[MUSIC] For any political scientist, studying JFK, in some respect, is virtually inevitable. But for me, the poignancy of his presidency extends beyond my academic interest. Before I switch to the role of neutral analyst, I'd like to share with you a few personal recollections as a way of explaining my special interest in my subject. John F Kennedy is bound up with the memories of my youth. When I think of Kennedy I think of my devout Roman Catholic parents. I visualize my Catholic elementary school in Norfolk Virginia. The priests and nuns alive then, my lay teachers and classmates and a time distant, and yet somehow still near and dear. I recall first becoming aware of JFK at the age of seven in the Spring of 1960. Everyone at my St.Pius X Parochial School felt the excitement of the first serious Roman Catholic candidacy for President since Democratic nominee Al Smith ran and lost badly in 1928. In an era when most families actually ate supper together in the dining room, the topic at the table would often be current events. My dad, a World War II veteran who was determined to make me a good citizen despite myself, subscribed to several newspapers and magazines. And with his and Mom's help I got into the habit of looking at the news rather early in life. That explains a lot of the good and bad things about me even today. The vast majority of Catholics backed Jack Kennedy, not surprisingly, and that included my extended Italian American family. Dad took me to the local Democratic headquarters, which was well stocked with Kennedy literature and bumper stickers. I loaded up and took some to school, with a Kennedy sticker emblazoned on my book bag. And wouldn't you know it, I was severely reprimanded for this by the Pastor, and had to collect the pamphlets and strip off the Kennedy sticker from my own satchel. As it turned out, he as a Republican from Mississippi. I had, as my Catholic pastor, what must have been one of the only Republican priests around. It was my first real understanding that politics makes for strange bedfellows. And people aren't going to agree on controversial subjects, even when they have a lot in common. That July, my parents and I watched large parts of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, when Kennedy was nominated. It was hard not to watch since all three networks carried it gavel to gavel. Nothing else was on television. I was too young to have understood much that Kennedy said in his acceptance speech but I liked the way he said it. I don't recall if I watched all four of the Kennedy Nixon debates in the fall but I certainly remembered the first. That was a big deal. It was unprecedented in American history, and we'll discuss it later on in this class. Suffice it to say, you could of heard a pin drop in and out of the house. My indelible memory of the 1960 campaign didn't come from TV however. In the mistaken belief that Kennedy had a chance to carry Virginia, he lost it 53% to 47%. JFK nonetheless, visited Norfolk on November 4th, 1960, just days before the actual election. Even better, JFK's motorcade drove within a block or so of my school. My mother, who worked at the school, took me over to see the drive by. I can still recall the fleeting image of Kennedy sitting on the back of an open top convertible, waving to us as we stood on the side of the road. There was a police escort, but essentially no one around the presidential candidate. After the commotion passed, I turned to my mom and said something we recalled on November 22nd, 1963. Where were his guards? I meant the Secret Service Agents of course. But in those days incredibly, Secret Service Agents were not assigned until the night of the election, after a candidate had become President Elect. Anyone could have taken a pot shot at the leading Presidential candidate in office that day or any day of the campaign. JFK and his fellow candidates were so terribly vulnerable. >> But personal contact with the people is still an essential feature of an American presidential campaign. [APPLAUSE] Senator Kennedy, a tireless campaigner goes to all sections of the country spelling his views on domestic and foreign policy. On foreign policy, the overriding issue is the maintenance of peace and meeting the challenge of the international situation. On domestic affairs, he stresses the government's role in meeting economic and social problems. >> It was a tragedy waiting to happen. A bit later, my dad took me to the Kennedy rally at Granby High School near our home. To a small boy the crowd seemed gigantic, and the atmosphere was undeniably electric. I can't recall a thing Kennedy said, though my father later recounted that Kennedy invoked Virginia's Thomas Jefferson, and suggested, in essence, that he knew Vice President Nixon. Nixon was a friend of his, and Nixon was no Thomas Jefferson. On election night sitting with my parents in our living room, we watched the results on both CBS and NBC, flipping back and forth between the channels. The early returns, mainly from friendly Northeast states, and some loyal democratic Southern states, were heavily in Kennedy's direction. It looked deceptively like a decisive margin, or, so I thought, when Mom made me go to bed around 9:30. But, when I awoke early the next morning to get ready for school Dad told me the race was still undecided, but he thought it was leaning Kennedy's way. For an eight year old, that was good enough for me. And