Written by Justine Rothbart
I was not alive in 1963. I don’t remember JFK’s inauguration day. I don’t remember his years in the White House. And I don’t remember that tragic day in November of 1963. And why do I feel as if I do? Why am I so fascinated with the Kennedys fifty years later? Why do I feel as if I know them?
One word: Archives.
John F. Kennedy was the first president to essentially use the television as a way to talk to the United States (JFK Presidential Library). He was the first president to have an official White House photographer on staff. The TV and photographs captured those White House years in an unprecedented way. They captured Caroline and Jack Jr. playing in the Oval Office. They captured those tense days during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And they captured JFK’s forever-lasting funeral procession through the streets of DC.
Those photographs and the films are now archival materials. They are stored in archival institutions, such as the JFK Presidential Library and the National Archives. These materials are what keep the Kennedys alive today. As I watch JFK’s inauguration speech I feel a sense of hope and optimism. As I watch Jackie Kennedy’s White House tour, I feel her sense of pride. As I see photographs of Jackie on the day of her husband’s funeral, I feel her sense of utter grief and pain.
Those feelings rushed back for many people yesterday on November 22, 2013 – fifty years after JFK’s assassination. I spent the entire day at the Newseum for “JFK Remembrance Day.” I looked at never-before-seen images of the Kennedy family during happier times. I listened to stories from people who personally knew the president. I watched Walter Cronkite deliver the news during the real time viewing of the 1963 CBS news footage.
This day was all possible because of the archival materials and museum objects that still exist. As archivists, we are the memory keepers. We re-tell the story. We make it seem as if you were there. We keep the Kennedys alive.
Don’t miss the JFK exhibits at the Newseum on display through January 5, 2014.
Also, check out Jackie Kennedy’s recently released oral histories from 1964.