Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixtiesby Richard N Goodwin
Richard N. Goodwin entered public service in 1958 as a law clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter. He left politics ten years later in the aftermath of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. Over the/b>
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A behind-the-scenes history of the most momentous decade in American politics, now with a new introduction by the author
Richard N. Goodwin entered public service in 1958 as a law clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter. He left politics ten years later in the aftermath of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. Over the course of one extraordinary decade, Goodwin orchestrated some of the noblest achievements in the history of the US government and bore witness to two of its greatest tragedies. His eloquent and inspirational memoir is one of the most captivating chronicles of those turbulent years ever published.
From the Twenty-One quiz-show scandal to the heady days of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign to President Lyndon Johnson’s heroic vote wrangling on behalf of civil rights legislation, Remembering America brings to life the most fascinating figures and events of the era. As a member of the Kennedy administration, Goodwin charted a new course for US relations with Latin America and met in secret with Che Guevara in Uruguay. He wrote Johnson’s historic civil rights speech, “We Shall Overcome,” in support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and formulated the concept of the Great Society and its programs, which sought to eradicate poverty and racial injustice. After breaking with Johnson over the president’s commitment to the Vietnam War, Goodwin played a pivotal role in bringing antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy to within a few hundred votes of victory in the 1968 New Hampshire primary. Three months later, he was with his good friend Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles the night that the young senator’s life—and the progressive movement that had rapidly brought about such significant change—came to a devastating end.
Throughout this critical decade, Goodwin held steadfast to the passions and principles that had first led him to public service. Remembering America is a thrilling account of the breathtaking victories and heartbreaking disappointments of the 1960s, and a rousing call to action for readers committed to justice today.
“More powerfully than any other chronicler of the 60’s, Mr. Goodwin has re-created the soaring hopefulness that suffused American liberals in the early years of the decade and the sense of loss and betrayal that enveloped them at its end.” —The New York Times“Intimate, percipient, wry, marvelously anecdotal and often profound in its grasp of politics, character and paradox. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson walk through these pages like major characters in a big novel.” —Norman Mailer“This is more than a history, more than a memoir. It is a literary achievement that wonderfully relives its time.” —John Kenneth Galbraith“Remembering America is an absolutely compelling book about the sixties; a beautifully accurate narrative of a man who saw it all from the inside. It was a unique period in American history—a time of hope and a time of tragedy—and Dick Goodwin has captured it all.” —Tip O’Neill
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Read an Excerpt
A Voice from the Sixties
By Richard Goodwin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Richard N. Goodwin
All rights reserved.
Shining black crystals scattered along the sun-scorched stone. I had never seen, nor imagined, the abundance of black bodies that I saw when, aged ten years, I emerged from Washington's Union Station poised beneath the marble structures from which the country was governed.
Accompanied by my mother and younger brother, I had made the ten-hour train trip from our native Boston to join my father, who had come to work for the Maritime Commission a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A trained engineer, he found his job had disappeared during the depression. He was forced to make his living as an insurance salesman until the godlike Roosevelt had need of men with his skills in the frantic effort to prepare the country for war. Until then, we had lived in a small apartment in a lower-income working-class section of Boston. One rarely saw a black face. The small black population of Boston lived somewhere else; distant from that world, bounded by a few dozen blocks of streets and apartment buildings, from which I was taken on occasional automobile trips to the countryside—my uncle's place on the lake at Wrentham, or Hood's farm, where one could watch real cows being milked.
A few months after my father's departure, an aunt interrupted my tenth birthday party. The Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. I barely noticed the swift dissolution of my celebration, feeling a thrill of excitement, an exultation of awareness that great events had happened. And on my birthday. On Dick Goodwin's day. Ignoring my departing friends I rushed to the radio, listened to the confused tumble of announcements, took several pieces of paper, and penciled the news of the attack across the top of a dozen sheets. I ran down the street to the corner drugstore and offered my homemade broadsheet to passing motorists at the outrageous price of five cents a copy, selling out quickly for enough money to buy six comic books.
I had, for the first time, turned my engagement with language into profit. I could, my mother told me, talk before I could walk; had taught myself, with her help, to read before entering the first grade. By the time of this tenth birthday I was reading the works of James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain. I read at the table, propped books on the sink while brushing my teeth. Books, those fabulous frigates, were not only an escape from more unpleasant aspects of my life, but a source of delight, of pleasurable fulfillment. Perhaps my closest moments with my father, who loved and cherished books, were our walks together to the local public library, which contained a miraculous, unbounded store of tales and adventures.
