JFK 50: Remembering the Kennedy Assassination

JFK 50: Remembering the Kennedy Assassination

JFK 50: Remembering the Kennedy Assassination

President John F. Kennedy Served as a Symbol of Hope in 1963

By Kristi Nelson
|  Thursday, Nov 21, 2013  |  Updated 11:56 AM CDT
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President John F. Kennedy was a symbol of hope for many black people, especially after giving a nationally-televised speech on civil rights during the chaotic summer of 1963.

Kristi Nelson, NBC 5 News

President John F. Kennedy was a symbol of hope for many black people, especially after giving a nationally-televised speech on civil rights during the chaotic summer of 1963.

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Inauguration Speech: 'Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You'

On Jan. 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy took the oath of office to become the 35th president of the United States. He then delivered one of his most famous speeches, an inaugural address in which he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Watch JFK take the oath of office, followed by his full inaugural address.
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The summer of 1963 was a pivotal year for the civil rights movement. Black people in the South were still denied the right to vote and barred from public facilities, and in the North they faced housing discrimination and violence.

"It was turmoil, I mean leading up to the march on Washington, we had Birmingham and kids taking to the streets and being brutalized," recalled Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sander who was a high school student in Fort Worth at the time.

President John F. Kennedy was a symbol of hope for many black people, especially after giving a nationally-televised speech on civil rights during the chaotic summer of 1963.

"I can still feel the chills on me," said Sanders. "I had tears coming down my face."

Sanders remembers the impact Kennedy had on black people. To many, Kennedy represented change.

"In fact, I call him hope personified for those of us who were still dealing with segregation, and indeed he was," said Sanders.

Kennedy asked each American to examine his conscience and asked that every American of every color be allowed to enjoy the privileges of being an American.

"John Kennedy brought hope to Black America that did not exist before John Kennedy," said Dallas civil rights leader Peter Johnson. At the time, he was a fiery teenager already fighting for civil rights.

But when the president was killed, for many black people, it seems hope died too.

"After John Kennedy was assassinated -- if you would travel around Black America -- you would see hanging on the walls of black homes, the picture of John Kennedy," said Johnson.

50 years later, Johnson keeps a signed portrait of JFK on his desk in Dallas, right next to a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Civil Rights Act was not passed before Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it was left in the hands of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Johnson used his connections with southern white congressional leaders and the outpouring of emotion after the president's death to get the bill passed. He signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin and paved the way for future anti-discrimination legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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