Nov 22, 2013 - JFK 50 Years Later: Legend, Legacy, Letdown? Which was the real JFK?
(for post 3000, noting a coincidental landmark)
LEGEND AND LEGACY:
50 years after win, Kennedy's legacy endures
By Susan Page, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Despite enormous changes since his presidency, the United States still reflects JFK's America.
Fifty years after the election that sent John Kennedy to the White House, the impact of his thousand days in the Oval Office continues to be seen in positive repercussions from the civil rights movement and problematic ones from the Vietnam War. He pioneered the media age that has shaped national politics ever since and expanded the role of the federal government in ways that continue to reverberate.
The generation Kennedy inspired to enter public service is entering retirement age. More than half of those living in the U.S. hadn't been born by the 1960 election, when he claimed a presidency that would be cut short by assassination.
Even so, a third of Americans in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll rate JFK as a great president; three-fourths rank him above average. A survey of 65 historians by C-SPAN last year ranked Kennedy sixth in presidential leadership, just ahead of Thomas Jefferson and the only one of the top 10 who didn't serve for more than one term.
When President Obama chose five quotations to ring his Oval Office rug, unveiled in September, he included one from Kennedy in 1963: "No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."
To be sure, there have been seismic changes in the country since then. The U.S. population has swelled from just under 180 million to more than 310 million. The nation is much more diverse, and the status and role of blacks and women have been transformed. An economy once based on manufacturing is driven by technology. The superpower conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union has been replaced by more complicated global struggles over resources and ideology.
Yet Kennedy's name continues to resonate.
"It's interesting that 50 years later, he still has such a hold and his presidency has such a hold on the American people," says Dan Fenn, 87, a special assistant to Kennedy at the White House who later became director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. "There are people who say, 'Yeah, but he didn't really do much.' OK, without getting into that cat fight, why is it then?"
Historians and others say Kennedy's legacy endures in part because he governed during an era of tumultuous generational change.
"We were coming to the end of the World War II aftermath, and ... civil rights could not be ignored any more, especially because of Dr. (Martin Luther) King's rise," recalls Sander Vanocur, 82, who covered the Kennedy White House for NBC. "It wasn't as if he brought these around, as the events brought him along — and he fit the role that the new age was demanding."
Kennedy was a handsome young president with a quick wit and an elegant wife, the perfect pair for a new television age. He handled the most perilous moment of the Cold War, averting a nuclear showdown in the Cuban missile crisis. He pursued an expansive domestic agenda that reflected Democratic priorities pent up during Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. He sought global engagement, established the Peace Corps and invigorated the U.S. space program with a mission to go to the moon and back within a decade.
"Something called the modern presidency began around then," says Ted Widmer, a presidential historian at Brown who worked in the Clinton White House. "It is a time of never-ending fascination for Americans, even for those who have the dimmest memories of what Kennedy's actual achievements were."
He notes the success of AMC's 1960s-era Mad Men TV series, crediting its appeal in part to "the excitement of the change that happened" during that time.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert Kennedy's daughter and a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, thought of one element of her uncle's legacy the other day. She was in downtown Washington visiting the Newseum, a museum devoted to the news media, and saw from the building's balcony the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House.
"When President Kennedy in the Inaugural Parade looked at the pawn shops and the debris on Pennsylvania Avenue, he said, 'This has to be cleaned up,' " Townsend says. The restoration project the Kennedys launched helped lead to today's stylish boulevard lined by the modernistic Canadian Embassy, the refurbished Willard Hotel, pricey restaurants and more.
In a look at Kennedy's legacy, here are three areas in which his influence is felt in the nation today.
'Great hope' on civil rights
Georgia Rep. John Lewis says he owes his life to JFK.
Lewis was among the Freedom Riders who had gathered at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to hear King speak on May 21, 1961. A white mob surrounded the church. U.S. marshals, dispatched by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, used tear gas to repel their repeated assaults.
"Many of us probably would have been killed that night" without President Kennedy's decision to intervene, says Lewis, 70, a 12-term Democratic congressman. "Not only his election but his candidacy ushered in a period of great hope, a great sense of optimism, and by the time he was elected and became president, it was a period of great expectation."
