Fifty-year anniversaries mean much to couples celebrating marriages lasting that long.
They also mean much to historians who spend their time looking back over time to assess how far we’ve traveled during that period and maybe to look forward at where we might be heading.
Fifty years ago, two monumental events occurred that shaped our nation’s future. One of them occurred on Aug. 28, 1963, the other one happened just short of three months later, on Nov. 22, 1963. The first event took the nation a giant step further on its march toward granting rights to all its citizens; the second event plunged the nation — and most of the rest of the world — into deep mourning.
Public television plans to cover both events. It will devote many hours of air time to them. I am anxious to relive those moments.
On Aug. 28, 1963, a young Baptist preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., stood before a crowd of about 200,000 people on the Washington, D.C. Mall and delivered one of the greatest speeches in American history. Dr. King spoke of his dream when “my four little children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the contest of their character.”
Dr. King’s speech electrified the nation. And what’s not widely known about that speech is that Dr. King deviated greatly from his prepared remarks when he launched into his “I have a dream” series. He spoke extemporaneously while delivering all those examples of a better world, one free of racial discrimination and bigotry.
Dr. King has been honored countless times since that glorious day. He would earn the Nobel Peace Prize and would become the preeminent icon in the doctrine of peaceful civil disobedience. He would die a violent death, of course, in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.
On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was touring downtown Dallas in a motorcade. The parade of vehicles turned onto Dealey Plaza; three shots rang out. The president was hit; he slumped over … dead. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital, where doctors tried to revive him.
The world was shocked numb by that event. Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office on the airplane that would carry the slain president back to Washington. A commission led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren would probe the assassination and would determine that a single gunman — Lee Harvey Oswald, who himself was shot to death two days after JFK’s death — acted alone.
The debate over President Kennedy’s death has raged ever since.
It’s been said that JFK’s murder ended our national innocence. It also has been speculated about how history might have played out had the president not died on that day in Dallas. Would he have ended the Vietnam War? What would his expected re-election in 1964 have done to the Vice President Johnson’s future? How dramatically different would the nation’s course have taken it?
Public television will seek to explore the events the nation will mark this summer and fall. KACV-TV viewers will be part of the enormous audience.
Examining historical events of this magnitude, I submit, is precisely what brings value to public television.