After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 he was remembered for his idealism, his service to his country, and his brilliant oration. During his time in American politics he used his talent as an engaging speaker to inspire patriotism and change that became his legacy for generations to come. His most memorable quotations will doubtless keep his memory and his ideals alive throughout this century and beyond.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, the new president inspired Americans to serve their country with this stirring quote. Perhaps the most recognized and remembered of all his speeches, this quote has been repeated often by politicians and activists for decades.
This quote foreshadowed the numerous programs that Kennedy would create and support in order to provide opportunities for Americans. Most notably he went on to create the Peace Corps during his term, giving citizens a way to serve their country and make the world a better place. In less than six years the Peace Corps recruited more than 14,500 volunteers and placed them in 55 countries. The Peace Corps focused on education, health care, farming, and construction in underdeveloped regions throughout the world.
President Kennedy also faced the challenging situation in Vietnam. The conflict escalated during his time in office and tested his diplomatic presence on the world stage. It was also not popular with the citizens of the United States and created difficulty throughout his term in office. Kennedy believed that stabilizing the region was critical to the well-being of the United States, and the servicemen and women that served in the Vietnam war fought bravely for their country.
“But I believe that the times require imagination and courage and perseverance. I'm asking each of you to be pioneers towards that New Frontier.”
President Kennedy’s ambitious agenda for his presidency included the creation of programs that continue to this very day. Kennedy was interested in expanding new innovations in science and technology, in education, and various other fields. And, characteristically, he did not just wish to use ideas in aid of Americans alone; he wanted everyone around the globe to benefit from the innovations that he envisioned.
By far, one of Kennedy’s most important and endearing legacies is one that has to do with the operations of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the landing on the moon. Project Gemini followed Kennedy’s Project Apollo to become the second NASA spaceflight program.
Did you know? President Kennedy established the organization known as the Nave SEALs. Navy SEALs are a proud group of service people who are equally proud of their ties to Kennedy. The SEALs remain an important part of the United States defense network, and were chosen to end Osama Bin Laden’s reign of terror in 2012.
Kennedy also influenced the arts, by raising funds for the new “National Cultural Center” and hosting White House functions celebrating the arts. The Kennedy Center for the Arts considers itself “a living memorial to President Kennedy.”
“One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free.”
When Kennedy entered office, segregation was still a part of life in many parts of the country. African Americans were unconstitutionally denied access to many places and received unequal treatment in society. There are still many alive today who remember separate seating, entrances and facilities for black and white individuals. Ending segregation was a deeply divisive issue in the 1960s, leading to legal battles and violence.
The culture of racism was pervasive in many towns and in the minds of many people. Initially, Kennedy believed public protests and other demonstrations would alienate white people and make it that much more difficult to get any legislation passed by Congress. However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to sway public opinion, and the opinion of the President himself, toward the need for racial equality. The Civil Rights movement gained the support of the White House when Dr. King and other peaceful activists convinced the president to support their cause.
“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this administration. Nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
This quote from his inaugural address is a good way to describe President Kennedy’s legacy, which lives well beyond his life and his presidency. Even though his life was tragically cut short before the end of his first term, he oversaw slightly more than a thousand productive and tumultuous days in the highest office of the United States.
President John F. Kennedy’s assassination rocked the country, shocking and devastating people from coast to coast. Through television and newspaper coverage, they saw his widow and young children grieving, and they grieved along with them. Kennedy’s demise cut his term as President short, but for many it cemented his place as an American hero. His idealism, youthfulness, and eloquence were inspiring to a young generation of hopeful citizens. John F. Kennedy was in the end, his own man, and his idealism and commitment are unparalleled in modern history.
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