John F.Kennedy (JFK) was one of the most influential presidents during the evolution of civil rights in America, yet to evaluate how influential JFK exactly was, we will consider factors such as legislation, popularity, ideologies and the impact of each individual’s speeches. JFK was the most influential through the way in which he passed the most legislation until his time, spoke publicly on the civil rights movement, and gad the highest popularity rating from the African-American community as well as achieving his initial ideologies during his presidency. Nonetheless, his inability to control the white backlash and continue to evolve the civil rights movement places him third. Doubtlessly, Franklin D.Roosevelt was the most influential president as he introduced the ‘New Deal’ which increased employment, espe-cially for the African-American community, picking the country’s economy out of the Great Depression. Indisputably, followed by Ullysses S.Grant, who spreads the civil rights move-ment through the media and legislation that he passed, whilst eliminating white suprema-cist groups such as the ‘Ku Klux Klan’. Lastly, followed by Woodrow Wilson, who introduced the Jim Crow Laws and removed anyone any black person who worked within a political po-sition.
John F.Kennedy remains one of the most influential presidents during the civil rights move-ment as he introduced new legislation which prevented and banned aspects of racism and discrimination within employment and voting rights for the African Americans during this period. However, this was all to a certain extent as he purposely hid the violence to contain support from the whites, which hinders his influence and paces him as the third most influ-ential president.
Theodore H.White, an American political historian believed that John F.Kennedy was the most influential president during this period through an article that he published just after JFK’s death, 6th December 1963, in Life Magazine titled ‘For President Kennedy; An Epilogue’ the purpose of this article was to display JFK’s as the greatest presi-dent of all time, and to display the close relationship between JFK and his wife, Jaqueline Kennedy. The tone of the source emanates a sense of grieving as Jaqueline recollects mem-ories they had together until the moment of her husband’s death. White emphasizes JFK’s presidency by metaphorically referring to him as ‘Camelot’ through ‘for one brief shining moment there was Camelot – and it will never be that way again’ the adverb ‘never’ high-lighting that there will never be a greater president than JFK. Yet, the accuracy of this source could be questioned as White was a close family friend of the Kennedy’s, so this ad-dressing of JFK as ‘Camelot’ could have been Jaqueline’s opinion being pressured onto White, rather than having White’s honest opinion on JFK’s presidency. Furthermore, White claimed that Kennedy had the most legislation approved by Congress, more than any other president since the 1930’s, resulting into 33 out of 53 bills being passed as official law by Congress. This displays JFK’s influence over the civil rights as the majority of his bills were based on ending and preventing segregation and racism over America. On the contrary, some of his actions didn’t gain support from individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr, as he felt that some of actions were ‘deeply disappointing’ after James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, and Kennedy sent troops alongside Meredith to ensure that his safety.
However, there was a huge violent backlash from the white students at the Universi-ty, which JFK did not publicly mention, so it caused a negative reaction from King as it seems as if Kennedy was more concerned with quieting the Civil Rights Movement down than re-moving the white opposition. Moreover, during the Albany Movement in 1962, the police released all students who protested against desegregation to prevent people from being killed which would have caused further fear within the White Americans as they were al-ready afraid of Malcolm X during this period, so some of JFK’s actions made it seem as if he were more concerned about his reputation than the civil rights movement in itself. None-theless, another factor which improved hugely within the African American community was employment as the Kennedy Administration banned any business from discriminating any-one solely based on their colour and so the Plan for Progress was launched by the Commit-tee on Equal Employment Opportunity (CEEO) set up in 1961. This encouraged large em-ployers to introduce equal opportunity practices, and resulted into 268 firms signing on with this plan. So, by 1964, a year after Kennedy’s presidency, 103 companies “showed a Negro gain from 28,940 to 42,738 salaries and from 171,021 to 198,161 hourly paid jobs” which was phenomenal as blacks were beginning to work alongside whites which had a huge posi-tive impact on the life style of African American citizens as they were earning more money which meant they were able to lead healthier and better life styles. This was a break-through for the African American community as they were now able to be employed in posi-tions such as the Navy and the Veterans Administration and this was due to JKF’s new legis-lation that African Americans were able to work alongside whites in normal positons, which increased Kennedy’s popularity. Alongside this, the Executive Order 11063 banned discrimi-nation and segregation within federally funded housing, and the Jim Crow Laws were made illegal. Furthermore, the Kennedy Administration introduced the Voter Education Project which led to 688,800 members joining the project to secure voting rights for blacks. Another factor which made Kennedy one of the most influential presidents for the civil rights move-ment were his speeches as in 1963 he delivered the Civil Rights Address in which he pro-posed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it illustrates Kennedy’s idea of equal access to all fa-cilities around America. Analogously, Kennedy’s ideologies were one of the biggest reasons as to why he wanted to support the civil rights movement as he believed that ‘it ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demon-strations’ this was declared by Kennedy during a time of racial tensions, displaying that he was putting his position as president on the line to stand for what he believes in and to give equality between both whites and blacks. Kennedy was the most popular president since world war two as he averaged with a 70.1 percent approval rating, evidently Kennedy was very popular with the public, especially the African American community as he secured their voting rights, created equality within employment businesses and banned segregation against blacks.
