JFK and JBK in Mexico

Alliance for Progress (Alianza para el Progreso)

President Kennedy was determined to improve relations with Latin America through peaceful economic cooperation and development—which would also inhibit the rise of communist-leaning insurgents such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Kennedy proposed, through the Agency for International Development and the Alliance for Progress, both launched in 1961, to loan more than $20 billion to Latin American nations that would promote democracy and undertake meaningful social reforms, especially in making land ownership possible for greater numbers of their people.

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Pablo Casals performs at White House Dinner for Governor and Mrs. Munoz-Marin of Puerto Rico, November 13, 1961.

Arts and Culture in the Kennedy White House

The Kennedys made the arts part of their life in the White House. JFK enjoyed literature and poetry, especially the work of the Romantic era English poet Lord Byron and the American Robert Frost. Jacqueline Kennedy loved poetry as well and was also deeply committed to both music and the visual arts. There is little evidence that JFK was particularly sophisticated about the arts. He read widely, but never considered himself an intellectual or an original thinker. His musical tastes ran to Broadway show tunes and Irish ballads rather than Mozart or Beethoven. Once, when asked about the president’s taste in music, the first lady replied that his favorite piece was “Hail to the Chief.”

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President Kennedy addresses the 2506 Brigade. Miami, Florida, Orange Bowl Stadium. L-R: Miami Mayor Robert King High,  Manuel Artime (saluting), former Cuban President Jose Miro Cardona, President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy.

The Bay of Pigs

During the period between the election and his inauguration, JFK was briefed on a CIA plan developed within the Eisenhower Administration to train Cuban exiles for an invasion of their homeland. The United States was distrustful of Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, and wary of his relationship with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier. The plan anticipated that support from the Cuban people and perhaps even from elements of the Cuban military would lead to the overthrow of Castro and the establishment of a non-communist government friendly to the United States.

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Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts stops in a diner while campaigning in Nashua, New Hampshire, during the New Hampshire Primary Campaign.

Campaign of 1960

John Kennedy was elected president in one of the closest elections in United States history. Kennedy's popular vote margin over Nixon was 118,550 out of a total of nearly 69 million votes cast. His success in many urban and industrial states gave him a clear majority of 303 to 219 in the electoral vote. Kennedy was the youngest elected president, the only Catholic and the first born in the twentieth century.

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JFKWHP-AR7993-B (crop): Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Rights Leaders with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, 22 June 1963

Civil Rights Movement

When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, black Americans, especially those living in southern and border states, were denied legal equality and human dignity. They could not vote, were barred from public facilities, were subjected to routine insults and violence (often carried out by law enforcement officials), and could not expect justice from the courts. Blacks were second‑class citizens, and the white South was determined to keep it that way. In the North, black Americans also faced discrimination (although it was more subtle) in housing, employment, and education. But, from 1961‑1963, the focus of civil rights activity was on the South. The fundamental prize sought by the civil rights movement of the early 1960’s was something that black America had never known: full legal equality.

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President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev meet in Vienna, 03 June 1961.

The Cold War

During World War II, despite mutual suspicion and distrust, the United States and Great Britain joined the Soviet Union in an effort to defeat their common enemy, Nazi Germany. The alliance began to crumble immediately after the surrender of the Hitler government in May 1945. Tensions were apparent during the Potsdam Conference in July, where the victorious Allies created the joint occupation of Germany. Determined to have a buffer zone between its borders and Western Europe, the Soviet Union set up pro-communist regimes in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Albania and eventually in East Germany. Recognizing that it would not be possible to force the Soviets out of Eastern Europe, the United States developed the policy of containment to prevent the spread of Soviet and communist influence and power in Western European nations such as France, Italy and Greece.

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KN-C29210 President Kennedy at the Berlin Wall with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and others, 26 June 1963.

The Cold War in Berlin

In the early morning hours of August 13, 1961, the people of Berlin were awakened by the rumbling of heavy machinery barreling down their street toward the line that divided the eastern and western parts of the city. Groggy citizens looked on as work details began digging holes and jack hammering sidewalks, clearing the way for the barbed wire that would eventually be strung across the dividing line. Armed troops manned the crossing points between the two sides and, by morning, a ring of Soviet troops surrounded the city. In one night, the freedom to pass between the two sections of Berlin had been abruptly halted.

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Aerial reconnaissance photograph of MRBM Launch Site 1, San Cristobal, Cuba, 23 October 1962.

Cuban Missile Crisis

In October 1962, an American U2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba. Because he did not want Cuba and the Soviet Union to know that he had discovered the missiles, Kennedy met in secret with his advisors for several days to discuss the problem. After many long and difficult meetings, Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade, or a ring of ships, around Cuba to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies, and demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites.

