President Kennedy Reaches for Peace, Justice, and the Moon

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johnk1Where were you on November 22, 1963? You may not have even been a twinkle in your mother’s eye, but ask that of your parents or your grandparents. They will know. They will remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Fifty years ago, television delivered news and united people. It was the social media of its time. The news of Kennedy’s death came during commercial breaks of the soap opera, As the World TurnsSpecial bulletins unveiled the President had been shot. Together, Americans clustered around televisions to watch events unfold before them in real-time. Walter Cronkite narrated as news trickled in. Watch Walter Cronkite share that Lyndon Johnson had been sworn in as President. The Dallas News’ interactive timeline lets you revisit the events of late November, 1963. If you choose, you can watch unedited video footage of the assassination. Step back in time; view people’s reactions. See the New York Times’ headline, then read the articleKennedy is Killed by Sniper.

Today, fifty years later, we remember President Kennedy, not because he was killed, but because he lived. President Kennedy challenged Americans to aim for the moon, to work for peace, and to stand up for human rights. His initiatives resulted in the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Peace Corps, and the Civil Rights Act. The legacies of these initiatives continue to make the world more unified, knowledgeable, peaceful, and  just.

Man on the Moonjohnk3

Entrenched in a “cold war,” the United States was embarrassed when a Soviet cosmonaut was the first to orbit Earth. American politicians became determined to win the “space race” and re-establish America’s technological prowess and superiority. Watch JFK propose to Congress that the United States deliver a man on the moon and “return him safely to earth.” Hear more about the political context of Kennedy’s announcement (segment A).

Enormous technological innovations and a massive financial investment resulted in the Apollo program. The first astronauts to step on the moon traveled on Apollo 11. View images taken during the journey to the moon. Watch video of Apollo 11 landing on the Sea of Tranquility, Neil Armstrong’s historic first steps on the moon’s surface, and a montage of highlights from the mission. Meet the pioneers of NASA’s space program.

johnk4Traveling for your Country

The Peace Corps is a government initiative that places volunteers in host countries and organizes their training and service. Volunteers who are accepted dedicate 27 months of service in a developing country. They work to improve the lives of people living in the host country. Service areas include education, health, housing, or food security. Discover more about what volunteers do. View a map of where volunteers go. Click on a country to zoom in and learn more about the Peace Corps program there. Read the answers to frequently asked questions.

The Peace Corps grew from unscripted comments Kennedy made to University of Michigan students during his 1960 Presidential campaign. Discover more about the Peace Corps’s history. Point and click on the October 14, 1960 timeline entry to begin a slideshow presentation. Embedded in this timeline are multiple video clips. Be sure to watch them. As the timeline shows, over fifty years after its inception, President Kennedy’s vision of alliance and advancement through service and cooperation continues to grow and to spread goodwill.

Civil Rights for All Americansjohnk5

President Kennedy entered the office during one of the most invigorating and tumultuous times in American history. It was a time of tremendous and contentious social change. The Civil Rights Movement challenged Americans to rethink their racial attitudes and to change how people were treated, individually and systemically. At the same time, America was embroiled in a Cold War abroad. The unjust and immoral realities of America at-home complicated its reputation abroad. President Kennedy struggled to lead America and Americans in these two important conflicts—one domestic, the other international; one ethical and legal, the other military; one peaceful, the other aggressive. For some, President Kennedy is enshrined in myth. But, for others, he did not do enough in the fight for civil rights. Listen to the NPR story, JFK and Civil Rights: It’s Complicated. Read the PBS article about Kennedy’s domestic policy.

johnk2Still, President Kennedy did support the Civil Rights Movement.  Read his 1963 Civil Rights Announcement. Read the Civil Rights article on the JFK Library site. Look in the right margin for the video of JFK’s 1963 Report on Civil Rights, and his 1962 speech at the University of Mississippi.

Civil rights organizers considered Kennedy a friend. Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and civil rights leader, reflects on President Kennedy’s importance to the civil rights movement. Hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s reaction to President Kennedy’s death. In the wake of Kennedy’s death, President Johnson worked to pass the Civil Right’s Act as a tribute to John F. Kennedy. It is but one piece of Kennedy’s political legacy.


Newspaper Activities

History is all around us.  Policies put into effect in previous administrations are still binding. Past events set our current course. Read the local newspaper with an eye to the past. Find an article with roots in the past. Explain the connection between today's news and yesteryear. Create a timeline that tracks how today's news connects to the past.

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