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Celebrating ‘Ask Not,’ JFK 50 Years Later

Richard Avedon/Courtesy John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Of course, it wouldn’t be an anniversary celebration without a chance to explore JFK’s life and term in office. History buffs can catch a glimpse of Kennedy’s first executive order at the National Archives until Jan. 31. In his first official action in office, Kennedy called on the secretary of Agriculture to increase the allotments and variety of food for poor families.

“He and Mrs. Kennedy had campaigned in West Virginia during the 1960 primary, and it was a really important victory for him,” National Archives curator Bruce Bustard said. “They both saw it was one of America’s poorest states, and they were shocked by the poverty there. When you think of all the different challenges a new president faces, I thought it was interesting he decided to take on the issue of hunger in America first.”

For a look at the brief moment in time between JFK’s victory and his inauguration, check out the National Museum of American History exhibition of nine photographs of JFK and his family from Jan. 3, 1960. The images, taken by Richard Avedon for Harper’s Bazaar, are from the only photo session between the election and inauguration, and they are on view for the first time since their donation in 1966. 

Visitors can catch the photos in “The Kennedys 50 Years Ago” until Feb. 28.

There’s even a way to join in on the celebration without leaving home: the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum will mark the anniversary by unveiling its digitized archive of Kennedy’s official and personal records. Director Tom Putnam said the archive, which is available at jfklibrary.org, allows anyone the chance to access records. “We’ve taken entire collections and had interns scan them painstakingly page by page,” he said. “You can go online and replicate the experience of the research room.”

Unveiling the archives during the anniversary is a “happy coincidence,” Putnam said. It’s an ongoing project that started four years ago, and as it unfolded staffers decided to coordinate its launch with the inauguration. The library has also launched a “JFK 50 Years On Demand” TV channel in connection with Comcast, offering speeches, newsreels and films to customers for free through Feb. 25.

“This would be the moment when the eyes of the world will be back on that speech given 50 years ago,” Putnam noted.

Fifty years on, JFK’s inaugural address retains its power to inspire and challenge Americans. “It hasn’t been equaled since then, not for lack of trying,” Clarke said.

And for the many organizations seeking to remember the legacy of that day, it’s a reminder of JFK’s call to arms: “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days, nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

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