Little Rock Mayor Byron Morse issued a proclamation declaring November 25, 1963, an official day of mourning in Little Rock. On December 2, 1963, the Little Rock City Board passed a resolution mourning the loss of President Kennedy and expressing their support for his successor President Johnson.
While he had made remarks to open the State Fair on that day in October, the President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Wilbur Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code. He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs. In his speeches, he went into detail praising the six members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation – each of whom held powerful leadership positions and committee chairmanships.
On the day after the President was killed, the Arkansas Gazette ran quotes from several Arkansas leaders, still shocked and in profound mourning. Senator J. William Fulbright called the killing “a tragedy beyond words.” Senator John L. McClellan noted he was “shocked beyond expression.” Congressman Mills declared he was ‘too shaken and stunned to say much at this time.” Congressman Oren Harris confessed he “could not adequately express” his feelings, while Congressman J. W. Trimble called it “very, very tragic” and Congressman E. C. Gathings termed it “a calamity.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, the second of nine children. Groomed for leadership by his father Joe and mother Rose, he was thrust even more into the path of political greatness following the World War II death of his elder brother Joe Jr. A war hero himself, following his leadership after the attack of PT-109, he was first elected to Congress from Massachusetts in 1946. He would be re-elected in 1948 and 1950. In 1952, he challenged incumbent Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and beat him. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1958.
Following the oldest President (at the time), the young Kennedy administration seemed to captivate the country. During his 1000 days in office, Kennedy faced many challenges both foreign (Bay of Pigs, Cuba missile crisis, start of Vietnam) and domestic (civil rights, organized crime). His ambitious “New Frontier” focused on education, additional services to rural areas and medical care for the elderly. He also focused on getting the US to the moon.
Together with Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, JFK embodied not only his generation but the mood of the country. And his quotes resonate today including:
My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Ich bin ein Berliner