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John Kennedy's Legacy Still Inspires 50 Years After His Death


Friday, November 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most traumatic events in U.S. history, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Public opinion polls show he remains popular and many Americans continue to be inspired by the ideals and hope his legacy represents.

Space exploration was an important part of Kennedy’s New Frontier.

The early success of the Mercury manned space missions under Kennedy set the stage for the moon landing later in the decade and remains one of his signature achievements.

“It was not about what I can do for you. It was, you should do this because it is tough, it is difficult," said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is Robert Kennedy’s eldest child and President Kennedy’s niece. "We are going to go to the moon because it is hard and it will take all our best energies. But that will make us a better people when we do that."

One of the most vexing issues John Kennedy faced while in office was civil rights. A few months before he died, Kennedy made a fresh appeal for action to Congress.

“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is old as the scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are going to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities," he said.

“We do not know what greatness he could have come to," said Harris Wofford, who advised President Kennedy on civil rights. "We lost somebody who was on the way toward greatness, in my opinion, at a time we needed that."

Many still wonder how the world might be different if John Kennedy had lived.

“It is really sad. Our country lost a lot in November, 1963, and when my father was killed. It was a lot," said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. "And I think we would have been a much better country had they lived. I am not a believer in, you know, out of tragedy good can come. I think a lot of pain came and a lot of bad things for our country."

A few months before he died, President Kennedy spent a few days in his ancestral homeland of Ireland.

“You know, after President Kennedy went to Berlin he went to Ireland and he said that that was the happiest four days of his life. And when he was killed he had a rosary in his pocket, and Jackie sent that rosary to the people of Ireland, to the town his grandfather came from, because she knew how much he believed his values came from that Irish immigrant experience," said Kennedy Townsend.

“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from that fire can truly light the world," President Kennedy once said.

John Kennedy’s words still echo from the past and the flame atop his grave continues to burn, a beacon to those who strive to the make the world a better place.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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