Friday, November 22, 2013

President John F. Kennedy: Five years of assassinations

Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The past week has been jam-packed with images and commentaries on the event. From trhe new book written by the secret service agent who was there when it happened, to the ESPN report regarding the NFL’s decision to play games the following Sunday, this week has been a trip down memory lane.

Kennedy’s assassination, on November 22, 1963, was the first among five that exposed a critical divide concerning America’s communal image.  Medger Evers was killed on June 12, 1963. Malcolm X was killed on February 21, 1965.  Martin Luther King, Jr. died on April 4, 1968, and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, Jr. was killed on June 6, 1968.

It was an era of both domestic and global confusion.  America’s persona as the world’s body ground against all forms of tyranny was juxtaposed against bloody battles regarding race. The nation was engulfed in redefining its identity.  The melting pot experiment was exposed as a colossal contradiction. 

Public servants imitated the message of Hitler

In 1963, the world watched as Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor , commissioner of public safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, authorized the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful demonstrators, including children.

The nation and world took notice on January 14, 1963, as George Wallace stood on the gold star where Jefferson Davis took oath, 102 years earlier, to become president of the Confederate States.  Wallace boldly stood to take his oath of office as Governor of Alabama.

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” he said.

In North Carolina, Jesse Helms emerged as a critic of the civil rights movement.  His columns in the News & Observer reflected a growing view among southern whites. Helms claimed he civil rights movement was infested by communist and “moral degenerates”, and argued that Medicaid was a "step over into the swampy field of socialized medicine".

The deaths of the Kennedy brothers, Medger, Martin and Malcolm are imbrued within a context were the battle to celebrate particular perspectives is hindered by a universal mandate.  Those clinging to Dixiecrat views were forced to concede a world were black people exist beyond functioning as their servants.  Democracy was tested in a way that reflected the rationale for the Civil War.

The deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X are, in part, about America’s unresolved issues with race. It was also about the fear of Communism and liberalism. They all died due to America’s ongoing dilemma with dreading the unknown.  The years between 1963 and 1968 reflected the nation’s fear of the other. 

Are we a nation that kills the best of what we could be?

Remembering JFK uncovers the agony related to being nurtured in an era of assassins. The phantasmagoria of better days was quickly eradicated by the deaths of those who tried to lead the way.  The subtle message regulated the ambitions of those who followed - be careful when you challenge America’s contradictions. 

The essential question for today regards the lessons learned since the assassinations of those who tried to make a difference.   Has America changed since then, or are we quick to kill those who expose the things we fear?

Jesse Helms argued that Medicaid is socialized medicine. Sounds familiar.  States should be allowed to enforce laws consistent with the views of its citizenry.  He’s a communist.  He’s a liberal intent on destroying America. 

The force of rhetoric stirs the unruly ways of lunatics. That’s a lesson taught by the death of President John F. Kennedy.  We will never be a diverse union until we celebrate the message of those we fear.

I wonder if we will ever learn from our mistakes.

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