Washington DC: 1962. Single leaf, folded once; loosely inserted together with other items in spiral bound album. Fine. Item #205426
Kennedy writes to express his personal thanks to a federal Border Patrol officer pressed into service at the University of Mississippi to provide protection when James Meredith was registered as the first African American student there. Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss was vehemently opposed by Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and his cohort of segregationists as well as violent white racists among the student body. When Meredith was escorted onto the Oxford, Miss. campus by national guard troops, tensions grew rapidly and, when the national guard units withdrew, quickly escalated into a full-scale riot resulting in two deaths and numerous serious injuries. Scrambling to address the unfolding situation from the White House, the president and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, worked the phones constantly and ultimately had to send regular army units to Ole Miss to protect Meredith. In this letter, the president addressed Maurice Cruickshank, a Border Patrol Inspector from Buffalo, New York, who was sent to Mississippi along with several members of his unit, saying in part: "Your actions that difficult night were in the highest traditions of the dedicated men and women who serve in law enforcement. The courage and dedication which you demonstrated while in great personal danger prevented a serious and tragic incident from becoming a disaster for our country. Had you failed, our country would have suffered irreparable damage. . ." Ever mindful of history and symbolism, Kennedy knew that the coincidence of his presidency with the hundredth anniversary of the emancipation proclamation held special significance, especially in the face of the intensifying pressure being applied to him by the growing civil rights movement. At the time of Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss, Kennedy was walking a fine line between the accommodating Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow civil rights activists while striving to maintain his political support among southern Democrats. The Mississippi riot and Kennedy's forceful response to it marked a turning point in the young president's approach to civil rights, as his hesitancy gave way to a fuller embrace of the movement. In June of the following year he would call for major new omnibus civil rights legislation. Although the civil rights bill was not passed prior to Kennedy's assassination, it became a key piece of his legacy implemented by his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. Officer Cruickshank preserved the letter in an album of memorabilia, along with another letter from AG Robert F. Kennedy (signed with autopen) from two weeks later, similarly thanking him for his role in the disturbance, a 1965 Christmas card from LBJ's AG Nicholas Katzenbach, a number of related newspaper clippings and later correspondence from Justice Department officials, as well as a matchbook cover from the Ole Miss Motel in Oxford, where presumably he had been billeted. One interesting detail: the RFK letter was sent in a franked envelope from the Department of Justice, while the envelope for the JFK letter bears an adhesive postage stamp honoring the Mercury Space Program. The stamp, newly issued in 1962, was developed in secrecy and issued simultaneously with the event it commemorated, namely John Glenn's historic flight into orbit and safe return in February of that year. Letters signed by Kennedy during his brief presidency are of course highly prized; JFK letters concerning civil rights matters are truly rare. This is an excellent letter with genuinely historic content marking a signal event in the Kennedy presidency.