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Remembering The Kennedy Assassination, Fifty Years On

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we remember the day, the man and the nation before and after.

A photo of JKF and flowers lay on a plaque at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Loose gatherings of the curious and conspiracy-minded at Dallas’ Dealey Plaza have marked past anniversaries of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But for the 50th anniversary, the city of Dallas has planned a solemn ceremony Friday in the plaza he was passing through when shots rang out. (AP)

A photo of JKF and flowers lay on a plaque at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Loose gatherings of the curious and conspiracy-minded at Dallas’ Dealey Plaza have marked past anniversaries of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But for the 50th anniversary, the city of Dallas has planned a solemn ceremony Friday in the plaza he was passing through when shots rang out. (AP)

November 22nd, 1963.  No American alive that day is likely ever to forget.  The president, the country was told – John F. Kennedy, young, vibrant, magnetic – was dead.  Assassinated.  Shot in Dallas in an open car, wife Jackie at his side.  For fifty years, that terrible, stunning day has been held in national memory.  The idea of a Camelot up against the memory of a shameful, shocking killing.  A killing we would come to see on TV.  This hour, On Point:  for those who remember and for the millions not then born, remembering JFK, and the end that shocked the world.

– Tom Ashbrook


Robert Dallek, presidential historian and author of “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House.” Also author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963.

Robert MacNeil, longtime news anchor at PBS’ MacNeil / Lehrer NewsHour. Host of the special documentary radio project, “We Knew JFK.” Author of “The Way We Were: 1963, The Year Kennedy Was Shot.”

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst.

From Tom’s Reading List

Forbes: Why John F. Kennedy’s Legacy Endures 50 Years After His Assassination — “Most Americans had an emotional response to John F. Kennedy. Either they loved him, admired his youthful vigor, and enjoyed his great wit; or they hated him, thought his father had stolen the presidential election for him, and distrusted him because he was the first Catholic to claim the presidency. In either case, those emotions became tangled up in the story of his death. ”

Washington Post: Book review: ‘Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House’ by Robert Dallek — “Kennedy was devoted to the Great Man theory of history. As he spoke about Churchill, Stalin and Napoleon, ‘his eyes shone with a particular glitter, and it was quite clear that he thought in terms of great men and what they were able to do, not at all of impersonal forces,’ observed the British historian Isaiah Berlin after several conversations with Kennedy at White House dinners. But of course even the greatest men, from time to time, need wise advisers to battle the impersonal forces.”

New York Times: Jacqueline Kennedy’s Smart Pink Suit, Preserved in Memory and Kept Out of View – “For the half century since John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the most famous artifact from that day, one of the most recognizable articles of clothing ever worn, has been seen by almost no one. Now preserved by the National Archives in a climate-controlled vault outside of Washington, it is subject to Kennedy family restrictions that it not be seen for almost a century more. If there is a single item that captures both the shame and the violence that erupted that day, and the glamour and artifice that preceded it, it is Jackie Kennedy’s bloodstained pink suit, a tantalizing window on fame and fashion, her allure and her steely resolve, the things we know about her and the things we never quite will.”

Read An Excerpt Of Robert Dallek’s “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House”

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  • Ed75

    In the death of JFK we get a sense of how people reacted to the death of the martyrs – innocent, good people killed brutally. And we have a sense of awe. Since President Kennedy was a Catholic, one can say that one feels also echoes of the Crucifixion, an echo which the martyrs present us with.

    • brettearle

      JFK was not a religious leader. He was a politician–and some would argue, a statesman. He obviously was, too, a President.

      But to compare him to a religious leader makes no sense. Not only was he an adulterer many times over; but I doubt that Jesus would have approved of some of his policies (as opposed to whether I would have approved of his policies or not):

      with regard to Cuba, and the planned overthrow of that Government, before the Missile Crisis;

      his slow movement forward, initially, towards defending Civil Rights;

      his increased (though measured) commitment to an American presence in a foreign land, in Indo-China.

