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Edward Linenthal
Journal of American History

Last modified: Friday, December 19, 2008

Journal of American History launches podcast series

Dec. 19, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Journal of American History has inaugurated a series of quarterly podcasts, beginning with an interview of historian James Meriwether, whose article "Black Voters, Africa and the 1960 Presidential Election" appears in the December 2008 issue.

The podcasts will include conversations with authors, interviews with recipients of major book awards in American history and other features, said Edward Linenthal, editor of the Journal and a professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington. They can be found at:

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at IU Bloomington. In the first podcast, Meriwether, professor of history at California State University Channel Islands, is interviewed by Associate Editor John Nieto-Phillips, an associate professor of history at IU Bloomington.

Meriwether's article examines the importance of Africa in the 1960 presidential contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Most accounts of the role of race in the election focus on Kennedy's sympathetic phone call to Coretta Scott King after her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., was jailed for taking part in an Atlanta protest. Meriwether writes that Kennedy may have won more black votes with his ability to outmaneuver Nixon in showing support for newly independent black African states.

"The King phone call was a fleeting gesture," he writes. "Africa was his (Kennedy's) interest and the place where he sought common ground with black America."

The December issue also includes articles on gambling, mob violence and the race for wealth in antebellum Mississippi; Barry Goldwater's early political career and its impact on modern conservatism; and the 1960s New Left as an international movement influenced by U.S. intellectual C. Wright Mills. Christopher Grasso and Karin Wulf of the College of William and Mary offer a "state-of-the-field" essay in colonial history prompted by the 2007 commemoration of the founding of Jamestown, Va.

The cover features a 1957 photograph of Richard Nixon, as the U.S. vice president, wearing a traditional cap and robe while being made an honorary chieftain in Liberia. But while Nixon was the Eisenhower Administration's point man on Africa, Kennedy better capitalized on American blacks' support for African independence in 1960, Meriwether writes.

His article spotlights a central event: the effort to fund an airlift of 280 African students who had won scholarships to attend U.S. colleges and universities. When government agencies and wealthy foundations wouldn't provide the money, Kennedy stepped in. The family-controlled Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation pledged to pay for the flights.

Both Kennedy and Nixon were cautious about supporting the U.S. civil rights struggle out of fear of offending Southern whites. But Africa provided a safe arena to compete for black votes while standing firm against the Soviet Union, which was trying to gain influence in Africa. Meriwether writes: "Witnessing the powerful draw of Africa and the deep desire to improve lives there, during the campaign Kennedy referred to Africa hundreds of times -- far more than he did to civil rights."

For more on The Journal of American History, including online articles from the December 2008 issue, please see