Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 - The Beginning of the Sixtiesby Jon Margolis, John Margolis
The year 1964 marked a change in American history: John Kennedy was dead, and in the aftermath of his assassination, the country was trying to figure out what to do with itself. The Warren Commission was busily sifting evidence, Jackie Kennedy was fast on her way to becoming an icon of dignified widowhood, and Lyndon Johnson was tearing down Camelot to build the Great Society. Young men started burning draft cards, rioting blacks burned whole neighborhoods, women began to wonder if the male sex was their oppressor, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (which escalated the war in Vietnam), and three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi.
In The Last Innocent Year, Jon Margolis, a former political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, captures all the drama and emotion of this historic year, re-creating it from the perspective of the statesmen, celebrities, and ordinary people who made its events come alive. The year 1964 marked a change in American history: John Kennedy was dead, and in the aftermath of his assassination, the country was trying to figure out what to do with itself. The Warren Commission was busily sifting evidence, Jackie Kennedy was fast on her way to becoming an icon of dignified widowhood, and Lyndon Johnson was tearing down Camelot to build the Great Society. Young men started burning draft cards, rioting blacks burned whole neighborhoods, women began to wonder if the male sex was their oppressor, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (which escalated the war in Vietnam), and three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi.
In The Last Innocent Year, Jon Margolis, a former political reporter for theChicago Tribune, captures all the drama and emotion of this historic year, re-creating it from the perspective of the statesmen, celebrities, and ordinary people who made its events come alive.
Author Biography: Jon Margolis was a writer and reporter for the Chicago Tribune for twenty-two years, primarily as the newspaper's chief national political correspondent. He led the Tribune's coverage of presidential elections from 1976 to 1988 and has also written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The New Republic, Ms., and the Saturday Review. A resident of Washington, D.C., for most of his career, Margolis now lives and writes in Barton, Vermont.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt
NOT ENTIRELY LEGITIMATE
At the last minute, Lyndon Johnson decided to go to the Oval Office. Yes, it might be awkward, and he knew it might be misunderstood, taking the office of a man not twenty-four hours dead. But Johnson had long ago grown accustomed to being misunderstood, and anyway, it was his office now. That's what his secretaries of state and defense had told him the night before, and the national security director, too. The world had to see the seamless solidity of the American government, they told him.
Still, he felt ... well, not entirely legitimate. He was the president of the United States by right and duty, but not by election, and whatever else he knew that misty Saturday morning, November 23, 1963, he knew that much of the country would see him as a usurper, in spirit if not in fact or law.
All the more reason to go right to the Oval Office. It wasn't just foreign officials who had to see the orderly transfer of power; the American people needed to see it as well. And perhaps so did their new president.
So when his car came through the gate into the White House grounds, Johnson told his driver to take him to the West Wing instead of the entrance of the Old Executive Office Building, where his vice presidential office was located.
The president knew hewould not be the first to arrive. Earlier that morning, from his home in northwest Washingtonthe one he would soon leavehe had already called Jack Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, and urged him not to quit. "I need you more than he needed you," Johnson told Salinger. Now, just outside the Oval Office, he encountered Evelyn Lincoln, who had been Kennedy's secretary for years and who was busily packing up his belongings. Johnson asked her to step into the Oval Office. Across the room from the desk, two small sofas faced each other. The new president sat down on one. Mrs. Lincoln started toward the nearby rocking chair, then thought the better of it and took the sofa opposite Johnson.
"I need you more than you need me," he told her, "but because of overseas"he must have meant America's image abroad"I also need a transition. I have an appointment at nine-thirty. Can I have my girls in your office by nine-thirty?" He'd feel more comfortable with his own secretaries.
That was less than an hour away, but Mrs. Lincoln had no other choice but to agree. Shaken, she went back to the outer officeher officewhere she found another visitor.
Robert Kennedy had been out walking on the South Lawn of the White House, and his eyes had been soothed by the rain, his mind refocused on his duty, which was to his dead brother. He had already made one major decision that morning, agreeing with his widowed sister-in-law that John Kennedy's coffin would remain closed. Now he wanted to make sure that his brother's personal papers were removed from the Oval Office desk and the desk itself taken away. He expected to find the office empty, the desk as his brother had left it, the papers untouched.
He certainly did not expect to be told by Evelyn Lincoln that Lyndon Johnson was already in the office, for all they knew sitting at the desk, rifling through the papers.
"Do you know he asked me to be out by nine-thirty," she told Kennedy.
"Oh, no," Kennedy said, and he must have said it loud enough for Johnson to hear, because in a moment the door to the Oval Office opened and the president said to his attorney general, "I want to talk to you."
It was an unrequited desire, and though Robert Kennedy did not refuse to speak to his president, he did refuse to enter that office for the conversation. They went into a smaller room near the presidential bathroom.
"I need you more than he needed you," Johnson said.
"I don't want to talk about that now," Kennedy said. He wanted to talk about giving Mrs. Lincoln more time. In the best of circumstances, arranging the papers of the president of the United States in an orderly manner takes a few hours. These were not the best of circumstances.
