— By DONNA BRAZILE
I was only 3 when President John F. Kennedy died, but I’ll never forget what happened that day as my grandmother and others cried. You see, we were Catholics living down in the then-segregated Deep South. Kennedy was our hope for a better tomorrow.
I was 8 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died, five years later. I’ve not had an event impact me so strongly except the loss of family members.
King was bringing the better tomorrow Kennedy had promised. Still, we had Kennedy’s brother, Bobby.
Two months and two days later, we lost Bobby Kennedy to another assassin’s bullet. Bobby was the last public figure big enough to carry our hopes and strong enough to make a difference. In August, the Democratic Convention was nominating a new candidate, since President Lyndon Johnson had decided not to seek reelection.
Thousands of young men and women had converged on Chicago to peacefully protest the ongoing Vietnam War. They were holding a “Festival of Life” near the convention hall when a confrontation erupted. Over three days, more confrontations took place, and ended with what the so-called Walker Report, issued by a commission headed by future Illinois Gov. Daniel Walker, called a “police riot,” as students were beaten bloody.
Inside the hall, Mike Wallace and Dan Rather, both of CBS News, were knoced around by convention security, such was the tension on the floor. Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff spoke from the podium of “Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago,” while the mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, was caught by TV cameras yelling curses at the Senator.
The Democratic disunity that came out of the convention led in no small way to the election of Richard Nixon and the crimes of Watergate.
In 1992, after her sister divorced her husband, a grandchild separated from his wife, and Windsor Castle caught fire, Queen Elizabeth referred to that year as “annus horribilis.” I was about to write “decadis horribilis” in regard to John Kennedy’s death 50 years ago and what followed. But, terrible as that day was, my aching feelings are overridden by his hope and legacy. Together, Bobby, Martin and John inspired those of us who were left to carry on, as John said in is inaugural address, “knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
John Kennedy’s legacy is formidable. He was our first Catholic president. While a woman hasn’t broken the glass ceiling to the Oval Office yet, the world is open to the possibility, even anticipating it. Once Kennedy overcame the first barrier to the presidency, those remaining were a frontier we were bound to cross.
Kennedy opened the space age, not only setting the goal of putting a man on the moon, but additional goals of developing a nuclear rocket that would allow the “exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.” Today, we are in a race with India and Europe, China and Russia to be the first to land a man, or woman, on Mars.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.