In 1957, then-senator John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage. In 1990, the Kennedy family rejuvenated the idea and established the Profiles in Courage Award for selfless public service. In this expertly packaged collection, Caroline Kennedy and over a dozen well-known authors bring forth the sacrifices of those award winners to life. Featured in this book are people who made the tough decisions and the right ones for the situation and often at the cost of their careers.
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Each of the 14 essay subjects is a recipient of the Profiles in Courage Award, created by the Kennedy family a decade ago. The virtue of courage ordinarily involves some risk to one’s life (Kennedy p. 34). With exceptions, such as civil rights leader John Lewis, the virtue as lauded in this volume involves inveighing against some powerful interest. Another attribute sought is the championship of liberal causes: the editor chose Republicans for about one-fourth of the profiles, and of that group, two for their liberal positions on issues (John McCain’s crusade against political financing; Lowell Weicker’s imposition of an income tax on Connecticut residents) (Kennedy p. 78). Other essay subjects include Gerald Ford’s controversial decision to pardon Richard Nixon and James Fiori’s passing of the strictest gun-control law in the nation (Kennedy p. 89).
All the winners acted with a rare breed of selfless courage but sometimes this courage came at a terrible cost. U.S. Representative Carl Elliot Sr. was chased out of office in 1964 because he fought segregation in Alabama and by the time he won the first Profile in Courage Award, he was living alone in a ramshackle house, confined to a wheelchair by diabetes and hounded by creditors (Kennedy p. 140).
Kennedy has assembled an impressive roster of writers to compose these mostly inspirational stories: Michael Beschloss, Anna Quindlen, and Albert R. Hunt. The most audacious essay in the collection belongs to Bob Woodward, who reverses 25 years of conventional wisdom in arguing that former president Gerald Ford should be applauded for his pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate (Kennedy p. 10). Of course, not all of the essays have the same level of distinction, but all share the same Kennedy spirit. Unabashedly liberal and pro-government, this collection is a stirring look at people who rarely thought about what they could do for themselves, but always about what they could do for their country.
Relating and referencing Three Profiles
John F. Kennedy stated that his original Profiles in Courage (New York, 1964) depicted the stories of the pressures experienced by eight U.S Senators and the grace with which they endured them and the risks to their careers, the unpopularity of their courses, the defamation of their characters but sadly only sometimes, the vindication of their reputations in their efforts in pursuing issues of national interests( Kennedy p. 1)The “Profiles in Courage for Our Time” goes beyond the Senate for inspiring vignettes of political mavericks who have placed national issues beyond political popularity and, in doing so, have received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award from the Kennedy Library Foundation (Kennedy p. 18). All of the three of the award recipients and subjects of pen portraits for dedications toward national issues in this 2002 volume hail from Alabama.
Congressman Carl Elliot Sr. won the first Profile in Courage Award in 1990, not for a career fighting the white-supremacy ideology of state leaders, but for his support of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958 which itself is a national issue protecting the right of countrymen as it pertains education. The essay by Historian Michael Beschloss on Sir Elliott suffers from that narrow focus on the NDEA and Elliot’s future, somewhat unspecific, martyrdom (Kennedy p. 144).
Constrained by Elliott’s own pride in promoting the first federal excursion into educational funding and the appallingly ugly conditions of his later years, Beschloss weakens the story of Elliott’s anti-segregationist career and the revenge enacted by a merciless George Wallace and his ilk (Kennedy p. 123).
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Maryanne Voller’s essay offers a sharper examination of Judge Charles Price’s position against Roy Moore’s posting the Ten Commandments in his Etowah County courtroom in improving municipality practices. In this essay Vollers not only takes her audience into the political chaos that surrounded Price’s unpopular decision, but she also shows Price’s inner turmoil in his contrasting roles as a man of faith, a protector of constitutionalism, and a proponent of equality before the law-and before any particular judge (Kennedy p. 167).
Judge Charles Price, winner of the 1997 Award, confesses to having erred in originally believing Moore’s hand-carved Commandments were part of an historical exhibit. After seeing Moore’s display and the way he opened his session with a denominational prayer, Price felt compelled to reverse his own order and prohibit Moore from further proselytizing (Kennedy p. 167). The 2002 election saw Price retain his gavel while Moore moved like a granite block into the office of chief justice of the state supreme court (Kennedy p. 174).
Alabamian John Lewis, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and now a Georgia congressman, received the Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001. Teresa Carpenter in her essay examines how Lewis trod his own path in the turbulent civil rights movement as an awkward and media-naive but “irresistible Negro man-child,” (Kennedy p. 121) who was too radical for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference but too conservative for the SNCC of Stokeley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. Yet, Lewis was just right for the first billy-club blows on Bloody Sunday, 1965, and just right to defeat his former colleague Julian Bond for the congressional seat Lewis now holds. Like Vollers on Price, Carpenter shows Lewis as a fully fleshed-out human, in all his successes and failures, his sureness and self-doubt (Kennedy p. 80).
At first glance the award winners seem to be cut from the same bolt of Kennedy-Democrat cloth. George Wallace is not there, nor is Malcolm X. The Freemen are not so honored, but Nick Marion, who prosecuted them in Jordan, Montana, is. Lowell Weicker won for imposing an income tax in Connecticut, James Florio for standing up to the National Rifle Association in New Jersey, Corkin Cherubini for fixing the subtle segregation in the school system of Calhoun County, Georgia, and Hilda Solis for demanding environmental justice for the Los Angeles barrio (Kennedy p. 17).
Rounding out the award winners are Charles Weltner, Henry Gonzalez, Michael Synar, the Irish Peacemakers, John McCain, Russell Feingold, and the 2002 joint recipients-Dean Koldenhoven, Kofi Annan, and the September 11 heroes. The 2001 recipient proves that the award is not only for the followers of Camelot. Gerald Ford won for his still-reviled pardon of Richard Nixon (Kennedy p. 20).
Kennedy, Caroline (2002), Profiles in Courage for Our Time, Hyperion, New York, ISBN 0-7868-8678-1.
John F. Kennedy (1964), Profiles in Courage New York.