With the 50th anniversary of president John F. Kennedy's assassination upon us, I have been honored by being asked by the Kennedy Library to contribute a short memory of JFK. Below is an excerpt from Chapter Two of my historical memoir Ice Cream Camelot which will be on display and available for reading in a few days. My sincere thanks to the Kennedy Library not only for this great honor but for all of their tireless assistance in the writing of Ice Cream Camelot.
Click here for: The Kennedy Presidential Library And Museum
By 1960 it was becoming
increasingly evident that the order of the day would be change. No matter how desperately Americans longed to cling to the
peace and sameness of the past decade, the world was in flux. The Russians were
in space, Castro was in Cuba, and civil rights and integration were quickly
becoming the catch words of a new era. In addition, another war lurked just
around the next corner. Even my life had taken some drastic and unexpected
changes. My beloved aunt had passed on, the family had moved to the suburbs,
and I was spending less and less time running the streets of South Philly. I
never saw Dominick again. A generation of backyard barbecues and bomb shelters
had been born out of old fears and new threats, both real and imagined. This
new, younger generation was ready for a change in the guard, and John
Fitzgerald Kennedy was their choice, describing himself as a man “born in this
century,” keen to explore “the New Frontier.”
With the limited understanding of
my age, I followed the 1960 campaigns, proudly displaying a Kennedy/Johnson
button on my school jacket, much to my conservative Republican father’s dismay.
Try as I may I didn’t fully understand the mechanics and methods of the
political scene, including the newly popular catch phrase “racial equality.”
Here ten-year-old reason faltered.
Growing up in ethnically diverse
and divided South Philadelphia, I witnessed firsthand the real and imagined
boundaries that separated Italians from Irish, Germans from Polish, the poor
from the wealthy, and black from white. Through mute acceptance, my parents and
teachers alike instilled in me the belief that this division was normal. My
background people were neatly and logically ordered. Thanks to TV news, I also
witnessed the heart rending, often violent struggles for racial equality,
especially in the South. The simplistic logic that all men were created equal
seemed to me a no-brainer. We were taught it in school, preached it in church,
and lectured on it in the news. And yet the girls sat behind the boys; wives
were subservient to their husbands; and blacks lived separate from whites. I
had always been taught to treat everyone with equal respect. But it never
occurred to my young mind that everyone I came into contact with was of the
same race. I sympathized with the struggles of black Americans and witnessed
the inequality of my own existence, never once equating the two.
What I did understand was that
young Americans all across the country were drawn in by the Kennedy charm and
magnetism. The rhetoric was too loud, the momentum too strong, and the
bandwagon too exciting to resist.
Following the conventions, the
fall campaigns kicked into high gear. This time my Twilight Zone and Ozzie and
Harriet and Untouchables were
preempted by terse political updates and tense political debates. All the while
the country grew more divided: the segregationists vs. the integrationists; the
established vs. the new order; the right vs. the left; the young vs. the old.
Lines were tightly drawn and Election Day found the dissimilar pair in a dead
Tuesday, November 8, 1960,
brought confusing and conflicting news feeds:
“Uncertain Election Results Favor
“Fighting Erupts in South
Hyannis Port, Mass., Sen. John F. Kennedy watched his early lead over Vice
President Nixon narrow as the evening progressed and refused to claim victory
before Nixon conceded defeat.
watched the returns come in at his suite in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles
and later “virtually concedes,” according to a report written to appear the
California, with 32 electoral votes, Kennedy maintained a lead over Nixon.
Nixon, however, remained confident of winning his home state once absentee
ballots were counted.
Illinois, Kennedy maintained a slim lead.
the uncertain returns, New York Times
reporter James Reston prepared a story for tomorrow's edition of his paper
saying it appeared Kennedy had won election.
story prepared for the next day’s paper said, “... in the final hours of
Election Day we do not collectively know what we have decided.”
The agonizing election night
dragged on into the next day without a clear winner. Finally, 43-year-old
Kennedy was declared the victor in one of the closest presidential elections of
the 20th century. Kennedy managed to carry the popular vote over
Nixon by just two-tenths of one percent. In the Electoral College he won 303
votes to his opponent’s 219. And in a portentous sign of troubled times to
come, fourteen electors from Mississippi and Alabama refused to support Kennedy
because of his support for the civil rights movement.
Friday, January 20, 1961, I sat
in my desk at St. Pius X Grade School, watching with the rest of my class as
Kennedy was inaugurated the thirty-fifth president of the United States. During
his acceptance speech, the compelling leader boldly stated that we were “on the
edge of a new frontier,” letting “the word go forth from this time and place,
to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of
Feeling a part of that new generation, I had
unwittingly found an idol and hero.
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As we get closer to the season, enjoy this little expose on everyone's favorite: the fruitcake! And be sure to comment; 'like' and pass it on. Thanks!