John F. Kennedy Centennial 1917-2017. Credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
On Memorial Day, Monday, May 29, events across the United States marked the 100th birthday of former President John F. Kennedy (widely known by his initials, JFK). Kennedy served as the 35th president of the United States from 1961 until his death in 1963. Many Americans saw JFK’s election and brief time in office—often idealized as “Camelot”—as an inspiring national renewal. But his shocking assassination reversed this optimism and began a dark decade of further assassinations—notably Martin Luther King, Jr., and Kennedy’s brother Robert—Cold War tensions, race riots, the Vietnam War, and the disgrace and downfall of President Richard M. Nixon. JFK was born 100 years ago this week on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.
In April 2017, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government hosted a centennial symposium featuring panel discussions on JFK’s policy priorities and their relevance today. On May 23, the U.S. National Archives hosted “#JFK100 Social Media Day” to discuss JFK’s impact on the nation. The “JFK 100 Centennial Celebration” takes place from May through the end of the year at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site (JFK’s birthplace and childhood home in Massachusetts). The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., began a series of “JFK 100” events in May, as did the “Kennedy Compound” (a grouping of three Kennedy homes) in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum opened “JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos” on May 26, 2017, an exhibit filled with personal and historical items that runs through May 2018.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy served as the 35th president of the United States from 1961 to 1963. He was born 100 years ago this week on May 29, 1917. Credit: © Pictorial Press/Alamy Images
Kennedy, a Democrat, won the 1960 presidential election with his “New Frontier” program after a series of television debates with then-Vice President Nixon, his Republican opponent. At 43, JFK was the youngest man ever elected president. Kennedy was the first president of the Roman Catholic faith and the first president born in the 1900's.
In his inaugural address, President Kennedy declared that “a new generation of Americans” had taken over leadership of the country. He said Americans would “… pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” He told Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
John F. Kennedy’s family consisted of the president; his son, John, Jr.; his wife, Jackie; his daughter, Caroline; and a number of pets. Credit: John F. Kennedy Library
Kennedy won world respect as the leader of the Free World. In 1961, he created the Peace Corps, a volunteer organization that sent Americans abroad to help people in developing nations raise their standards of living. In 1962, JFK helped avert nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. The near-but-avoided calamity began a period of “thaw” in the Cold War as relations grew friendlier between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1963, the rival nations (and over 100 other countries) signed a treaty limiting the testing of nuclear weapons. On the home front, the United States prospered under JFK. The economy steadily improved; African Americans made great progress in their quest for equal rights; and the United States made its first piloted space flights and prepared to send astronauts to the moon.
JFK and his wife, Jacqueline (often called Jackie), brought youth and informality to the White House. Their young children Caroline and John, Jr., (called John-John) amused and charmed the nation. Jackie, a driver of women’s fashion, also won praise for her redecoration of the White House, turning the mansion into a historic showplace and tourist attraction. After JFK’s death in 1963, the image of nearly-3-year-old John-John saluting his father’s coffin brought the nation to tears.
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