Kennedy’s Assassination

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

The Space Race

When he became president, Kennedy challenged the scientific community to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had already begun experimenting with space flight. In 1961, Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth. The United States matched this achievement in 1962, when John Glenn duplicated Gagarin’s feat. Throughout the 1960s, the U.S. and Soviet space programs raced to be the first to have an astronaut walk on the surface of the moon. The United States finally accomplished this goal in 1969.

Kennedy’s Assassination

On the morning of November 22, 1963, the president and first lady were riding in an open car through the streets of Dallas, campaigning for the 1964 election. Kennedy had brushed aside warnings from some of his close associates that he was taking a serious risk by making this appearance; his pro-Civil Rights stance had made southern segregationists hate him bitterly.

As the motorcade drove slowly through the Dallas streets, a young mal- content named Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president in the back of the head from the window of a schoolbook warehouse. Kennedy was rushed to the nearest hospital, but nothing could be done to save him. Within hours, a white-faced Mrs. Kennedy stood beside Lyndon Johnson as he took the oath of office. Oswald was apprehended promptly, and was shot in his turn by a gun- man named Jack Ruby, who later died in prison. An investigation headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren found that both gunmen had acted alone, but this did not prevent a lively industry of conspiracy theorists from springing up.

Some days afterward, Washington, DC, was silent except for military drumbeats, its streets lined with crowds of mourners. In a solemn parade, the president’s body was taken to Arlington National Cemetery, high on a hill over- looking the city. At the end of the parade, a thoroughbred black horse, riderless to symbolize the fallen leader, stepped with his head held high.

The president was mourned on every continent. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a prize-winning historian and one of Kennedy’s close advisers, spoke for millions when he wrote:

Above all he gave the world for an imperishable moment the vision of a leader who greatly understood the terror and the hope, the diversity and the possibility, of life on this planet and who made people look beyond nation and race to the future of humanity.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The New Frontier and the Civil Rights Movement Practice Test

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