A public opinion poll conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC) after President John Kennedy's assassination illuminates African Americans' deep veneration of him. While Americans of every race, religion, and region grieved Kennedy's death, the Black community's anguish seemed more intense, lasted longer, and was complicated by their unique experience. Since 1964, scholars have written about Kennedy's civil rights leadership, but existing studies only touch on why African Americans mourned him so acutely and cherished his memory so conscientiously. Substantive gains in the final months of his presidency—combined with earlier, symbolic gestures—added up to an enduring affection for Kennedy among Black citizens.

NORC data substantiated the unusual ways that Black mourners processed Kennedy's death. African Americans held segregationists responsible for the assassination, inducing profound gratitude for the martyred Kennedy. Appreciation inspired Black families to hang Kennedy's portrait in their homes alongside images of Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King—a tradition I term "the Trinity." Trinity memorials channeled community grief, conveyed Kennedy's significance to future generations, and remain a touchstone within Black popular culture. This study challenges scholarly assessments of Kennedy's civil rights accomplishments, documenting the genesis and resilience of his memory for African Americans.