JFK: 50 years gone but never forgotten

He championed civil rights.

He championed civil rights.

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

It was the start of the school term: Fall1960. The Graduate School of Journalism and Communication of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles had not formally opened at all.

Its schedule, to commence with the master’s program in journalism, was set for 1965, I was informed. That same optimism would continue when the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication would follow much later, but the master’s program would ‘come first.’

In my interest to see how courses on the written and spoken word fared then, I enrolled in “advanced courses in journalism” at USC’s University Park while awaiting the formal opening of Graduate School. I did not want to grow stale.

On one morning, that same semester, in the aforementioned 1960, I went to our Trojans campus ostensibly to do what I was wont to doing: to frequent the library, the bookstore, and the restaurant on the premises whose prices were so inviting: “Steak sandwich, salad or soup and dessert included, all for $.88. For the first time, as I gazed at the area close to the Student Bookstore and Bovard Hall, the campus was full. The student body was all over in front of the main library, on the streets leading to the principal auditorium, and wherever people could gather in droves. I asked myself, “Is the school giving away anything for free?”

I looked around; there were signs that boldly proclaimed: “New Frontiers.” I recalled
how, in earlier coverage by the media on the political scene obtaining then, it was campaign time and presidential elections were scheduled in November 1960.

The crowds all over where space could be filled up, were deep in standing ovation that seemed ceaseless. I no longer wondered. The humongous gathering did not break up. It remained. That was when I had my first and only glimpse of John F. Kennedy, then the Democrats’ presidential choice for their party.

Subsequently, announcements were made; I heard over the sound system, how Senator Kennedy was ‘called on’ by the Student Body President of the Association, whose name I failed to catch.

Tremendous cheering from all sides of the campus focused on the guest speaker. I listened to John F. Kennedy’s voice as he scanned the huge crowd very intensely, one group whom he named, “First Voters of this Area,” because they all looked very young. He addressed the assembly after brief introductions were made. Several questions were asked. But what remained in me was when one student leader asked Senator Kennedy for “significant differences between the two political parties.”

I recall what the guest speaker told the hushed crowd: there was no ‘clear approach,’ nor were there improvements by the “Republicans to social security, housing, minimum wage and civil rights. There hasn’t been one single civil rights bill that saw the light of day,” Senator Kennedy continued to emphasize.

Those scenes are still alive for me. “Civil rights,” indeed, its absence, as explained by the then senator struck the deepest note in my recesses. It still does.

As I write, yes, I join all who mourn the loss of President Kennedy on that fateful November 22nd 1963, whose 50th anniversary was just remembered. That remembrance I saw of him as he addressed the young students on the campus of my Southern California alma matter will forever remain in me. That was the one and only time I had a personal view of him.

Today, when I see how the working people are quick to come out as one when they believe their civil rights are being trampled upon is a fact. Why shouldn’t anyone resort to vocal protests short of inflicting physical harm on others?

Great numbers of people in this equally great country have fought vigorously for their civil rights (and many are still asserting those same civil rights) because proofs of such trampling of their civil rights have not been fiction.

Humbly, I firmly believe John F. Kennedy’s formidable articulation of his personal
beliefs in building ‘civil rights’ has endowed every member of the citizenry that very right of expression, to live in a democracy, to live in freedom and liberty, as long as each one goes by the law.

President Kennedy might be gone, but not forgotten.

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