Kennedy raised those expectations during the 1960 campaign.
King had been arrested during a demonstration in Atlanta and sentenced to hard labor in a rural Georgia prison on a trumped-up traffic charge, raising fears among supporters for his life. Despite concerns about riling white Southern voters, Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to express support for her husband. Robert Kennedy contacted the judge involved and won King's release.
As president, Kennedy didn't always fulfill the expectations of civil rights leaders. He discouraged them from holding the 1963 March on Washington, arguing that any violence would imperil passage of the Civil Rights Act then before Congress. The bill he had introduced outlawed discrimination in voter registration and public accommodations, but advocates complained that it had been watered down, without provisions on employment and police brutality.
Even so, Kennedy moved further on civil rights than his predecessors. In a radio and TV address to the nation in June 1963 — a century after Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation— Kennedy became the first president to call on all Americans to embrace civil rights as a moral imperative. The year after JFK's assassination, President Johnson pushed the landmark Civil Rights Act through a bitterly divided Congress by invoking the slain president's memory.
"Taking 100 years from the Emancipation Proclamation to take strong action remains a scandal in our history," says Harris Wofford, 84. He had been an aide to Kennedy on civil rights and was later a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. "But it was a great struggle and a great achievement. Kennedy was a part of that; Johnson was a part of it, and so was King."
"If he had not been president, I think things would be different today," Lewis says of JFK.
There have been political consequences as well.
When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he told aide Bill Moyers that Democrats would face a backlash from the white Southerners who had been part of the Democratic coalition Franklin Roosevelt forged. "We have lost the South for a generation," he warned.
Today, African Americans are the most loyal supporters of the Democrats — and the South has become the national base of the GOP. In 1960, not one senator from one of the 11 Deep South states was a Republican. Today, a majority, 15, of them are.
Echoes of Vietnam
A debate still rages over whether Kennedy would have tried to extract U.S. forces from Vietnam if he hadn't been assassinated.
Eisenhower sent the first U.S. military advisers to Vietnam, and 900 were on duty when he left office. During his presidency, Kennedy increased that deployment to more than 16,000. After taking over the White House, Johnson dramatically expanded the U.S. commitment: In 1968, there were more than half a million American troops there.
Kennedy wouldn't have taken that step, insists Ted Sorensen, 82, JFK's White House counselor.
"He had been urged to go much further than Eisenhower, but Kennedy didn't do it, and I don't think he would have done so," Sorensen says, citing JFK's skeptical view of generals' advice in the wake of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Andrew Bacevich, who served as a U.S. Army colonel in Vietnam and is a professor of international relations at Boston University, isn't so sure.
"In my view, evidence he would have pulled the plug is simply not persuasive," he says. He notes that Johnson was listening to the same aides who had surrounded Kennedy, among them Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and national security adviser McGeorge Bundy.
"When Kennedy came in, in 1961, he brought with him a variety of advisers who were committed to the proposition that armed force could be made politically useful even in a nuclear age," says Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. "Vietnam provided the principle testing ground for that idea."
In his inaugural address, Kennedy famously pledged that the United States would "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship" on behalf of liberty.
"I can remember being thrilled by that," says Lee Hamilton, elected to the House from Indiana the year after Kennedy's death and now president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. But in the wake of wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, he says: "It's baloney. Nobody believes that any more."
Kennedy's decision to increase rather than curtail the U.S. deployment in Vietnam left the door open for Johnson's enormous expansion, and all the consequences that followed. More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, and the political debate over its course provoked demonstrations on college campuses and fueled a generation of cynicism toward the government.
Americans' wariness of long wars in distant places continues today, and Bacevich sees echoes of the Kennedy administration's doctrine toward Vietnam in the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The promises of easy victory by superior U.S. forces have translated into very long, very dirty and costly wars," he says.
A modern presidency
Almost every Democratic presidential hopeful since Kennedy has tried to evoke his memory and manner.
A campaign ad for Bill Clinton in 1992 featured fuzzy footage of him as a student at Boys State, shaking hands with Kennedy at a Rose Garden event. John Kerry, another Massachusetts senator who won the Democratic presidential nomination, encouraged comparisons between him and JFK. Barack Obama's prospects in 2008 were boosted when he won the endorsement of Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, and his brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy.
