john f. kennedy

Opinion
8:14 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Remembering how a young president pushed us to do good in the world

Lessenberry commentary for 11/21/13

Tomorrow, the media will engage in a vast commemoration of the assassination of President Kennedy. In fact, there have already been a flood of TV specials, magazine covers, and newspaper series. Everyone is once again debating everything from the single bullet theory to the merits of his presidency. And my guess is that pretty much everyone under the age of 40, maybe even 50, wonders what all the fuss was about.

Well, here’s something that may help you put it in perspective. When the assassination happened I was in seventh grade Spanish class. The principal came on the public address system. Overcome with emotion, he said only, “The President is dead.” Someone said, “Our President?” The teacher said no, she thought it might be Chile. They were having a lot of unrest there, she said. Of course, they would probably not have interrupted our class in Michigan if all of Chile had sunk into the Pacific Ocean.

But the fact that our young and vigorous and unbelievably charismatic president was dead was inconceivable to her, and pretty much everyone else. That afternoon I remember cars pulled over, drivers listening to the radio and crying. I’ve never seen that again.

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Idealism realized
3:09 pm
Wed October 13, 2010

Celebrating JFK's Peace Corps speech (with audio)

Then Senator John F. Kennedy speaks to students on the steps of the Michigan Union at 2am on October 14th, 1960.
Bentley Historical Library

Fifty years ago today, people in Ann Arbor, Michigan were anticipating the arrival of then Senator John F. Kennedy. He was on the campaign trail in a tight race for the presidency with Richard Nixon.

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Documentary
12:20 pm
Wed October 13, 2010

Kennedy and the Peace Corps: Idealism on the Ground

Then Senator John F. Kennedy on the steps of the Michigan Union. In a short speech, he challenged students to serve in other countries.
Bentley Historical Library

Its critics called it "naive idealism."

In the 1950s, the United States' answer to the global spread of Communism had been military strength and monetary aid to prop up nations friendly to the U.S., including dictators and other authoritarian governments.

That changed late one chilly night on the campus of the University of Michigan when Democratic candidate for president, John F. Kennedy, challenged students to help the world.

They took it seriously. They organized. They made a proposal, and Kennedy embraced it.

He called it the Peace Corps.

In "Kennedy and the Peace Corps: Idealism on the Ground" you'll hear from some of the students who took on Kennedy's challenge and the White House staff who helped make it reality.

Listen to the documentary here: