The Presidential Race: Nixon vs. Kennedy

"I guess you'd call me an independent, since I've never identified myself with one party or another in politics. . . I always decide my vote by taking as careful a look as I can at the actual candidates and issues themselves, no matter what the party label."

True to Robinson's proclaimed status as an independant, in the presidential race of 1960 and consequent events, Robinson switched camps several times. His primary issue was always civil rights, and though he gave his favorites many chances to redeem themselves if they faltered, he was quick to criticize anyone, friend or foe.

Robinson's favorite candidate for the presidency in 1960 was Richard Nixon. Impressed when he first met Nixon, he had always thought of him as an intelligent man, and believed that Nixon would take a stand for civil rights. He was fond of quoting Nixon's statement that "We shall never be satisfied with the progress we have been making in recent years until the problem is solved and equal opportunity becomes a reality for all Americans." When warned about Nixon's previous unsteady behavior in this area, Jackie waved off the warnings, saying that he trusted Nixon to keep to his statements of equality for all. Though disappointed by Nixon's behavior over the jailing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jackie would not change camps, having a great dislike of Kennedy.

Jackie and Richard Nixon on the campaign trail.

Jackie was not impressed by John F. Kennedy. In a meeting with the candidate, Robinson was saddened by his lack of knowledge about the civil rights movement, as well as his inability to look Jackie in the eye. Jackie also took offense at Kennedy's running-mate, Lyndon Johnson, who at that time was branded with the label of "Southern bigot." Johnson would later demonstrate himself an avid supporter of civil rights.

Jackie much preferred Hubert Humphrey, a man with a civil rights record that dated back to 1946, when he enacted the Fair Employment Practices Act in the city of Minneapolis. Jackie endorsed Humphrey in the Post, saying "This man and his principles must be supported, for Humphrey's is the kind of leadership that brings pride and inspiration to people in all walks of life." Jackie took his first steps into politics by helping Humphrey in his campaign, learning things he would use later in Rockefeller's service.

When Humphrey withdrew from the race, Robinson openly began to support Nixon instead, joining his campaign. Though Nixon lost the race, Robinson's faith was unshaken. "I still believe in Mr. Nixon and I still think he's the better man," Jackie insisted.

John F. Kennedy, who won the grudging respect and eventual friendship of Robinson.

Jackie turned with hope to Kennedy, expressing his desire that the Massachusetts senator be a better president than he initially appeared. Gradually relations between the Kennedys and Robinsons improved, especially between Jackie and the president's brother, Robert. Jackie applauded Robert Kennedy's acts as Attorney General towards the protection of black liberties, and was also pleased when he saw the State Department's efforts at integrating the workforce. When President Kennedy was shot, Jackie hastened to make clear that any animosity he had held towards the president was merely a matter of civil rights policy, and that he had in fact become a Kennedy supporter.

Hubert Humphrey,(left), Jackie's initial choice among the Democrats.

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