June 12, 1963

John F. Kennedy’s First Draft, Partially Handwritten, Letter of Condolence to Medgar Evers’ Widow

Typed Letter Signed
1 page
SMC 712
At eight o’clock on the evening of June 11, 1963 President Kennedy, in a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office, called for the end of race-based discrimination and the full and complete integration of the nation’s “Negro” minority into the nation’s life. The issue was a moral one, he said, as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution. Congress needed to enact, as soon as possible, sweeping legislation that would finally guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities to all Americans. A great change was at hand, Kennedy said, and it was “our task, our obligation, to make that change, that revolution, peaceful and constructive for all.” But as much as that speech marked such a turning point in American history, it changed nothing when, just four hours later, a Ku Klux Klansman in Mississippi ambushed and killed a civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. This letter, written on the same day Evers bled to death in front of his wife and children, in front of his own home, is the first draft of Kennedy’s powerfully felt response.

I extend to you and your children my sincerest condolences on the tragic death of your husband. Although comforting thoughts are difficult at a time like this, surely there can be some solace in the realization of the justice of the cause for which your husband gave his life. Achievement of the goals he did so much to promote will enable his children and the generations to follow to share fully and equally in the benefits and advantages our Nation has to offer.

The murder of Evers would inspire, among other things, songs by Bob Dylan and Nina Simone; stories by Eudora Welty and Rex Stout; two movies, dozens of books, and helped bring about the election, too, of Evers’ brother as the first black man elected mayor in Mississippi, in 1969. By that time, of course, Evers and Kennedy had been dead – both assassinated – for six years.
Typed Letter Signed (twice: in full and with initials), as President, with autograph corrections and addendum; being a corrected first draft. 1 page, quarto, The White House, Washington, June 12, 1963. To Mrs. Medgar Evers in Mississippi.
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