For the historically curious who wonder what heightened insight The Augusta Chronicle’s editorial page had to impart the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, we’ll tell you: Only a bit.
The producers of this page, you see, were just as stunned as everyone else. Perhaps they just articulated it better.
The page maintained that, as president, Kennedy always was entitled to the office’s dignity and respect.
“Until yesterday,” The Chronicle wrote, “we had chosen to believe that this fact was recognized and appreciated by every citizen of this nation, even those who may have frequently found themselves at odds with the political philosophy which Mr. Kennedy practiced and espoused. We knew, as must all rational Americans know, that only if that state exists could the United States be complete as a republic and its democratic processes functional for all.
“And so today all political lines must be forgotten and the nation, even in its grief, also must be rededicated to law and order, to respect and to reason. There must be a recognition of the tenuous temper of the times, and a counteracting exercise of prudence and restraint.”
More recently, syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman pointed out – in her column on the 30th anniversary of the assassination – how it’s no accident that America commemorates Kennedy’s death and not his birth. It wasn’t the man but his death “that exploded the safety of our American shelter.”
Most anyone who was alive on Nov. 22, 1963, remembers where they were and how they felt when they heard the news of Kennedy’s slaying during a presidential motorcade through Dallas’ Dealey Plaza. It plunged a nation into grief, and left untold future generations to ponder what might have been.
And 50 years later, that’s the point.
“Kennedy was not a great president,” JFK biographer Richard Reeves told The Dallas Morning News, but “the world changed totally during his lifetime. … He personified a new age.”
His actions have been trumped by his image. That is perhaps Kennedy’s biggest role today in America’s consciousness. He is a cultural touchstone. He is an enduring symbol of pregnant possibility. Nearly 900 U.S. public schools bear Kennedy’s name in no small part because of the open-ended sense of promise he invokes.
The Chronicle editorialized on Nov. 25, 1963, that Kennedv’s death had become “a nucleus around which a unified America revolves.”
As we remember this president’s death, it truly is a fitting time to envision and enact the brightest possibilities for our nation’s future.