Remembering JFK 50 years later

It was Nov. 22, 1963. Americans sat glued to their televisions and radios as broadcasters announced that President John F. Kennedy had been fatally shot in Dallas.

Kennedy's murder sent shockwaves through the country, with some historians going so far to say that the event changed the trajectory of the nation's history.


Exactly 50 years later, a group of more than 30 Orange County politicians, community members and Concordia University students gathered at the Newport Beach Public Library to remember JFK's legacy.

"Every so often there is an event so traumatizing, you feel as though it's happening directly to you," said Tim Naftali, the keynote speaker of the event, which was hosted by Concordia's Center for Public Policy.


Naftali is the author of several books on Kennedy and is the former executive director of the Nixon Presidential Library for the National Archives and former professor at the University of Virginia.

For the generation old enough to remember JFK's assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald as he was traveling in a motorcade through Dallas, the event is one that changed them, Nafali said.

Keith Curry, Newport Beach mayor and director for Concordia's Center for Public Policy, remembers exactly where he was 50 years ago when news of the former president's death broke.

He was in third grade when a girl he went to school with approached him at lunch to tell him the news, he said.


"She could have said elephants fly and I would have given it more credence," he said. "It was just so unbelievable."

Nafali touched on many aspects of Kennedy's presidency, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and other issues with the Soviet Union, his creation of the Peace Corps, challenges surrounding civil rights in the southern states and his alleged womanizing.

However, Nafali focused his presentation on Kennedy's desire to serve his country and motivate a generation of people to do the same.

Kennedy's words in his inaugural address, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" were just one example of what made him the leader of a generation, Nafali said.

"A madman with a rifle killed this personification of a call to service," he said. "He deleted the self confidence of a can-do generation."

Nafali also debunked longstanding rumors that Kennedy's assassination was a conspiracy by citing evidence in the timeline of the events.

"The chronology of his life made it impossible that Kennedy's death was a conspiracy," he said.

Joe Deverian, a junior history major at Concordia University, said for someone who wasn't alive for Kennedy's assassination, hearing first-hand accounts from older generations helps keep the history alive.


"It's almost like having an artifact. It's a living artifact, actually," he said. "Listening to testimonies is a great way to learn more about JFK."