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An Unseen LightBlack Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee$
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Aram Goudsouzian and Charles W. McKinney Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175515

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175515.001.0001

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Black Memphians and New Frontiers

Black Memphians and New Frontiers

The Shelby County Democratic Club, the Kennedy Administration, and the Quest for Black Political Power, 1959–1964

(p.177) Black Memphians and New Frontiers
An Unseen Light

Elizabeth Gritter

University Press of Kentucky

This essay explores the relationship between black Memphians and John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency in 1960 and his subsequent administration. Drawing on archival research in Memphis and at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, as well as oral histories, this essay shows that blacks in Memphis played a crucial role in the presidential campaign, so much so that precinct leaders received invitations to the inauguration. (Unlike in most southern areas, African Americans could vote in Memphis.) Two key African American leaders in Memphis, Russell B. Sugarmon Jr. and A. W. Willis Jr., loom particularly large in this story because of their role in the development of the Shelby County Democratic Club and because they kept in touch with the Kennedy administration about civil rights issues in Memphis. Their local activism had national ramifications.

Keywords:   Memphis, John F. Kennedy, Russell Sugarmon, A.W. Willis Jr., Democratic Club

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