"Can't you wait?" Kennedy said.
"Well, of course," Johnson said. She could have until 11:30.
* * *
It had never gone well between them, not since Bob Kennedy had come to Johnson's hotel room in Los Angeles during the 1960 Democratic Convention to try to talk him into turning down the vice presidential nomination, the offer Jack Kennedy had made assuming it would be rejected.
Johnson knew Robert Kennedy disliked him. At a White House social event one evening in 1962, he stood in the small kitchen that the Kennedys had installed in the living quarters and baitedor was it begged?Bobby about it.
"Bobby, you do not like me," Johnson said. "Your brother likes me. Your sister-in-law likes me. Your daddy likes me. But you don't like me. Now, why? Why don't you like me?"
The two men were not alone. This was a very un-Kennedy thing to dolosing restraint, embarrassing people. Kennedy did not reply. As a good lawyer, he knew that silence implies consent. Johnson thought Kennedy held a grudge because Johnson had criticized Kennedy's father, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, at the 1960 Democratic Convention, something Johnson denied he had done.
He had, but Kennedy barely remembered it. What he did remember was his conclusion that Johnson "lies all the time.... He lies even when he doesn't have to lie." Another thing bothered Kennedy. At one point, he remembered, Johnson had said to him, "You know, none of the people that work for me are any good." Even without that confession, Kennedy had seen Johnson yell and swear at his associates and his staff, as though by dressing them down he could build himself up. He had heard Johnson mispronounce the names of his closest associates, regularly referring to Bill D. Moyers as "Moyer."
Kennedy didn't like that. He was the rich kid who'd chosen working-class roommates at Harvard, who had decided to join the Navy as an enlisted man. He always went out of his way to be nice to the little guys. Maybe that's because he was a little guy himself.
How could they possibly get along now, after their world had been turned upside down? Yesterday morning, Robert Kennedy was the second most powerful man in America and Lyndon Johnson was in storage. Now Johnson was president and Kennedy worked for him.
"Bobby Kennedy's just another lawyer now," Jimmy Hoffa said when he heard the news from Dallas.
No, he was attorney general of the United States. But he was just another cabinet member and the president's least favorite.
It had also not gone well between them the night before, on the evening after the assassination. Kennedy, who thought it would be fitting if his fallen brother returned to Washington as president, had been offended that Johnson wanted to take the oath of office immediately, unable or unwilling to see that the stricken public needed the assurance of presidential continuity more than the symbolic homage to the dead.
Then, when the plane with Johnson and his wife, with John Kennedy's body and his bloodstained widow, returned to Andrews Air Force Base, Robert Kennedy walked immediately to Jacqueline Kennedy's side. Johnson took it as a snub, unable or unwilling to see that the first impulse of a mourning family is mutual comfort.
Now, in the White House, it wasn't just their relationship that was new. Even Robert Kennedy didn't realize it, but he had been transformed into something that had never before existed in America. He was a prince pretender.
The Kennedys weren't like the other political familiesAdamses, Harrisons, Rooseveltsfathers and sons or cousins, not brothersin which one generation had given up (or lost) power long before the other reached for it. Besides, neither John Adams, Benjamin Harrison, nor Teddy Roosevelt had been murdered.
John Kennedy had, and his murder had triggered something akin to a metamorphosis, changing his brother into something for which American politics had no name or point of reference. Even Shakespeare had not come up with a plot this complicated; no brother of Richard II retained an honored place at the court of Henry IV.
America's political vocabulary had no term for family dynasties. Houses were chambers of a legislative body, not tribes plotting to take power. Restoration referred to fixing up old houses. What other changes had Lee Harvey Oswald wrought?
* * *
A few minutes later, back across the street in his vice presidential office, President Johnson received his first official briefing from John McCone, the director of Central Intelligence. And what McCone told himthat Lee Harvey Oswald had been in contact with the Russianscame as no surprise. From the moment Secret Service Agent Emory Roberts told him that Jack Kennedy was going to die, Lyndon Johnson was certain that some malevolent conspiracy had made him president of the United States.
But whose conspiracy was it? He suspected Fidel Castro, whose communist beachhead on Cuba had withstood a Kennedy-backed invasion in 1961. But he wasn't sure and didn't want to be, which is one reason he wasn't sure he wanted some hotshot commission looking into the assassination. If Castro or the Russians had been responsible, the pressure on Johnson to retaliate would be hard to resist. He did not want to begin his presidency with a war.
Besides, Johnson's years in Congress had taught him about commissions. They went on forever. A commission would have to recruit a staff, find office space, get itself organized. It might be weeks before it actually started investigating and months before it finished, with each of its meetings and announcements getting into the newspapers, prolonging the period in which the country would live in the shadow of John Kennedy's murder.
It would be ghoulish.
