Being a resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a lifelong Texan, a liberal and a writer, I feel pretty obligated to write something about JFK on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. The thing is, it’s not that I don’t want to write a piece about JFK, but I’ve sat here for the last several hours wondering how, or what, to write. Every possible angle, subject, conspiracy, tribute — they’ve all been done numerous times before.
So, I’m just going to talk about whatever comes to mind.
I’m not old enough to have been alive when this happened, though my mother was. To this day, she gets somewhat emotional talking about the events of that day. She can recall, with great detail down to what she was wearing, nearly even moment that surrounded those first few minutes after she had learned that President Kennedy had been shot and died from his wounds.
Kennedy, for his time, was definitely a controversial figure. He was the first Catholic president. Why did this matter? I have no idea. I guess it was just a resistance to change. But from what I’ve read and been told by people who were old enough to recall those times, it was apparently quite a big deal that Kennedy was Roman Catholic. While I’m a Christian, I’ll never understand those who cling to man-made religious denominations.
He was also the first “television president,” which many cite was the main reason that actually propelled him to victory over Richard Nixon. Nixon’s horrific performance during a presidential debate, while Kennedy appeared calm and relaxed, is seen by many as the moment when Kennedy solidified himself as the eventual 35th President of the United States.
One thing the man could do was give a speech. Had he not been president, he would have been a fantastic motivational speaker. Take for instance one of my favorite speeches of his. Though he was specifically talking about the United States and the “space race,” John F. Kennedy is responsible for quite possibly my favorite quote that I use as motivation throughout my life:
“No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
I can recall hearing some reiteration of that line when I was young, and not knowing then who spoke it decades earlier, it stood out to me as a source of motivation. I took it as a line that meant greatness is never achieved by taking the easy way through life. We should seek out difficult challenges in life because they are hard. Change is never easy. Leading can often be a solitary road for those who choose the path less traveled.
Or I guess in the case of landing someone on the moon, a path that had never been traveled.
Now I’m sure due to the circumstances surrounding Kennedy’s death, his life has been somewhat romanticized.
He was far from a perfect man. Many accounts by people who knew him described him as arrogant and cocky. The stories surrounding his infidelity seem endless. And just like any other president, he made plenty of mistakes.
But there was undoubtedly something about him that drew people in. Even individuals I know who aren’t very emotional seem somewhat emotional when speaking about the events of that day. Now maybe that’s because for any president to be shot in public is traumatic for those who were around during that time — but when it comes to JFK, it’s much more complex than that.
Even now, when I watch the footage of his assassination, I just get this empty feeling inside of me. You see the images of his arrival in Dallas, smiling like any president would do. Him and Jackie Kennedy being taken through the streets of Dallas, unaware of the terrible events that awaited them — it’s just incredibly sad to watch.
Then to watch the detailed slow-motion footage where you see the impact that last shot had on Kennedy, it’s something you can’t forget. Watching Jackie instinctively grasp for parts of his head that had been removed by the shot is utterly heartbreaking. I couldn’t even imagine what she felt at that moment. One minute you’re there, First Lady of the United States, sitting next to your husband when suddenly an entire part of his head is blown off right in front of you.
And while I’m well aware of the seemingly endless number of conspiracies behind why it happened, I refuse to get into those right now.
Kennedy, while far from perfect, accomplished many great things in his all too brief time in the White House. Many people are probably unaware that Kennedy established the Peace Corps.
He was a pioneer for civil rights. When two African American students were blocked from attending the University of Alabama, John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to ensure their entrance.
While civil rights and greater equality for African Americans was inevitable, his efforts as president expedited the process which eventually lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Because of how his life ended, we’ll never know the full story of President John F. Kennedy. Would we look back on him as fondly as so many do now due to the tragedy of his death? Had he served two full terms as president, might our history concerning the Vietnam War be drastically different? Who would have ultimately been presidents #37-44 had LBJ not unexpectedly become our 36th?
The “what if” questions can go on and on. The debate over his life, his presidency and what ultimately led to his assassination is endless.
But there’s one thing that’s not up for debate: The history of the United States was forever changed in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time.