This essay examines Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for President John F. Kennedy to issue a second emancipation proclamation, which involved a series of public speeches delivered across the nation from 1961 through 1963 as well as a 60-page Appeal memorandum composed for Kennedy by Southern Christian Leadership Conference lawyers. King challenged Kennedy’s conservative, accommodating understanding of prudence by harnessing the inventional resources of Civil War centennial commemoration, folding together the past and present to offer a vision of audacious presidential leadership. Examination of this historical moment provides insight into how commemoration creates kairotic opportunities for advocates of social change to renegotiate prudence and call forth new, bolder forms of political action.

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