* * *
For all the extent and variety of her wardrobe, Jacqueline Kennedy owned only one black dress. She had worn it just twicewhen her husband announced his presidential candidacy and when her son was christened. Saturday morning, waking from a drug-induced sleep, she put it on for the third time. She had tasks to perform.
Mass had been scheduled for 10 A.M., not in the East Room but in the family dining room, on the assumption that the widow would not be able to bear being in the same room with the coffin. But when she walked into the dining room, holding her children by the hand, she said, "Why is this here?" and Robert Kennedy told the priest to move the portable altar into the East Room.
Fresh from his meeting with John McCone, Lyndon Johnson joined the mourners. Slowly, he walked past the casket in the center of the room, covered by an American flag and resting on a catafalquethe word itself was unfamiliar to most Americans until that day.
When the service ended, Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, crossed Lafayette Square to attend a brief Episcopal service at St. John's Church. Jackie Kennedy, who had nowhere to go, found herself comforting those who had come to comfort her, greeting the guests as they filed out of the room.
The last to leave was chief White House usher J. Bernard West. "Poor Mr. West," she said, taking his hand. He was unable to reply. "Will you take a walk with me?" He nodded. "Will you walk with me over to his office?" she said. All he could do was nod again, and off they went.
* * *
Outside the White House, people were standing in the rain. Some held umbrellas, but most did not bother. Some came for a few minutes, then hurried off; others stayed for much of the afternoon, barely moving, getting soaked.
It wasn't that there was much to look at. Yes, some celebrities passed by: Supreme Court justices, senators, newspaper columnists. But many in the crowd couldn't see the comings and goings, and wouldn't have recognized most of the officials had they gotten a good look at them. They just wanted to stand there, in the rain, as though time were standing still that day. They didn't know it, but they were not alone. All over the countryindeed, the worldordinary men and women poured forth from their homes to gather in city squares, though nothing had been scheduled and nothing would occur.
* * *
When the president's first cabinet meeting began at 2:30 that afternoon, only the attorney general was not in his chair when Dean Rusk announced Johnson's arrival and led an opening prayer. Robert Kennedy's first impulse had been not to attend, but McGeorge Bundy convinced him that he had to go. When he arrived, late, some of the cabinet members rose. The president did not. He assumedhe knewthat Kennedy had deliberately walked in late to spoil the meeting.
But the next day, Sunday, November 24, Johnson and Kennedy rode together to the Capitol. The Johnsons came to the White House after church, just before noon, and waited for the Kennedy family in the Green Room. When they arrived, Eunice Shriver walked up to Lady Bird Johnson. "I hear Oswald has been killed," she said, as though reporting the latest turn in the weather.
Lyndon Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy sat in the backseat of the limousine. Lady Bird Johnson and Robert Kennedy were in the jump seats, Caroline Kennedy was next to her mother, and John junior jumped from front seat to back. "John-John," his uncle said, "be good. You be good and we'll give you a flag afterward." In front of them walked Black Jack, the frisky riderless horse, and in front of him the caisson and coffin pulled by six white horses down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.
The soldiers put the casket in the center of the Capitol Rotunda. Lyndon Johnson laid a wreath at its foot. Chief Justice Earl Warren and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield spoke, and so did House Speaker John McCormack, seventy-one years old and next in line for the presidency until a new vice president took office in January of 1965. Jacqueline Kennedy and her daughter knelt at the casket's side. The widow kissed it; the child put her hand on the flag. When the ceremony was over, the Kennedys and the Johnsons left the Capitol in separate cars. President Johnson had another meeting to attend.
* * *
This time, in addition to McCone there were the secretaries of state and defense, Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara; Undersecretary of State George Ball; McGeorge Bundy, the president's special assistant for national security affairs; and Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican whom Kennedy had chosen as ambassador to Vietnam.
It was an impressive assembly. Except for Bundy, all of them were big men, over six feet tall. All were men of obvious accomplishment and educationfour could list Harvard or Yale on their resumes. And they were impeccably, if not uniformly, dressed. McNamara, as ever, had neither a wrinkle in his suit nor an errant hair on his head; later, the president would refer to him as "lard-hair man." Lodge, the aging Ivy Leaguer, wore loafers and a white handkerchief in the pocket of his suit jacket.
Physically, the odd man out was at the head of the conference table. Lyndon Johnson was the biggest of them all. He stood six feet three inches tall, and his head needed a seven and three-eighths size hat. His suit may have been tailored in London, but he seemed to bulge out of it, not because he was fathe was rangy, not fatbut because his long legs and big chest rebelled.
At fifty-five years old, he was not the oldest man in the room, but his elongated face with its wrinkles, its drooping earlobes, and its double chin made him seem older. Maybe it was the heart attack Johnson had suffered a decade before. Maybe it was the years of hard drinking or the late nights running the Senate. Maybe there was no reason at all, but he looked more weathered than the others. A stranger knowing nothing of any of them could walk into the room and immediately pick him out as the one who'd grown up in the country.
