Jack O’Dell, King Aide Fired Over Communist Past, Dies at 96Breaking News
tags: obituaries, civil rights
He brought a diverse résumé to the job, having worked as a merchant seaman, union activist and insurance salesman. But he had also been a member of the Communist Party, which alarmed President John F. Kennedy and the director of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover.
So when civil rights groups gathered at the White House on June 22, 1963, two months before the March on Washington, Kennedy pulled King aside in the Rose Garden. The president told King that he had to fire Mr. O’Dell and Stanley Levison, a white businessman and King aide, for ties to the party, according to multiple historical accounts. Mr. Levison was under F.B.I. surveillance at the time.
“They’re Communists,” Kennedy was said to have remarked.
The president warned King that holding on to such friends could imperil his administration’s alliance with King, who was president of the S.C.L.C., an umbrella civil rights group that was formed in 1957.
Kennedy’s words tested King’s loyalty to men who had served him well.
“Dr. King would have kept Jack O’Dell forever; he didn’t believe in demonizing anyone,” Taylor Branch, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Parting the Waters” (1988), the first of a three-volume history of the civil rights era, said in a phone interview. “But it was a demand from the Kennedy administration.”
comments powered by Disqus
- How 22-Year-Old George Washington Inadvertently Sparked a World War
- Tension in the Middle East and populist presidents: what the world was like 100 years ago
- A brief history of presidential impeachment
- What Happens to News When Journalists and Historians Join Forces
- Why Haven't the Afghanistan Papers Gotten More Attention?
- The Radical Lives of Abolitionists
- National Security Archive Releases USCYBERCOM documents which shed new light on the campaign to counter ISIS in cyberspace
- Historian Jonathan Holloway will be named as Rutgers first black president
- The Twitterstorians Trying to De-Trumpify American History
- African Americans and Africa: A New Book about Black America’s Relationship with the Continent