This one is inspired by Keka's very first Huffington Post article: JFK: A Death in the Family. It's edited and rewritten from two of my Memories posts.
The End of the World…:
As my old man “Mac” so eloquently summarized America’s 1960 Presidential election, “If Kennedy gets elected, this country gonna get taken over by Micks, Mafioso, spics and niggers and we’re all screwed!”
In order to understand the end of the world, you have to understand the paradox of the Indiana Republican in the first half of the 20th Century. Back then Indiana Republicans weren’t just big city bankers and business folk who proudly belonged to the party of Lincoln, they were also farmers and small town store keepers many of whom were proud members of the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t think my Mom and Dad or any of our grandparents actually joined the Klan, but I do know that they were all bigots and unafraid to express their prejudice. That’s why we lived in Irving, Texas instead of Dallas where Dad’s office was located. All the class photos from Paul Keyes elementary are completely white bread.
The disputed election of Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson (Daley stole Chicago for Kennedy and Johnson’s cronies just stole the whole Rio Grande Valley.) marked the end of the world as we knew it. Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge were supposed to save us from this disaster, but Nixon blew the debates on TV and the fix was in. We all went to bed not knowing who had won the election; but on the morning of November 9th after 5th grade recess, my friend Zach walked up to proudly announce to his “little Yankee Republican buddy” that Kennedy and Johnson had won. Zach just wanted to gloat but when I burst out in tears, all he could do was look at me as if I was some man from Mars.
…1963 – the End of a Dream:
At his inauguration John F. Kennedy accepted the challenge of the presidency as a member of a “new generation” of Americans and he issued his own challenge to all Americans and every citizen of the world: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He served for 1037 days and did the best he could as he saw it. He was loved and hated for what he did and did not do; as well as for his personal style and how he served. JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 pm CST on November 22, 1963. He was shot once in the upper back and killed with a final shot to the head. Taken to Parkland Hospital for emergency medical treatment, he was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm. Those are the facts.
With confirmation from a report by Dan Rather , Walter Cronkite was the first to confirm the tragedy. He was on the air talking about the police security for JFK’s visit to Dallas, “… the Dallas Police have been augmented by some 400 policemen called in on their day off because there were some fears and concerns in Dallas that, uh...that there might be demonstrations, at least, that could embarrass the President. Because it was only on October 24 that our ambassador of the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, was assaulted in Dallas leaving a dinner meeting there…” then as an editor handed him a bulletin from the Associated Press, Cronkite stopped speaking, put on his eyeglasses, silently read the text, took off his glasses, and with a choked up voice said: From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time…2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”
…the Long Goodbye…:
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder of a Dallas police officer and eventually charged with the murder of President Kennedy. At the time the assassination of the President of the USA was not a federal crime. Oswald denied shooting anyone; but on November 24, while President Kennedy’s body lay in state at the U. S. Capitol Rotunda, Jack Ruby killed Oswald.
Ruby was arrested and convicted for murder. He appealed his conviction and death sentence but died of cancer on January 3, 1967, before the courts set the date for a new trial. Those are the facts.
After Cronkite announced the death of Kennedy they sent us home from school early. To be truthful I can’t remember much of the next three days. Mom came home early and started dinner. Dad came home and we ate. Over the weekend we watched TV and on Sunday, November 24, we saw Jack Ruby step from the crowd in the police garage and shoot Oswald who died at 1:07 p.m. at Parkland Memorial Hospital where President Kennedy had died 48 hours before.
…and the Funeral
There were pictures of Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One, and on Monday we watched the state funeral. At some point “Mac” made a bad joke about JFK and with tears in my eyes I angrily snapped back at him. To my surprise, he was chastened.
In those years since his election portended “the end of the world,” I had formed my own opinion of this man. I’d seen him take responsibility for the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba and deal with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the Vienna Summit and during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Berlin Wall. In less than three years as President he’d pulled the world back from the brink of nuclear war, negotiated the Limited Test Ban Treaty, launched the Space Race and the Peace Corps, stood up for the Civil Rights Movement, and navigated America through the early stages of the Vietnam War. As I saw him grow into the office of the Presidency, JFK did the best he could as he saw it; and now he and the dreams of that “new generation” of Americans had evaporated in a spray of blood on a sunny afternoon in Dallas, Texas.
Ascendant America was deeply divided in the election of 1960, but with the exception of Texas, Georgia and fewer than ten other states, the red and blue of the electoral map hasn’t changed that much in 2012. Of over 68 million votes cast in 1960, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket won with a razor thin margin of 112,827. In 1963 we were bound together in an unthinkable tragedy but that unity quickly faded. It wasn’t the first or last tragedy of that violent era that we survived. During the decades that followed, the Boomer generation experienced the end of the American Century and with some unexpected twists and turns the world has evolved into a new kind of balance. Some say we’ve seen the end of the American Dream. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps that dream of a good paying 8-5 job and a ranch house purchased on the GI Bill in the suburbs with two cars in the garage is over; but no one can deny that we’ve come a long, long way since 1960.
Neither can anyone deny that there are still people today who are doing everything possible to reverse the equity of that hard won struggle. We can only hope that our children and grandchildren will remember JFK’s challenge and that they will ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country so that they may find some peace and sanity and complete their own journey to reshape a new American dream: A dream where they are judged, not by the color of their skin, or their religious beliefs, or who they love, or how much money they have; but by the content of their character. In their own time and in their own way, I hope and believe that they will somehow manage to do just that. I have to believe that, and I feel that Jack and Bobbie Kennedy, LBJ and Martin Luther King would most certainly share in that hope.
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