When John F. Kennedy telephoned Coretta Scott King to express sympathy for her jailed husband, he had little idea that his two-minute call would move to center stage in the 1960 presidential election. That call, James H. Meriwether argues, has obscured Kennedy’s broader efforts to secure the support of black voters while not alienating white voters in the no longer “solid South.” Kennedy drew on the growing transnational relationship black Americans had with an ancestral continent undergoing its own freedom struggles, revealing that he was more interested in Africa than in civil rights. Africa, the newest frontier for Kennedy, became a place where he could show his Cold War credentials, find common ground with black American voters, and strengthen his chances to win the presidency.

Featured Supplement

This installment of “Teaching the JAH” is the focus of a Journal of American History podcast.

Listen to associate editor John Nieto-Phillips and author James H. Meriwether discuss the 1960 Presidential election and the impact of race.

Sections Guide

You may use the “Sections” menu on the upper right side of each page to navigate through this installment. Provided below is a summary of each section in this installment.


The full text of the article as it appeared in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of American History.

Teaching the Article

The author’s comments about using this article in the classroom. This installment includes 5 exercises:

Primary Sources

A set of primary source documents selected for use in teaching this article.

Further Reading

A bibliography of related secondary sources recommended by the author.