      Maybe I’m wrong. But I believe that Jesus was neither a Communist nor a Capitalist.

      • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

        He wasn’t a religious leader or theologian, but he manifested the kind of existential thinking that was once the exclusive province of theologians, a kind of thinking that evolved to become secular systems thinking during the 20th Century.

        Today, it’s called by many names, but whatever you want to call it, it’s the Ninth Intelligence in Gardner’s catalog of multiple intelligences.

        • brettearle

          I know you gave a reference. But I am more interested in your own view.

          Could you be more specific, when you refer to, “existential thinking that was once the exclusive province of theologians?”

          Without detail, it sounds pedantic–even though I’m sure you meant something with greater substance.

          • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

            I wrote that referenced document; it reflects my own view of evolution and scope of the Ninth Intelligence.

            See also this additional reference on Pattern Thinking.

    • Leonard Bast

      “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.” John F. Kennedy

  • alsordi

    ??? jack ruby ???

  • ToyYoda

    I keep hearing of how an “American high”, and loss of American innocence and trust in American institutions when it comes to Kennedy’s assassination.

    Please explain to all the blacks in America at the time, how prior to Kennedy’s assassination, they were wide-eyed and innocent to the worse of America and how they must have trusted our institutions and now can’t. Also make a copy to American Indians while you are at it.

    I find this interpretation of this historical event to be terribly inconsiderate and racist, and I wish the media would stop perpetuating how “innocent” America was prior to Kennedy’s death.

    • stephenreal

      do I hear another victim whining? I can play victim too. jerk.

    • tbphkm33

      You fail to appreciate how much the assassination of President Kennedy was a pivotal and transformative event in U.S. history, politics and society. Taken in full content of the other historical events of the time – the Cold War, Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement – this singular event truly was the hinge on which U.S. society turned a corner. The American experience was forever transformed in one event.

      Much like the U.S. was transformed on 9/11. A corner was turned and the country was never the same again. There was no way to go back, it truly was a new world.

      • ToyYoda

        It’s perceptions that get a massive change; the world was/is always changing. Civil rights movement would have continued regardless of Kennedy. 9/11 or some event like it would have happened Al Qaeda had already tried to bomb the world trade center and were already targeting American locations abroad. It’s just that 9/11 succeeded.

  • stephenreal

    I remember thinking as a little kid in the early 70′s: “You’d have to be totally nuts to want to be President of United States”. For what? To get your brains blown out by them? And there was no them. but I didn’t know. It was just one lone “Newtown” shooter on his way to madness.

  • Coastghost

    Oswald killed JFK and simultaneously killed the Kennedy mystique and the myth of “Camelot”.
    Today’s JFK assassination commemoration bespeaks a high level of hushed, reverential grief over the demise of the legend as over the death of the man himself–not more, in all likelihood, but a significant and considerable amount nonetheless.

  • Kathy

    Correction: The guest states that America hasn’t gotten over JFK. The accurate statement is “baby boomers have not gotten over JFK.” The rest of us really have nothing to get over.

    • stephenreal

      And yet you’re here.

    • Leonard Bast

      Correction: The statement that America hasn’t got over the Kennedy assassination is a metaphor for a general sentiment. The guest clearly is not referring to every single American, but to the zeitgeist of our times.

    • tbphkm33

      I say that is patently wrong. A few years ago I was surprised how much my teenage niece knew about President Kennedy and the specter of lost opportunities she attributes to the assignation. President Kennedy’s assignation will forever loom side-by-side with President Lincoln’s assassination a 100 years earlier. They both cast a long shadow of reflection and lost opportunity on U.S. history and society. They are pivotal events unlike other singular events in U.S. history.

    • wbsurfver

      perhaps you should question the history lessons you are taught. Here is one for you, would you find it odd that Martin Luther King’s son Dexter met with James Earl Ray (the convicted killer), Dexter King publicly supported a retrial for James Earl Ray ..

