I grew up in New Jersey, where Wilson had been governor, so I thought I knew quite a bit about him. When I learned what a terrible racist he was I was taken aback. For example, one of the very first actions he took after becoming president in 1913 was to segregate the entire federal civil service. Where it was not possible to put blacks into separate buildings or offices, room dividers were installed to keep blacks and whites separated. Later, Wilson sponsored a showing at the White House of the racist film, “The Birth of a Nation.” Indeed, the author of the book upon which the movie was based, Thomas Dixon, was a close friend of Wilson’s and a very outspoken racist.
Franklin Roosevelt was someone who really didn’t care about black people one way or another. While assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913, he signed the order creating separate washrooms for blacks and whites in what is now known as the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. When he established the Warm Springs facility in Georgia to treat polio victims in the 1920s, it was for whites only. And when Roosevelt had his first opportunity to appoint a member of the Supreme Court in 1937, he chose Hugo Black, a life member of the Ku Klux Klan from Alabama. Later Roosevelt appointed another outspoken racist, James F. Byrnes of South Carolina, to the Supreme Court as well. After leaving the Court, Byrnes ran for governor of his home state for the express purpose of blocking school desegregation.
Kennedy was basically a political opportunist who cultivated support among racist Southerners in his race for the White House in 1960. Indeed, his appointment of Lyndon Johnson from Texas as his vice president was a signal to the South that he would respect their position on the race question. It’s worth remembering that until he became president, LBJ had opposed every civil rights measure that came up during his time in the House and Senate. Once elected, Kennedy basically sat on his hands and did nothing on civil rights. The famous march on Washington in 1963 led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was organized for the express purpose of putting pressure on Kennedy to do something on civil rights. And let us not forget that it was Robert Kennedy who authorized the FBI to tap the phones and bug the hotel rooms of Dr. King