There was nothing about Johnson that suggested Harvard or Yale. His one degree was a bachelor of science from San Marcos College in San Marcos, Texas. Of all the men in the room, only he had not grown up in a world that took higher education for granted.
For all their similarity, these seven men were not of one mind on the subject of their meeting: what to do about the pesky little war in the far-off Southeast Asian land of Vietnam, a place few Americans knew or cared much about.
Lodge was the most optimistic. He had to be. Of all the Americans involved, he had been the most enthusiastic supporter of the Vietnamese generals who only a few weeks earlier had overthrown, and murdered, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. It wasn't that Lodge favored murder. He was too proper a New Englander for that and was perhaps too proper a New Englander to have known that the generals never intended to let Diem live. But he did believe that the new government would be more effective than Diem's.
Lodge was point man for the "hearts and minds" school of the conflicts in Southeast Asia, the enlightened cold war intellectuals who saw the struggle in Vietnam as essentially political. They believed that the United States had to help the South Vietnamese government do more than simply kill guerrillas and control land; they also had to win the loyalty of the Vietnamese peasantry.
The soldiers who were already there thought they were in a war, and wars were won by fighting. Like most military men, General Paul Harkins, the top U.S. soldier in Vietnam, had been opposed to cooperating with the coup. He and Lodge were barely speaking.
Among those who thought the generals had a good case had been Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Nobody had consulted with him at the time, but if they had, he might have told them that he thought Henry Cabot Lodge was a pompous fool. He might also have told them that a photograph of Ngo Dinh Diem hung on a wall of the Elms, the Johnson home in the Spring Valley section of northwest Washington.
Now, the discussion was only about how to help the South Vietnamese government. Whether to help was never considered, nor was withdrawing the 15,500 American soldiers advising the South Vietnamese Army. Even to entertain such a thought would have been to challenge the consensus, which these men would never do. After all, the consensus was theirs, and it transcended politics, which is why it could survive political bickering. It was less political than intellectual and cultural, so Republicans and Democrats could assail each other at campaign time, then work together later. They disagreed only over the specifics, over means to the end, not over what that end should be.
For proof, all one had to do was go back to the last presidential election. For all the passions John Kennedy and Richard Nixon aroused, they had agreed on the basics: the primacy of foreign affairs, containment (but not isolation) of the Soviet Union, firm but indirect management of the economy, gradual expansion of equal rights for Negroes.
So similar were the candidates' views that Harvard professor and Kennedy friend Arthur Schlesinger Jr., concerned that liberal intellectuals were insufficiently committed to the Kennedy cause, felt impelled to compose a book-length polemic: Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference? Yes, the professor answered. He was right. It did make a difference, but within the parameters of the prevailing consensus.
On that November Sunday, therefore, only one man in the room would mention the possibility of leaving South Vietnam to its own devices. That was the president, who noted that some members of the Congress were wondering whether Vietnam was worth the trouble. He wondered himself, and wondered too whether anything the United States did would work.
"I have misgivings," he said. "I feel like a fish that just grabbed a worm with a big hook in the middle of it."
But he would not allow those misgivings to dominate him. "We'll stand by our word," he said.
* * *
This business with the telephones would not do.
National 8-1414 was the White House number. Anyone could dial itNA 8-1414but there didn't seem to be any system. Johnson would be talking with someone and then suddenly he would be interrupted by one of his secretaries because she didn't realize he was on the phone.
"Everybody just keeps coming on," he barked at them. "Now I can't work with an office like that. If the telephone system can't work, will you just tell 'em I'll have to go home?"
Go home? He had just gotten there two days earlier. It was Monday, November 25, the day of John Kennedy's funeral, officially proclaimed by his successor as a national day of mourning. Even so, the office was now Lyndon Johnson's, and it would have to be run his way.
At this moment, the confusion was especially annoying because J. Edgar Hoover was on the line, and Johnson knew he had to stay alert while talking to Hoover. Later, the president would refer to Hoover as a "sovereignty," but right now he was determined to stay on the FBI director's good side. It was no help when the phones didn't work right.
"Mr. Hoover on 2383," said one of Johnson's secretaries.
"Let me find it," he said.
He knew what Hoover wanted, or at least what Hoover didn't want. He didn't want some special commission set up to investigate the assassination, as if the Bureau couldn't do the job. Johnson wasn't sure he wanted a commission, either. Who knew what it might find out?
"We can't be checking up on every shooting scrape in the country," Johnson said, letting Hoover know that he had his president's sympathy. The assassination had taken place in Texas, so it was clearly a job for Texas state officials. With the help, of course, of the professionals at the FBI.
"You can offer them your full cooperation and vice versa," the president said.
Hoover agreed. "We'll both work together on it."
That was all well and good, but first they would have to stop this commission idea, and Johnson wasn't sure they could. The next morning's Washington Post was coming out with an editorial in favor of it.
Hoover had no influence with the Post. "I frankly don't read it," he said." I view it like the Daily Worker."
