In December 1963, the proposed legislation that John F. Kennedy thinks will be his crowning achievement—the Civil Rights Act—is coming to a head in Congress. But just when he needs to throw his back into the push to get it passed, the start of his re-election campaign, derailed by the failed assassination attempt in Dallas the month before, diverts his attention. Within the movement itself, the public face of the Civil Rights Movement begins to shift from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to other leaders, especially Stokely Carmichael. This will have profound consequences for the African-American liberation struggle down the road.
This episode delves into the Civil Rights Movement, which was reaching a crossroads in late 1963. In the real world, the legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning racial and other forms of discrimination in wide swaths of American life, was bottled up in Congress. Many historians of the period maintain that Kennedy’s death was instrumental in its passage, because his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, framed passage of the act politically as a tribute to the dead President. In an alternate timeline where Kennedy survives, the fate of the Civil Rights Act would have been very much in doubt.
The Civil Rights Movement was diverse and complex. It was not just King and the SCLC, but a coalition of organizations that helped advance civil rights goals and organized the famous March on Washington in August 1963. Leaders less well known than King, such as Bayard Rustin and Pauli Murray, were instrumental in the struggle for legal rights of African-Americans. That said, others within the movement, such as the late Congressman John Lewis (who died in 2020), were less sanguine about pinning their hopes on federal-level legislation. This is a complicated chapter in the history of the 1960s and is destined to be in our fictional story as well.
Next Episode: No Later Than March 14