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Fifty Years Later: President Kennedy’s Legacy

By Sandra Knispel | Published 22 Nov 2013 10:03am | comments

Oxford, Miss. Nov. 22, 2013 -- Exactly 50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. A panel of veteran journalists at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi recently debated JFK’s lasting impact.

“I think John Kennedy’s main legacy is one of freedom, first with Civil Rights," said Charles Overby. He’s the first president in the history of America to propose sweeping Civil Rights legislation to allow African Americans to do the basic things that white Americans had done throughout the history of the country.”

Overby is the former CEO of the Newseum in Washington and the man after whom the Overby Center on campus is named. A former national reporter for the Gannett News Service, he now co-teaches a class on JFK at Ole Miss.

“Second, he fought Communism but did it in a pragmatic way in which he was willing to be tough but knew when to draw back. And I think his style of diplomacy has helped put America where it is today," Overby said. He was "the first president to achieve a limited nuclear test-ban treaty. And because of that leadership we now have no nuclear tests above ground or in outer space, or under water."

According to Tom Oliphant, a longtime Boston Globe columnist, Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, which pulled the U.S. back from the abyss of a nuclear war with the former Soviet Union, remains his most important legacy.

“The first time we looked nuclear war in the eye and didn’t do it, but learned from it. And the first steps away from this madness began in that period," Oliphant explained. "The idea that somebody could think -- not just think outside the box -- but act outside the box in a way that prevented what looked like it was almost certainly going to be a full-scale nuclear war is consequential.”

Audience member and retired Ole Miss law professor, John R. Bradley, was a young man when he voted for Kennedy in 1960: “My indelible recollection is the generational difference between Eisenhower and this young man in his forties. So that business of a generational change and the idealism that he espoused is still a recollection that I have of those times.”

While Kennedy's time in office was short -- barely 1,000 days -- Oliphant says his legacy lives on.

"Medicare is an interesting thought because it’s not what you ordinarily think about when you think of John Kennedy, or revolutionizing the approach to elementary and secondary education in the United States.”

Kennedy was just 46 when he was assassinated in Dallas 50 years ago.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News.





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