the news made for a memorable day at school. >> As morning comes to the cities of the Eastern states, the newspapers headline senator Kennedy's election to the presidency. Yet at this hour the popular vote is so close, that it appears he will win by probity of less then 1%. >> There was one other school day with as much exhilaration, Kennedy's inauguration on January 20, 1961. Teachers wheeled into the classroom a creaky 1950's style cathode ray tube television, for us to watch the Kennedy swearing in. The hush in the room was testimony to our concentration. We didn't truly comprehend what the new President had said, but like everyone else, we knew he'd done a fine job of saying it. I shot home after school, to grab the evening paper and read the inaugural address over and over. I had key parts memorized in no time. The next day I was disappointed to discover that my friends had done the very same thing. So no one was impressed with the achievement. No presidential swearing in speech has ever had such an effect on Americans. We realized we had seen and heard something very special. After the campaign and inauguration I went back to being a kid. I didn't follow politics terribly closely, although there was always talk at the dinner table about Kennedy's actions on this and that. And criticism of him from time to time. I did notice that mom and her sisters, and friends got new hairdo's. They were dead ringers for Jackie Kennedy's bouffant. Millions of women followed the style set by the new First Lady. That certainly hadn't happened under Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower. Then there was the Cuban Missile crisis. Even children paid attention, and we were scared. I lived less than a mile from the largest naval installation in the United States. And though no one had seen the Soviet Union's strategic targets, we had a pretty good idea that we were in the bull's eye for a Russian nuclear bomb. We'll discuss the Cuban missile crisis and other events during the Kennedy years that brought the world perilously close to nuclear destruction. As Kennedy's presidency wore on, the uniqueness of it wore off and Kennedy's Catholicism was mentioned less frequently by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In the late fall of 1963, young minds were sharply focused on Thanksgiving and the religious season of Advent, with Christmas barely a month away. I don't remember anything about Friday, November 22nd, 1963, until there was a knock at the door of my sixth grade classroom, a little after 2 PM Eastern Standard Time. Our teacher, a nun dressed in her black and white habit went to the door for a message and then clasped a hand across her chest, as though her heart had skipped a beat, and she motioned in the classroom for silence. I have terrible news, she announced to the class. President Kennedy has been shot in Texas. The class gasped as one. Unaware that the president was already dead, she told us, he is still alive, and we must pray for him. Take out your rosary beads. Rosaries were standard equipment in a Catholic school in 1963, and we lifted our desktops and grabbed our beads. Led by Sister Robert Marian, we began the series of Hail Marys and Our Fathers as we held on to each bead for dear life. Perhaps 20 minutes later, a second knock stopped us cold, and we held our breath. Sister Robert had to say nothing. Her tears told the story. We sat in stunned silence, which gave way to widespread sobbing. Someone from the main office announced over the school speakers, the President of the United States is dead. School is dismissed. Gather your things quietly and wait on the breeze way for the buses or your parents. My mother was already waiting in the car to pick up my cousin Donna and me. She had had the day off from work and was grocery shopping when a friend told her the news. Mom was as orderly a person as has ever lived. But she literally left a half full cart in the aisle, and ran out onto the street to try to call my dad on a payphone. There were no cells back then. The lines were all ready overloaded, and she couldn't get through. So she hopped in the car and drove to my school. So did virtually every parent who was free. The buses went out half empty. People needed to gather their families together as quickly as possible for emotional support. And to gird for whatever lay ahead. With the Cuban Missile Crisis just 13 months old, more than a few people feared that a Soviet nuclear first strike could follow the assassination. Lyndon Johnson and others thought the very same thing. With telephone spotty everyone gathered around the television set. CBS replayed the terrible moments when anchor Walter Cronkite announced the death of the President. The long pause to control his emotions as he took his eyeglasses off and put them on again, captured the extreme distress we all felt. Television was our link through four sad days in November. We sat and watched and cried with normal routine suspended. With the quick capture of Lee Harvey Oswald, law enforcement officials appeared to answer the whodunit. That wouldn't last long as we learned the full picture wasn't quite so tidy. It was jarring to hear Lyndon Johnson, President for just a few hours, step up to the microphones and make his short simple statement about the loss that cannot be weighed, while pledging to do his best. The TV networks signed off around midnight. Not having the personnel or