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Special Feature: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy

"John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, soldier, scholar, statesman, defender of freedom, pioneer for peace, author of hope - combining courage with reason, and combatting hate with compassion, he led the land he loved toward new frontiers of opportunity for all men and peace for all time."

--Posthumous Medal of Freedom citation, December 6, 1963

"We stand today on the edge of a new frontier--the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes..."

--Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, California, July 15, 1960

President John F. Kennedy


Kennedy Inauguration, Jan. 20, 1961

January 20: John F. Kennedy inaugurated at 35th President of the United States.

"Let 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 Americans."

"And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

--Inaugural Address, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961

March 1: President Kennedy issues an executive order creating the Peace Corps. It's goal? To train American volunteers of all ages to help "liberate independent nations from the bonds of hunger, ignorance, and poverty."

April 17-20: A C.I.A.-planned and U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba by 1,500 anti-Castro Cuban guerrillas at the Bay of Pigs fails when a hoped-for popular uprising does not occur. Although the invasion was originally planned by the Eisenhower Administration long before he took office, President Kennedy accepts full responsibility.

May 5: Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. (The Soviets were the first to put a man in space when Cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin made the first manned spaceflight in April.)

May 25: Addressing a joint session of Congress, President Kennedy announces U.S. goal of sending a manned mission to the Moon by the end of the decade.

"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."

--Address before joint session of Congress, Washington, D.C., May 25, 1961

May: "Freedom Riders" attempt to test compliance with a federal court orders calling for desegration of bus station waiting rooms throughout the South. After they are met with violence and resistance in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, federal marshalls and the National Guard are called out by Attorney General Robert Kennedy to restore order.

June 4 - 8: During four-day summit meeting in Vienna, Austria, President Kennedy meets face-to-face with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Kennedy informs Khrushchev that the U.S. will go to war to defend Berlin.

July 19: President Kennedy urges physical fitness for America's youth.

August 13: In order to prevent people from escaping, the Soviets begin erecting the "Berlin Wall," an actual phyical barrier separating East Berlin from West Berlin.

August 17: Charter establishing the Alliance for Progress, providing billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Latin American countries, is signed in Uruguay.

December 14: President Kennedy writes to South Vietnamese Premier Diem, pledging continuing U. S. support for South Vietnam against North Vietnamese agression. (By the time Kennedy left office, the number of American advisors in South Vietnam was increased from 875 to more than 16,000.)


First Lady Jackie Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy inspects John Glenn's Friendship 7 space capsule.

President John F. Kennedy in his office at the White House.

February 14: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy hosts a televised tour of an recently-renovated White House.

February 20: Astronaut John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn made three orbits before his "Friendship 7" space capsule splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

April: When steel companies violate an agreement with labor unions not to raise prices, President Kennedy goes on television to denounce the "tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility." Pressured by the Kennedy administration, steel manufacturers back down.

June: In a television address to the American people, President Kennedy challenged them to live up the nation's ideals.

"If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life that all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?"

"We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home; but are we to say to the world and, much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettos, no master race except with respect to Negroes?"

-- Television address to the American People, June 1962

July: United States and 13 other nations agree at Second Geneva Conference to guarantee independence and neutrality of Laos.

September 12: President Kennedy gives a speech at the dedication of NASA's new Manned Space Center, held at the Rice University stadium in Houston, Texas.

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard."

-- Address at Houston, Texas, September 12, 1962

October 1: Confronted by an angry mob and protected by federal marshalls, James Meredith becomes the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi. In the riot that accompanied this event, two people were killed, 28 federal marshalls were wounded, and 200 arrests were made.

Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy confer at the White House during the Cuban Missle Crisis.

October: After spy planes flying over Cuba take aerial photographs showing that Soviet nuclear missiles are based in that country, President Kennedy confronted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in what has become known as the "Cuban Missile Crisis." After ordering a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent any further military build-up there, the world held its breath as Soviet ships approached Cuba, fearing that a nuclear war might break out between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the end, Khrushchev backed down and removed the missiles in return for a U.S. promise not to invade Cuba.

"This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western hemisphere."

"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."

-- Television address to the American people, October 22, 1962

November: President Kennedy establishes the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and orders an end to racial discrimination in public housing owned, operated, or financed by the United States government.


June 11: Alabama Governor George Wallace makes token attempt to prevent the registration of African-American students at the University of Alabama.

June 12: Black Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers assassinated in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.

June 19: On the day of Medgar Evers' funeral, President Kennedy sends his Civil Rights Bill to Congress. Its two major provisions call for a ban on discrimination in places of public accommodation and granting the Attorney General the authority to seek desegregation of schools when parents and/or students are prevented from taking legal action on their own owing to lack of funds or intimidation. (Note: The bill was not passed until after Kennedy's death.)

"I ask every member of Congress to set aside sectional and political ries, and to look at this issue from the viewpoint of the nation. I ask you to look into your hearts -- not in search of charity, for the Negro neither wants nor needs condecension -- but for the one plain, proud and priceless quality that unites us all as Americans; a sense of justice."

-- Address to Congress, June 19, 1963

President John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Wall.

June 26: President Kennedy visits West Berlin and addresses a cheering crowd of about 150,000 people gathered in front of the Brandenberg Gate.

"All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' ('I am a Berliner.')"

-- Address in West Berlin, June 26, 1963

August 20: The March on Washington. Black Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his famed "I Have A Dream" speech to a crowd of 200,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Afterward, King and other Civil Rights leaders are received by President Kennedy in the White House.

October 10: Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union goes into effect.

November 2: South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem assassinated in Saigon.

President and Mrs. Kennedy greet crowds at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson takes oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.

November 22: President John F. Kennedy delivers an address in front of Fort Worth's Texas Hotel prior to flying to Dallas' Love Field, where he and the First Lady shake hands with a crowd of admirers who have come to greet them.

At about 12:30 p.m., Central Time, President Kennedy is assassinated while riding in a motorcade at Dealey Plaza in downtown, Dallas, Texas.

Before leaving for Washington, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as President aboard Air Force One at Love Field.

November 25: Following a state funeral that is televised worldwide, President John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

U.S. Flag line

Photos on this page are from the Library of Congress and the National Archives, John F. Kennedy Library.

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This webpage copyright © 2001-2013 (except where noted) by Steven Butler, Ph.D. All rights reserved.