I took the morning and afternoon of Friday, March 17th to tour the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. This is where President John F. Kennedy was assasinnated on November 22nd, 1963. I went to pay my respects and learn more about this iconic figure in American History. The museum is a place haunted by the acts that occurred on that tragic day, however it also serves as the place to remember a legacy that will forever lead this country towards a better tomorrow. I decided to write about my takeaways from this experience, including important information about JFK that I believe everyone should know or be reminded of. It’s a lot of information, but I promise you it’s worth the read. Here’s my tribute to a man taken far before his time, I hope you find this piece of history both moving and inspiring.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. – From The Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C. on January 20, 1961
In 1960 against Richard Nixon, Kennedy’s campaign revolved around the idea of a generational movement. America was standing on the threshold of a new frontier. He told the country it was a time for imagination and courage and perseverance to propel us forward. He asked Americans to be pioneers of these new ideas, of peace and equality at home and abroad. His debates with Nixon were the first ever in history to be televised, and his good looks are believed to have helped him win the election. People were used to old presidents, so Kennedy and his family made all forms of news and appearances, giving him a familiarity that was never seen before. The Kennedy’s also gave off a sense of sophistication, supporting many forms of art and culture, hosting all sorts of events at the White House. No catholic had ever won, nobody so young had ever been elected. Known for his impromptu moments and charisma, he offered something different than the traditional American President. America was on the brink of change. To Kill A Mockingbird was addressing racial issues within the country, and A Silent Spring provoked a sense of environmentalism never seen before.
Once elected, Kennedy was very active as President. His administration provided the foundation for Medicare, The Mass Transportation Act, and The War on Poverty. He worked to improve minimum wage, and focused efforts on environmental conservation. Change was indeed his initiative, and he was the perfect man for the job. During his time in office, the American economy was booming and things were looking up. Segregation was wide spread in the early 1960s. After the election many believed that Kennedy was the way out of racial segregation. He backed a bill that would end segregation, certainly influenced by the famous March on Washington that took place in August of 1963.
While so much was happening domestically, there was a whole other realm involving foreign affairs during Kennedy’s time in office. The Red Threat was still very much a concern for Americans. It was communism vs. democracy, and you were either on one side or the other. Nuclear war was a major concern in 1960s when the U.S. found Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. Kennedy didn’t invade Cuba, and rather created a block aid to prevent further import of these weapons. The Soviets backed down, and Kennedy was seen as a hero. He became a respected figure across the world. He was willing to hold his cards and test the opposition. I believe his diplomatic strategies were effective towards potential threats across the world because he handled the situations respectfully and professionally (not jabbing at a particular someone, but maybe I am). There’s a lot to be said about his patience in urgent matters that could be costly if handled improperly. Take for example the Vietnam War, and how that situation was handled before and after Kennedy’s death (again, that’s just my opinion).
During Kennedy’s tenure, The American Space Program accelerated to levels never seen before. By October 4, 1957, the Soviets had taken the lead in the “Race to Space” after launching Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit. Sputnik’s launch came as a surprise, and not a pleasant one to most Americans. Astronaut John Glen was the first American to orbit earth, a victory in the race against the Soviet Union. Kennedy promised to land a man on the moon within the decade, to become the undisputed leader in this race to space. Enter Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.
Kennedy certainly had a way of getting things done. He was a determined man that people listened to, not so much because they had to but because they wanted to.
Now we’ll dive into the second part of this passage. What happened on November 22nd 1963? This is the question that continues to stir up controversy. We’ll start with the fatal trip to Texas. Why was Kennedy there? Of all places he was shot in Dallas, Texas. Why is that? A trip to Texas was imperative for the 1964 presidential reelection campaign. Many Texas conservative democrats were displeased with Kennedy’s programs and threatened to vote republican in 1964. Kennedy hoped to smooth a rift between liberals and conservatives. The itinerary included visits to San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin with motorcades at each stop. Kennedy tended to mingle with crowds at each stop (remember, he was known for his impromptu moments), creating difficult security problems.