He would accompany me through the shelves, never interfering with my choices, and together we would return home where, stimulated by this tacit paternal blessing, I would turn eagerly from one work to another, embarked—although I did not know it then—on a lifelong love affair with language, its content, and the rhythmically cadenced interior sounds of words themselves. It was natural for me to react to Pearl Harbor by translating experience into headlines and sentences. I had already begun to think of words as the world made manifest.
I soon understood, or was told, that a terrible thing had happened. We were at war. But that reality was an abstraction compared to the fact that my father's job was secure—at least for the duration. And we were going to Washington, a city whose only known location was in pictures illustrating a few grammar school texts.
Perhaps it was because those photographs had only been accompanied by portraits of grave, dead, famous men, that—half expecting to encounter Abraham Lincoln—I was struck so forcibly by the sight of so many black faces. The sight had no large meaning, aroused no private emotion except astonishment at this first encounter with the wonders of a new world.
The very next day I walked from our new flat in a housing project in now-suburban, then rural, Maryland, to a small creek. Glimpsing a large turtle idling through the slow currents, I rushed home to tell my parents astounding news. I had witnessed, for the first time, a live animal in its natural surroundings.
Toward the blacks as toward the turtle, I felt no sense of apartness except for that part of me which was slowly maturing to a solitary identity, severing me from the universe. Blacks existed. They had been perceived and incorporated by my expanding interior imagination of the world. Later, while attending a segregated school in Washington, when I heard others parrot the catechisms of racial hostility they had picked up at the family table, it meant nothing to me. They were only fashionable expletives—like "damn," or "hell," or "shit"—which had no consequences for the real world of a ten-year-old.
There were, as I realized much later, other experiences that formed my attitudes toward the racial battles that were to dominate much of public life in the 1960s. Having grown up in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Boston, the anti-Semitism of Maryland came as a puzzling surprise, soon displaced by fear and, ultimately, defiance. I was frequently harassed and taunted—"Jew Boy," "kike"—and occasionally beaten up by older boys.
Among my circle of friends, members of a neighborhood club we named the Terrible Turtles, there was a boy named Fuzzy Hayes. Bigger than I and stronger, he would occasionally use anti-Semitic phrases in my presence. But he was careful not to press his hostile gibes, and I was afraid of him. One day, when the fresh-laid sod of the housing development was still soaked with spring rains, Fuzzy and two of my friends took a ball from my younger brother. They began to throw it to each other, challenging me to recover it. It was only a game. The ball was caught by Fuzzy, who held it as I ran toward him, but, instead of relaying it, he held on and shouted as I approached, "Come get it, Jew Boy." Something in my brain exploded, the entire world was drowned by a torrent of darkening blood. I remember nothing that happened until, a few moments later, some of my friends were pulling me away from Fuzzy Hayes, who lay on the ground, struggling as I held his face in the strangling mud. He was suffocating. And for many years --perhaps even now—my only regret was that I had not killed him.
From that day forward Fuzzy never said an offending word to me. My fear of him was gone. And I noticed that when a group of us walked together, he kept some distance from me, slightly out of reach. I even felt an occasional twinge of affection, quickly suppressed, toward a boy who had managed to make me feel so good about myself.
For almost the first time, the world—not my parents or teachers—had taught me a moral lesson. I did not learn not to be afraid, for I have experienced many moments of fear, far more intense and more firmly grounded in reality. But there is a time when one must yield forever, or hurl oneself at the source, without calculation of probabilities. And in later years when, on television, I watched the bodies of protesting blacks battered by the firehose in the hands of a Birmingham sheriff or club-wielding policemen, I often imagined I saw in their expression of rage the face of Fuzzy Hayes.
In August of 1945, as I sat quietly reading in our apartment, an elongated spherical casing tumbled from a solitary plane toward tranquil, unsuspecting Hiroshima, and the world shuddered. Hearing the news on the radio, I rushed to the kitchen. "Mom, they've dropped some kind of superbomb on the Japs. The radio says the war is probably over. Does that mean we'll be going back to Boston?" For me, the atomic age meant just that. We moved to Brookline where I completed high school, and then went to Tufts University in Medford, where my performance earned me a full scholarship to Harvard Law School.
