Handsome, young, and charming, John F. Kennedy could have easily been mistaken for a Hollywood star. That’s just one impression that comes to mind during the centennial of his birth; JFK is also regarded as having been a great world leader during a difficult time.
He is one of the most iconic past U.S. presidents, despite his short term in office. He served from 1961 to 1963 — when an assassin’s bullet ended his life. JFK's presidency will always conjure up thoughts of “what if” his life had not been cut short.
Still, his legacy remains incredibly resilient. Here are six lasting impressions of JFK:
1. Charismatic leader — Kennedy was president at a dramatic time for the U.S., which included civil rights activism and a successful showdown with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He showed himself to be a “compelling, charismatic leader during a period of immense challenge,” according to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
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2. Space exploration — JFK stunned the country, the world, and even NASA workers when he told Congress in May 1961 that the nation should commit itself to landing a man on the moon “before this decade is out.” He didn’t live to see Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
3. Commanding presence — Kennedy was the first president to conduct live televised press conferences, historian Dr. Alice George noted in Forbes. His wit, humor, and straightforward approach with reporters established his reputation as an articulate and convincing speaker.
4. Youthful symbol — As the youngest man elected to the presidency (at 43 years old), JFK represented a new generation and the changes that were ahead, wrote Alan Brinkley in The Atlantic. He challenged people to take part in getting the U.S. “moving again.”
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5. Civil rights — Kennedy spent a good deal of time trying to pass civil and voting rights bills. He was not successful with Congress, but his proposals led to legislation to end racial segregation after his death.
6. Last public speech — Many people of Fort Worth, Texas, remember the last time JFK spoke to an audience before his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. “There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” was the best-remembered phrase, according to The Dallas Morning News. He had been speaking about the city’s national security work through military contractors. Following his assassination, “a whole generation went from optimistic youth to disappointed middle age,” recalled Bill Flanagan of CBS News.
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