"I was Clinton's speechwriter, and we all thought the Kennedy precedent was extremely important," Widmer says, noting JFK's memorable language, his inclusive message to those who had been on the margins of politics and the energetic response he won from young people.
No modern president has so many widely remembered quotations, starting with his inaugural challenge to "ask not what your country can do for you."
When Wendy Kopp was researching the idea of a national teaching corps for her undergraduate thesis at Princeton — that paper laid the groundwork for the national organization called Teach for America— she researched the founding of the Peace Corps and even based the initial number of volunteers on the 500 that Peace Corps planners had concluded was ideal.
"I can't imagine that I would have thought of Teach for America without the Peace Corps" as a model and inspiration, she says. "His call to service is absolutely alive and well." Her organization, founded in 1990, fields 8,200 teachers in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
In the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll on Kennedy, taken Sept. 13-14, there is little difference by age in assessments of his presidency. Among seniors 65 and older, who presumably remember the time of his presidency, 29% say history will judge him as a great president. Among those 18 to 29 years old, who have only read about JFK and seen him in old TV clips, 30% do.
The survey of 1,014 adults has a margin of error of +/–4 percentage points.
Kennedy was the first and so far only Catholic elected president, a significant barrier at the time and one that has invited comparisons to Obama's election as the first African-American president.
He was also the first president comfortable in a new TV age. As a candidate, he and Republican nominee Richard Nixon held the first televised presidential debates. The first of the four was held on Sept. 26, 1960. And as president, he held the first live televised news conferences.
Before the election, Vanocur says, Kennedy had some reluctance about embracing TV, seeing Hugh Sidey of Time magazine and Ben Bradlee of Newsweek as more critical journalists to cultivate.
"I was at a party in Chicago as the Midwest correspondent for NBC at Sarge Shriver's house," Vanocur says. Kennedy's father, former ambassador Joseph Kennedy, was at the party hosted by Shriver, his son-in-law. "The ambassador came up and introduced himself to me, and said, 'I keep telling Jack, you are the guys who are the future.' But Kennedy was reluctant to accept that."
Eventually, JFK did, and a more personal style of politics emerged. He invited journalists to chronicle him sailing off the coast of Massachusetts and playing touch football with his extended family.
"Television has an awful lot to do with the Kennedy mystique and the fact that he's frozen in people's minds at the age of 46, and he was handsome and personable and witty and charming," says Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy.
Disclosures about Kennedy's philandering and his efforts to hide serious health problems didn't emerge until years after his death.
Those belated disclosures tarnished his image and fueled a debate over the role of journalists who didn't report on them at the time of his presidency.
"There are some negatives, and one was the reckless personal behavior," including affairs with women who had links to Mob bosses and foreign intelligence agencies, says historian Alvin Felzenberg, who nonetheless put Kennedy among the top 10 in a book rating presidents. "I'm not talking morality; I'm talking about whether a president should be doing that."
Some historians say romantic views of JFK have led his influence to be overstated.
"Glamour overshadowed quality," Herbert Parmet concluded in his 1983 book, JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy. "At best he was an 'interim' President who had promised but not performed."
But Kennedy's reputation has been burnished by comparison with the troubled presidencies that would follow: LBJ's entanglement in Vietnam, Nixon's resignation amid scandal, Clinton's impeachment and more. Like Ronald Reagan, Kennedy is remembered for a confident mien and buoyant message.
"For style and for creating a mood of optimism and hope — Kennedy on that count is as effective as any president the country has had in its history," Dallek says. "The question for me is, 100 years from now, will he be remembered? ...
"At the moment, he does have this astonishing hold on the public mind."
JFK’s legacy: Kennedy fell short of greatness, yet inspired a generation
y TODD J. GILLMAN
Published: 16 November 2013 11:26 PM
Updated: 17 November 2013 12:24 AM
WASHINGTON — The presidency that ended in Dallas a half-century ago lasted just 34 months, hardly enough to make the mark John F. Kennedy had planned.