* * *
Unlike Lady Bird Johnson, most Americans did not have to be told that Lee Harvey Oswald had been killed. They saw it happen. It was the most public murder in the history of the world, the first ever seen on live television, and it happened when almost everyone was watching television and when all the stations were dealing with the same subject. The television sets were turned on, not to entertain but to heal. John F. Kennedy's assassination created America'sprobably the world'sfirst case of mass psychosis, with most people reporting the standard symptoms: sleeplessness, nervousness, disorientation, weeping. With the possible exception of Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, never before had any public event so shaken an entire society.
Neither Lincoln's assassination nor Roosevelt's death had had the same impact. Both men were older when they died, and their war-weary people were accustomed to violence. John Kennedy was forty-six years old, and the country was not simply at peace; it was dominated by a harmonious consensus in which ideological bickering had been replaced by rational analysis.
Or so it told itself.
Besides, those earlier presidential deaths might as well have taken place in another country. They were pretelevision, and television, by bringing the president into almost every living room almost every day, had transformed the relationship between him and the people. Thanks to television (and radio), 90 percent of the American people heard about Kennedy's death within two hours. Thanks to television, everyone who chose to could take part in the mourning. Most of them did.
The three networks quickly dropped all regular programming. The Lawrence Welk Show and Gunsmoke were not shown Saturday night; Wagon Train, The Ed Sullivan Show, and My Favorite Martian could not be seen on Sunday. The networks even decided to air no commercial advertisements until the funeral was over.
Because almost all television stations were network affiliates, the blackout of regular programming was all but universal. And television set the tone, virtually shaming theaters into closing, radio stations into altering both the tone and content of their programs. Broadway went dark, so it was impossible for a few days to see the performances of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying or Beyond the Fringe. It was not impossible that weekend to hear Chubby Checker sing "Hooka Tooka" or go to the movies to see Cary Grant bamboozle Audrey Hepburn in Charade. But it wasn't easy.
There were recalcitrants. Some complained because the movies and the college football games were canceled and because the National Football League games, which went on that Sunday as though nothing had happened, were not televised.
But it was a big, varied country, with people of all political stripes and personal peculiarities. If not quite everyone was afflicted, most were, and so they mourned together, not least because they had the mechanism for it. For millions, turning on the TV had become the first, instinctive reaction, as though this machine was the comforter of first resort. It met their expectations.
Television, which the Federal Communications Commission chairman appointed by John Kennedy had labeled a "vast wasteland," demonstrated another ability. It could create a national living room. On Monday more than 100 million Americans93 percent of the countrywatched their president's funeral. Never before had so many people done the same thing at the same time.
Columnist Anthony La Camera, a Boston boy, may have been overstating when he proclaimed, "In the history of all mankind there has never been anything quite like it." But surely there had never been anything quite like it in the memory of any living American. Getting over it would take some doing.
* * *
George Wallace did not have a ticket to the funeral Mass. Considering that not even Nikita Khrushchev had given John Kennedy more trouble over the past three years, Wallace's uncredentialed status was something less than a shock. Still, he was upset. Unlike Martin Luther King, whose feelings were also hurt at not being invited to the funeral mass, Wallace tried to get into the church. King stood with the crowds on the street watching the cortege go by. Wallace finagled his way inside. With no assigned seat, he had to improvise, but he managed. After all, improvisation was his forte.
Wallace's presence at the funeral was not devoid of political calculation, but there was nothing phony about his grief. Those were real tears seeping from his eyes. The assassination had rendered him speechless. He had been up in Haleyville, in the northwestern corner of Alabama, helping to dedicate a new high school, and the news came just as he was introduced.
He couldn't go to the podium. He sat up, then sat back down. The music director of the First Baptist Church sang "The Lord's Prayer" to give his governor time to recover, and when the song ended, Wallace finally made it to the podium. But he was almost tongue-tied. All he could do was blurt out a few words and then sit down.
When the four little Negro girls had been blown up in the Birmingham church basement just nine weeks earlier, Wallace had taken it in stride, perhaps knowing that the murderers supported him, perhaps sensing his own responsibility. But this crime shook him to his core. He ordered the state's flags flown at half-staff and wrote Mrs. Kennedy a long note. It was as though he'd lost a friend. Like so many of Kennedy's foes, Wallace had found the man appealing.
Perhaps, also, appealing to run against. In January, three days before his inauguration as governor, Wallace had met in Montgomery's Jefferson Davis Hotel with former Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, Louisiana political leader Leander Perez, and John Synon, a segregationist newspaper columnist from Virginia, along with five other men associated with the white citizens council movement throughout the South. Synon, one of the founders of Americans for Constitutional Action, was urging Southern politicians to mount an "independent elector" movement, with slates headed by popular segregationists. The idea was to keep either party's presidential candidate from winning an electoral majority.
It was a political pipe dream, and nothing came of it except to interest Wallace in extending his political reach beyond Alabama. Early in November he had gone on a Northern lecture tour and heard some of the same cheers in Connecticut, in Colorado, and in California that so often greeted him in Alabama. Perhaps the politics of race need not be confined to the South. He had always suspected as much. That was why his inaugural address had been as much national as local; he had gone out of his way to defy John Kennedy and his brother.
