So far on our trip we have visited two great presidential libraries. The first in Springfield, Illinois was home to, in my humble opinion, the most influential president ever Abraham Lincoln. But today we visited the Presidential library of a man who, if not one of our greatest presidents, is definitely the most influential of the modern age, John F. Kennedy.
Born in Massachusetts in 1970, John was the son of Joe Kennedy, an obscenely wealthy and politically powerful businessman who unabashedly groomed his children to be great leaders. In fact, John’s oldest brother Joe Jr., who was the assumed star of the Kennedy family until he was killed in action in WWII. Following his untimely death, the expectations of Joe fell to John.
After the war, John wanted nothing more than to become a writer and professor but felt himself inescapably pulled towards politics, perhaps by his father’s expectations or maybe by something more noble inside. He won a seat in the House as a Representative from Massachusetts 10th District, making a name for himself as a bit of an outsider, often voting against many of Harry Truman and the rest of the Democrats’ most prized positions.
He then won a seat in the Senate seat and quickly made a name for himself fighting organized crime and racketeering. In addition, he wrote the book “Profiles in Courage” about politicians who had risked their careers for their personal beliefs, often going against the wishes of their constituencies. He received a Pulitzer Prize for the book, and remains the only president to have won a Pulitzer.
In 1960, his good looks and wit charmed the American people during three live televised debates with Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon. Many people feel that the 1960s debate changed forever the way political campaigns would be managed. In fact, Richard Nixon’s advisors actually warned him not to debate Kennedy on television, as they feared the young Senators debate skills. Hubris took hold, and Nixon ignored them and was soundly drubbed in each debate, and ultimately led to Kennedy’s election as the youngest president ever elected.
But it was the next three years that would make him one of the most impressive and influential presidents of the modern age. Kennedy would set bold goals for NASA, push towards an official end to racial segregation, and manage us through many moments that put us closest to World War III. In addition, he and his family established the Peace Corp and the Special Olympics.
In three short years, he helped define the path to the moon, to an African American President and perhaps to the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.
The museum chronicles his life and legacy in his own words and news clips of the time. It begins with a short video about his earlier years and continues through exhibits about the 1960 Democrat Convention, the debates with Nixon, and the accomplishments of his presidency. We were lucky enough to visit during an exhibition of In Her Words by his wife Jacqueline Kennedy. In her new book and in these rooms we see the Presidency and her husband’s emotional state through her eyes.
While not as technologically amazing as the Lincoln Library, the Kennedy Presidential Library seems more relatable – perhaps because of its timeliness to today’s topics. Tickets are only $12 for adults and it’s easily accessible on the UMass campus
For more information, or to plan your trip, click here