Fumbling on the New Frontier

John F KENNEDY   |   Martin Luther KING Jr.

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Fumbling on the New Frontier

"THE OPPORTUNITY IS NOT YET LOST… BUT THE CLOCK OF HISTORY IS NEARING THE MIDNIGHT HOUR": SCARCE FIRST SEPARATE PRINTING OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR'S FUMBLING ON THE NEW FRONTIER, ISSUED SAME YEAR AS ITS MARCH 3, 1962 PUBLICATION IN THE NATION MAGAZINE

KING, Jr., Martin Luther. Fumbling on the New Frontier. New York: Nation, 1962. Slim quarto, original self-wrappers; pp. (4). $1100.

First separate printing of Dr. King's provocative analysis of the Kennedy record on civil rights, King's much-anticipated successor to the opening 1961 article in his annual Nation series, with this bold 1962 work invoking Lincoln to declare, "impotence at a moment of kaleidoscopic world change is even worse than error."

Historians have noted that "from the founding of SCLC in 1957 to the Birmingham campaign… King learned two vital tactical lessons." He saw "that the federal government, during the Freedom Rides… sent a coded but clear message to Southern segregationists… Blacks went to jail by the thousands," as did King, but "the federal government did virtually nothing" (Fairclough, Quest, 5-6) "As King told an aide in 1962, the Kennedy administration had a 'schizophrenic tendency' when the situation called for aggressively pressing for civil rights legislation" (Stern, John F. Kennedy, 120). By then King had urged Kennedy to issue a "Second Emancipation Proclamation" as an Executive Order to ban segregation and discrimination. In this very scarce offprint of King's 1962 article, Fumbling on the New Frontier, the second in his annual series on civil rights in the Nation magazine, King asserts "Impotence at a moment of kaleidoscopic world change is even worse than error" and states Kennedy's "New Frontier is unfortunately not new enough; and the Frontier is set too far to the rear." Highlighting Kennedy's expressed concern that his "trade program might suffer at the hands of key Southern Congressmen—if he moved 'too fast' on civil rights," King questions whether America is, in truth, "seeking our national purpose in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, who said, 'All men are created equal… endowed with certain inalienable rights.'" There are "20 million Americans who have waited 300 years to be able to compete as human beings in the marketplace," he states, and they "question whether this year, trade agreements are more important than their long-postponed freedom." At news of Kennedy's proposal for a plan "to put a man on the moon," King bluntly notes: "we do not yet have a plan to put a Negro in the State legislature of Alabama." After centuries of struggle for equal rights, "the opportunity is not yet lost… but the clock of history is nearing the midnight hour."

Mere weeks after this momentous work initially appeared in the March 3, 1962 issue of the Nation, Kennedy suddenly acted, asking King to submit a "Second Emancipation Proclamation" for review. That May King called a press conference to present an Appeal… for National Rededication to the Principles of The Emancipation Proclamation. Historian David Blight notes that this "54-page manifesto," by King's assemblage of scholars and activists, drew on the words of Frederick Douglass, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Kennedy's own Strategy for Peace. In a preamble attributed to King, it declared freedom to be "most precious… however… to millions of Negroes throughout these United States, freedom is not yet a 'living reality.'" However later that year, at a news conference, Kennedy again deferred, indicating "it was important not to move too fast in the field of race relations" (New York Times). It was not until the Lyndon Johnson presidency that the terms of King's Second Emancipation Proclamation were recognized in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Gottlieb Archival Research Center (Boston University).

A fine copy.

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