On two consecutive days—Monday, June 10, and Tuesday, June 11, 1963—President John F. Kennedy gave two speeches that led to what many regard as the most significant achievements of his presidency, one in diplomacy and the other in civil rights. Both speeches were unprecedented and politically risky.
Kennedy’s commencement address at American University on June 10 led to the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the first of its kind. The next day, JFK made a nationally televised speech on civil rights. Some would call it the single most important day in the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Act passed the next year, with Lyndon Johnson as president.
Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Andrew Cohen’s Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History tracks the president’s activities during this short period. Cohen explores the context of the speeches and how they came to be, and shows what else was on the president’s plate.
In what is often called the “Peace Speech,” JFK called for Americans to re-examine the Cold War and relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. President Nikita Khrushchev had the speech broadcast throughout his country and said Kennedy’s remarks were the reason he agreed to negotiations and the final treaty.
The speech on Tuesday had a much different history. Earlier that day, representatives of the Justice Department confronted Governor George Wallace of Alabama as he attempted to keep two African-American students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. Kennedy decided to speak to the nation that night, although only one of his closest advisors, his brother Robert Kennedy, agreed with him. Speechwriter Theodore Sorensen had only about two hours to prepare for the telecast.
The two speeches ultimately changed the course of history. In this important book, Cohen brings it all alive and makes us feel that we are there behind the scenes to see history in the making.