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There is no shortage of books about JFK and no one is likely to better Taylor Branch's dispositive history of the Civil Rights movement, so it's fair to ask whether this book is really necessary. But the great struggle is always worth remembering and by focusing narrowly on the interplay between the president and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Levingston gives the material a fresh angle of entry. If he is not too terribly interested in holding the two men accountable for their by now well known moral lapses as regards their sexual lives, there are plenty of others happy to highlight that aspect of the story. Instead, he gives us a somewhat hagiographic treatment of one man who unquestionably earned it, Dr. King, and one who we might charitably say was at least moving in the direction of deserving it. For the dramatic arc of the tale concerns the journey in which JFK went from truckling to the Segregationist wing of the party whose presidential nomination he desired to a kind of indifferent neutrality to finally addressing the American injustice of the Jim Crow South when his sense of justice is finally engaged. And that last step only came because of the way MLK marshaled non-violence in the face of violent racist reaction to force the President and the hundreds of millions of his fellow citizens to reckon with the systemic oppression we tolerated for a disgraceful hundred years after "freeing the slaves."

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about reading this account today is how timely it still seems. This is obviously not to say that we have not made tremendous racial progress in the last six decades, but consider that the murderous levels of violence we permit our police to practice against our black citizenry led to street protests that would not have been out of place in the '60s. And look at the squalid political gymnastics our Republican representatives have engaged in to try to stay on the "good" side of Donald Trump and his racist base. It's all well and good for a conservative to be offended by how slow JFK was to come around, but when your own party is engaged in the same sort of turning a blind eye to Nativism/Nationalism it gets worse than awkward.

Yet, here's where I find a hopeful note. For the fact is that the Democrats, who had for so long compromised with the evil of segregation and welcomed segregationists in order to obtain and retain power, eventually reached a point where it was too much and became the champions of Civil Rights, even though it meant ceding the South to the GOP. Surely the GOP can do the same in turn and reject the racist Right even at the expense of surrendering a political cohort. That's the dream anyway.


Grade: (B)


Steven Levingston Links:

    -Steven Levingston (Washington Post)
    -TWITTER: @stevenlevingston
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: Steven Levingston (C-SPAN)
    -ARCHIVES: Steven Levingston (Muck Rack)
    -BOOK SITE: Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights (Hachette Books)
    -ENTRY: Steven Levingston (Book Reporter)
    -ESSAY: Jackie Robinson and JFK on civil rights: Two men divided by a common country (STEVEN LEVINGSTON, June 5, 2017, The Undefeated)
    -ESSAY: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Phone Call That Changed History (STEVEN LEVINGSTON, JUNE 20, 2017, TIME)
    -ESSAY: How Kennedy and King Pushed Each Other to Greatness: JFK and MLK challenged each other to evolve as leaders, and their relationship stands as a reminder to those in power today. (Steven Levingston, Jan. 24, 2020, Daily Beast)
    -EXCERPT: from The Kennedy Baby: The Loss That Transformed JFK (Steven Levingston)
    -ESSAY: Like Trump, JFK faced riots. Here's what he did to stop the violence in Alabama in 1963 (Steven Levingston, 5/31/2020, , The Washington Post)
    -LECTURE: Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor and the Battle Over Civil Rights (Arlington Public Library, February 8 2018)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: John F. Kennedy 100th Anniversary: 2017 National Book Festival: Steven Levingston presents "Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor and the Battle over Civil Rights," Kathy McKeon presents "Jackie's Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family" and Thomas Oliphant presents "The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK's Five-Year Campaign" in a panel discussion on the 100th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy at the 2017 Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress National Book Festival, September 02, 2017)
    -PODCAST: Civil Rights and Constitutional Change (National Constitution Center Podcast, January 15, 2019)
    -REVIEW: of A Promised Land by Barack Obama (Steven Levingston, Independent)
    -INTERVIEW: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How MLK Turned JFK Into a Civil Rights Champion: “One of the cardinal principles for any president is to be able to grow and mature in office.” (Nathalie Baptiste, JULY 12, 2017, Mother Jones)
    -VIDEO: The Revolution of Robert Kennedy and Kennedy and King: John Bohrer, author of The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest After JFK, and Steven Levingston, author of Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights, talked about brothers John and Robert Kennedy. This event was part of the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest, held annually in the city. (C-SPAN, 6/11/17)
    -PODCAST: Giving Thanks to Great Political Memories (Devin Maverick Robins, 11/22/17, Ken Rudin's Political Junkie)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Steven Levingston (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights by Steven Levingston (Thomas Oliphant, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Vincent J. Cannato, Wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Bill Schwab, The Missourian)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Vincent Lloyd, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Hannah Hill, Post & Courier)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (James Goodman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Marilyn Howard, Columbus Free Press)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Craig Shirley, Washington Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Don Graham, Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Peter Simon, Buffalo News)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Thomas Farrell, OpEd News)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (James DiEugenio, Kennedys and King)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (jEFF hENDERSON, tHE fOR cOMPANY)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Dennie Hall, The Oklahoman)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Stan Prager, Regarp Book Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Kennedy and King (Erin Logan, Investigative Reporting Workshop)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light by Steven Levingston (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Charles Graeber, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Anna Mundoow, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Maureen McCarthy, Star Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Mike Jay, Wall Street journal)
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Carmela, Ciarua, Boston Globe))
    -REVIEW: of Little Demon in the City of Light (Fashion Piranha)
    -REVIEW: of Barack and Joe by Steven Levingston (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Barack and Joe (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Barack and Joe (Jason Zengerle, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Barack and Joe (Marilyn K. Howard, Ph.D., Columbus Free Press)

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