He wrestled with racial strife and history’s most dire nuclear crisis. There were setbacks and achievements. He lived to see little of his domestic agenda enacted. By the usual yardsticks used to assess presidents, he falls short of greatness. Yet Kennedy’s impact cannot be measured in the usual ways alone.
Americans landed on the moon within a decade after he conjured that mission. “Ask not what your country can do for you” may remain the most famous phrase uttered by a leader of the free world.
Struck down in his prime, he remains as vigorous and charming as ever in the public mind, synonymous with both inspiration and tragedy. After a half-century, actual deeds have melded with the gauzy, idealized image.
“He really reached people in a way that they long for — or at least, they remember how good it felt when they longed for that kind of leadership,” said nephew Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman and son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. “The power of his legacy is how it resonates today. How his words carry through generations.”
Historians rate Kennedy as a middling president. The public puts him on a pedestal with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. His glowing image has survived tawdry revelations and bookshelves of critical reassessments.
He paid for his sins and shortcomings, people say, in the way the dead are eulogized more with charity than accuracy. “The slate was wiped clean in Dallas,” said Larry Sabato, author of The Kennedy Half Century and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Undoubtedly, history has been kind to his memory. For the last 25 years, Gallup surveys have found his approval ratings averaging 83 percent. Just before the trip to Dallas, that hit a near-low of 58 percent.
“There is this image of Kennedy that has an enduring impact upon those who are alive that is unlike any other president. It has something to do with the glamour, the myth, the whole chemistry of his presidency,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised four presidents. None compared themselves to Kennedy or asked themselves what he would have done.
“Kennedy occupies in the popular perception a unique space. … It’s not a realistic measuring stick for anybody else,” he said.
Kennedy’s inaugural address brimmed with idealism and promise, a huge and ambitious list of expectations at home and abroad, and a warning: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days.”
He was only off by five weeks.
With help from Democrats in Congress, Kennedy raised the minimum wage. He created the Peace Corps and cut taxes. The last law he signed encouraged community care for the mentally ill, a cause his nephew continues to promote.
More ambitious proposals would have to wait. It was his vice president, Texan Lyndon Johnson, who signed a ban on racial discrimination, created the health care safety net for seniors known as Medicare and other massive anti-poverty programs in the Great Society agenda.
Kennedy was more cautious, and less skilled as a legislative tactician. And he lacked a huge asset Johnson seized after Dallas: the memory of a martyred president. With that came political maneuvering room and a landslide win in 1964.
“People say, ‘Oh, well, Johnson achieved what Kennedy could not,’” said Sabato. But “1,037 days is not very long. It’s just impossible to say what he would have done and wouldn’t have done.”
For civil rights leaders, Kennedy was a disappointment. Re-election was likely, but would hinge on Southern support. He and Bobby Kennedy, his attorney general and chief counselor, feared that pressing too hard on civil rights would put at risk the support he needed in the South, and the party’s long grip on that region.
“He was a bystander,” said Julian Bond, founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and in later years, longtime chairman of the NAACP.
Still, the Kennedys couldn’t ignore the upheaval. They sent marshals in summer 1961 to protect Freedom Riders seeking to integrate public transit. The next year, the president mobilized the Mississippi National Guard and sent federal troops to quell rioting and force integration at Ole Miss.
Bond called these moves “desperate” and reactive. “He just wasn’t the person many people think he was,” said Bond, who teaches at American University. “He wasn’t hostile to civil rights. He didn’t do much as president to promote it.”
It took the bloody confrontations in Birmingham, Ala., in spring 1963 to rouse Kennedy to a more assertive posture. That June, he mustered the full force of his office and rhetorical gifts, challenging Congress to end Jim Crow once and for all.
“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue,” he said, noting that no white American would willingly trade places with those who endure daily humiliations because of their race. “Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?”
Seven months after the assassination, after a 54-day filibuster and plenty of arm-twisting by Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965, Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act, putting Southern states under scrutiny in elections.
Few historians think Kennedy could have accomplished what Johnson did, or risked losing the South to Republicans.
