The History Society was pleased to welcome Professor Mark White of Queen Mary University, London on 23 Wednesday 2016. Professor White spoke about President Kennedy to a large audience of boys, pupils from other Harpur Trust schools, Mark Rutherford School and members of the wider school community in the Erskine May Hall.
This was a serious assessment of President Kennedy’s career, his administration and the enduring myth of the ‘Camelot’ period. Professor White emphasised connections between Kennedy’s foreign and domestic policies, eloquently describing how his experience in the Cuban Missile Crisis had prompted a ’liberal’ turn in JFK’s politics leading to reassessment of relations with the Soviet Union and feeding through into his domestic policies, particularly, perhaps, an increasing determination to ‘solve’ civil rights issues facing the USA in the early 1960s. Professor White spoke of Kennedy’s character and – while not sugar coating the philandering side of his nature – emphasised the need to see Kennedy, and in fact all politicians, ‘in the round’ and not to focus on the salacious if it could not be evidently shown to impact the ‘public’ role. Finally, we were treated to an assessment of Kennedy’s ‘image’, having been reminded of Jackie Kennedy’s determination to ensure – right from her husband’s death – that JFK’s image was burnished for posterity. Professor White painted an eloquent picture of a politician capable of change and in the process of perhaps becoming a great leader. He was then kind enough to answer questions and dealt extremely interestingly with a large number of these ranging from Kennedy’s political importance as an icon of Civil Rights to an assessment of Harold Macmillan’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Co-President of the society, Ted Hicks, thanked Professor White on the night and we thank him again for coming: the number of conversations among attendees the next day was testament to the excellence of his lecture.