Monday marks the 58th year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was shot on November 22, 1963, while his motorcade drove through Dallas, Texas.
His presidency included a number of foreign affairs accomplishments, as well as tensions related to being leader of the free world during the Cold War.
JFK’s legacy includes the creation of the Peace Corps, sending the Civil Rights Act bill to Congress, and the famed lines in his 1961 inauguration speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Kennedy took office during one of the most turbulent times in American history after one of the closest ever presidential elections.
The Cold War between democracy and communism was becoming more belligerent, and the United States and the Soviet Union possessed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over.
In American cities, racial tension was rising as growing numbers of Black Americans demanding equal treatment under the law were confronted by white segregationists who wanted to deny those rights, using violence if necessary.
From the first moments of his presidency, Kennedy evoked a sense of security and a spirit of idealism which reassured Americans of their nation’s strengths and inspired them to serve their country and the world.
“And so, my fellow Americans — ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world — ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man,” Kennedy said in his inaugural address.
Dazzled by his poise, moved by his eloquence, Americans proudly embraced the vigor and vision of their young president.
As he struggled with the complexities of foreign and domestic politics, Kennedy sometimes fell short of his idealistic rhetoric.
A self-proclaimed supporter of civil rights, he moved forward slowly on the issue until 1963, when racial violence forced his hand.
The shocking assassination was credited with helping advance the cause of civil rights because it put President Lyndon B. Johnson in a position to push civil rights bills through Congress and LBJ stayed true to JFK’s agenda.
An advocate of peaceful development abroad, Kennedy hastened America’s descent into the Vietnam war, a conflict that would end countless lives and bitterly divide the nation. Many books have been written on the tragic decisions regarding Vietnam made by the young stars of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, .
Kennedy’s hard-line international diplomacy helped preserve Western democracy and may have prevented a catastrophic nuclear war, but it also heightened the tension between the superpowers.
When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to take West Berlin in 1961, Kennedy promised a military response, and the Russians backed down.
When the Soviets began to install missiles in Cuba in late 1962, Kennedy demanded their removal, then skillfully transacted a diplomatic settlement which kept the two enemies at peace.
Later, he negotiated a treaty to end atmospheric nuclear testing, the first nuclear weapons treaty in history.
Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetary just three days later.
JFK was the 35th President of the United States and one of the youngest.
Kennedy was struck twice in the neck and head. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination, but he was shot and killed before going to trial.
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