That first year at law school was the most intense intellectual experience of my life. College had been the pursuit of grades, largely achieved by temporarily mastering large amounts of course material in the few weeks before examinations. At law school there was no possibility of mastery. The boundaries of understanding were infinite, achievement measured solely by comparison with the performance of five hundred other students—competitors for marks that meant, for those at the top, an invitation to join the Harvard Law Review and a secure path to the highest citadels of the legal profession. Since the results of that competition were determined by a single set of examinations at the end of the year, there was no limit to one's labors, no possibility of completion. There was always more to know, a deeper level of understanding. For the first time I felt pressed to the limit of my capacity, driven by the "unseen hand" of competition with men and women whose abilities were unknown.
Later, Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter told me that he still remembered the moment of awed, silent reverence as he stood in a law school corridor while a fellow first-year law student pointed to the back of a young man a few yards away and whispered, "That's the president of the Law Review." The future justice's attitude may seem slightly ludicrous to our more egalitarian age, but one should not totally disdain (the tribute mediocrity pays to achievement) a post sought and won by both Alger Hiss and Dean Acheson. Moreover, in practical terms the position opened the door to employment in the most affluent and prestigious law firms, even if you were Jewish.
Late that spring in the crowded silence of Langdell Hall, I sat furiously scribbling lengthy answers to the essentially unanswerable questions posed by my professors. Then I returned home to await the verdict. The completion of the year marked my eighteenth year of incarceration in the American educational system. The state of the world, to which I was largely indifferent, was relatively tranquil. Although Eisenhower had ended the Korean conflict, the wartime draft was still in effect, although as a student I was temporarily exempt from conscription.
In the summer of 1954, a letter from Harvard Law School with a report of grades astonishing to me, my family, and friends arrived at our small Brookline apartment. It was followed by a notice that my performance meant that I—along with the other members of the top twenty-five—was now an editor of the Harvard Law Review and that I was to return several weeks early to begin work on the first issue.
Sometime that August, I drove to the initiating Law Review dinner in my battered Chevrolet convertible—purchased with the residual earnings of my summers as a fry cook (clams, french fries, and onion rings) at nearby Revere Beach, an amusement area for the lower classes (now gone to condominiums). I had spent my summers there since high school, having become semipermanently ensconced behind the scorching Frialators after operating kiddy rides, a Loop-the-Loop, the Virginia Reel, and the fun-house controls, which sent jets of air to lift the skirts of women customers as they crossed a passageway exposed to delighted sidewalk spectators. (I always viewed slacks, then rare, as the greatest challenge to my coordination. If successfully penetrated, the passageway between leg and fabric yielded pleasure of lustful imaginings more gleefully obscene than the sight of still another pair of underpants.)
At the dinner, my classmates and I were congratulated on our ascension into the elite by the president of the Harvard Law Review, who then gave us our first assignment: to verify, for accuracy and relevance, the footnotes of articles scheduled for publication in the first issue of the Review, the country's leading publication of legal scholarship.
The next morning, manuscript in hand, I entered the cavernous stacks of the law school library. Interminable shelves of books in towered stacks, the volumes multiplied far beyond the precious handful that had yielded the most enraptured moments of my young life. The air was musty, redolent of old bindings, each breath stained with the accumulated dust of the long summer stillness. Commanded from level to level, I had been going to school forever. I reached for a volume of court reports. I couldn't. It was a prison. I turned, moving swiftly into the bright August heat, entered my car, and drove directly to the Brookline town hall, where I waived my draft deferment.
For years thereafter I explained that I had been conscripted involuntarily by a draft board that had run out of nonexempt candidates; that I had not appealed since I would have to serve when I graduated, and so I "might as well get it over." I lied because the truth would have made others regard me as mildly insane or, even worse, as a fool.
Yet, looking back, it seems to me there was in my action some augury of "the sixties." Mine was a purely personal act, similar to the mini-revolts of many young people in other times and places. Words like "the establishment," "the system," had not assumed a pejorative aura, indeed, were rarely heard. Yet there was in what I did something of defiance—not for a cause, not to protest injustice or oppression, but against a structure of rational expectations. I was not motivated by inability or unwillingness to meet the demands of an established order. Quite the contrary. I had conformed my energies to the demands of the structure that opened the path to worldly success. And I had met them. Yet, I had to get away. Some vacancy at the heart demanded response.
