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The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Overcome

Martin Luther King, Jr., Matthew Ahmann, and others, 28 March 1963
New Hope?
- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Fumbling on the New Frontier," essay, The Nation, 3 March 1962 (PDF)

In 1961 the liberal magazine The Nation began what was to be an annual series in which Martin Luther King, Jr., would review the progress of civil rights in the United States. Here we offer his March 1962 assessment of the first year of the Kennedy Administration. King describes a year of small advances and large frustrations. He juxtaposes the timid steps of the government with the brave and bold actions of demonstrators in Georgia and Mississippi, actions which, he pointedly notes, show blacks vigorously "meeting their obligation to act." He challenges Kennedy to develop a long-term plan to bring about black equality. "The President," he wrote, "proposed a ten-year plan to put a man on the moon. We do not yet have a plan to put a Negro in the State Legislature of Alabama." (5 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. In what area does King see whites and blacks sharing a common interest? Why would this be important to the Kennedy Administration? Why is it important for King to make this point?
  2. Compare King's references to events in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with those made by Malcolm X in his "Not Just an American Problem" speech (see Theme IV: COMMUNITY).
  3. What circumstances in Congress prevented Kennedy from moving more vigorously on civil rights legislation?
  4. What is King's tone in the article?
  5. Who is his audience?
  6. How has he tailored his tone for his audience?
  7. How does King contextualize his argument in American political traditions?
  8. How does King characterize the political and social climate for civil rights advancement in early 1962?

Framing Questions
  •  By the end of the 1960s, what had African Americans overcome?
  •  How had the civil rights movement affected the lives of African Americans?
  •  What remained to be overcome?

King: 5 pages
Supplemental Sites
Martin Luther King, Jr., speeches, sermons, autobiography, and other writings, from the King Papers Project, Stanford University

The Kennedys and Civil Rights, from American Experience (PBS)

Civil Rights and the Kennedy Administration, from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: Martin Luther King, Jr., Matthew Ahmann, and others at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, DC, 28 March 1963. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives, ID: NWDNS-306-SSM-4C(51)15.

1. New Hope?   2. "People Get Ready"   3. From Negro to Black
4. Attacking Stereotypes   5. Soul   6. Dubious Victory
  7. Making It

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

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Revised: August 2007