I’ve been waiting 50 years for some kind of understanding, some sort of resolution of that shocking day nearly half a century ago when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963.
I think America and much of the rest of the world, too, is hoping this year’s commemoration, our honoring him may finally bring some sort of healing, or at least acceptance and the chance to move on from the almost fatal wound we have borne all this time.
That’s a murky maybe. And, like so many damaging wounds to our societal body, we’re becoming less and less able to bounce back. Think about it this way: When President Kennedy was murdered, it set off a chain of events, a veritable cascade of raw anger that saw the rest of the decade of the ‘60s awash in fury, that we became unhinged. As in knowing full well a terrible injustice had been done and we had no way, no recourse to fight back.
There has always been something telling that within the space of five years, from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, to the murder of Islamic civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965, to the slaying of Martin Luther King Jr., in April 1968, and the slaughter of President Kennedy’s brother, Bobby, in June of that same year, there was one common thread in all these killings.
Come on, just guess. For anyone around, old enough (you could have been a kid, an aware and smart kid) to have experienced the 1960s, what was the one factor that brought out the worst in the enemy? It’s a simple word, and it’s the one thing of which Americans even in the 21st century refuse to let go: It’s intolerance.
The Kennedys, beginning with the president, tried establishing something that, until then, was unheard of. Polite society didn’t mess with the accepted order of things, the other guy was always suspect, the color of your skin relegated you to the lowest rungs, women had no voice — well, only certain people were allowed voices, not even votes. Even your religion, if it wasn’t Protestant, was considered a threat. And God help the Kennedys for being Catholic.
What were the forces of evil swirling around the Kennedys other than intolerance for everything they stood for, or tried to accomplish? Wasn’t it a time when America burned either by the cruel crosses from the Klu Klux Klan and other groups gushing with hate used to terrorize black people? Wasn’t it a time when injustice reigned supreme?
Damn right it was. No wonder people took to the streets. No wonder we yelled, rebelled, protested, and burned up things. No wonder we were so fed up with the overstuffed, smug hypocrites, the self-righteous, the white faces, more often than not contorted with madness, the gleam of fanatic insanity smoldering in their blind eyes.
Just as when Barack Obama became president in 2008, so, too, President Kennedy as president proposed and pushed the unthinkable in 1963. Civil rights. Equality for all. Removal of the laws against black people. Support the poor; give them a chance, a sliver of hope.
Shortly before President Kennedy was assassinated he had appointed a commission, he even was looking for ways to give women opportunities to come out of the kitchen and into the world.
If you’re beginning to get the gist of why President Kennedy was shot and killed, why subsequent civil rights leaders were assassinated, why his own brother had to die, then yes, civil rights — the denial of civil rights — well, killing the leader of those nasty civil rights makes total sense.
There. I’ve said it. The forces of evil are the very people who oppose civil rights or justice. We know who they are and what they stand for. Back then it was the Deep Fried Southerners, for Dallas in 1963 was a haven of hate. The Kennedys, John F. and Bobby, and Jackie, they knew that when they went to Dallas, they might not come back alive.
It was that kind of time. Going into the South was like going into a war zone. Going to Texas, if you were a Kennedy, was like reviving memories of the worst of our Civil War (so inappropriately titled — there was nothing civil about the war 150 years ago that almost tore us in two.)
So, 50 years from gunning down President John F. Kennedy, half a century removed from those dark and terrible days, where are we today?
We’re still bleeding, maybe not quite so much, but the wound is still raw. And like the holocaust itself, we cannot be a decent world anymore if we forget what Nov. 22, 1963’s assassination wrought.
We’re still paying for it. We’re still hurting in 2013. And we’re still furious that there are forces today afoot to undermine, even destroy all the good that President Kennedy stood for.
It’s time, 50 years worth of time, to end the hate, start to heal and live, really live with honor, compassion and justice. To do JFK proud.
Jodeane Albright is an award-winning blogger/columnist and the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.