Remembering JFK: 54 Years Later

Charlie Gers

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On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived at Dallas, Texas, for a campaign trip for the 1964 election. Thousands of Texans flocked to downtown Dallas on Friday morning to see the 35th President in an open-top convertible alongside the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Texas Governor Johh Connally. However, the excitement would only last for a while—within hours, the President had been assassinated and the whole world was about to change.

President Kennedy wasn’t just an ordinary president. There have, as of now, been 45 presidents, yet few have caused such an unforced hero worship like John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, the second-youngest president of the United States and the only Catholic president, was a man those qualities never failed to capture the attention of everyone, not only Americans. Kennedy was a bright, courageous, charismatic man who envisioned a world of collective responsibility and cooperation, where the impossible was possible if people saw past their differences. 

54 years later, John F. Kennedy remains one of the most prominent icons in American history. Even though Kennedy was only able to serve as president for two years, his tenure had ever-lasting impacts. The path to racial equality and civil rights was arduous, but Kennedy’s efforts played an important role in starting that process. Kennedy was a staunch advocate for full equal rights for African-Americans in a period where segregation was enforced, voting was barred because of your ethnicity, and blatant racism was common in the mainstream society. During his civil rights address on June 11, 1963, Kennedy said,

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

Kennedy commitment to racial justice reinforced his desire for a society of unity, rather than division, and brought the issue to the center of national politics. His vision of peace, unity, and compassion wasn’t just represented at home—it was also represented abroad. In 1961, Kennedy signed an executive order that launched the Peace Corps, prompting Americans to serve their country and promote the cause of peace. The Peace Corps is a volunteer program that was established to promote a better understanding between Americans and people of other nations and cultures, provide assistance in schools and organizations to overcome local challenges, and promote world peace and friendship. Kennedy’s determination to the Peace Corps was an undiluted symbol of American idealism and national pride that citizens could, and should, help one another. 

During his two-year tenure, Kennedy faced large-scale hurdles abroad. The Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War, are some examples of the crisis that President Kennedy had to face. Despite his failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist regime in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy’s pragmatism and proportionality enabled him to successfully deal with the Soviet Union and prevent another World War. During his commencement address at American University, Kennedy said,

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

John F. Kennedy’s two-year tenure has influenced modern America’s politics and culture. Kennedy’s charisma, commitment to equality for all Americans regardless of who you are or where you come from, vision for world peace, determination to sending Americans to the moon by forming NASA, and countless other achievements make him a legacy in American history. Most importantly, Kennedy uttered one of the most well-known historical quotes, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”