by Christina Lehman Fitzpatrick, Processing Archivist
Recently the library was pleased to open the newly-processed Personal Papers of Warren I. Cikins, who served in the White House from 1962 to 1966 during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. (For more information on the opening, please see our press release.) This large collection documents the professional life of Warren Cikins over the course of his long and diverse career in Washington, D.C. Cikins had many different jobs, including Congressional staffer, federal and local government official, educator, management consultant, and advocate for criminal justice reform. Materials in the collection date from 1922 to 2011, though here we would like to highlight several documents of historical interest that are contemporary to President Kennedy’s time in our nation’s capital.
Like John F. Kennedy, Warren Cikins was born in Boston and attended Harvard University. His path to service in the Kennedy Administration began in 1956 when he moved to Washington to work as a legislative assistant to Congressman Brooks Hays (D-Arkansas). The following year, racial crisis erupted in Little Rock when nine black students were prevented from enrolling in Central High School despite the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Angry crowds surrounded the campus and Governor Orval Faubus ordered his security forces to physically block the students from entering the building. Congressman Hays tried to act as a mediator to defuse the situation, and arranged a meeting between Faubus and President Eisenhower in Newport, Rhode Island. Ultimately no agreement could be reached, forcing Eisenhower to send federal troops to integrate the school. The incident became a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Cikins was in Little Rock with Hays during the crisis and kept a notebook recording the events. One page of his notes is shown below. On it Cikins lists numerous meetings and phone calls between Hays and other local officials. The Little Rock segregationists were enraged by the Congressman’s efforts to broker a resolution and by his moderate stance on the issue of race. In retaliation, they engineered his defeat in the next election. Cikins took another job on Capitol Hill, but he and Hays remained close as professional colleagues and personal friends right up until Hays died in 1981.
After President Kennedy took office in 1961 he appointed Hays to the State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Affairs. Hays asked Cikins to join him as his assistant. The State Department planned to mark the 16th anniversary of the United Nations with a speaking tour and Cikins jumped at the opportunity to participate. He spent two weeks traveling through the western states to address large groups of citizens. At the time, U.S. participation in the United Nations was a controversial topic, and the State Department was loudly criticized for “losing” China to the Communists. As a result, Cikins expected hostile crowds but was pleased to find that the majority of listeners responded favorably to his message. Here is one page from his main speech, titled “The United Nations: International Cooperation at the Crossroads.” In the conclusion he states, “The question of whether the UN is good for the US must be answered with a loud affirmative. Our national interest and our dedication to our international goals requires that we pledge ourselves to the preservation and the strengthening of the UN.” He reported that audiences were generally receptive to his speeches and often asked many good questions afterward: “Why did the U.S. permit the veto to be written into the UN Charter?” “Does the admission of new members to the UN undermine the U.S. position?”
Soon President Kennedy asked Brooks Hays to transfer to the White House and serve as Special Assistant to the President. Thus Warren Cikins joined the White House staff in January 1962 as Hays’s executive assistant. While at the White House, Hays and Cikins often contributed to intergovernmental relations projects. President Kennedy wanted to build better relationships with local and state officials and to improve coordination of federal and state planning. Materials in Cikins’s collection reveal his role as a liaison between the White House and such organizations as the Conference of Appalachian Governors, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, and the Council of State Government. He frequently collaborated with these groups on issues concerning the Area Redevelopment Administration (ARA). The ARA was established in May 1961 in order to “help areas of substantial and persistent unemployment and underemployment to take effective steps in planning and financing their economic redevelopment.” (Listen to President Kennedy’s remarks upon signing the Area Redevelopment Act.)
The Appalachian region had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and received the most ARA assistance. Below are two documents concerning aid to Appalachia. The first is a map indicating the geographical area served by the ARA. The second is a memorandum from Cikins to Lee White reporting on a meeting held on April 18, 1963, with representatives of various federal agencies. This meeting resulted from President Kennedy’s directive, issued earlier that month, asking the agencies to review their operations and locate more opportunities to direct aid to Appalachia. Unfortunately, the officials foresaw “great difficulties involved in doing anything substantial in this direction.”
Although Cikins accepted a full-time position with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in December 1963, he continued to work on White House projects for President Johnson on a part-time basis through 1966. He went on to jobs at the Agency for International Development (1965-1967) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1967-1969) before transitioning to the private sector. More about his later adventures can be found in his autobiography, In Search of Middle Ground: Memoirs of a Washington Insider (2005).