capacity to do the 24 hour coverage to which we are now accustomed in crisis. Few Americans slept well or at all. The fog of that night is best described as the fitful tossing and turning that occurs after a close family member dies. On Saturday we learned bits and pieces about the shooting in Dallas. And the plans for President Kennedy's lying in state and funeral. We were starting to get a partial picture of Lee Harvey Oswald who was offering statements to the press, as he was shuttled from place to place in the mob scene known as police headquarters in Dallas. Dad made trips then and later on to news stands for the instant commemorative editions of newspapers and magazines. Even a record album of JFK's speeches. The stabilizing picture was obliterated on Sunday when the first live murder took place on American television. Everyone is familiar with the film clip of Oswald being mortally wounded by club owner, Jack Ruby. And unfortunately, live violence is very common on TV today. In 1963, though, it was an unknown fright. And it also caused millions, including my father, to speculate that it was a conspiracy. They killed Oswald was the refrain heard around the nation, not Ruby killed Oswald. Later in the class we'll talk more about Oswald and watch news coverage of that whole weekend. Monday was solemn as JFK's funeral played out and created images never to be forgotten by Americans alive at the time. Thanksgiving occurred just three days later. It was the saddest holiday most people could remember. My extended family gathered, and what I most remembered, other then the sorrow, was the unanimity of belief in a conspiracy. Literally no one thought Oswald had acted alone, and no one thought Ruby hadn't been sent mob style to silence the assassin. And for the first time, I heard the cynicism that was to spring from November 22nd, 1963. My relative said, we'll never find out the truth. The government will hush it up. That tilt toward conspiracy quickly hardened, and nearly guaranteed a negative reception for the Warren Commission report, when it was released in September 1964. Throughout the last month of 1963 and most of 1964, small details and occasional photos of the tragedy in Dallas leaked out. But there was no gusher. We had only a relative handful of photos of the actual assassination scene, and some color film of the Kennedy arrival in Dallas. How different from today, when everyone records and photographs everything, and it's instantly available online and on TV. The Zapruder film had been taken by the government and was under lock and key for the official investigation. It was years before the public realized just how gory the shooting really was. Many frames of the Zapruder film appeared in Life Magazine on November 25th, 1966. But the editors published only the ones preceding the fatal headshot. This was a very different time. At the peak of the Cold War, the American public was not deemed mature enough to handle the gruesome facts. And most people didn't appear to demand much additional information from the media or the government, at least at first. This kind of deference is utterly foreign to Americans in the 21st century and most would say that's a welcome change indeed. The Kennedy soap opera became a permanent staple of news and culture after the assassination. A tale of triumph and tragedy interwoven. Much of the Kennedy story has been transformed and amended since November 22nd, 1963, and we'll explore many of those details in the Kennedy half century course. We study November 22nd, 1963 in large measure, because it was a crucial line of demarcation, much like Pearl Harbor or the day Lincoln was shot, or September 11th. A certain kind of history ended and another began. Our outlook as individuals and as a country was much different before and after each event. Generational innocence died in each case. A leader's legacy, a kind of life after death is shaped by a career's beginning and middle, not just an awful ending. Enough time has passed for Americans to put John F Kennedy, the whole man and his entire career in perspective. In many ways the tragedy in Dealey Plaza essentially wiped away the sins of John F Kennedy's personal life, and the inadequacies of his Presidency. He had everything taken from him at the height of his power. And the nation lost a great deal in that tragedy. The outrageous unfairness of the moment seared and bonded Americans together. In the blink of an eye, the country had changed forever. The youngest elective Chief Executive in US history, became the youngest to die. Political power is created in many ways, winning an election, facing down an enemy, or skillfully riding the waves of popular opinion. But lasting power is accorded to only a handful of presidents, especially after their death. There is no doubt that John Kennedy is one of the few, and later on I'll show how and why. The tragedy overwhelmed the public senses and raised a host of painful questions. How could it happen? In the 50 years since the assassination, Democratic and Republican Presidents alike had used Kennedy's words and actions in an effort to craft their own political images. Why does Kennedy's influence persist, and will it continue? We'll address these questions and more as we explore the Kennedy half-century. We'll begin our next segment with a look back at who John F Kennedy was and how his background set the stage for his successes in politics.