Study Guide

John F. Kennedy Assassination

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On 21 November 1963, Jack and Jackie Kennedy flew to Texas for a five-day tour of the Lone Star State. JFK was looking to garner support for his upcoming re-election campaign and believed that a strong win in Texas would be essential for victory. On 22 November, the second day of the Kennedys' visit, the presidential couple planned to make an appearance at the Trade Mart in Dallas. As Jack and Jackie rode through the streets of Dallas in an open limousine, waving to the masses that had gathered to catch a glimpse of the first couple, the sound of gunfire suddenly rang out. Sitting next to his wife, the president had been shot twice: once in the neck and once in the back of the head. John F. Kennedy was killed almost instantly.

Following the announcement of Jack's assassination, the nation was overwhelmed by a sense of despair and hopelessness. Americans young and old asked themselves how such a tragedy could have taken place, how a president who had come to symbolize a new era in American politics could have been so abruptly killed. Later that evening, Dallas police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, a troubled 24-year-old man with connections to communist groups and organized crime, for the murder of John F. Kennedy (he was also suspected of murdering a police officer the same day). In an unexpected, dramatic twist of events, Lee Harvey Oswald was himself shot and killed only two days later by Jack Ruby, a strip club owner with mafia connections. As Ruby fired the fatal bullet, he shouted, "You killed my president, you rat!" Though historians have speculated about the rationale behind Oswald's actions for more than forty-five years, no one has reached a convincing conclusion. A wealth of conspiracy theories—CIA involvement, mafia retaliation, multiple gunmen, even Lyndon B. Johnson as the mastermind—have been put forward, but there is little evidence to fully support any of them.

In many ways, John F. Kennedy's assassination solidified his status as an American icon. Though Jack enjoyed prominence and celebrity throughout his political career, his sudden death made him into something of a martyr. In his eulogy for the fallen president, Senator Jacob Javits eloquently described JFK's impact on the American people: "Not until the vacuum of disbelief was filled with the horror of comprehension did any of us realize how much we identified ourselves…with the president—this intellectual, vigorous young man expressing the very essence of the youthfulness of our nation." Although Kennedy was by no means a perfect person, husband, or president, his shortcomings have been overshadowed by the memory of his youthfulness, his charisma, and his vision for a new America. For millions of Americans, John F. Kennedy was truly the king of Camelot.

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