President John F. Kennedy was a beacon of hope for a new, younger generation. In his inaugural speech, Kennedy promised to unite America by exploring problems together instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. He was an inspiring public icon, and the American people found it difficult to accept that a ‘lone gunman’ (Lee Harvey Oswald) could single-handedly kill the president.
Alan Lessoff a history professor at ISU, said he was four years old at the time, and that the assassination was his first coherent memory.
“Then all of the sudden I can remember Walter Cronkite coming on and saying, ‘We interrupt this program because the president has been shot,’” Lessoff said. “So, I ran into the kitchen and said, ‘Your stories have been taken off because the president has been shot.’”
The media covered the event for four straight days leading up to the president’s funeral, clearing commercial interruptions.
President Johnson took over immediately after the assassination and continued the president’s policies (such as the Civil Rights Act), Ross Kennedy, associate professor of history, said.
Tensions were high at this time with Cuba and Russia. In 1961, President Kennedy had issued an unsuccessful military invasion of Cuba, today known as the Bay of Pigs, undertaken by the CIA to overthrow Fidel Castro.
A week after the assassination, the Warren Commission was established by President Johnson to investigate the murder of JFK. The Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone, Lessoff said.
The material from the Warren Commission has proven controversial and has been both challenged and supported by later studies, including the 1978 House Select Committee on Assassination, Ross Kennedy said.
The conspiracy theories include that multiple gunman were on the scene, the mob had a hand in the assassination, Fidel Castro planned the attack and the CIA did it, among others.
“It really matters if one thinks JFK would have done the same in Vietnam and there are a lot of historians who argue back and forth on that,” Kennedy said. “The assassination had such a physiological shock on people. The whole sequence of events from this in 1963 to 1973 seemed to have shaken Americans’ faith in their government.”
In 2017, the rest of the Kennedy Collection documents will be declassified for investigation.