JFK and LBJ

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President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy in Dallas, Texas motorcade
President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy in Dallas, Texas motorcade

“The president has been shot,” the tall man in the black suit announced.

Jim and I were just approaching the door to Frisch’s restaurant on Glenway Avenue in Western Hills Cincinnati.

Graduate students, we often met for lunch after class. This day, we just immediately turned around and headed for my apartment on Shirley Place to get the TV on.

Two PBS specials Tuesday brought that late November day back. You never forget where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news of the president’s assassination.

The earlier program focused on President Kennedy. It featured film of this youthful, handsome man with his beautiful wife Jackie.

Clips included Kennedy greeting thousands of well-wishers in Dallas and brief moments of his speeches, including the unforgettable line from his Inaugural – “Ask not what you can do for your country…”

I was reminded of JFK’s easy eloquence and how he avoided war with Cuba over the missile crisis. But the program touched on much more. Kennedy opened the door to an era of civil rights and progressive legislation. Then, too soon, it was over.

Three shots from the schoolbook depository, and it was over.

CBS’ legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite gave the nation the news: “President Kennedy has died at 12:40 p.m.,
Central time.”

The second hour focused on Lyndon Johnson. This proved much more than a footnote to the JFK program. I was reminded of how Johnson carried on with such dignity as the mantle passed to this larger-than-life Texan.

LBJ not only pushed through Congress a stronger civil rights bill than Kennedy has introduced. Johnson won support for Medicare and Medicaid, some of the most progressive social legislation ever adopted in this country.

Further, Johnson persuaded Congress to pass the historic Voting Rights Act, over the opposition of southern lawmakers – fellow Democrats!

Tragically, Johnson’s presidency was soon bogged down over Vietnam. I recall no mention in the program of that foreign policy debacle. That war came to overshadow LBJ’s historic domestic achievements. What a shame!

That late November day, my friend Jim finally left my place and headed home. It was sunny in Dallas but overcast in Cincinnati.

That was a day America was changed forever.

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