Harris Wofford: The Key to John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Victory

Tonight’s CNN program entitled  “Race for the White House” captures the drama of how a high-stakes presidential election can turn on a single issue. The issue involved Harris Wofford who created our Peace Corps with Sargent Shriver but before that ‘saved’ the presidential campaign of JFK with one phone call.

If you saw the Monday night CNN program you saw how Martin Luther King was arrested in October 1960 and Coretta King called Harris Wofford, a friend, and asked for his help.  King had been arrested and sentenced by a Georgia judge to four months of hard labor for driving with an out-of-state license. Coretta was afraid that her husband would be killed and she asked Wofford, then working on the Kennedy campaign for the presidency, for his help.

Wofford & Kennedy on the White House Lawn Meeting PCVs

As the CNN program details, and as Wofford described in his book, Of Kennedys and Kings, he called Shriver in Chicago and explained the situation. Wofford wanted Kennedy to call Coretta and offer his help. Shriver had forty minutes to reach Kennedy at O’Hare Airport before JFK left the midwest and as Sarge said to Wofford, “I’m going to get to him. Give me Coretta’s number and get me out of jail if I’m arrested for speeding.”

When Shriver reached Kennedy’s room at the O’Hare International Inn, he waited until he could get Kennedy away from his campaign people and told him what was happening with King. He then said to his brother-in-law,  “Why don’t  you telephone Mrs. King and give her your sympathy?”

Kennedy listened for a moment and then replied, “That’s a good idea. Do you have her number?” Shriver did. Wofford had given it to him.

That call turned the African-American vote towards Kennedy in the final days of the election. It was–as the CNN program stated–and many others have said, the reason Kennedy won the election of 1960.

And it is because Kennedy won that we have a Peace Corps today.

You can thank Harris Wofford for getting Kennedy to call Mrs. King.

Do this. Email Harris at:  hlwofford@aol.com  with a word of thanks. Harris deserves our gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

One Comment

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  • Harris,
    Thank you for your kindness, your humanity and your understanding of what Mrs. King was going through when her husband was jailed and for your role in getting JFK to reach out to her and for working with Sarge in establishing the Peace Corps.

    I was in the first Peace Corps group to go to Malaya. As a science/math teacher, I met my wife, Fong Moke Chee, a Malayan teacher, at a teacher’s union picnic. We were married and our two children , James (now a neurosurgeon) and Sheana (now an administrative law judge) were born while I was a peace corps volunteer.

    Without you helping President Kennedy win the election and helping Sarge establish the Peace Corps, I would never have been a PCV, married Moke Chee or had James and Sheana.
    So, on behalf of all of us and our five grandchildren, THANK YOU!

    Be well,

    Jim Wolter, Malaya I, 1961-1966

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