TWO DAYS IN JUNE John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History
by Andrew Cohen.
In June 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy has been president of the United States for almost two and a half years. That spring he is grappling with the two seismic forces of the early 1960s: the proliferation of nuclear arms and the struggle for civil rights. On two consecutive days, in two lyrical addresses, he appeals to Americans to see both the Russians and the “Negroes” as human beings.
His speech on June 10 leads to the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the first arms control agreement of the Cold War. A day later, his next speech on June 11, leads to the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964, a watershed in American history. In lily-white, Cold War America, this kind of language is unprecedented, if not almost subversive.
Andrew Cohen, an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, evokes the writing of William Manchester and Theodore White as he presents a president pivoting dramatically and decisively on the two biggest issues of his time. Based largely on hours of unseen documentary film shot in the White House and the Justice Department on these two days, as well as fresh interviews and a rediscovered draft speech. Two Days in June elegantly captures Kennedy at the high noon of his presidency in new, rich, granular detail.
There were 1,036 Days in the Presidency of John F. Kennedy Moment by moment, JFK’s feverish forty-eight hours unspool in suspenseful, cinematic clarity as he addresses “peace and freedom.” Kennedy faces down George Wallace over the integration of the University of Alabama, which Cohen shows was not scripted, as many argue.
In this tick-tock of the presidency, we see Kennedy up close as never before: signing a bill on pay equity for women, and planning a secret diplomatic mission to Indonesia, reeling from the midnight murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Big issues converge while smaller ones emerge – open immigration, lower taxes, physical fitness, space exploration...
Under Cohen’s steady gaze, we see Kennedy’s extraordinary relationship with his brother, Robert, who acts as field marshal as the administration manages George Wallace; his partnership with Theodore Sorensen, his gifted if mercurial speechwriter; and his affair with Mary Meyer, a free-spirited painter.
About the Author Andrew Cohen is an award-winning journalist and former Washington correspondent whom the New York Times has called one of “Canada’s most distinguished authors.” He has had an interest in the Kennedys from the time he learned of the president’s assassination as a third grader at Roslyn School in Montreal. He attended Choate Rosemary Hall (where JFK went), McGill University, Carleton University and the University of Cambridge.
Among his Best-Selling Books
- While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, which in 2010 was named one of the top 12 Canadian political books of the last 25 years;
- Trudeau’s Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (with J.L. Granatstein)
- The Unfinished Canada: The People We Are
- A Deal Undone: The Making and Breaking of the Meech Lake.
He has written for United Press International, the Financial Post, the Financial Times of London, Time and the Globe and Mail from London, Berlin, Toronto and Ottawa, where he is a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University. In Washington, he covered the Clinton administration and reported on his impeachment and trial and the disputed election of 2000. He made several trips to the South, writing about the re-opening of civil rights cases from the 1960s. He has won three National Magazine Awards and two National Newspaper Awards, and he has been twice been awarded the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Medal. Cohen writes a nationally-syndicated column for the Ottawa Citizen and appears as regular commentator on CTV News.
What’s New in: Two Days in June
Two Days in June is an original, intimate reconstruction of two momentous days in the presidency of John F. Kennedy. It is a chronicle like no other in the Kennedy literature, brimming with fresh insights and revelations, drawing on hours of newly-uncovered documentary film shot in the White House on June 10 and June 11, 1963, as well as the days before and after.
Andrew Cohen is said to be the first to see the raw footage since it was shot for a celebrated documentary broadcast fifty-one years ago. In revisiting these two days, the single most important resource is Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, the 52-minute cinéma vérité film made by Robert Drew, one of the pioneers of the genre in the United States. Drew, a photographer at Life, would become one of the acclaimed documentary filmmakers of his time.
In making Crisis, Drew had unprecedented access to President Kennedy in the White House and to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in the Justice Department over these feverish days. Drew also sent crews to Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Birmingham and New York City with Richard Leacock, Greg Shuker and D.A. Pennebaker, all emerging filmmakers. The subject was the confrontation between George Wallace and the Kennedys over the integration of the University of Alabama, which climaxed on June 11, 1963, what some historians call the most important day in the civil rights movement. Crisis aired on ABC in the United States on October 23, 1963, less than a month before JFK was assassinated. Its reputation grew. In 2011, it was named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, one of twenty-five films a year deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.
The archivists believe that Andrew Cohen is the first to see the film since they received it sixteen years ago, and quite possibly, since it was made fifty-one years ago. Two Days in June also draws on the recently opened diaries and letters of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the eminent historian and presidential assistant, as well as those of Charles Ritchie, Canada’s Ambassador to Washington that spring.
Excerpt from a press release of McClelland & Stewart Doubleday Canada Publishing Group, part of Random House of Canada Ltd.