      Does history bore you or are you more interested in video games ? If the assasination of a president does not interest you, then what would ? What about Nazi Germany, genocide ? Some don’t like JFK because he was a democrat and they are not, and I understand but he was more his own man rather than compulsive liar like many of todays politicians. Why do they lie ? They have either been bought off or they know if the don’t lie, maybe there’s a bullet for them too ..


      In 1997, King’s son Dexter met with Ray, and publicly supported his efforts to obtain a retrial. Loyd Jowers, a restaurant owner in Memphis, was brought to civil court and sued as being part of a conspiracy to murder Martin Luther King. Jowers was found legally liable, and the King family accepted $100 in restitution, an amount chosen to show that they were not pursuing the case for financial gain.

      Dr. William Pepper, a friend of King in the last year of his life, represented Ray in a televised mock trial in an attempt to get him the trial he never had. Pepper later represented the King family in a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers. The King family has since concluded that Ray did not have anything to do with the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.[

  • ThirdWayForward

    It is such a sad and profound national tragedy, on so many levels. We have not seen his like since.

  • hennorama

    The caller recounting “having lunch in the Tea Room” sounds so quaint.

  • William

    Things did not change with hate towards Presidents. I remember working in public high school with 50 percent of the students being black. They were cheering when the announcement came over saying President Reagan got shot. It always seemed like an odd reaction by kids in school.

  • Coastghost

    Not the Kennedy Presidency itself, but the pernicious myth cultivated around it arguably gave rise to the untethered idealism that afflicted the Boomers throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.
    “Historians” like Robert Dallek and Jack Beatty, Mr. MacNeil, or mythographers like Dallek, Beatty, et al.?

    • jim_thompson

      “Pernicious myth”? The Presidency and legacy of President Kennedy are not a pernicious myth. Too many of us Jack Kennedy represents all that could be great about America and his tragic assassination all that can be bad. JFK is an American hero on so many fronts. that is no myth, pernicious or otherwise.

      • Coastghost

        Spoken like a true believer.
        Yes, I repeat, “pernicious myth”: the Kennedy cult of personality could not even have been launched if the mythmakers of the 1960s had been doing their jobs as critical thinkers, critical historians, critical journalists. Obama has benefitted from exactly the same kind of critical disengagement.

  • ThirdWayForward

    Pardon me, but I cannot see how anyone with half a mind can talk about Kennedy and Reagan in the same breath.

    In terms of vision, intellect, and moral courage Kennedy towers over Reagan. Put in the same position, I cannot imagine Reagan ever supporting the movement for civil rights in the way Kennedy did.

    Kennedy’s support for civil rights caused the flip in our politics that is at the core of the political divide today. Ironically, the South and the spiritual descendants of the Confederacy now form the backbone of the Republican Party.

    • jim_thompson

      Thank you. Well stated and very true.

    • William

      Kennedy voted against the civil rights bill in 1957. He was against the March on Washington. He and Bobby were primary concern was the 1964 election and Blacks would have to take a back seat.

    • James

      I’ve always wondered about you. Your name is “thirdwayforward” which implies if not centrist social justice through private means. Yet your comments are almost always filled with vitriol to Republicans, more so then almost any of the other liberal regulars. What is your third way forward, Socialism?

  • tbphkm33

    “: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

    It is an interesting discussion relating to the pivoting change that took place in U.S. history with the assassination of President Kennedy. How would the country and the world have been different if a visionary like JFK had been able to serve two full terms in the White House.

    • brettearle

      For one thing, we would never have mythologized somewhat of an imaginary hero.

      I liked JFK, as much as the next guy. But if he had looked more like Nixon and Jackie looked more like Pat, I frankly think that the ardor would have been reduced.

      That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been an enormous historical tragedy.

      Of course, it would have.

      The Cuban Missile Crisis, alone, would have made JFK’s mark in history. And you could argue that he frankly saved mankind.

