OF KENNEDYS AND KINGS: Making Sense of the Sixties by Harris Wofford

OF KENNEDYS AND KINGS: Making Sense of the Sixties

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As a former civil rights activist, campaign official for JFK, and Peace Corps eminence, Wofford has a distinctly upbeat view of the early Sixties--and that, rather than any particular information, is the interest of his book. Part memoir, part chronicle, it details his late acceptance of Kennedy (prompted, in the end, by JFK's civil rights stance); the marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in Birmingham and Selma; Wofford's role, with Sargent Shriver, in setting up the Peace Corps; etc. Making mush of the view, held by some, that Kennedy's 1960 campaign and subsequent Presidency worked like a well-oiled machine, Wofford traces the fighting within the entourage and the ups and downs of policy decisions. The detail becomes excessive, however (as in the recreation of the decisions leading to the Peace Corps); and so at times do Wofford's enthusiasms. His admiration for John and Robert Kennedy, grudgingly earned, is almost as great as his respect for King, with whom he shared a Gandhian approach to social protest. But, above all, Wofford is smitten with Chester Bowles, then Under Secretary of State, and Bowles keeps passing through like a white knight, representing Wofford's continued faith in world cooperation. Wofford also tries to deal with LBJ and the simultaneous wars on poverty and in Vietnam, but he sheds little new light on either. The turmoil of the antiwar protests is viewed only spottily, and then from the well-kempt vantage point of Washington: though Wofford was arrested during the '68 Democratic Convention, he was there as a delegate working for Shriver's vice-presidential candidacy. A limited sense of the Sixties, then, but an authentic expression of the decade's strain of ethical liberalism.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1980
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux