BUFFALO, N.Y. — 1963 marked a time of significant change in the American civil rights movement. In August that year, 250,000 people converged on Washington D.C. to protest racial discrimination.
"At first, people were told, 'you have to be quiet. You can’t object to anything,'" said Buffalo NAACP president Frank Mesiah.
Mesiah was a police officer in the city during this turbulent time. He says African-Americans didn't want to be quiet any more.
"This created a whole new model for social change, the confrontation model, and these marches and confrontation were going on when President Kennedy was elected."
President Kennedy voiced his concerns to Martin Luther King Jr. about the sometimes-violent clashes as the movement expanded.
"Now he was not a civil rights person. In fact, he tried to dissuade the people from having the 1963 March on Washington."
Kennedy did support the legislative route and became a powerful ally when he delivered his civil rights agenda to the American people in a speech on national television.
"His coming on with his new rhetoric and new approach, and him physically, how he looked how he acted, his energy and vigor everybody gravitated to him. This is great. This is why, when he died, when he was killed, it became such a traumatic instance for African-Americans who saw him as one of the leaders."
Mesiah says Kennedy's assassination put a painful pause on the momentum, then galvanized the movement.
"You can’t lay back and take a passive stand. You have to go to the funeral, weep, and come out fighting again, get people ready. How do you change this thing, register people to vote, get your own people in office?"
President Lyndon Johnson used his legislative clout to push Kennedy's civil rights agenda through. It became law in July of '64.
Mesiah questions whether Kennedy could have accomplished that.
"He started that but with every action like in physics, with every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction and there was a reaction to all of the civil rights activity. Now whether or not it could have built to a point where they couldn’t get a bill through, I don’t know."
Mesiah says the civil rights movement of the '60s paved the way for future battles against discrimination.