November 22 is a day most Americans over a certain age recall with clarity. The day is remembered not because of a dramatic win of rival football teams, a catastrophic weather event that plunged the country into sub-zero temperatures nor was it a day that introduced any great legislative innovations into the American judicial system.
November 22, 1963 is remembered because it was the fateful day that began with sunshine and youthful vigor for the then President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and ended with a fallen Chief Executive returning to the White House on a horse drawn caisson to lay-in-state following his murder in Dallas, Texas.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963 is seared into the collective psyche of the American people in the same manner as December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese launched their attack on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, ushering the country into participation in the Second World War. Kennedy’s assassination is a seminal event for the so called, “baby-boomers,” and it quite possibly marked the beginning of the tumultuous events of the 1960’s that would experience an escalation of war in Vietnam, the beginning of the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK’s brother, Senator Robert Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. History tells us there was a lone assassin in Dallas on that fateful morning, the Warren Commission (hastily assembled after Kennedy’s death,) affirms the lone assassin premise but somehow and in some intangible way, November 22, 1963 marks the beginning of a new era that forever transformed our American society. The assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is the touchstone that heralded remarkable changes to the American way of life and introduced the United States to events that were both painful, remarkable and amazing revelations of magnitudes that catapulted the United States and indeed the entire world into the technological epoch in which we currently exist.
Since that fateful day in Dallas in 1963, we have witnessed lunar landings, which was a challenge initiated by a youthful JFK. The fall of the Berlin Wall, multiple popes have occupied the Chair of Saint Peter that were not of Italian nationality (St. Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the incumbent Holy Father, Pope Francis,) the demise of the Soviet bloc, the rise of the European Union and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. It was President Kennedy himself that initiated the severing of diplomatic relations with Cuba after the Cuban missile crisis.
In the political world, the United States elected a freshman senator and the first African-American to two consecutive terms as President of the United States and in 2016 the Democratic Party chose the first female in the history of our country to stand for election to the Oval Office. While 1963 Dallas still experiences racial segregation, our nation has cognitively developed into a social and political lifestyle of inclusion for all peoples regardless of race, creed or political considerations. That is not to say we have yet to live in a utopian society in the United States but the American people and indeed our global society are diligently working towards a better world in which all peoples can live in peace and prosperity.
November 22, 1963 marked not just the assassination of a President of the United States, it marked the moment when America experienced a self-realization of our collective vulnerability as a nation and as individuals that are subjected to senseless violence and many transgressions against the sanctity of all human life.
As a global community, we have made remarkable strides since November 22, 1963. JFK set the goal of landing on the moon before the end of the decade of the 1960’s. On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong bounced down the ladder of the lunar landing module and accomplished Kennedy’s vision.
As a direct result of the vision of President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2nd, 1964. It provided protection against discrimination because of race, creed, sex or national origin. While the law was monumental, our nation is still making progress towards the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by tweaking the interpretation of the law and legislating against other forms of discrimination that have developed since 1964. Regardless, the American nation of 2016 would be recognizable to JFK if he were alive today.
The fabric of American life was ripped apart on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Objectively, the rupture of November 22 precipitated a general mistrust of the United States government after the hasty conclusions of the Warren Commission. The generation that was coming of age in 1963 began to more intensely question the actions of the Federal Government, it protested the war in Vietnam, the nation marched for civil rights, protestors pressed against the fence of the White House for the end of hostilities in Vietnam and in effect forced LBJ to decline a second term as President of the United States as president in his own right.
John Kennedy’s violent assassination continues to occupy the attention of the nation not because of the facts we already know of that fateful day in Dallas. It occupies the attention of the American people because of the unknown events that surrounded the assassination of a youthful and seemingly vibrant President of the United States that embodied a renewed vitality for the American dream and the path it was destined to take towards leading the United States into an unknown but dynamically charged future that was destined to change the realities of life as they were known by Americans of 1963. Well, despite the premature death of John F. Kennedy, America ventured into the following decades with Kennedy’s fervor and vision for a new American world that was often called the New Frontier. The New Frontier of the Kennedy years lives on in the generations of Americans that were alive on November 22, 1963 and the millions of American citizens that have been born since that fateful day in Dallas that changed the direction of the United States as a nation, a collective people with hope in the vibrancy of a young president with a progressive vision.
May of 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. For us however, he remains in our perceptions and our collective memories a young man, one that envisioned a noble and vigorous future for the people of the United States. While the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 perpetually freezes the image of JFK as a young man, his legacy and vision for the American people did not end in Dallas in 1963. His visions of space exploration continue, the legacy of a continued civil rights movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of Soviet Communism are all part of the legacy of John Kennedy’s brief presidency that provided seminal actions that ultimately came to fruition during time.
As a nation, we remember events that are significant to our history as a nation. July 4th 1776, November 11th, 1918, December 7, 1941, November 22, 1963 & September 11, 2001 are all events that make all Americans recall the events of those days.
November 22, 1963 is memorable because the United States lost not just a President on that day, but because the day shattered the dreamlike characteristics of the Kennedy presidency that were welcome moments after the nation’s endurance of the Second World War, the Korean War, the descent of the Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe and the constant threat of a nuclear Armageddon.
President Kennedy’s life and times are remembered for the hopes they represented for the future of the American people. Those hopes and dreams are still alive, they continue to develop and a nation celebrates on November 22 not the death of a President of the United States, but the vibrant life of a man that gave the United States a new vibrancy with which to endure and overcome the testing of America’s mettle that subsequently unfolded until the present day of our American Republic.
I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. John F. Kennedy