JFK’s Legacy

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kennedy2" fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man...."

Uttered 50 years ago on January 20, those famous words from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech are still repeated and recognized worldwide today. Often referred to as JFK, he remains a key figure in national and international history. On the day of his inauguration, he had already made the history books by becoming the youngest ever elected as the American President, as well as the first president born in the twentieth century.

After taking office, he continued to lay major milestones. For example, he pushed scientists and society to pursue moon exploration, and he supported racial equality, created the Peace Corps, and juggled international crises including tensions with Cuba, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union.kennedy5

Less than three years following his inauguration, however, his final history-making milestone was to be the youngest American President to die in office. On November 22, 1963, shots fired in Dallas, Texas, shook the nation: President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

During this week's lesson, you will get a glimpse into the life and times of JFK, examining how he affected people's lives and how life affected him through his triumphs and challenges.

The Man, the Vision, the Legacy

Begin your exploration into this era with a visit to the interactive exhibit, JFK 50 Years. When you land at the site, watch the video that starts playing for a brief introduction into JFK's life. Following the video, you can browse through seven different themes of his legacy. However, before doing that, click the History Now button in the top right corner of the page for an overview of his life. Click the section titled, January 20, 1961—The Inauguration. Explore this module by clicking the different panels to dig into the images, audio, and video clips that tell the story.

kennedy1What were the challenges of being an Irish immigrant? Why did JFK's oldest brother, Joe Jr., not serve as the expected politician of the family? What happened during JFK's life that shaped his character? What steps did he take to become president?

Back on the site's Home page, start browsing through the themes. Each theme features clips from various JFK speeches. Listen to all of the clips in each theme: Public Service, Science & Innovation, Civil Rights, Domestic Affairs, The Arts, Foreign Policy & Diplomacy, and The Environment. As you review the clips, write out the quoted text for two or more that you especially like. You will refer to these for the Newspaper Activities later.

Lastly at this site, check out the Legacy Gallery. Here, click open the different interviews to hear and see how people are making a difference in society today. Take time to review at least three selections in the gallery. Following each one, write one or more sentences about how that person's experiences relate to the vision and groundwork laid by JFK.

Challenges In-DepthKennedys Riding in Dallas Motorcade

Next, make a stop at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's Interactive Exhibits. First, learn more about JFK's life by browsing the JFK Timeline and paging through The White House Diary. Then, take a tour of some this era's most important events by lingering at one or more of the following in-depth exhibits:

We Choose the Moon—join the first mission to the moon, riding along with the astronauts, listening to mission communications, and viewing key images related to this world-changing event. Launch the rocket, and then click the icons to reveal information along the way.

World on the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis—learn about the thirteen nerve-wracking days that could have ended in disaster. Read about each day's events, reviewing the images and documents.

Integrating Ole Miss: A Civil Rights Milestone—discover the era's controversy over desegregation. Browse through each section for explanations, images, and documents to better understand how this event at a Mississippi university impacted all of America.

kennedy3After experiencing the exhibit, write a paragraph or more summarizing the event. How do you feel about what happened? In what ways did it shape American life then and now?

Finally, visit the JFK Presidential Library and Museum's Historic Speeches page. Read through the descriptions of each speech. Choose one, and listen to the clip. With another classmate or your whole class, discuss reflections and reactions to the speech.


Newspaper Activities


Review the quotes you copied earlier while visiting the JFK 50 Years site's theme sections. Browse through the local newspaper and find at least one article that in some way relates to that quote. Write an essay, develop an oral report, or make a video in which you explain how the quote and the news or feature story you found have a connection. Start your presentation with the quote, summarize the newspaper article, and then explain the connection between them.

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