Profiles in Courage

By Damien Knight

President John F. Kennedy was elected president in November 8 1960 against the then Vice President, Richard Nixon. Kennedy was the first Catholic and the youngest presidential candidate in history. At the time of his bid for presidency “anti-Catholicism was alive and well”, (Champion, Owen F) and for many Americans there was serious concern over having a Catholic president. He overcame this with his charisma during televised debates and beat Nixon in a landslide and on January 20th 1961. It was during his inaugural address he told Americans those famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” (The 6th Street Museum, Dallas)

President Kennedy was poised to begin his “New Frontier” policies. On March 1 1961 he formed the Peace Corps fulfilling for Americans a way for them to “do for their country,” and the world. He was a cultured president who held art viewings and socialites in the white house. He was also human and prone to err like the rest of us. During April 17 1961 the bay of pig invasion was launched. A thousand exiled Cubans attacked Cuba in a failed bid to overthrow Dictator Fidel Castro. (JFK Assassination Timeline) Kennedy bravely and publicly accepted the failure. In response to this disaster Kennedy created The Situation Room to filter military intelligence he would receive. This showed he was willing to act on his failing. Soon after Kennedy authorizes 400 U.S. Soldiers to go to Vietnam.

Kennedy then committed to his new frontier by promising a man on the moon by the end of the decade. “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”(JFK Assassination Timeline) In 1962 John Glen was the first American to orbit the earth.

Kennedy also championed civil rights and women’s rights. In December 1961 Kennedy established a “Commission on the Status of Women.” And in 1962 during the “Ole Miss Riots” Kennedy deploys the National Guard to protect an African American student. These things were controversial as many were not supportive of civil rights legislation. During this he had to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy initiates a blockade, and this time is successful in his effort against Cuba and averts nuclear war.

Kennedy committed publicly to civil rights sending National Guard to escort two black students to The University of Alabama. Kennedy pleaded with the public for race riots to stop. He spoke bravely saying “It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” (Kennedy, 237) It is during Kennedy’s presidency that the famous March On Washington occurs and Martin Luther King Jr delivers his famous “I have a Dream Speech.”

On October 7 1963 cold war issues became the focus with the signing of the Nuclear Ban Treaty. The treaty was between the Soviet Union, The United States and The United Kingdom. It banned the testing of Nuclear Weapons in air, in the sea and in outer space. On October 24 Kennedy once more focuses on the rights of the people by making an amendment to social security act for those with intellectual disabilities. All of this that he had done especially his civil rights views had lost him voters, and he would run for re-election.

In November, he announced his visit to Texas. Many were concerned with the president’s safety. Texas was a southern state that had some violent protest groups that did not like the civil rights laws Kennedy had passed. Like all other things he had done that was courageous in his political career he stayed the course and visited Texas. As many had feared the president was in danger in Texas and on November 22 1963 Kennedy was shot.

While President Kennedy did not live to see the results of his work, in July 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed by President Johnson in memory of Kennedy. In 1969, at the end of the decade just as Kennedy had said, the first man, Neil Armstrong, took his first steps on the moon. Echoing through his career was his courage and America’s courage. Like Kennedy said we had to do these things” not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” (JFK Assassination Timeline)

Works Cited

6th Floor Museum. N.d. Exhibit. 6th Floor Museum Texas, Dallas
“JFK Assassination Timeline | The Sixth Floor Museum.” JFK Assassination Timeline | The Sixth Floor Museum. Dallas County Historical Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

“John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Kenneth R Fienberg, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Campion, Owen F. “John F. Kennedy’s Election Lives On. (Cover Story).” Priest 66.11 (2010): 10-24. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

Kennedy, John F. “237-John F. Kennedy: Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights.” John F. Kennedy: Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

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