"We will tolerate their boot in our face no longer," he had proclaimed. Alabama's enemy was the federal government, which "encourages everything degenerate and base" and attempts to suppress white people all over the world.
"The Belgian survivors of the Congo cannot present their case," he said, "nor [can] the citizens of Oxford, Mississippi," and he repeated the slogan that had won him the election: "Segregation forever."
Wallace was not much at careful analysis; he acted by instinct, and his instinct had granted him an extraordinary insight: Attacking government was the way to export the politics of race.
It was a lesson some Republicans were learning, too.
* * *
In Dallas, an uneasy Rabbi Hillel Silverman of Congregation Shearith Israel visited the most famous member of his congregation, Jack Ruby, in the county jail.
"I did it for the Jews," Ruby told him, for the Jews and for Jacqueline Kennedy, so she would not have to testify at Oswald's trial. He had read in the Sunday paper that she might have to return to Dallas for the trial. He could not bear the thought of it.
* * *
Senator Hubert Humphrey's tears at the cathedral were at least as sincere as Wallace's; he had been a more civil opponent when he ran against Kennedy for the 1960 nomination, and it had not been difficult for him to transform himself into a supporter and something of a friend. Still, like Wallace, Humphrey calculated his political future as he mourned.
Hubert Humphrey wanted very much to be president, and after his failure in 1960 he had figured out that with his disadvantagesnot much money, not much glamourhis best route was through the vice presidency, a position suddenly vacant. He was already planning to apply. Over the weekend, he had discussed his chances with old alliesAdlai Stevenson, Chester Bowles, Bill Benton. On the morning of the funeral, he'd even called his old friend Marvin Rosenberg in New York, inviting him to a strategy meeting on Thursday. "It's very important," Humphrey told him.
Humphrey also had a more limited, more immediate, political task at the funeral. On Sunday night, his dinner at home with Adlai Stevenson and a few other friends had been interrupted by a phone call from Lyndon Johnson. The president wanted to know how many votes Humphrey had against an amendment to the farm bill that would come to the Senate floor on Tuesday. Humphrey didn't know.
"That's the trouble with the place up there," Johnson had said. "You fellows don't have the votes counted." That had hurt, coming from the onetime master of the Senate floor, and Humphrey vowed he'd get a count. He was not the Majority Leader, merely the deputy, but Lyndon Johnson had put him in that slot, and everybody knew it. If he had to cadge votes at St. Matthew's Cathedral or at Arlington Cemetery, so be it. This was his first assignment from President Lyndon Johnson, whom he mightily wished to please.
* * *
Richard Russell and Barry Goldwater cried while they calculated, too. Ceremonies in general had that effect on both of them, especially military ceremony. Russell's passion was Civil War history; Goldwater's was flying for the Air National Guard. Both of them were easily moved by the sight of honor guards. Besides, they were sentimental men.
Perhaps no one in Washington had shed more tears on hearing the news than Richard Russell had, though by then his support for Kennedy had ail but evaporated. For a time, the president's prudence and moderation had pleased Russell, but that had disappeared the previous summer when Kennedy proposed his civil rights bill, making clear that he shared the commitment to end forever the great love of Richard Russell's lifethe racially segregated society of the South.
Still, it had been hours before he had been able to stop crying about Kennedy and to think about the man who was once his protégé, now his president.
"Lyndon Johnson has all of the talents, the abilities, and the equipment to make a very good president of this country, a very good president," Russell told his staff. "And of course old Lyndon is going to enjoy being president. He'll enjoy every minute of it, every hour of it."
As much, Russell knew, as he himself would not enjoy it. He had no doubt that Johnson would push as hard as Kennedy had for civil rights. Maybe harder. And it would be so much harder for Russell to fight Johnson than it would have been to fight Jack Kennedy. He was only fond of Kennedy; he did not love him.
Barry Goldwater's political calculation also reflected his personal feelings about the two presidents. For all their political differences, Goldwater and Jack Kennedyearthy, blunt-spoken men who enjoyed a drink and a jokeliked each other. Goldwater had looked forward to running against Kennedy; the campaign would have been a civilized discussion of the issues. The two of them had even talked about getting on a train together and debating each other around the country. There would be no such talk with Johnson. Goldwater didn't like Johnson at all, and he figured a campaign against him could get dirty. It would also be tougher. Goldwater may have been unschooled, but he was politically shrewd, and he doubted the electorate would want three presidents in fourteen months. By the day of the funeral, Goldwater, the front-running Republican in the public opinion polls, had decided not to run?
* * *
The mourners at the estate outside Millbrook, New York, northeast of Poughkeepsie, did not need the help of television as they held their rituals that weekend for both of their "departed guides," John Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. Huxley had died the same day, struggling to write about Shakespeare and to read Timothy Leary's manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Huxley died after two final shots of LSDit didn't kill him; it merely altered his final momentsadministered by his wife, Laura, who whispered to him at the end that he was "going, willing and consciously, and you are doing this beautifully; you are doing this so beautifullyyou are going toward the light."
