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Eroni Kumana, one of two Solomon Islanders who saved the life of John F. Kennedy during World War II, died on Saturday at the age of 93.

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(Eroni Kumana in 2009. Robert Craigie/JFK Library)

On August 2, 1943, while on night patrol under 26-year-old Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s command, PT 109 was hit and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Two crew members died instantly; eleven others eventually swam to a small island. Kennedy rescued a badly burned crew member by holding the man’s life jacket between his teeth and towing him to safety.

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(The crew of PT-109. John F. Kennedy is seen at far right. JFK Library)

Over the next three days, Kennedy and his surviving crew members drank the milk and ate the meat of coconuts while Kennedy swam for hours over sharp corals in shark-infested waters searching for friendly boats.

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(Lt. John F. Kennedy in the South Pacific, circa 1943/ John F. Kennedy Library Foundation)

On August 6th -71 years ago today- Lt. Kennedy encountered two native islanders, Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa, serving as scouts for the Allies. He etched a message—”NAURO ISL/NATIVE KNOWS POSIT/HE CAN PILOT/11 ALIVE/NEED SMALL BOAT/KENNEDY”— onto the husk of a coconut and asked the two scouts to deliver it to the nearest allied base. Kumana and Gasa’s successful mission led to the eventual rescue of Kennedy and his crew on August 8, 1943. 

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Seen above, the coconut with John F. Kennedy’s inscription was turned into a paperweight, which the President kept on his desk in the Oval Office.

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Sixty-five years later, speaking with an American visitor to the Solomon Islands,  Eroni Kumana requested that a highly prized family heirloom—a piece of “Shell Money” or “Kustom Money”—be  placed at the gravesite of his “Chief,” President Kennedy, as a formal tribute. Made by hand out of giant clam shells, “Kustom Money” was used for many purposes, including for honoring one’s chief.

On November 1, 2008, at a ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery, members of President Kennedy’s family gathered to receive Kumana’s tribute which was placed on the grave.

 After remaining on the gravesite, the “kustom money” was conveyed to the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum where it will now be displayed as part of the museum’s permanent exhibits next to the coconut shell that led to the rescue of JFK and his crew.

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We appreciate his dedication to his craft.

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by Stacey Chandler, JFK Library Reference Archivist

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, was a long time in the making.

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(Pictured: JFK’s televised address to Americans on civil rights, June 11 1963)

By spring 1963, JFK had dealt with civil rights abuses using tactics ranging from phone calls to executive orders – even asking Congress to act in February (they didn’t). But on June 11, when a public showdown with Governor George Wallace led JFK to take control of the Alabama National Guard and force the integration of the University of Alabama, JFK decided to talk directly to Americans about doing more for civil rights.

In a speech that night, JFK laid out a moral case for new civil rights laws, promising to bring a bill to Congress that would “move this problem from the streets to the courts.” On June 19 the administration delivered, in the form of H.R. 7152 (below).

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(See more pages from HR 7152 here: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-053-004.aspx)

The original bill did seven things:

  • enforced federal voting rights;
  • desegregated “public accommodations” like hotels and diners;
  • let the Attorney General help desegregate public schools;
  • formed a national service to solve local problems;
  • extended the Commission on Civil Rights;
  • banned discrimination in federally-funded programs;
  • and made the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission permanent.

Arguments about government overreach instantly hit the news and the White House mail room: did the federal government have the right to tell businesses what to do?

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(A pamphlet warns “personal liberty will be chained by the over-riding power of the Federal government.”
See more: 
http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/BMPP-028-003.aspx)

RFK went to Congress to argue that the 14th Amendment and commerce clause did allow federal intervention in private businesses (JFK was busy that day, declaring “Ich bin ein Berliner” to a cheering crowd in Germany). Unconvinced, Governor Wallace later called the rules a “socialistic scheme of government which will bring the total destruction of private property rights.”

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(Pictured, an excerpt from RFK’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, June 26 1963. http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHSFLCW-022-004.aspx)

Meanwhile, police set dogs and fire hoses on protestors, a bomb killed four little girls in a Birmingham church, and voters were turned away by impossible literacy tests. Civil rights supporters were worried the bill couldn’t fix all of these problems, and pushed for stronger laws.  

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[JFKWHCSF-0482-001-p0144. Telegram from K. Patrick Okura, urging “meaningful civil rights legislation.”]

JFK’s staff answered mail from around the country, many pushing for stronger civil rights laws. Their response? A tougher bill wouldn’t pass, and that couldn’t be risked.

