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What John F. Kennedy Means to Us

Fifty years ago today, one of the nation’s most beloved presidents, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in a cold blood drive-by in Dallas, Texas.

For many of us, we learned of this day through our textbooks and the rumor mill that’s encased with theoretical whodonits and inflated conspiracies. Yet for the childhood of our parents and memories of our grandparents, those passing minutes of footage showing a dying JFK with a stunned Jackie O rushing to salvage his wounds in the backseat of a limo were a moment in time that forever changed America.

JFK’s death was only the beginning of more turbulence in the search for equality in every facet of modern American life. He asked us to ask ourselves what we can or could do for our country. And, after years of the brutal interactions between Blacks and Whites, he was gunned down by a White American. Since 1963, JFK has been exalted and given celebrity status. He was one of those charismatic, talented leaders and hopeful heroes so inspiring that, long after they’ve been gone, their words and work remain as influential reminders of what is and was possible.

If you are a Black child growing up post 1980, you likely grew up being told that Kennedy wanted to help Black people. The evidence itself was hazy at first, but when viewing pictures of anyone standing next to Dr. King and Fred Shuttlesworth, with a genuine smile and handshake, spoke volumes to a 10-year-old when learning about your nation’s past.

As the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death approached, Black scholars have been looking deeper into the reasons why Black people love JFK. No, he didn’t get to do what he had planned, but the potential of his role in the Civil Rights movement has been enough to secure him a place in a picture frame next to the ancestors of one’s own family and public figures such as MLK (and now) President Obama.

Before his untimely death, for Black people of his time, he was the long-lost brother from another mother. His push for change communicated to an entire group that he was on their side and his legacy is endearing, personal, and complex. When Kennedy was sworn into the presidency in 1961, America, and even world relations, were in a tailspin of confusion, animosity, fear, and distrust. While he may have initially been removed from the situation of racism in America, it was also a matter of respect and acknowledgement in addressing what was affecting so many.

During his brief tenure, for “the Man for the ‘60s,” it was obviously a smart move on his camp’s part to respond sympathetically to such situations. By 1963, it can be determined that Kennedy, by then part of “Camelot,” seemed to truly warm up to being a captain of amendment. After the death of Emmett Till in the previous decade and controversy surrounding the Little Rock 9, it was time for change and with leaders such as Dr. King, the persuasion to make this clear was more crystal than ever, and in front of millions that included people with 1910 mentalities of staying racially segregated.

As we mourn JFK’s death 50 years later today in 2013, may his hope and desire for unity resonate with all of us in continuing to educate ourselves and appreciate other leaders from that era which includes Medgar Evers, Adam Clayton Powell, fellow historical iconoclast, Malcolm X. Some Blacks argue that Kennedy initially ignored what was going on prior to stepping forward in the Civil Rights effort, and are confused to why he remains held so high. When hope is all you had left during those days, I could only imagine that for a White, Catholic man of such stature to stand with Black people publicly, meant a great deal to Black people that wanted some emotional and mental common ground from anyone who took the time to care. He wanted to integrate America on a larger scale.  At that time, just wanting it meant everything…