November 22nd, 1963: The Kennedy’s arrived at Love Field. The motorcade left the air field heading to Dallas at 11:50AM. It was a sunny day, and the president refused to ride in the protective glass bubble that attached onto the vehicle he was in. Most people in Dallas were excited to see him, however some right wing extremists were not so welcoming. Some of Kennedy’s advisors urged him not to go to Dallas. There were all sorts of alarms being sounded, nobody thought he would be harmed, but they feared it would be troublesome for Dallas and would increase tension and political dismay. Regardless, the president decided to go. The motorcade came down Main Street, taking a right turn onto Houston, then turning left onto Elm Street, where the shots were fired.
This next part may be tough to hear, but I’ve decided to share this so you can experience what I heard from the recorded recollections of some witnesses.
“I can remember hearing a boom boom, I thought someone had thrown some fire crackers or something.”
“The president grabbed this throat, after he threw his hands out in the air, he then lurched to his left, so I knew something was wrong ,something had happened. I jumped from my car and ran towards the presidential vehicle”
“The third shot rang out, and the visual was of flesh flying through the air, and a white mass followed by red coming out of his head. People were screaming and it was utter chaos at that time”
These recollections were taken from several people at the scene of the assassination in Dealey Plaza. After the shots rang out, the limousine sped four miles to Parkland Hospital, one of the leading trauma centers in the nation at that time.
“There was no screaming in that horrible car. It was just a silent, terrible drive.” -Nellie Connally, The First Lady of Texas at the time. To hear more of her experience from that day, click here.
Within minutes of the incident, the news started spreading worldwide. People across the world stopped what they were doing, and tuned in to hear the news. It’s one of those life events that people will always remember, easily recalling where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was shot. It made me reflect on 9/11 and how that impacted me even at the age of 8. I can remember in vivid detail what I was doing and where I was when the twin towers went down. I remember I was playing kickball at recess in Morgantown WV, and the assistant principal came out to get me, gathering my siblings as well. We were picked up by mom to spend the day at home together as a family. I remember watching the news, trying to understand how this was happening, why it was happening, and who was responsible. I was 8 years old, and in one day my perception of the world and everyone in it changed. After that day, I came to realize there’s a certain evil in the world that I’ll never understand. We all try to comprehend how people just like us can do something so detrimental to society without a sense of consciousness towards their actions on others. It’s the intent that really haunts us. As long as there are those who wish to infringe upon a world of peace, the world will always be divided and at war.
Back to the assassination. The President had been shot, but by who and from where? Many witnesses said they heard shots from The Grassy Noll, a grass bank up the street closer to where the shots hit President Kennedy. This turned out not to be where the shots were taken. In the Depository off Elm Street, police officers found some evidence on the 6th floor, where a bunch of boxes had been set up near a window. Employees of the Depository, upon taking roll call, realized a relatively new employee was unaccounted for. His name, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Oswald was apprehended at a nearby theater, and taken into custody. Upon his transfer to another holding facility he was shot by a local night club owner, Jack Ruby.
And just like that, the only suspect for Kennedy’s assassination was gone. Oswald proclaimed he was innocent, however his finger prints were found on a rifle near the Depository. It turned out Oswald had purchased the rifle by mail order from a store in Chicago. “$12.78, the price of the President of the United States life, had apparently been bought.”
Many believe Ruby wanted to be remembered as the hero who shots the guy who shot President Kennedy, but many other theories say otherwise. I’ll come back to this.
I then moved to a part of the museum showing Lyndon B. Johnson’s recital of the oath of office, on Air Force One leaving Dallas the day of the assassination. They had waited for Kennedy’s casket to board the plane in Dallas before taking off. Federal District Judge Sarah T. Hughes read the oath of office to Johnson, now the 36th President of the United States. “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God” – Lyndon B. Johnson, 2:38PM, November 22, 1963.
