May 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth, and now, more than 50 years after his life was cut short by an assassination, the former president's legacy remains that of an American icon.
JFK’s image alone makes him a standout when compared to other presidents; the young president liked to wear sunglasses and drive around in convertibles. His beautiful first lady and two adorable children added to the image of youthful enthusiasm.
Kennedy also remains a vibrant and powerful leader in the eyes of many historians. He was the leader of the free world during a crucial and exciting time.
Here are six reasons JFK will always be an American icon:
1. Strength in leadership — JFK dispelled any doubts about his leadership capabilities during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when the world faced the possibility of nuclear war. The U.S. emerged victorious after Kennedy forced the Soviet Union to remove missiles from the island country following a naval blockade.
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2. Civil rights ideals — “For African Americans, Kennedy remains an icon of the civil rights era,” writes Peniel E. Joseph for The Root. His proposals for civil rights and voting rights represented a new hope for the end of segregation and discrimination.
3. Charisma — JFK’s speeches and televised press conferences showcased his charm, grace, and wit. He was viewed as a youthful leader, which boosted his average approval rating to 70.1 percent, a feat no other president has matched, historian Dr. Alice George told Forbes.
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4. Camelot image — Days after her husband was buried, widow Jackie Kennedy told Life magazine journalist Theodore H. White “that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot,” according to People. "Camelot" was JFK’s favorite musical, but the glamor that surrounded JFK’s family during his term in the White House presented a likeness to the royal court.
5. War hero — As a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II, the PT boat he commanded was sunk by a Japanese destroyer. The young Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal because of his bravery in leading the crew to rescue. His exploits are forever etched in the movie “PT 109,” released the summer before his assassination.
6. Space innovator — “We choose to go to the moon!” Kennedy told an enthusiastic crowd at Rice University in September 1962. In May 1961, he told Congress of the U.S. commitment to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. His promise was prophetic as the moon landing occurred under his successor Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1969.
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