“Everybody wanted to kick the civil rights issue down the road,” Kennedy biographer Richard Reeves said. Still, he said, that June 1963 speech itself carried risk and was “no small thing. … A lot of it was carried out by Johnson, but that was the hinge point.”
In foreign affairs, the Kennedy legacy rests on three episodes: the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam.
The biggest failure came first. Three months on the job, the CIA-planned invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs was a humiliating fiasco.
Kennedy pulled air support at the last minute, a compromise that doomed the mission. He owned up to the failure and learned from it, vowing never again to let advice from generals and spymasters go unchallenged.
Whether that counts as a legacy is in the eye of the beholder. “Each president and each administration seems determined to relearn those lessons for themselves,” Haass said.
In the tough 1960 campaign against Vice President Richard Nixon, Kennedy had warned of a “missile gap” with the Soviets that turned out to be phantom. The bellicosity helped provoke Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Failed diplomacy didn’t help. A month after a disastrous Vienna summit in June 1961, the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall. A year later, Khrushchev deployed nuclear missiles to Cuba, 90 miles from American shores.
For 13 days in October 1962, the world stared into an abyss.
Kennedy confided to his brother Bobby that in his view, the odds of nuclear conflagration ranged from 1-in-3 to 50-50. Tens of millions would have died.
“This was the most dangerous moment in recorded history,” said Graham Allison, a national security expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government whose early study of the crisis, Essence of Decision, remains widely taught. “As we’ve gotten further and further away from it, it seems incredible.”
It was a searing experience. Graduate schools of business and public policy still use the episode as a timeless case study in brinkmanship, discipline, management and high-stakes negotiation.
“Americans aren’t known as great chess players, but it was a pretty good example,” Haass said.
As tensions eased, a hotline was installed between the White House and the Kremlin. Arms control, a wild-eyed notion until then, became a central focus of national security policy. The rivals signed a ban on airborne nuclear tests — Kennedy’s proudest achievement.
“At the end of the day, the missiles weren’t in Cuba, and there was no nuclear war. … There’s a significant legacy in leaving us a safer world,” Allison said.
And then there was Vietnam, still the topic of heated scholarly debate.
Dwight Eisenhower had warned that if South Vietnam fell to communism, the rest of Southeast Asia could follow. He sent 700 advisers in 1955.
Kennedy embraced this “domino” theory and upped the ante, sending the first combat troops. By Kennedy’s final hours in Dallas, the U.S. deployment had risen to 16,000. Three weeks earlier, his administration had helped topple President Ngo Dinh Diem; for many students of the war, that turning point made Kennedy responsible for the turmoil to come.
Defenders insist he would have kept U.S. involvement at a low boil, but it’s impossible to know. Johnson went big, Texas big, and always maintained he was staying true to Kennedy’s intentions.
As Democrats, both faced political pressure not to appear weak on national security.
Johnson left office in 1969 with 550,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. The war would rage six more years and leave lasting scars on American society — an indirect and especially dark element of the Kennedy legacy.
The Kennedy name adorns nearly 900 public schools across the country. Every president since, and nearly every contender for that office, in both parties, has invoked his memory, policies or rhetoric.
“Kennedy was not a great president,” said Reeves, but “the world changed totally during his lifetime. … He personified a new age.”
He was young and glitzy. He dreamed big. He brought to bear a wit and oratory to match.
“As Roosevelt, Reagan and Kennedy understood, the words are more important than the deeds,” Reeves said.
Distorted by sorrow, the legacy still echoes, transcending political skirmishes and international crises.
“His impact was so disproportionate on history because of what he evoked in people and what he continues to evoke,” said Patrick Kennedy. “I run into people all the time who tell me their lives were totally transformed because of his inspiration.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings recalled the nightmare that took place 'in our front yard' and said the city and its citizens grew up.
DALLAS -- Thousands of people bowed their heads or clasped hands with loved ones in Dealey Plaza at 12:30 p.m. Friday to mark the precise moment that shots rang out 50 years ago to take the life of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States.
The silence was broken with the singing of "America the Beautiful" by the U.S. Navy choir.
The moment of reflection came midway in a solemn, 44-minute ceremony only steps from the site of the assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
"He was ambitious to make it a better world -- and so were we," historian David McCullough said, before reading excerpts from Kennedy speeches.