      But he bungled Bay of Pigs, badly, and he certainly didn’t pull us out of VietNam.

      But the fact is, underneath it all, we mourn the loss of photogenic Royalty more than anything else. and we do not wish to admit and acknowledge this.

      • tbphkm33

        I agree with that assessment. It is akin to the death of Elvis – would he have become as popular if he had not died at a pivotal point? Had Elvis not passed away, would he today not be known as the aging lounge singer of Las Vegas?

        • brettearle

          I see the parallel–although Elvis was an ICON like Monroe, Dean [not Howard or Rusk], or Ali.

          Therefore, even if Elvis’s career declined, his status would have, reasonably, remained.

          Dylan and McCartney are beyond their peak–but they are not necessarily seen as side shows.

  • JellyJelly66

    Massachusetts native and child of baby boomers here.

    All Kennedy fatigue aside, I appreciate the shock of JFK’s assassination to that generation’s system as one akin to the shock of the terrorist attacks on 9-11-01.

    However, I find no comfort in these memorials. Both events enjoy a reverence and mythology purely because they are fraught with meaning and formality that can be processed and debated. Frankly, the real shocker lies in the relative infrequence of political assassination and foreign terrorism on U.S. soil.

    The true erosion of American “innocence” can be found in the steady stream of gun violence in the U.S. that has become nearly mundane in its prevalence. Our neighbors, our children shoot each other and themselves every single day – not to protest some policy or political figure – but because our current gun policies support it. That is truly a loss of innocence.

    • jim_thompson

      As a Boston, Massachusetts native and an Irish Catholic I will never suffer from what you call “Kennedy fatigue”. All four of the Kennedy brothers gave their lives to this country, three of them killed in the service of this nation and the last, Senator Ted Kennedy passing away while still serving the people of the Commonwealth and nation. For that service I am forever grateful and shall never suffer from any fatigue as a result.

      • JellyJelly66

        Sorry for my glib choice of words. No offense intended – I’ve edited.

        • jim_thompson

          Thanks…and my apologies for going on a rant. Perhaps it is the day. For too long I have heard some very malicious things about JFK and his family. They were not perfect, but their service stands. I must say I should have known you are not in that bunch of Kennedy haters judging by the overall eloquence of your remarks and sincere concern over gun violence.

    • brettearle

      JFK’s assassination was, unquestionably, a savage and brutal juncture in 20th century history.

      But I think 9/11 is more significant and not because it happened, more recently.

  • jim_thompson

    I was a very young kid at the time. I recall that all the older people-which was everyone else to me at that time-were at the house and that they were all watching the tv. Both the men and women had tears in their eyes. I do recall vividly the funeral procession of President Kennedy. If anyone is interested a must listen and read is the recently released WGBH and Boston Symphony Orchestra announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination and BSO librarian’s recollection of that afternoon.

  • rkean

    Being 16 when Kennedy was murdered I remember it well. After we get more of the truth about who did it I’ll indulge in nostalgia about it. You don’t have to be a conspiracy buff to know that the Warren Report was discredited from day one. Oswald was arrested for shooting at a policeman and you have to believe in the magic bullet theory to believe he killed the President. With Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, serving on the Warren Commission the fix was in. James Douglass in his book “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters” talks about the “complex alliance of right-wing forces including agencies of the US government” which wanted Kennedy eliminated. This description of the book is a quote from that radical rag, The Library Journal.

    Let’s demand real answers about who actually killed Kennedy. Isn’t that the least expected of citizens of a functioning democracy? Do we elect a President and then say “oh well, now he’s dead 50 years- what’s on TV, when’s the next Patriot’s game, should I get the newest, slightly different smart-phone, etc, ad nauseum. Kennedy gave us the Peace Corps and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Can’t we respect him enough to demand more of the truth about who killed him?