To most people, Huxley was best known for writing Brave New World, the 1932 novel that looked into the superscientific future and found it horrible. To Timothy Leary and his friends at that Dutchess County estate, the more important Huxley book was his 1954 Doors of Perception, which he wrote after he first took mescaline and approached "the Pure Light of the Void." It was an experience that convinced him that Westerners should "be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words ... but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large."
Thanks in part to Huxley's influence, Leary, a psychology professor at Harvard, tried LSD. It changed his life. "Blow the mind and you are left with God and lifeand life is sex," he wrote.
At Millbrook, he could seek all three.
* * *
This Monday was not Lyndon Johnson's day, and he knew it. The horse-drawn casket led the procession, followed by the dead man's widow and his two surviving brothers, all three looking straight ahead, stone-faced but dry-eyed, walking steadily up Seventeenth Street and Connecticut Avenue toward St. Matthew's Cathedral. "Romans," Murray Kempton would call them in the New Republic.
Behind them were other members of the family, and five yards behind them were the Johnsons, so surrounded by Secret Service agents that they were barely visible to the thousands lining the sidewalks. But no one was looking at the Johnsons, any more than they were looking at Charles de Gaulle or Haile Selassie or Queen Frederika. No one even seemed to be looking at Robert or Edward Kennedy. All eyes were on the veiled woman between them.
* * *
At 231 East Forty-seventh Street in Manhattan, Andy Warhol was distressed. Not because Jack Kennedy was dead but because of "the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad." It wasn't that Warhol didn't like Kennedy. He'd found it thrilling that such a young, handsome, and smart fellow should be president. But he couldn't stand this collective, somewhat manufactured, sorrow. So he got his friends together and they "all went out to one of the Berlin bars on Eighty-sixth Street for dinner."
It was easy for Andy Warhol to get his friends together. He was a nucleus around whom others orbited. He wasn't gregarious as much as he was receptive, open to ... well, to just about anything. Although there was much he would not do, there was nothing he would not discuss and almost no one of whom he disapproved, not even the proper and conventional.
He was thirty-three then (or close to it; he was always vague about his age), and although he was hardly the best-known artist in America, he was considered one of the most outrageous, for both his paintings and his personality. The paintings were lifelike reproductions of the common: boxes of Brillo soap pads, Campbell soup cans, and, increasingly since her death in 1962, portraits of Marilyn Monroe, as though he were obsessed by her death, or perhaps by death itself.
When he wasn't painting, Warhol took delight in flaunting the unconventional, if not bizarre, tenor of his life. Though he appeared asexual and temperate himself, the men around him were, in his own words, "mostly fags," and both the men and the women used his hospitality to take whatever drugs they could find.
His midtown loft was known as the Factory, and it attracted the offbeat artists, writers, and hangers-on in New York. They had names (or he gave them names)Rotten Rita, the Mayor, Binghamton Birdie, Stanley the Turtlereminiscent of the names Damon Runyon gave the characters in his stories, though what real-life versions of Harry the Horse and Nicely Nicely would have made of the skinny, spaced-out homosexuals at the Factory could be a subject of interesting discussion.
These were people who lived for the moment, for art, for style, for one another. What did they care about the president?
But Warhol's plan of avoiding the ceremonies of sorrow by gorging on German hot dogs didn't work. Even he and his friends were too depressed. "David Bourdon was sitting across from Suzi Gablik, the art critic, and John Quinn, the playwright," Warhol later wrote, "and he was moaning over and over, `But Jackie was the most glamorous First Lady we'll ever get.'"
* * *
Jack Weinberg watched the funeral with friends in Berkeley, where most of them no longer went to school. They had not been big fans of President Kennedyhe was far too timid on civil rights for their tastebut they found themselves as absorbed by the proceedings as everyone else.
Weinberg had been in Professor Charlie Sellers's office when he heard about the assassination. Sellers was a professor of history, but Weinberg was not there on academic business. His field was math, and anyway, he'd dropped out of grad school to spend his time fighting for civil rights, which was why he was visiting Sellers, the head of the Berkeley branch of the Congress of Racial Equality. Jack was active in CORE, too, and he was one of the leaders of the protest demonstration scheduled for that Sunday to protest local hiring practices. He came to show Sellers the leaflets, but when he got there Sellers was on the phone learning the news.
It took Weinberg a few minutes to figure out that his demonstration wouldn't happen, so he just wandered the campus for a few minutes, noticing how much it had grown and changed in the two short years he had been in Berkeley.
According to its own boss, the University of California at Berkeley wasn't a university anymore; it was a "multiversity," said Clark Kerr, the president of the state university system. It had an "educational outlook attuned to [the] high-tech, military, space, agribusiness and entertainment economy," from which it received millions of dollars in government and corporate grants. But it attracted "a culture that is youthful, disheveled, searching and experimental, and resolutely antivocational."