A national survey showed that the assassination caused more than two thirds of the American people to experience some physical symptoms of illness and emotional distress; at home or abroad most compared the loss of the American President to that of a family member or close friend. He was exactly that to many people. He was a young family man, seen by the public as a role model for the promising future of a free country. He was all of that and more, and to lose a leader with such potential was detrimental on the American spirit. Over 250,000 people came to pay their last respects during public viewing hours on Sunday, November 24th. The ceremony included over 7,000 members of the military, and was attended by over one hundred leaders from foreign nations. The ceremonies were modeled after Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, upon request from Mrs. Kennedy. That Monday, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was buried in Arlington Memorial Cemetery, on a hillside overlooking the Lincoln Memorial. Kennedy’s widow lit an eternal flame to mark the place, then she returned to the White House to greet foreign leaders.
I then went into a dark room showing a video of Kennedy’s funeral, showing people across the world who were morning this tragic loss. People everywhere prayed and grieved; bag pipes rang, buddhists meditated, and at the ceremony a bugler played a slow and moving rendition of taps, accompanied by a three- volley solute. Very moving, very sad.
I won’t dive into detail regarding the investigations following the assassination of President Kennedy, but I will mention that to this day there are still countless conspiracies prying at the truth behind the assassination. The Warren Commission, a group of eight highly selected individuals (including future president Gerald R. Ford) published the Warren Report in 1964, a famous 888 page report on the Kennedy assassination. This report was presented to President Johnson. The report stated that “Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor window of the Depository- one shot missed. Governor Connally (also in the presidential vehicle in front of JFK) was hit by a bullet that had passed through Kennedy’s neck, and Kennedy was hit in the head by the third shot.” That was that, but many people weren’t happy with those findings. After Oswalds murder, 52% of the country believed the assassination was part of a plot. Plenty of other reports were conducted, however no ground breaking evidence was ever produced to provide a solid counter argument.
Conspiracy theories include possible leads to:
-New Orleans Scenario
-The Cuban Government
-The Far Right
Many of these theories come from people’s inability to accept that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could’ve killed someone as consequential as Kennedy. I promised I wouldn’t dive into this so I won’t, but I felt obligated to emphasize the magnitude of controversy over Kennedy’s assassination. Books have been written about it, and many believe to this day there is a different story than what was told. The difficult part about history is once it’s written, it’s hard to change.
Summary: In his three years, Kennedy reached milestones with civil rights, space exploration, world peace, foreign affairs, and much more. We’ll never know what else he could’ve accomplished, but to this day he continues to inspire people to make the world a better place. He gave off a sense of urgency, a sense of motivation to accomplish great things, “not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.” He took on challenges world wide, meeting urgent needs for those who truly needed the help. He advocated for the benefit of society as a whole, for people to take on these challenges within their own power. The people can choose to be an anvil – or a hammer, he once said. Kennedy’s legacy lives on in memorials throughout the world. To many, he’s a symbol of world peace, in life he spoke passionately for it.
Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put and end to mankind. Let us call a truce to terror, let us invoke the blessings of peace. -John F. Kennedy
His life and death offer an opportunity of us to reflect on who we are as a nation. The Sixth Floor Museum presents Kennedy’s life and legacy in ways that help visitors reflect upon the tragedy that occurred that day fatal day in November of 1963. By preserving this sight, the museum helps visitors to understand that they are the path to a better society. We need to find this sense of urgency within ourselves to make the world a better place. There will always be opposition, but nothing can overcome the power of a united front.
So I’ll ask you again: How do you define a legacy? Perhaps it means to leave something behind that will provide a stepping stone towards a better tomorrow. Do it for your children, for the next generation of people you’ll one day pass the torch to. Find a sense of fulfillment towards giving back. In doing so you’ll find happiness far greater than what any sum of cash could buy. We all need to play a part in this effort for the greater good of society, it’s the vision Kennedy paved for the future of America. So lets make this world a better place together.