November marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, shot while riding in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas. The death of America’s 35th president, which took place during a year of violence and social upheaval, was marked by iconic news coverage that helped solidify our national shift into the modern television era.
Across the District, activities are scheduled to remember the life of Kennedy, his death and the convulsive national dread and sorrow the events of Nov. 22 set in motion.
A “JFK Remembrance Day” will take place Nov. 22 and will feature themed events with authors, journalists and filmmakers.
Author and historian James Swanson will discuss his new book, “End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.” A screening of the documentary “JFK: One PM Central Standard Time,” narrated by actor and director George Clooney, will be followed by a question-and-answer period. There will be a panel discussion on the Kennedy presidency moderated by author Dean Owen and featuring civil rights leader Roy Wilkins and David Rusk, son of Kennedy’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk. A screening of “President Kennedy Has Been Shot” will be followed by a question-and-answer period. There also will be a performance of new music written for the 50th anniversary by the Washington Choral Arts Society.
The three-hour CBS News live coverage of the Kennedy shooting, anchored by Walter Cronkite, will be rebroadcast, including the moment when the legendary newsman reported to the nation that the president was dead.
Additional anniversary events continue through January. They include the exhibits “Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,” which features intimate Kennedy family photos, and “Three Shots Were Fired,” which examines the events set off by assassination. (The latter exhibit features the 8-mm movie camera with which Abraham Zapruder captured the shooting and assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s jacket and wallet.) “A Thousand Days” is a Newseum-produced film that recounts the glamour the Kennedy family brought to the White House and highlights newsworthy moments.
There also is an interactive, Web-based exhibition and timeline.
The Smithsonian Associates will host a screening of the 1991 film “JFK” at the National Museum of American History, followed by a discussion with director Oliver Stone, on Nov. 1. The members-only event is sold out, but there is a waiting list.
Presidential historian Barbara Perry will speak at the seminar “Rose Kennedy: Portrait of a Political Matriarch” at the S. Dillion Ripley Center on Nov. 13. The talk will discuss a cache of recently released diaries and letters and a sound clip of Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson calling Rose Kennedy from Air Force One to express their condolences. The plane steward told Rose Kennedy, “Mr. Johnson is calling.” She is heard replying, “Hello, Mr. President,” demonstrating her renowned poise and composure an hour after her son’s death. The event is open to Smithsonian members and to the general public.
“The American Presidency, A Glorious Burden,” a permanent exhibition at the National Museum of American History, includes a gallery on “Assassinations and Mourning.” It has a Life magazine cover portraying the Kennedy funeral, a drum played at the funeral and a photo of John F. Kennedy lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
On the Smithsonian Channel on Nov. 17, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey narrates “The Day Kennedy Died,” a two-hour documentary that uses rare film, photos and eyewitness accounts to provide a minute-by-minute story of the assassination. Firsthand accounts include those of an agonized secret service agent, the doctor who tried to save Kennedy and a bystander injured by shrapnel in the shooting. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill relives his attempt to reach the car to shield the president and first lady, during which he heard a bewildered Jackie Kennedy say, “Oh, Jack, Jack, what have they done?”
The John F. Kennedy grave site, marked by the Eternal Flame lit by Jacqueline Kennedy, is undergoing repairs, but they will be completed by the end of October, in time for the Nov. 22 anniversary. The cemetery receives 3 million visitors a year, and Kennedy’s is the most visited grave. Officials expect a larger than usual crowd for the anniversary.