Kennedy, Johnson and the Great Society AND Rosa Parks and Civil Rights

1.John F. Kennedy came to the presidency in March 1961 on a burst of optimism and national pride. The famous inaugural speech “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” was emblematic of a self confident America that stood Number One in the world, the greater of the two great Superpowers. What elements of the late 1950s and early 1960’s contributed to the optimism? Was it the Peace Corps? What about plans to put a man on the moon? The country was in the middle of the Baby Boom and births were at an all time high. In 1960 the country was prosperous and the last war was Korea, 7 years in the past. The Civil Rights crusade promised a better day for African-Americans and women were beginning to demand a more thoroughgoing equality than just the the right to vote. This was an age that many Americans today would like to return to. Do you understand why it enjoys such a fine reputation?

2.The death of Rosa Parks in Detroit in 2005 inspired the largest funeral demonstration in the city’s history, perhaps a half a million mourners. She had become a symbol of courage and of hope that the curse of Jim Crow and racism more broadly speaking could be expunged from the land. Her passing marks the passage of time, too, because it’s been just over 50 years since she refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery and she was one of the last of the original generation of civil rights leaders. Do you believe attitudes have changed that much since the 1950s? Do you know older relatives or neighbors whose attitudes haven’t changed much since then? Since moving to Clarksville in the early 90s, I’m struck that the “bad old days” of Jim Crow are a subject most people don’t talk about much, and yet it wasn’t that long ago for the generation of your parents or grandparents

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