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Lot #84
John F. Kennedy

“READY FOR A GOOD CRY”: Young Senator JFK sends a startling racist postcard featuring “A Darky’s Prayer”

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“READY FOR A GOOD CRY”: Young Senator JFK sends a startling racist postcard featuring “A Darky’s Prayer”

ALS, signed “Jack,” on the correspondence side of a 5.25 x 3.5 picture postcard, postmarked Palm Beach, March 7, 1955. JFK writes to Grace Burke in Boston. In full: “This fellow looks ready for a good cry like you know who, Grace.” The postcard has additionally been signed “Dave &” by Kennedy’s aide, Dave Powers. The startling image features a tearful African-American on his knees, menaced by three alligators (one of whom has him by the seat of the pants), captioned by “A Darky’s Prayer,” a verse in ridiculous, stereotypical “black” dialect: “Dese gaters looks so feary/And yet dey ’peered so tame/But now that I done met ’em/I’ll neber be de same.” A throwback to the outrageously broad portrayals of African-Americans of a century earlier, the postcard is especially shocking on a number of levels. First, it cannot be dismissed as a mere youthful indiscretion by JFK, as he was then one of the most prominent figures in the U.S. Senate. Moreover, America was embroiled in the most active civil-rights movement in its history. By the end of the same year, fourteen-year-old Emmet Till was murdered in one of the decade’s most notorious episodes of racist violence, while, on December 1, Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama sparked one of the signal protests of the civil rights movement. Kennedy’s civil rights record underwent a significant evolution in the span of less than a decade—prompted, some theorize, by a combination of inner conviction and purely political considerations. Though Kennedy voted against Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Act in 1957, he later became an outspoken advocate of minorities, culminating in such highly visible episodes as the dispatch of thousands of troops to ensure the safe enrollment of African-American James Meredith at the University of Mississippi in 1962, as well as his own Civil Rights Act, signed into law in 1964 by his successor, LBJ. In very good condition, with mild handling wear, Powers’s signature lightly touching JFK’s, and faint water staining causing slight running to a few letters of text. The writing is otherwise clear and dark. A significant and remarkable document from this most complex of American historical figures! Auction LOA John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and R&R COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title:
  • Dates: #330 - Ended February 13, 2008