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RFK Reportedly Has Heated Discussion with Prominent Negroes

May 25, 1963 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy is reported to have had a heated discussion with a group of prominent Negroes yesterday over their demands for “radical and forceful” action to eliminate segregation and discrimination in the North. Prominent Negro novelist James Baldwin (left with Lena Horne before the meeting) characterized the “caustic” exchange of views as “significant.” But, he added, the Negro group left the meeting convinced that the Attorney General did not “understand the full extent of the growing racial strife” in the North. Other participants, who asked that their names not be used, said they thought the meeting was a “flop.” Efforts to reach Mr. Kennedy to get his assessment of the meeting were unsuccessful. Mr. Baldwin, who arranged the meeting at Mr. Kennedy’s request, said the group had sought to impress on Mr. Kennedy the “extremity of the racial situation” in the North. However, he said, the President’s brother seemed intent on defending the courses of action taken by the Administration in the civil rights field. “We told him,” Mr. Baldwin said, “that though the Kennedy Administration has done some things the Eisenhower Administration never did, its actions have yet to affect the masses of the Negro people.” Mr. Baldwin said one of the participants told Mr. Kennedy that Negroes would not be too enthusiastic about “fighting to free Cuba from Castro if their own government could not free them.” He said Mr. Kennedy seemed shocked by this statement. Mr. Baldwin said that when Freedom Rider Jerome Smith proposed that President Kennedy personally escort Negro students into the University of Alabama, the Attorney General said, “We’re not interested in acts, we’re interested in results.” “He said it would be just the same making a speech,” Mr. Baldwin said, adding: “He didn’t get the point at all.”


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