Magazine article USA TODAY

Black Vote Vaulted "First" JFK

Magazine article USA TODAY

Black Vote Vaulted "First" JFK

Article excerpt

With Pres. George W. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry both after the African-American vote, a recently unearthed recording reveals how Martin Luther King, Jr., regarded blacks' influence in an earlier presidential contest. According to a transcript by the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford (Calif.) University, King maintained that black voters were key to propelling Sen. John F. Kennedy to the White House in 1960.

"It is pretty conclusive now that the Negro played a decisive role in electing the president of the United States, and maybe for the first time we can see the power of the ballot and what the ballot can do," King said in a speech delivered Dec. 30, 1960, in Chattanooga, Tenn. "Now we must remind Mr. Kennedy that we helped him to get in the White House. We must remind Mr. Kennedy that we are expecting to use the whole weight of his office to remove the ugly weight of segregation from the shoulders of our nation."

Even before the discovery of this speech, many scholars asserted that Kennedy's intervention on behalf of an incarcerated King helped to attract support from the black electorate. …

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