"He spoke to to the point and with confidence," McCullough said. "He knew words matter. His words changed lives. His words changed history. And rarely has a commander in chief addressed the nation with such command of language."
The weather -- cold, with a light, freezing drizzle -- was in stark contrast to that Friday in 1963 that started cloudy but broke into bright sunshine by mid-morning, prompting the presidential motorcade to remove the clear-bubble protection atop the limousines.
Creating a silent backdrop to the ceremony was the red-brick building that once housed the Texas School Book Depository from which, according to The Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald fired the rifle shot from a six-story window that killed the 46-year-old president.
Friday's event was by invitation only and some lucky 5,000 guests were selected in a lottery system. Some arrived as early as 6 a.m. CT.
Samuel and Tammy Ramon, of Fort Worth, applied in June and were thrilled when they were selected. Though he was only 1-year-old when Kennedy was shot, Samuel Ramon said being part of the 50th anniversary is something he'll someday tell his grandchildren and great-grandchildren about.
"He was a great president," said Samuel Ramon, bracing against the cold as he entered through security. "It makes me want to see where everything happened."
The ceremony began at 12:10 pm CST with a procession by six-member bagpipes and drums band, followed by National Anthem by Monica Saldivar.
Dallas Mayor MIke Rawlings, opening the ceremony, recalled the nightmare that took place "in our front yard."
"It seems we all grew up that day, city and citizens, and suddenly we had to step up and try to live up to the envisions of our beloved president," he said.
Creating a silent backdrop to the ceremony is the red-brick building that once housed the Texas School Book Depository from which, according to The Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald fired the rifle shot from a six-story window that killed the 46-year-old president.
Roy Widley, 67, of the Dallas suburb of Richardson, also scored a lottery invitation to the event.
He said he hoped the ceremony would, once and for all, distance Dallas from the killing.
"He was slain right here and the city's taken a lot of heat for that," he said. "A lone assassin killed the president, not Dallas."
Kerry Gonzalez, 46, took time off from being a homemaker in nearby Arlington to attend the ceremony.
The ceremony is a somber memorial to a president slain in his prime, she said. But it's also a tribute to the crowds – 200,000 by some estimates – who lined downtown Dallas that day five decades ago to cheer and support their president, she said.
"It's a good way to honor what happened 50 years ago today," Gonzalez said. "There was a lot of people out that day supporting the president. It wasn't a hateful place."
The ceremony was organized as a joint event between The President John F. Kennedy Commemorative Foundation and the city of Dallas.
The solemn, dignified mood at Dealey Plaza on Friday was in sharp contrast to the confusion and chaos that reigned 50 years ago as shots rang out and the presidential limo bolted forward to rush the stricken president to Parkland Hospital.
A large banner of JFK's portrait was erected as a backdrop for the main stage. The large white 'X" that usually marks the spot where Kennedy was hit was paved on a day ago in advance of the ceremony.
Many of the familiar sites from that tragic day are still here. Network cameras were set up at the Commerce Street plaza, opposite the grassy knoll, site of many assassination conspiracy theories.
The Coalition on Political Assassinations, which usually gathers on the knoll each Nov. 22, will not be allowed to meet at the site this year during the main event. Instead, The Dallas Morning News reports, the group will hold an event at the nearby JFK memorial, then move to the plaza after the ceremony is over.
The nearby Sixth Floor Museum, which chronicles the assassination and is located on the same floor where Oswald fired on the motorcade, will open from 3 to 8 p.m. CT, after the formal ceremony.
Elsewhere in Dallas, a brief morning ceremony, including the lowering of a flag to half-staff, was scheduled at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy died.
The Texas Theatre, where police captured Oswald, will screen part of the movie War Is Hell, which was showing when the assassin slipped into the audience without paying on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.
Other events around the country:
In Washington, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respect shortly after sunrise at Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.In Hyannis, Mass., a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Veterans Memorial Park.
In Boston, the statute of John F. Kennedy was open for public viewing. A special mass commemorating the assassination anniversary was planned at Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Cathedral of the Holy Cross.