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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

In a few days’ time, on Friday the 22nd of November, it will be 50 years to the day since John F. (Fitzgerald) Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. People old enough say that they remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. Well, I know exactly where I was, I was in my mother’s womb about half way through my 40-week gestation 😛 She was at a school concert with my father in Salisbury where he was teaching at the time (with me as a free guest), my elder two sisters were in the house with a babysitter.

Kennedy was not the first US President to be assassinated in office. In fact, in total three US Presidents have been assassinated in office, the other most famous one being of course Abraham Lincoln, who was shot whilst at the theatre in April 1865 at the beginning of his second term of office. The other, less well known US President to be assassinated in office was the 20th President, James Garfield. He was shot in July 1881, less than four months into his term of office.



John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas with his wife Jackie moments before he was assassinated.

John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas with his wife Jackie moments before he was assassinated.



What has made Kennedy’s assassination one of the defining moments of the 20th Century? Is it because he was the youngest ever US President to be elected into office? Is it because his shooting is captured on film? Is it because there are still questions as to whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting him? Is it because of the speculation over his affair with Marilyn Monroe and supposed Mafia links? Whatever the reasons, it is sobering to think that the only one of his immediate family still alive today is his daughter Caroline, with Jackie Kennedy Onassis dying in 1994, and John F. Kennedy Jr. dying in 1999 at the age of 38 when the plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

It is also interesting to speculate on how different the USA and the World might have been had Kennedy not been assassinated. Would the US have become as involved in Vietnam under Kennedy as the country did under Johnson? How would US/Soviet relations developed under Kennedy? What about US/Cuba relations? Would his younger brother Bobby ever have run for President had JFK not been assassinated? Presumably, had he not, Bobby too would not have been assassinated either.

There are, of course, countless books and documentaries about Kennedy’s assassination. I heard an interview on the radio recently with an academic who has written a book on the assassination 50 years on. One of the most fascinating things mentioned in that interview was how rushed the official enquiry into his assassination, the so-called “Warren Commission” was. It was started only seven days after his death, under the direction of President Johnson. He appointed Earl Warren, the head of the Supreme Court, to lead the investigation. Even though Warren apparently did not want to do it, Johnson gave him no choice in the matter.

The enquiry only lasted nine months, which meant that some potential evidence was either not gathered, or not looked into in any detail. There was a lot of disagreement amongst members of the Commission, with many members not being allowed to see important findings. Even his autopsy was apparently mis-handled. Jackie chose it to be conducted by the Navy, as her husband had served in the Navy. The Navy coroners had little to no experience of investigating gun-shot wounds; had the autopsy been done by the Army it may have been possible to learn a lot more about the circumstances of his death. Because of this, and other things, a lot of speculation still exists as to the true circumstances of Kennedy’s assassination, with many questioning both then and now the findings that Oswald acted alone.

A web search will quickly turn up actual footage of JFK’s assassination, so I thought I would show something different. Here instead is the footage of Walter Cronkite, US news anchor, announcing live on US TV first of all the breaking news that Kennedy has been shot, and later the news that he has died.





Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? Or, where were your parents? Or, for my even younger readers, your grand parents?

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Tomorrow (28th of August) marks the 50th anniversary of what has become one of the most famous speeches in history, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The speech was part of a “March on Washington for jobs and freedom”, which was organised by 6 civil rights organisations. These were King’s “Southern Christian Leadership Conference”, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People” (NAACP), “The National Urban League”, “The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters”, “The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” (SNCC) and “The Congress of Racial Equality”. The day included many performers and speeches. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez sang together, but for most people the highlight was King’s speech.



Martin Luther King giving his "I have a dream" speech on the 28th of August 1963.

Martin Luther King giving his “I have a dream” speech on the 28th of August 1963.



I suspect nearly everyone is familiar with the “I have a dream” part of this speech. But in the video clip below is the complete speech, which is some 16 minutes long. The “I have a dream” part doesn’t begin until the 12th minute, and I would imagine a lot of people are not famiiar with what King says before the famous finale.

Here is the opening part of the speech:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

I am trying to remember when I first became aware of this speech. I think it was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I know from talking to my children that they are now introduced to the ideas of King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela in their “religious education” classes, something we were not when I was in school.

Although I am a little vague as to when I first became aware of the “I have a dream” part of this magnificent speech, I do remember distinctly when I first became aware of the beginnings of the speech. It was in 1998, and I had bought a DVD of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and it had an article on this speech including a video of the complete speech. This was in the days before YouTube, and it was the first time I had heard the opening parts.





Within a few months of King giving this speech, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Initially it seemed as if the hope of meaningful civil rights legislation had died with him; Lyndon Johnson had never shown much support for this cause. But, to many people’s surprise, Johnson pushed through the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964, ensuring most forms of racial segregation in the US were outlawed.

In the years that followed this famous I have a dream speech Martin Luther King would go on to accomplish many other great things, including being the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on the 4th of April 1968, and towards the beginning of April next year I will write the fourth blog in this series, summarising his life from this speech through to his death only four and a half years later.

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If any of you have seen the wonderful film Dead Poets Society, you will be familiar with this poem O Captain! My Captain!by Walt Whitman. The poem is used in the film to dramatic effect, but I won’t spoil it for those of you yet to see the film.


O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

The poem concerns the death of American President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth whilst attending the theatre in Washington D.C.


The American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892)


What is your favourite Walt Whitman poem?

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