The newspapers remind me that it was fifty years ago this week that President John Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
The first question for readers old enough is, "Where were you?" Easy for me. I was a reporter then, working out of London. The news hit Britons, I think, almost as hard as it hit Americans. Big Ben normally tolls the hours, halves, and quarters like any clock with a bell tower. When a sovereign--a king or queen--dies, it tolls in mourning once every minute. It tolled once a minute for Kennedy too--the only time it's ever done that for a non-royal. On a more prosaic note, cab drivers, once they'd heard your American accent, wouldn't take your money.
The more serious question is, what is JFK's legacy? It's not so much what he did, I think, as what he started. He said men should walk on the moon and men--Americans--did. I remember that because CBS News, for which I then worked, stayed on the air the whole time astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stayed on the moon--twenty-some hours.
The most important domestic legislation of the 60s was probably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Kennedy's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, was president by then, but there's no doubt JFK helped set the stage for them.
Maybe the atmosphere of his years in power mattered most. His widow Jacqueline called it Camelot, King Arthur's realm. Many Americans came to believe she was right.