Ninety-nine years ago today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born. After a too brief 1,000 days in the Presidency, he is memorialized by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts which was designed by Arkansas native Edward Durell Stone.
On October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas. In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris. Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees. The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.
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 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.
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.
Kennedy had been seen as a strong potential Vice Presidential candidate for the Democrats in 1956. But his father discouraged this fearing that a loss to Eisenhower/Nixon would set him back in the future. In 1960, the young, dashing Senator from the Bay State sought the Democratic nomination. After a contentious primary season where he often ran against senate colleagues, Kennedy headed into the Democratic convention with the most delegates. He added his chief rival, Texas Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson as his running mate.
After a close election, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket bested Vice President Richard Nixon and his running mate Henry Cabot Lodge (the selfsame former Senator who had been defeated by Kennedy 8 years earlier).
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.
On the personal front, in 1953 he married Jacqueline Bouvier. In addition to their daughter Caroline and son John Jr., who survived their father, the Kennedy’s had a miscarriage, a stillborn daughter, and son Patrick who died after two days.
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