The World and How I See It: JFK’s legacy lives on 50 years later

Zachary Denney, Online & Opinion Editor

November 22, 1963 12:30 PM CST— A day that along with many other days will live in infamy in American history. This was the day that the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963), was tragically shot, once through the chest and once in the brain, by the gun of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, in Dallas, Texas.

The scenes of Jacqueline Kennedy in a pink suit stained with her husband’s blood, the funeral procession through the streets of our nation’s capital and the final salute given by the late president’s son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., are to this day among the most recognized images by Americans.  This year marks a half century since that tragic day and coincidentally many of the problems our nation and world faced in 1963 still haunt us today.

He was a man of great character. A man who strived for world peace.  A half century later, Americans, young and old, still look up to our late president. In a world that has vastly changed since 1963, but still faces the same threats to an extent, his ideas live on and continue to inspire people, especially ones born after that tragic November day.

We look up to him because of how he viewed humanity with hope. Hope is something we yearn for, especially in times of tragedy or despair. We all hope to be better people and to improve our country as well as the lives of ourselves and our fellow man. To this day, I believe the legacy of JFK can teach us many lessons, not just in politics and society, but moral and human lessons.

When JFK was elected, African-Americans were still subjugated by segregation laws in the South and many who spoke out against the plague of racism in America, African-American or not, were mocked or in some cases, such as Medger Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, silenced through death. Our late president was embarrassed that a nation that proclaimed freedom and promoted its system of government above all others, denied basic freedoms to its own citizens on account of race.

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated,” said President Kennedy in his June 1963 civil rights address. Racial inequality today may not be as persistent as it was in the 1960s, but it’s still very much an issue in our nation. We can see it in our justice system for example, where in this nation, people of color make up 30 percent of the population, but make up 60 percent of those imprisoned.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that black and Hispanic motorists are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. At the school level, the Center for American Progress has found that “students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated.”

It’s simply ridiculous that in a free country that passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both being dreams of JFK that were passed after his death, that we still face severe racial inequalities, but it’s completely unacceptable that the justice system, which is supposed to be on the side of the people, has unfairly discriminated against its own constituents. There are even threats to the landmark legislation of the civil rights movement. Just this past June, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, which prevented certain states, mostly in the South, from changing their voting laws without federal approval, so that discrimination would not exist at the ballot box. Chief Justice John Roberts remarked that the country has changed and that the Voting Rights Act was simply unable to serve the conditions of today.

Not only did our late President believe in basic civil rights for all, he believed that in a time where the world would live forevermore with the threat of total self-annihilation, that we should find ways of expanding world peace and global friendships. We saw part of this idea in his creation of the Peace Corps, where young Americans volunteer and give support to people in third world countries, in hope of spreading democratic ideals. JFK also saw the importance of the United Nations to the world, for both societal and security reasons.

Sadly, almost a half-century later, we still live in a frightening world. In places like Syria, North Korea and Iran, people perish every day in the fight for their basic human rights. The world has made some strides in world peace, but a lack of enthusiasm for the United Nations, the failure of distancing ourselves from the military-industrial complex and creating global friendships over global conflicts, has led to wars that never should have been fought, millions injured, thousands killed, and nations destroyed—many of these things in the last decade, but for what reason?

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” This quote—JFK’s words—will stay relevant through the ages. On the occasion of the 50th year since our late president was taken from us so soon, we should learn to appreciate, comprehend, and most importantly, live his quote.