Franklin D.Roosevelt (FDR), who was the president during the Great Depression was the most influential president during this period as he introduced legislation which improved America’s economy and picked the country back up from the Depression as well as support-ing African Americans. Roosevelt introduced the Executive Order 8802, creating the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) and this ensured that the federal government would not hire any person based on their race, colour, creed, or national origin, which evi-dently displayed his support for the civil rights movement as this order resulted into African-Americans receiving better pay and jobs. Furthermore, in 1941, Roosevelt also desegregat-ed the US Armed forces which had a huge impact on the African-American sailors as they were now able to share facilities with the white soldiers/ sailors. Evidently, FDR’s attempt to support the civil rights movement was successful as he managed to improve the jobs and pay of African Americans and he also desegregated the US Armed Forces which was a huge shock to the white soldiers and sailors. Roosevelt’s popularity with the African Americans was huge as he introduced the ‘New Deal’ which were economic programs to improve un-employment and the national economy, and as African-Americans were usually the first fired and the last hired, so this plan that FDR introduced helped benefit the African-Americans as they were employed more often. On the other hand, even though FDR seemed like he was in favour of the civil rights movement, he did not promote it as he was afraid of losing support from the Southern whites, initiating that he was more concerned about keep-ing the support of the whites than publicly supporting the African-Americans, which is simi-lar to JFK as he keeps the white backlash quiet to make the racism seem less than it actually was at the time. Nonetheless, after America entered World War II, he ordered the justice department to pass anti-lynching laws which displayed his care and concern for the African-Americans and it also showed his support for the civil rights movement. Roosevelt’s ideolo-gies were to save America during both the Great Depression and World War II, which he successfully achieved through the Prohibition and the ‘New Deal’. Roosevelt was one of the greatest orators of his time and so his speech on the ‘New Deal’ signified his plans to help America’s economy by reducing the cost of government, to give employment and to raise the prices of farm products, declaring “to a new deal for the American people”. Overall, Roosevelt was successful in supporting and improving the lives of African-Americans, even if he didn’t promote it publicly, he still managed to improve employment, desegregate the US forces and prevent lynching, exhibiting that he was the most influential of the civil rights movement. Unlike JFK, who quietened the Civil Rights Movement so that he would not lose the majority or his white supporters.
Ulysses S.Grant, (USG) was the second most influential president during the evolution of the civil rights as he introduced legislation not only for equality, but even introduced orders against the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This prevented the KKK from harming any black citizen of America. In 1870, Grant set up the 15th Amendment, which gave voting rights to anyone, no matter what race or colour. In 1871, ‘The Ku Klux Klan Act’ was introduced to protect black people and tracked KKK activity to prevent it from attacking other members of the African-American community. Grant changed laws to protect the black community, whilst also cre-ating laws against their white opponents to protect them. This is one of the biggest reasons as to why Grant is more influential than Kennedy or Wilson during the civil rights movement as he wasn’t afraid of the white backlash, but continued to do what was right for the people. On October 12th 1871, Grant ordered for the KKK in South Carolina to surrender their wea-ponry, which would have caused a huge uproar from the whites in the South, yet Grant con-tinued to fight against the KKK to stand up for the African-Americans. Likewise, then signing the ‘Civil Rights Act of 1875’ which banned segregation within different modes of transport, evidently making him more influential than Wilson as he was the president who introduced the Jim Crow laws. This was one of the biggest changes within the civil rights movement as it was now illegal to discriminate anyone against their race or colour, evidently proving that Grant was more influential than Kennedy and Wilson during this period, continuing to sign the ‘Enforcement Act’ in 1870 to secure the voting rights of freedmen, which again was a huge step for the black community as they now had a voice as a result of Grant’s new legis-lation. A downfall to his presidency, however, was his popularity with the public, as he was visibly popular within the black community as he introduced all new legislation purposely aimed to support the African-Americans, but this came with a lot of backlash from the whites of the South as their racist views clashed with Grant’s legislation and so when he created the act against the KKK. It dramatically lost him even more support as he was now aiming at groups to protect the blacks, which would have caused anger from white suprem-acist groups as they were used to having white presidents who were discriminative but Grant changed this view and began to recognise diverse ideas. Grant’s main aim during his presidency was to end slavery as he stated ‘
Which he successfully did as he secured African-American’s voting rights, prevented the KKK from attacking the blacks and introduced the ‘Civil Rights Act’ to create peace and equality between the blacks and whites.