Remembering President Kennedy and His Civil Rights Legacy

jfk_jbkBy: April Ryan, aprildryan.com

50 years ago today in Dallas, Texas an assassin’s bullet took the life of a young American President who only saw 3 years in the Oval Office.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed November 22, 1963. For many it was more than a shift in history it was a rip in the fabric of this country. Congressman John Lewis in a written statement said of the death,”When President Kennedy was assassinated, something died in those of us who knew him, and something died in America. He was the first American President to say that the issue of civil rights and social justice was a moral issue. He represented our hope, our idealism, our dreams about what America could become. He made us believe that we could do anything, tackle any challenge, and that through our efforts we could help heal the problems of the world.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson

Reverend Jesse Jackson

“We could not believe he could die, we could not accept that he died” according to Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, as he speaks of the moment 50 years ago when he heard the news. Jackson was a young college student at North Carolina A & T at the time of the Kennedy assassination. Jackson says he “was walking across the campus” when he heard the news of the shooting of President Kennedy. When it was confirmed he was killed, ” there was a certain compounded pain as he [Kennedy] was saying all the right things about Civil Rights legislation,” according to Reverend Jackson.

During the time of confusion, loss and disbelief, Jackson admits he could not imagine Lyndon Johnson as President. Reverend Jackson says, “at that time Johnson had no record on Civil Rights.” Jessie Jackson – LISTEN:

Meanwhile, the Kennedy record was beginning to take shape. Jackson says “it was a season of terror and bloodshed as the sun was rising on our civil rights Movement.” In 1963, Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was killed. Also a black church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama and four little girls were killed. Each of these atrocities received noticeable media attention in the black media as well as the mainstream media.

Dr. Martha Joynt Kumar, Political Science Professor at Towson State University and Historian says “the Birmingham bombings were a very important point for him [Kennedy].” That church bombing occurred in September of 1963 and just a few months later Kennedy was killed in November of that same year.

Reflecting on the day Kennedy was killed she recalls “it was a moment that took the attention of all of the country. That weekend people were absorbed by it…there hadn’t been such a moment on national television.”

Kumar says he was a President of “such promise” on the Civil Rights front.

Reverend C.T. Vivian

Reverend C.T. Vivian

Civil Rights leader Reverend C.T Vivian, a Lt. to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr says , “had it not been for our movement and our moving he [Kennedy] could not do anything.” Vivian made his comments in the East Room of the White House about an hour after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rev. Vivian acknowledged President Johnson finished out the mission begun by Kennedy. Reverend C.T. Vivian – LISTEN:

Congressman John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis

In August of 1963 President Kennedy met with leaders of the March on Washington. Congressman Lewis remembers, “The last time I saw President Kennedy alive was the day of the March on Washington. He invited all the speakers to the White House after the march was over. I can still see him standing in the door of the Oval Office beaming, waiting to greet us. He shook the hand of each person saying, “You did a good job. You did a good job.” And when he got to Dr. King he said, “And you had a dream.” More…

Reverend Jesse Jackson remembers President Kennedy, and how in March of 1963, he wrote to the President about his voter registration drive as a student. President Kennedy wrote back to a young Jesse Jackson while he was working with his fraternity Omega Psi Phi on a voter drive.

View the letters exchanged between Rev. Jackson and the White House:

Jackson letter page 1

Jackson letter page 1

 

Jackson Letter Page 2

Jackson Letter Page 2

White House Response

White House Response

Jackson says, “Many people, some who still serve in public office today, got involved with public service because they were inspired by President Kennedy. People joined the Peace Corps, they ran for public office, they volunteered and gave their assistance not simply due to a mandate, but because his leadership made them believe they could make a difference. When he died, a light went out in America and the nation has never quite been the same since. President John F. Kennedy represented the youth, the vigor, the intellect, the imagination and ingenuity of the American identity. We lost a great leader in Dallas on November 22nd. I am not so sure we will be so lucky or so blessed to ever see his likeness again.”

If President Kennedy had lived he would be 96 years old.

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Comments

  1. Remembering President John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a young college bound student, and that sad day when the news spread across the nation…A Special Salute to President John F. Kennedy!

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