The finest tribute that the American people can pay to the late President Kennedy is to implement the progressive policies that he sought to initiate in foreign and domestic relations. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the late 1960s, walking into a Black home and seeing a wall-mounted tapestry featuring MLK, JFK, and RFK was commonplace. I say Black homes; it could have been Negro, “in your neck of the woods!”
It may have been the first socio-political statement that Black made en masse. There were three staples, none very controversial: family portraits, floral paintings, and White Jesus.
The brutal deaths of “civil rights” leaders had finally brought politics into a space where Jesus reigned as our only savior. As a people, we realized we needed a savior on earth and in heaven.
The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy woke all of us up.
Although a little boy, I remember the day. My family immediately reported to the parsonage where my grandparents lived. It was like Thanksgiving a week early. Family gatherings of this size were reserved for holidays.
My aunts were crying, and my mom was noticeably moved. My grandfather, Rev. Figures, just shook his head. All of us kids just watched them in amazement. Hell, I didn’t know what to think. But I knew that this level of pain and grief was uncommon. The black-and-white television was set to WFAA, channel 8, but the dial clicked swiftly to Channel 4. My grandmother probably ranked Walter Cronkite one place below Jesus and two places ahead of all others.
Even Walter Cronkite had a different look. The patently square-jawed newsman and soothsayer had a weariness about him. His voice pierced through the “previously scheduled program.” Fittingly, his re- port interrupted the first scene of “As the World Turns!”
Our worlds figuratively and literally turned at that moment.
Walter sat at his desk in a three-point collared, but- ton-down shirt and a Black string tie. He had been caught off guard because he broke newscast protocol by not wearing a suit jacket.
He fumbled with his glasses occasionally at a workspace that seemed to have no less than four telephones. Walter Cronkite let us know that the tragedy in Dallas had moved from a shooting to an official assassination.
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 Central Standard Time.” Walter removed his spectacles, gazed up at the clock, and finished his sentence without looking into the camera. “Two o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.”
Cronkite folded his lips and mouth to hide his emotions and subdue tears of grief. “Vice President Johnson has left the hospital, but we do not know where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will soon take the oath of office and become the 36th President of the United States.”
President Kennedy was not only a martyr to the nation but, in an instant, seemed to have been crucified for helping Negroes. His June 11, 1963 speech angered “segregationists” and “Red State America” and they were seething.
“This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.
We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can’t have that right, that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents they have, that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them, and we owe ourselves a better country than that.
As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have an equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.
We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.
This is what we are talking about, and this is a matter that concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it, I ask for the support of all our citizens.”
With those words and similar deeds, Kennedy became a part of the Negro tapestry. JFK was not MLK, but he helped to clear a path. We owe him a debt of honor and gratitude sixty years after his death.
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, award-winning columnist and a lifelong Drapetomaniac!