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JFK and Graph

JFK on the Economy and Taxes

The president decided that only a bold domestic program, including tax cuts, would restore his political momentum. Declaring that the absence of recession is not tantamount to economic growth, the president proposed in 1963 to cut income taxes from a range of 20-91% to 14-65% He also proposed a cut in the corporate tax rate from 52% to 47%. Ironically, economic growth expanded in 1963, and Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress insisted that reducing taxes without corresponding spending cuts was unacceptable. Kennedy disagreed, arguing that “a rising tide lifts all boats” and that strong economic growth would not continue without lower taxes.

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Green Berets

President John F. Kennedy was visionary in his efforts to increase the capability of the United States Department of Defense in the conduct of Counter Insurgency and Unconventional Warfare. He recognized the unique capabilities and value of US Army Special Forces “Green Berets” in the struggle against despotic insurgency, and ensured their predominance in his global initiatives for freedom.

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AR6894-A   President Kennedy meets the McGrath Family during National Retarded Children's Week, 14 November, 1961.

JFK and People with Intellectual Disabilities

At the dawn of the New Frontier, as John F. Kennedy launched his administration, intellectual disability was a neglected issue, receiving minimal state or federal funding. Few scientists were researching its causes, and even fewer doctors and educators were trained to support people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities were cared for in overcrowded, understaffed institutions that isolated them from their families and communities. President Kennedy, with strong support from his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, brought mental retardation “out of the shadows” and into the public light.

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KN-C29366(crop) President Kennedy in motorcade in Ireland, June 27, 1963.

John F. Kennedy and Ireland

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America’s first Irish-Catholic president, was the offspring of two families whose roots stretched back to Ireland.

The Fitzgerald family was from western Ireland in the rural County Limerick village of Bruff. Sometime between 1846 and 1855 some of the Fitzgeralds migrated to America because of the devastating potato famine. Thomas Fitzgerald, born in Bruff in 1823, and Rose Anna Cox, born in County Cavan in 1835 were the parents of John Francis Fitzgerald, who was born in Boston, MA on February 11, 1863. On September 18, 1889, John Francis (“Honey Fitz”) Fitzgerald married Mary Josephine Hannon of Acton, MA, daughter of Michael Hannon and Mary Ann Fitzgerald, both of whom were born in Ireland. Their daughter, and John F. Kennedy’s mother, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, was born on July 22, 1890 in Boston, MA.

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AR6561-O President and Mrs. Kennedy following arrival ceremonies for President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia.

Jacqueline Kennedy in the White House

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born on July 28, 1929 in Southampton, New York. Her father, John Vernou Bouvier III, was an affluent Wall Street stockbroker whose ancestors had arrived from France in the early 1800s. Her mother, Janet Lee Bouvier, an accomplished equestrienne, was of Irish and English parentage. Jackie spent her childhood in New York City and Long Island and later, following her mother's divorce in 1940 and remarriage to Hugh D. Auchincloss II in 1942, in McLean, Virginia and Newport, Rhode Island. Her favorite pastimes were reading, sketching, writing poems and riding horses.

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AR6454-B President Kennedy's News Conference of 23 March 1961, with mapboard used to illustrate Communist Rebel Areas in Laos.

Laos

The deteriorating political situation in Laos was a matter of serious concern in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy took office. As one of the three separate states of the formerly French-ruled Indochina (Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos), Laos was a key to the rest of Southeast Asia.

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AR8255-3D  Honor guard bearing President Kennedy's body approaches grave site at Arlington National Cemetery, 25 November 1963.

November 22, 1963: Death of the President

Although he had not formally announced his candidacy, it was clear that JFK was going to run and he seemed confident—though not over-confident— about his chances for re-election.

At the end of September, the President traveled west speaking in nine different states in less than a week. While the trip was meant to put a spotlight on natural resources and conservation efforts, JFK also used it to sound out themes -- such as education, national security, and world peace -- for his run in 1964. In particular, he cited the achievement of a limited nuclear test ban, which the Senate had just approved and which was a potential issue in the upcoming election. The public’s enthusiastic response was encouraging.

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AR8046-C President Kennedy delivers radio and television address on the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, White House, Oval Office, 26 July 1963.

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

John F. Kennedy had supported a ban on nuclear weapons testing since 1956. He believed a ban would prevent other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons, and took a strong stand on the issue in the 1960 presidential campaign.  On August 5, 1963, after more than eight years of difficult negotiations, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

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Lt. (jg) John F. Kennedy, at the wheel of the PT-109, Solomon Islands, 1943

John F. Kennedy and PT109

John F. Kennedy's comment speaks a soldier's clear-eyed appraisal of the mechanics of heroism. It is of course unjust, however true it may be, and to do justice to the young Lieutenant Kennedy, we must look at everything that he leaves out—everything that happened after the Japanese sank his boat in the South Pacific during World War II.

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President Kennedy greets Peace Corp volunteers on the South Lawn of the White House, 09 August 1962

Peace Corps

On October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to the students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during a campaign speech and challenged them to live and work in developing countries around the world, thus dedicating themselves to the cause of peace and development. That idea inspired the beginning of the Peace Corps.

