JFK remembered 50 years later

By WEEK Producer

November 21, 2013 Updated Nov 22, 2013 at 12:04 AM CDT

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- A lot of that kind of innocence has disappeared in the fifty years since those pictures of Kennedy in Peoria were taken, but Kennedy's assassination remains an event that still resonates with people of a certain age.

Two Illinois Wesleyan University historians talk about why that is.

"The principal walked into the room and said, 'the president is dead. Everybody go home'," said Michael Weis.

"My earliest memory, four-years-old, watching the funeral on TV. We were in mourning," said Nancy Sultan.

Michael Weis is Chair of Wesleyan's History Department and teaches a course about the 1960s in America.

Nancy Sultan is Director of Greek and Roman Studies. She sees Jackie Kennedy as embodying classic ideals of democracy. The assassination of her husband as a kind of Greek tragedy. A tragedy about a family and a time remembered as bigger than life.

"We remember more about his achievements than he actually deserves," said Weis.

"If you look at his actual record, he didn't accomplish very much," said Sultan.

Both Michael Weis and Nancy Sultan say Kennedy rode to power on a wave of optimism and hope.

"In some ways you could say the sixties were a high-point of American prosperity," said Weis. "Families could live well as they do today on one wage earner's paycheck instead of two".

"Here you had this young couple, with great ideals, and dreams for what they want America to be and what they want democracy to be," said Sultan.

"A lot of hope, a lot of dreams," said Weis.

Dreams and ideals which came to an end for the American people just a thousand days into the administration.

"And that was the first poke into the bubble. It didn't deflate everything, but it certainly started us on the road," said Weiss.

"Who knows what would have happened, had he lived. He may have been the great president we hoped he would be, but we'll never know, and that's what makes it tragic," said Sultan.

"Well, it's our generations September 11," said Weis.

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