    • Coastghost

      See: it’s still not too late to keep the “Twilight Zone” theme cued and ready to roll.
      There was never a “magic bullet”: the 160-grain slug that went through Kennedy’s throat (without hitting bone) exited to hit Connolly: nothing too terribly magical about physics, ballistics, et cetera. The “magical thought” consists of the perceived need to invoke a vast conspiracy where no credible evidence of conspiracy exists.
      All JFK assassination conspiracy theories are components of the JFK/Camelot mythology: “he HAD to have been killed by some malign cabal, Oswald just COULDN’T have acted alone”. All the magic is in the groundless invocation of “conspiracy”.

      • rkean

        Yes that is the point, there was no magic bullet but would have to be to make the Warren Report hold water. Both John Kerry and John McLaughlin (PBS McLaughlin Report) think there is more to the story than Oswald- conspiracy theorists?

        • Coastghost

          Whatever methodological or analytic shortcomings the Warren Comm. report exhibited, it can hardly be construed as a whitewash (RFK was a panelist, and despite his lingering misgivings, as JFK’s AG, he was in perfect position to move the inquiry as he saw fit).
          The Warren Report does not require any “magic bullet”: it accounts for the single bullet that struck JFK and then struck Gov. Connolly.
          No doubt, there’s more to Oswald’s story than we’re ever likely to learn, but there’s not enough ambiguity about his career to indicate plainly that he was party to any conspiracy to assassinate JFK.
          Machiavelli was as clear-eyed an observer of political machinations as any to’ve come along in the past half millennium: consult ch. XIX of “The Prince” for his passing analysis of conspiracy as modus operandi.

          • rkean

            At least 3 of the 7 on the Warren Commission didn’t accept the single, magic bullet explanation of Kennedy’s murder. Your determination to talk about conspiracy seems to blind you to the possibility and importance of looking broadly at the issues and circumstances around President Kennedy’s death.

          • Coastghost

            Well, your insistence on treating the single bullet that wounded both JFK and Connolly as “magical” is belied utterly and entirely by ballistic science: no magic was required for the bullet (the second one Oswald fired) to traverse its trajectory.
            All the “magic” you want to allude to pertains exclusively to the entire spectrum of JFK assassination conspiracy hypotheses.

    • brettearle

      The day JFK was shot Oswald left all of his cash and his wedding ring on the top of his bureau dresser–before he left that morning.

      He was visited for quite a long time–over a period of many months or several years–by a man with high-level political connections and was an operative for Defense Military Intelligence. His name was George DeMorenshildt.

      These two seemingly unrelated events I find rather compelling in their implications–as to Oswald’s possible participation.

      There is no good reason why this representative, from the Intelligence Community, should be visiting with Oswald–on a number of occasions.

      They traveled in vastly different social circles.

      These matters, above, have been cited, from many sources.

  • Coastghost

    If you’re attempting to rebuke me for my inability to explicate why the leadership of the Democratic Party chose to exploit paranoia for political motivation, I concede the justice of your criticism: I cannot explain it to my satisfaction.
    Nevertheless, history gives ample reason for drawing such a conclusion, and while the strategy may have made sense during the Cold War era, it arguably has long outlived its usefulness and is only poisoning domestic political discourse today as a consequence of its, errr ummm uhhh, liberal use.

  • Agnostic58

    The saddest commentary for me is that America is still not a safe place for its presidents and that perspective is scarcely if ever mentioned. The over the top security, police state like efforts to keep presidents safe would be a caricature in almost any other advanced democracy. Americans cry about the indeed tragic loss of a man but accept with nary a peep the conditions and mindset that create such tragedies in the first place. All the reflection about where one was, what one felt at the time of the incident is, the loss of the man, the strength of his widow is all understandable. But the lack of reflection on the wisdom of what it means about America itself baffles me.

    • fun bobby

      being the president has always been a dangerous job. about 10% murder rate, its worse than working at 7-11. What do you think we ought to do about it?

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