It is a typical snapshot of a family on vacation: father, mother, daughter, son and their dogs on the patio in the August sun. Less typical are their roles: President, First Lady, First Family. The scene’s placidity belies what had already been a tumultuous summer.
The Kennedy administration kicked off the season with its move on June 11 to deputize federal marshals to ensure admission of two Black students to the University of Alabama, against threats by the state’s famously segregationist governor to block their attendance. Later that same night, Kennedy took action unprecedented for a sitting president: He gave a nationally televised address urging Congress to enact federal legislation banning segregation. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue,” he asserted. “It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. Whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”