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Physical Fitness Program

Physical Fitness

In the years just after World War II, concerns about the fitness of U.S. citizens, especially the young, attracted national attention. Several trends and developments in the country lay at the root of this anxiety. The nation's economy had changed dramatically since the beginning of the century, and with it changed the nature of work and recreation. Mechanization had taken many farmers out of the fields and allowed the ones who remained to do much of their work with far less effort. The factories, which had long been highly mechanized, were becoming even more so, and fewer and fewer factory jobs required heavy labor. Outside of work, new forms of entertainment emphasized watching rather than doing. But these changes may not have been as important as people's awareness that they were occurring. People were beginning to have to confront a new image of themselves and their country, and they did not always like what they saw. Worrying about physical fitness channeled and expressed these doubts.

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JFKWHP-AR7595-B (crop): President Kennedy at News Conference, 20 November 1962

John F. Kennedy and the Press

"The fact of the matter is that the time when President Kennedy started televised press conferences there were only three or four newspapers in the entire United States that carried a full transcript of a presidential press conference. Therefore, what people read was a distillation…We thought that they should have the opportunity to see it in full." - Pierre Salinger, Press Secretary to President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Interview

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JFK in West Virginia

John F. Kennedy and Religion

Anti-Catholic prejudice was still very much in the mainstream of American life when JFK decided to seek the presidency in 1960.  JFK established an informal network of advisers on the religious issue—including speechwriter Ted Sorensen, Dean Francis Bowes Sayre Jr. of the National Cathedral and several journalists. It was clear from the outset that Kennedy had to enter the state primaries to prove to skeptical party leaders that he was a viable national candidate. In the Minnesota primary, he defeated Senator Hubert Humphrey with 56% of the vote but failed to win a majority of the Protestant vote—an ominous sign.

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Entering Capsule

Space Program

On April 9, 1959, during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, seven men were selected to become Project Mercury astronauts: Scott Carpenter, Leroy Gordon Cooper, John Glenn Jr., Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard Jr., and Donald “Deke” Slayton. The goals of the Project Mercury program were specific: to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth; to investigate man's ability to function in space; and to recover astronaut and spacecraft safely.

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JFK and the Student Airlift

At a key point in the 1960 presidential campaign, a dynamic young leader from Kenya named Tom Mboya visited Senator John F. Kennedy. Mboya led a campaign of his own that would eventually bring hundreds of African students to America for higher education, including Barack Obama Sr., President Obama's father. Kennedy's decision to support the effort became an issue in the election and possibly a factor in his narrow victory.

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KN-26284(crop) Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor and President Kennedy

Vietnam

After World War II, the French tried to re-establish colonial control over Vietnam, the most strategic of the three states of formerly French-governed Indochina (Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos). Following the defeat of the French, Vietnam was partitioned by the Geneva Accord of 1954 into Communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam, which was non-Communist, but divided on religious and political lines. The United States supported a military government in the South and the decision of its leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, to prevent free elections which might result in the unification of the country under the control of the Communists. The Geneva Accord began to crumble as a result of attacks by guerilla forces supported by the Communist government of the North in an effort to take over South Vietnam.

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AR8153-A  President Kennedy meets with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell D. Taylor and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara

Vietnam, Diem, the Buddhist Crisis

In the spring of 1963, South Vietnamese forces suppressed Buddhist religious leaders and followers, which led to an ensuing political crisis for the Diem government and became known as the “Buddhist crisis.” President Ngo Dinh Diem was passive in his response to the crisis and later promised reforms. His brother and closest advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was thought by many to be the actual decision maker of the Saigon government and the person behind the Buddhist suppression.

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KN-C26240B  White House Blue Room after restoration, 24 January 1963.

The White House Restoration

Remembering her childhood visit to the mansion, Mrs. Kennedy told Life magazine, “From the outside I remember the feeling of the place. But inside, all I remember is shuffling through. There wasn't even a booklet you could buy. Mount Vernon and the National Gallery and the FBI made a far greater impression.” Many years later, as she prepared to move in, Mrs. Kennedy was again struck by the bland quality of the rooms, and so began cultivating her plans for the restoration of the White House. Although the Kennedy era restorations were deemed the most successful and significant, they were not the first by a presidential family. From its modest roots in 1800, to its present day splendor, the White House has undergone numerous changes both inside and out, which critics have judged both good and bad.

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EXCOMM Meeting, Cuban Missile Crisis, 29 October 1962.

The JFK White House Tape Recordings

The records of the Kennedy administration, including 248 hours of meeting tapes and 12 hours of telephone dictabelts, were moved to the National Archives in Washington and later transferred to the Federal Records Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. Finally, in 1976, the tapes were legally deeded to the Kennedy Library and the National Archives. Many of the tapes, most significantly more than 20 hours of recordings from the ExComm (the Executive Committee of the National Security Council)meetings during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, were gradually declassified over the next two decades.

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