50 Years’ Perspective

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50 years later: Governor Mike Beebe recites John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech on the steps of post office in North Little Rock, Arkansas

1963: The year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated; the year my only sibling, Lesli Ann, was born.

Today, during a gloriously sunny noon hour, I was one of about 200 people gathered at the steps of the former Argenta Post Office (now Laman Library branch) in North Little Rock to listen as Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe read John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address. You know the most famous passage of that address: “… ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I was struck by other passages that, despite being spoken more than 50 years ago, are very relevant today. Passages such as, “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

And, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

In Arkansas we have the divisive issues of gun and abortion rights. Nationally we have the equality of marriage act being debated in the California Supreme Court, gun control and the never-ending questioning of tax laws. Meanwhile, our fellow citizens are starving, going without shelter, with ineffective education, without jobs, without basic healthcare, and those babies who are born to mothers who cannot care for them go in need of loving adoptive families, of any gender combination.

I talked with my mom this past weekend about the upcoming JFK photography exhibit in Argenta. I told her I hoped to listen to Governor Beebe’s address and to look at the photos.

She said wistfully, “I lived it. I don’t have to see it.” I wonder if I’ll feel that way about 9/11 memorial exhibitions many years from now.

Mom told me again as she’s told me in the past: When she was pregnant with my sister in 1963, following the national tension of electing the first non-Protestant president, especially one who was seen to have such “radical” views (in the South) on race relations and equality, the Watts riots and related events, she remembers wondering what kind of tumultuous world she was bringing a child into. Let me be clear – she supported then and still supports racial equality – but she saw what the struggle had brought forth.

View from the triple underpass overlooking the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaze in Dallas.

View from the triple underpass overlooking the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

In five years, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be dead, and a year after those tragedies, the United States would put a man on the moon. Tumultuous times indeed. But no different than today.

As Governor Beebe recited the famous words spoken by our 35th president, I thought about my visit to Dealey Plaza in Dallas this past Friday. I thought about President Kennedy on his inauguration day, laying out his vision for the nation’s future, full of hope. And I thought about the video I’ve seen – we’ve all seen – of the president’s motorcade in Dallas, of the deadly shot, of Jackie scooping up pieces of her husband’s brains, of the chaos and speculation that ensued.

Kelley and I stood looking over that very place. The place where this young president was assassinated. By exactly whom and why is still speculated. The place where thousands and thousands of visitors pay homage each year, especially this year. Fifty years later.

I can’t help thinking: what will be our children’s and grandchildren’s perspective 50 years from now?

My hope is we’ll have the same view on marriage equality and homosexuality then as (most of us do) now on racial equality and women’s rights. I hope the debates in the Arkansas legislature and in the nation’s capital don’t put us in reverse.

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