As­sas­si­na­tion and as­cen­sion

Kennedy’s mur­der was a great shock for the coun­try, but LBJ filled his shoes well

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Marty Wax­man Marty Wax­man wrote this as part of the writ­ing work­shop of the North Oaks Se­nior Liv­ing Com­mu­nity in Pikesville. His email is ml­webw@ya­

It was a nice day for a lunch-hour walk around Lafayette Park across from the White House, where I ate my brown bag sand­wich sit­ting on a park bench. I had just re­turned to my desk at the Philip Mur­ray Build­ing on 16th and L to do some fi­nal edit­ing of sto­ries writ­ten that week and hand out as­sign­ments for the fol­low­ing week in my new role as ed­i­tor of the IUE News, to which I had re­cently been pro­moted. Sud­denly, we were star­tled by the sound of loud bells.

Glo­ria Rior­dan, who had been work­ing there the long­est, said “I never heard that be­fore.” Dick Fan­del: “It must be a firetruck.” “No,” said Ruth Stack, “It’s here in our of­fice.”

As the sound con­tin­ued for per­haps a minute, which seemed like an eter­nity, we all headed to the closet that housed our tele­type ma­chines, wired for AP and UPI break­ing news. A flood of col­leagues from other de­part­ments of the AFL-CIO In­ter­na­tional Union of Elec­tri­cal, Ra­dio and Ma­chine Work­ers came pour­ing into our of­fice suite. The old-timers knew that those bells were re­served for the most ur­gent, crit­i­cal news like a dec­la­ra­tion of war.

“Flash: The pres­i­dent has been shot rid­ing in a mo­tor­cade in Dal­las.” We re­mained, crowded in and near the closet, read­ing ev­ery AP and UPI flash as pa­per kept rolling off. Then, bells again. We all looked at each other, in­stinc­tively. It was Nov. 22, 1963, and the pres­i­dent was dead.

My wife Estelle and I sat star­ing at the black-and-white TV for the en­tire week­end, help­lessly cry­ing and be­ing con­soled by our puz­zled baby daugh­ters as we saw those never-to-be-for­got­ten scenes: the first lady bend­ing over her hus­band; the am­bu­lance; the swear­ing in of LBJ on Air Force One, wit­nessed by Jackie Kennedy still in her blood-stained pink dress and Lady Bird John­son; Lee Har­vey Oswald jailed and charged with Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion; night­club owner Jack Ruby shooting Oswald dead in the base­ment of a Dal­las po­lice sta­tion.

It con­tin­ued into Mon­day; no­body worked. Amer­ica was closed ex­cept for the funeral. We con­tin­ued to stare at the tele­vi­sion: the pro­ces­sion along Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue; the rid­er­less horse; the cas­ket in the Capi­tol Ro­tunda; Bobby, Teddy and Jackie kneel­ing and pray­ing at the cas­ket; the Kennedy chil­dren; John Jr. salut­ing. All of it, un­for­get­table.

On my drive to Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day, I had to deal with re­al­ity and my job. What could I write in a bi­weekly union pa­per that hadn’t been writ­ten and spo­ken in a thou­sand ways the days be­fore our lit­tle pub­li­ca­tion hit the homes of our mem­bers? We had to do some­thing. We set­tled for a full page, cap­tion-less photo of JFK.

It was the sec­ond time in my life­time that we lost a pres­i­dent while in of­fice. Could Lyn­don Baines John­son sur­prise the world and be another Tru­man? Would this glad-hand­ing, arm-twist­ing, moun­tain-mov­ing Texan from the con­ser­va­tive, seg­re­gated South ap­ply his strengths and skills to move Kennedy’s pro­gres­sive pro­gram for the poor, the el­derly, the ill and the Ne­gro, as African-Amer­i­cans were called then?

Would he? Could he? Yes, he did, and he called it the Great So­ci­ety.

The Civil Rights Act banned dis­crim­i­na­tion in em­ploy­ment based on race and gen­der, and ended seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties. The Vot­ing Rights Act banned lit­er­acy tests and other de­vices in­tended to de­prive African-Amer­i­cans of the right to vote. He im­ple­mented Medi­care for the el­derly, Head Start for preschool chil­dren and the Eco­nomic Op­por­tu­ni­ties Act for the job­less. The Im­mi­gra­tion Act ended the dis­crim­i­na­tory quota sys­tem and VISTA (Vol­un­teers in Ser­vice to Amer­ica) es­tab­lished a do­mes­tic Peace Corps to an­swer JFK’s chal­lenge to “ask what you can do for your coun­try.” In ad­di­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, the arts, hous­ing, con­sumer prod­ucts safety, air and wa­ter qual­ity, el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion and protection of Amer­ica’s wilder­ness were all ad­dressed in the five years of the John­son ad­min­is­tra­tion, and he de­clared a War on Poverty.

All were in­cred­i­ble achieve­ments, but trag­i­cally over­shad­owed by the Viet­nam War. But that’s another story


Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy is seen rid­ing in his mo­tor­cade ap­prox­i­mately one minute be­fore he was shot in Dal­las on Nov. 22, 1963.

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