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 [JFKWHCSF-0482-001-p0116. An excerpt of Lee White’s response to a civil rights advocate pushing for tough laws.]

Shepherded by Republican William McCullough and Democrat Emmanuel Celler, an edited H.R. 7152 finally made it through the House Judiciary Committee on October 29, 1963 – the first hurdle on a long track. Just three weeks later, JFK was assassinated in Dallas, the last lines of his final speech forever unspoken:

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[Speech cards from the last speech written for JFK. http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-048-023.aspx ]

LBJ, working to push the bill through the House and Senate, said a few days later: “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”

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[ST-C277-1-63.- President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Meet with Organizers of “March on Washington,” August 28 1963.]

After more editing, arguing, and political gaming worthy of its own TV series (including an infamous filibuster and a surprise addition on women’s rights), the final version of H.R. 7152 was signed into law by LBJ on July 2, 1964, marking what the Senate Historical Office calls “one of the most significant legislative achievements in American history.”

A big thanks to JFK Library archivist Stacey Chandler for this guest blog. Follow us for more from Stacey!

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One more sneak peek of our new exhibit, “Presidential Getaway: JFK and Cape Cod.” Pictured, a golf club and special presidential golf balls used by #JFK.

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Summer is here! Our new JFK and Cape Cod exhibit is now open. President Kennedy’s golf cart (used more for fun than golf) is being displayed for the first time ever. #summer #jfklibrary

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Can anyone guess where this chair was used? We’ll give you a hint: it was a very tense day! #triviatuesday

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"Joyce has a most goddamn wonderful book."
-Ernest Hemingway on Ulysses, Letter to Sherwood Anderson


Pictured: From our collection, an unbound press copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses signed by Ernest Hemingway.This copy of Ulysses is one of the first 1,000 printed. Allegedly, James Joyce personally stamped each of these one thousand copies, though we have yet to confirm this! Other notable recipients of press copies were T.S. Eliot and Ford Madox Ford.

James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway became friends in Paris in the 1920s, and both frequented the same bookstore: Shakespeare and Company.The owner of Shakespeare and Co. -Sylvia Beach- published Ulysses.

Credit: Joyce, James. Ulysses / by James Joyce. Paris : Shakespeare and Co., 1922. Unnumbered press copy. Unbound. Ernest Hemingway’s signature on cover page.

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Happy Father’s Day!

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The Attorney General’s desk. #RFK

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One of the iconic moments of John F. Kennedy’s Presidency comes from a speech he gave at the Rathaus Schöneberg in West Berlin, Germany on June 26, 1963. When the President declared “Ich bin ein Berliner!” to a cheering crowd, he preserved the German phrase in history. But the speech has been plagued by claims that, instead of expressing international unity by stating “I am a Berliner!” in German as he intended, JFK enthusiastically shouted a less inspiring phrase: “I am a jelly doughnut!”

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[Photo Robert Knudsen/JFK Library - http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-KN-C29248.aspx]

Newspapers, magazines, and even textbooks have repeated the story for decades: a native Berliner would’ve said “Ich bin Berliner” and JFK’s use of the article ein changed the meaning, causing chuckles as the crowd imagined the jelly doughnut called a Berliner in parts of Germany. Fifty years later, a new generation may wonder: How could the President, who hand-wrote the pronunciation on his speech card to be sure he’d get it right, make such a cringe-worthy mistake?

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[From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Papers, Speech Files: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-045-026.aspx

But many historians and linguists have stepped in to poke a hole in the doughnut story and clear JFK’s name of this deep-fried controversy. Historian Andreas Daum notes, “saying ein Berliner is correct if used metaphorically,” which, of course, is what Kennedy was doing – not saying he was literally from Berlin, but that he was symbolically with Berlin. Historian Jürgen Eichhoff argues that the wording JFK used was actually the only way to express this particular meaning, and the German speakers (including West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt) who heard JFK practice the speech agreed.

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[Photo by Cecil Stoughton/JFK Library - http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-1963-06-26-E.aspx]

Historians also point out that archival evidence (like recordings and witness interviews) debunks the idea that the German-speaking crowd found anything weird about JFK’s wording: “No one in the square,” Presidential advisor McGeorge Bundy later said, “confused JFK with a doughnut.”

On this National Doughnut Day, we can all rest easier knowing many experts agree President Kennedy did not declare himself a jelly doughnut at this pivotal moment in Cold War history!

A very, very big thanks to JFK Library archivist Stacey Chandler for this guest Tumblr post! 

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