JFK on SNCC
[This is a raw transcript and is not an official, finalized Miller Center version.]
The "sons of bitches" comments is about 50 seconds in. The clip is from the John F. Kennedy Library, Papers of John F. Kennedy, Presidential Recordings, Audiotape 112.6, September 23, 1963.

Frank Newton: But Shuttlesworth is the real problem, not King.

Burke Marshall: I think it should be recognized that the President noted that . . . It's-I know how much attention is focused on King down there, how much is blamed on him as if he caused these problems. But the fact is last Wednesday was typical of the danger of putting your hopes in the... that this will all go away if only he would go away. Last Wednesday at that funeral, [The audio begins here.] King and Shuttlesworth stopped the demonstration which the SNCC workers had started, which would have, I think, led to killings in Birmingham, and it would have been worse than the bombing. Now King and Shuttlesworth did that. The students were in there, and they don't care.

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Marshall: They don't care if people get killed.

President Kennedy: They're the ones that . . . My broth[er] . . . We got the--

Marshall: King cares. So he [unclear.]

President Kennedy: King has got a terrific investment in non-violence, and SNCC has got an investment in violence, and that's the struggle. I think SNCC is the . . . I mean there's no . . . I don't know what will happen there.

Don Hawkins: Who is heading up SNCC?

President Kennedy: Well, this fellow, [John] Lewis--

Unidentified: Yeah, Lewis.

President Kennedy: Who was up here, who . . . is one of them.

Hawkins: SNCC is-

President Kennedy: Student, what?

Marshall: Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

President Kennedy: They're... they're sons of bitches, I'll tell you that.

Caldwell Marks?: They really are. They are the one's who are planning to-

[overlapping voices]

President Kennedy: Oh, well they are . . . they're going to get tougher. They're going to be tough.

[overlapping voices]

Marks?: Block the airports and block the railroads, and the busses, and everything else. That's a real militant group.

President Kennedy: That's why I don't know whether King is, as I say, I suppose King will be leaving, but I'm not sure if King being out of there--

Marshall: He would not have come back except for the bombing. He came back. [The audio ends here.]


President Kennedy: It's just nice to have King out of there. But in any case, if after, whatever Blaik and Royall think is useful, I'll try to do, when they come back, and I appreciate any help you can give them. And, as I said, I wish you'd consider what actions should be taken, whether it's even public relations action, as well as any practical action. But anything that gives a hook, which you can suggest that the prospects are better, which can give those of us who would like to see it get easier, something that we can say about the improvement. When the agreement was made last June, I said something in my press conference about the situation. I think that, and that did--I don't know enough about it--but it seemed to me that until the school situation, which was I think exacerbated in the state which--and then the bombing. At least the situation when King was out of town and it was somewhat iffy. But I think if we could now get a--some kind of a--and there must be enough brains there to think of it--some actions which could be taken of both the window dressing, if you want to use that word, or the formation of groups, plus some breakthroughs in employment. It would seem to me it would give everybody a feeling that maybe Birmingham was going to move a little.

Courtesy of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
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