Jack Weinberg was part of the disheveled culture. He'd grown up in Buffalo, New York, and majored in mathematics at the University of Buffalo but dropped out before getting his degree. He didn't know why, exactly, but he was bored. He went to Mexico, living in semipoverty and reading a lot of math textbooks. After a while he came home, got a job, got married, moved to California, got divorced, finished his bachelor's degree at Berkeley, and decided to go to graduate school.
Meanwhile, he had discovered the world around him. Like so many of his contemporaries, he'd grown up with what he later called "an idealistic version of America." He'd known nothing about racial discrimination; he hadn't even realized that Southern Negroes had trouble voting.
In some ways, Berkeley was a perfect place to learn about society's ills. For years, the place had attracted a small army of dissidents, devoted to the causes of free speech and racial equality. For Jack Weinbergat loose ends, lonely, increasingly angry at injusticethese folks provided not just a cause, but a home. They filled a void in his life.
* * *
But what did it all mean?
That's what Tom Hayden and Dick and Mickey Flacks tried to figure out all weekend, all through Monday, sitting in the Flackses' living room with the TV on. Hayden had been on his way to a conference in Minneapolis on Friday. Like everything else, the conference got canceled, and Hayden got himself back to Ann Arbor. It was not a good time to be alone, which is what he was at home now that his marriage had broken up, so he spent the extended weekend with Dick and Mickey in front of their television, watching and questioning.
Lee Harvey Oswald they could figure out. They invented a whole new classification for himhe was of the "lurking class"but beyond that they could not analyze; they had come, for the first time, face-to-face with a situation that defied analysis. Considering that analysis was their strong suit, this was a disconcerting development. Later, Hayden would write that "the tragic consciousness of the sixties generation began here," but at the time, he and Dick Flacks were befuddled. The assassination did not fit.
Their hero, the late sociologist C. Wright Mills, had taught them that whatever its flaws, American society was stable. It was safelyexcessivelycontrolled by powerful elites with shared interests. Among those interests was order. How could they have let this happen?
This confusion might have been a product of youth. Hayden and Flacks were twenty-six years old. Yet for a couple of young guys, they had done a lot. The two of them had helped start a political organization, and Hayden was already its ex-president. It didn't really matter that the organization was made up of fewer than seven hundred paid-up members. There was no doubt in their minds that Students for a Democratic Society was about to become a political force.
The new president, Todd Gitlin, was twenty.
As a functioning organization, SDS existed only at Ann Arbor, where there were 123 members. The next biggest chapter was at Vassar, where 26 young women belonged. But at Hunter and Oberlin, at Texas and Wayne State, there were a few students who considered themselves members even if they hadn't paid dues, even if they had no contact with the grandly titled national office in New York.
Still, the first effort at a national "action" had flopped. When Mme. Ngo Dinh Nhu, President Diem's sister-in-law, came to the United States in September, Gitlin invited the dwindling Student Peace Union to cooperate in a demonstration against U.S. policy in Vietnam. Only five SDS supporters picketed in Washington; students were more concerned about civil rights than foreign affairs. Vietnam didn't seem likely to become a major problem. After all, Laos hadn't become one. On top of all that, SDS was running out of money, its office workers didn't like working in offices, and it didn't have a clear idea of what it wanted to do.
So? It had energy. It had attitude. And though even Hayden and Flacks couldn't know this that November weekend, soon it would have opportunity.
* * *
President Johnson was supposed to be standing near the Kennedy family at the cemetery, but things go awry at even the best-planned events, and somehow he found himself, still surrounded by guards, somewhere in the midst of the crowd. Members of the cabinet and leaders of the Congress were where he was supposed to be. "What the hell am I doing here?" he said to no one in particular. But it didn't really matter. The world was watching the coffin, listening to the salute of the guns and to the bugle playing "Taps."
Eight white-gloved soldiers folded the flag that covered the coffin, folded it into a perfect triangle, which the man at the head of the coffin clutched to his chest, then passed to the next man and across the coffin to the next, until all eight men had held it. The last of them, Sp/4 Douglas Mayfield, handed it to Jack Metzler, the cemetery's superintendent, who then presented it to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Roman or not, she had cried at the cathedral, once when the hymns began, again when Richard Cardinal Cushing broke from the Latin of the Mass and cried, "May the angels, dear Jack, lead you into Paradise."
But now she took the flag, without words but also without tears, and then took a torch and lit the flame at her husband's grave, a flame she had determined would never go out. Lyndon Johnson walked past it on his way to his car, on his way to begin his presidency.
Meet the Author
Jon Margolis was a writer and reporter for the Chicago Tribune for twenty-two years, primarily as the newspaper's chief national political correspondent. He led the Tribune's coverage of presidential elections from 1976 to 1988 and has also written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The New Republic, Ms., and the Saturday Review. A resident of Washington, D.C., for most of his career, Margolis now lives and writes in Barton, Vermont.
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