, served as Salinger’s stand-in for 200 days as the official White House spokesmen at press conferences.

Smythe, Mabel Murphy

From May 1977 to February 1980, he was the United States Ambassador to the United Republic of Cameroon, and from December 1979 to February 1980, he was also the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. Smythe was named to the US Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange during the Kennedy presidency, after a long involvement in educational exchange programs.

Alexander, Clifford Leopold Jr.

In 1963, during the Kennedy administration, the American lawyer, businessman, and public servant was summoned to Washington to work as an international affairs officer on the National Security Council staff. Later, under President Jimmy Carter, he became Secretary of the Army.

Judges on the Federal Level

Thurgood Marshall was nominated for a new seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Northern District of Illinois Judge James Benton Parsons was the first black federal district judge to serve in the continental United States.

Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia’s Marjorie Lawson, and Eastern District of Michigan’s Wade McCree.



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