Meet The African Americans Who Worked Under President J.F Kennedy’s Administration

Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in a Georgia state prison for a traffic infraction in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was in a tight contest with Richard Nixon for the presidency of the United States. Kennedy was urged to phone Coretta Scott King, King’s wife, to express his condolences. Still unsure, and with others opposed to the notion, it was Louis E. Martin who persuaded Kennedy to call Coretta to convey his horror at her husband’s incarceration.

Kennedy won a majority of the Black vote in the 1960 presidential election thanks to that phone conversation. And it was all because to Martin’s efforts, which earned him the moniker “Godfather of Black Politics” for influencing certain significant presidential choices involving African Americans and bringing more African Americans into government in the late twentieth century. He worked as a “publicity aide” for four Democratic presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, and then as a liaison between African Americans and these presidents. During the Kennedy era, scores of African Americans were placed in government and judicial posts thanks to this Black writer and newspaper publisher.

Kennedy occupies a thorny position in African-American history. He sympathized with the Black struggle more than any other president before him, according to several older African Americans. Others, though, believe he failed to make a strong case for civil rights legislation. According to historians, Kennedy took that approach in order to avoid losing southern support for legislation on a variety of issues. What is agreed upon is that he appointed an unprecedented number of African Americans to high-level posts in the administration – approximately 50 men and women of color.

According to Martin, the roles Kennedy gave were not merely “advisory,” but were for “Negro Decision-Makers,” unlike prior administrations. Some of the African Americans who served in his administration are listed below:

Rowan, Carl

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

Hatcher, Andrew T.

In 1960, he became the first African American to hold the position 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 sources, Hatcher, as the White House’s number two communications official, filled in for Salinger for 200 days as the official White House spokespeople at press briefings.

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 nominated to the US Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange during the Kennedy administration, after a long involvement in educational exchange programs.

Weaver, Robert

The Housing and Home Finance Agency’s administrator was Robert Weaver (HHFA). It was “the highest appointive federal office ever held by an American Negro,” according to the Chicago Defender. Weaver helped write the 1961 comprehensive housing bill as the administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency.

According to the Miller Center, he also lobbied for the Senior Citizens Housing Act of 1962. During the Johnson administration, Weaver remained at HHFA, designing all of the administration’s housing and urban redevelopment projects. According to the Miller Center, he also worked on the $7.8 billion housing bill in 1965, which featured “an expansion of public housing and programs for rent supplementing low-income families.”

Samuel Gravely, Lt. Commander

He was the first African-American to command a combat ship in the Navy. From January 1962 to June 1963, he was the captain of the USS Falgout (DE-324).

Alexander, Clifford Leopold Jr.

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

Higginbotham, A. Leon

Higginbotham was named to the Federal Trade Commission by President John F. Kennedy in September 1962, making him the first African American to serve on a federal regulatory agency.

According to a PBS report, the following Black people have served as ambassadors:

Carl Rowan was assigned to Finland, Mercer Cook was assigned to Niger, and Clifton Wharton was assigned to Norway.

Thurgood Marshall, a federal judge, was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a new position.

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

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

Cecil Poole of Northern California and Merle McCurdy of Northern Ohio represented the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which included Azie Taylor, who later became the United States Treasurer under President Carter, John Hope, Alice Dunnigan, Howard Woods, Hobart Taylor, and John Wheeler.

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