A few years later it would have seemed a strange kind of defiance to enter the army, even in peacetime. But I knew no alternative. I was aware of no causes, no movements in which to enlist. There were such possibilities, even then, but they lay beyond my horizon. It was also true my choice virtually eliminated the risk that ordinarily accompanies rebellion. Any suspicion of instability was dispelled by the masquerade of dutiful acquiescence to law. I could always return to Harvard, an honorable veteran of his nation's service. Yet diluted as it was, it was a reflection of discontent, an undefined act of protest, although I was the only one who knew it.
That same year Elvis Presley was beginning to horrify the respectable with the suggestive gyrations of his hips, and the Supreme Court overturned the precedents of three-quarters of a century in Brown v. Board of Education. In May, while I was preparing for my examinations in property and contract law, a French army surrendered Dien Bien Phu, liberating forces destined to more mightily scar and transform American life than any event since Colonel Anderson led his troops out of fallen Sumter.
Something was in the air. There had to be, although I could not hope to sense it as I sat outside my basic training barracks at Fort Dix alongside a company of other recruits—exhausted, sweat stained after a long bus ride and a night spent half-dozing on the dirt outside still unassigned barracks—while a huge, black, unsmiling sergeant informed us, "Your ass is grass, and I is a lawn-mower."
A child of the neon and concrete, having never traveled outside the urban centers of the Northeast, I felt excitement approaching the intensity of disbelief as —my training over—I boarded the propeller-driven military transport that in a mere twenty-two hours would carry me to Frankfurt, from which a train would take me to my assigned station at an ordnance depot located in the forest of Braconne, just outside the town of Angoulême, only sixty-four miles northwest of Bordeaux.
Europe! Through the Looking Glass. Land of Oz. Crystalline fountain of the mythology contained in my history books, progenitor of those adored volumes that had engaged and enlarged my maturing passions. Later I would lie on Wenlock Edge staring at Housman's "woods in trouble," walk the lakes where Wordsworth had seen the human soul mirrored with the Divine, search out the street in which defeated Stendhal had shared the fate of Julien Sorel, watch bulls fall to the swords of Hemingway's matadors. And Stratford, of course, to sit upon the grass, but not to "tell sad stories of the death of kings." Not yet. That time would come years later, and on American soil.
I had no trace of the expatriate longing that had persuaded both Henry James and the writers of the twenties to escape philistine America for a more enriching and appreciative culture. I was quintessentially American, irrevocably rooted in the turbulent energy of my homeland. And Europe was over. It had torn itself apart in some magnified version of the Peloponnesian wars. My anticipation was that of a child's visit to the circus, a student's approach to the Louvre, or the excitement I have seen in my own boys as they enter Disney World.
During my eighteen months in France I traveled extensively throughout Western Europe; saw much, experienced much, learned much. Great wine tasted like the musty interior of an old cathedral (so much for Manischewitz), the sight of the Pyrenees sloping into the Atlantic along the road south of Biarritz moved me to tears, dinner at a good French restaurant gave taste a dimension more wondrously alien to my perceptions than Riemannian geometry. I lost a few dollars amid the cathedral hush of a Biarritz casino, caught a distant glimpse of Eisenhower and Khrushchev conveyed by limousines to their Geneva summit, traced the Rhone glacier to its source. And I unmasked, in somewhat obsessive pursuit, the varied exhilarations of sex. But this belongs to my private biography.
Excerpted from Remembering America by Richard Goodwin. Copyright © 1988 Richard N. Goodwin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Meet the Author
A graduate of Tufts University and Harvard Law School, Richard N. Goodwin began his career as a law clerk to Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter and as special counsel to the congressional subcommittee investigating the quiz-show scandals. During the Kennedy administration, Goodwin served as deputy assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and as secretary-general of the Peace Corps. In 1964, he became a special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson, for whom he wrote the landmark “We Shall Overcome” speech in support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and also originated the Great Society programs. After leaving government service, Goodwin taught at Wesleyan University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The author of several books, including Promises to Keep and Remembering America, he lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with his wife, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
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