Webisode 15. Segment 1
In 1963, John F. Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected to the presidency, had a lot on his mind. Since he'd taken office in 1961, he'd been trying to lead the country in new directions. He had legislation he wanted passed: a civil rights bill, a tax cut bill, and a health care bill. There were also bills on equal pay for women, aid to cities and poor rural areas, manpower training, and a minimum wage. Despite early opposition, there were signs by 1963 that his ideas were beginning to be accepted in Congress. And Kennedy's reputation was growing worldwide. Great Britain's prime minister, Harold MacMillan, said this: "He seemed, in his own person, to embody all the hopes and aspirations of this new world that is struggling to emerge."
But in Texas there was political trouble, and Texas's votes would be important in the coming presidential election in 1964, when Kennedy was hoping to win a second term. So when Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Texan, asked Kennedy to undertake a peacemaking mission, the President thought he should make the trip. Senator J. William Fulbright urged him not to go. "Dallas is a very dangerous place," he said. "I wouldn't go there." Then Kennedy's press secretary got a letter. "Don't let the President go to Texas. Texas is too dangerous," the writer said. But the secretary put the letter aside.
Everyone knew there was a group of noisy hatemongers in Dallas, but Kennedy didn't seem to worry. On a sunny November day, the President and his wife Jackie waved good-bye to their children, Caroline and John Jr., and flew off to the Lone Star State. The crowds in San Antonio and Houston and Fort Worth were unusually warm and encouraging. The President liked contact with people. At Fort Worth, Kennedy went into a parking lot and shook as many hands as he could. It bothered the Secret Service men, who were there to protect him. Later in the day, when Air Force One, the presidential plane, landed in Dallas, thousands were there waiting to cheer the President and First Lady. The weather was so fine and the crowds so enthusiastic that the plastic bubble top was taken off the presidential limousine and the bulletproof windows rolled down. Texas's Governor, John Connally and his wife sat in front, with the Kennedys behind. They took the busiest route through the city, so they could see the most people. Later Connally recalled: "I was afraid of rude signs. Or that the crowds might be hostile. I had objected to the parade route being announced well in advance because that lends itself to organized heckling. But as we neared downtown and the crowds thickened, all my fears fell away."
When the car passed an old schoolbook warehouse, Mrs. Connally turned around and said to the President, "You can't say that Dallas isn't friendly to you today!" But President Kennedy didn't answer. A bullet had pierced his head. An eyewitness described what happened: "The movements in the President's car were not normal. Kennedy seemed to be falling to his left. There were two more explosions, only seconds after the first. People along the streets were scattering in panic."
For the rest of their lives, most Americans would remember exactly where they were on November 22, 1963, when they heard the awful news. Again and again, they would stare at their TV screens and see the motorcade, the President falling into his wife's lap, the press gathered at Parkland Hospital, and Jacqueline in her blood-stained suit. At 1 p.m., John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. An hour and a half later, Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as chief executive on Air Force One. Jackie Kennedy stood beside him. Soon afterwards she said: "The Vice President was extraordinary; he did everything he could to be magnanimous, to be kind. I almost felt sorry for him because I knew he felt sorry for me."
The plane carried the new president, and the martyred president's body, back to Washington. And the world wept.
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