Today is the day before Thanksgiving (always the fourth Thursday in November), the most quintessentially American holiday I can name, right up there with July 4th (our Independence Day). This day before Thanksgiving is traditionally a very busy day for those celebrating — whether traveling from afar or preparing the food — so I thank you for opening this post and reading today.
Today is also November 22, a special anniversary for those of us of a certain age, here in the US. Today marks fifty-four years since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. The years of JFK’s presidency (1961-1963) came to be known as “Camelot” from the title song of the Broadway play by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe (based originally on the King Arthur legend), which had run during those years.
Over this past half century I’ve returned in memory often to that particular Camelot, though more so this past year. And, in this holiday time of giving thanks I realize anew how grateful I am for those Camelot years, when, under JFK’s leadership, we in this country strived to do good, both here at home and in the world.
- He gave us the Peace Corps, after all, and I was thrilled to be able to live out that forty year old dream when I finally joined with my husband in 2004 (read more about that here).
- He brilliantly maneuvered a path through the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had brought us as close as we’ve ever come to nuclear disaster, until the past 12 months; then he worked (with the USSR and the UK) to establish a test ban treaty which removed further nuclear tests from above ground.
- He initiated the Alliance For Progress, which in its short life brought progress to many in Latin America.
- And, here at home, he worked toward both civil rights for all Americans and equal pay regardless of gender.
Of course there were also failures; but, in my mind they pale when seen against the advances we made under his dynamic leadership.
Here is Richard Burton singing that title song, thanks to YouTube, which of course none of us back then could have imagined!
I like to give the lyrics to the songs I post. Here you go.
[ARTHUR] It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear. The climate must be perfect all the year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot. And there’s a legal limit to the snow here In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December And exits March the second on the dot. By order, summer lingers through September In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot! I know it sounds a bit bizarre, But in Camelot, Camelot That’s how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown. By eight, the morning fog must disappear. In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot For happy-ever-aftering than here In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot! I know it gives a person pause, But in Camelot, Camelot Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside. By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear. In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot For happy-ever-aftering than here in Camelot.
Each evening, from December to December Before you drift to sleep upon your cot Think back on all the tales that you remember Of Camelot
Ask every person if he’s heard the story And tell it strong and clear if he has not That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory Called Camelot
[COMPANY] Camelot! Camelot! I know it gives a person pause But in Camelot, Camelot Those were the legal laws
[ARTHUR] Where once it never rained till after sundown By 8 a.m the morning fog had flown Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot For one brief shining moment
[COMPANY] That was known as Camelot
And so, as you gather around your Thanksgiving table tomorrow, I hope you’ll give thanks for the opportunity John F Kennedy gave us to know what our country is capable of. And let us not forget.
What are you grateful for from those Camelot years?
Inscription on the granite wall below President Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery
LET THE WORD GO FORTH FROM THIS TIME AND PLACE TO FRIEND AND FOE ALIKE THAT THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED TO A NEW GENERATION OF AMERICANS
LET EVERY NATION KNOW WHETHER IT WISHES US WELL OR ILL THAT WE SHALL PAY ANY PRICE – BEAR ANY BURDEN MEET ANY HARDSHIP – SUPPORT ANY FRIEND OPPOSE ANY FOE TO ASSURE THE SURVIVAL AND THE SUCCESS OF LIBERTY
NOW THE TRUMPET SUMMONS US AGAIN NOT AS A CALL TO BEAR ARMS – THOUGH EMBATTLED WE ARE BUT A CALL TO BEAR THE BURDEN OF A LONG TWILIGHT STRUGGLE A STRUGGLE AGAINST THE COMMON ENEMIES OF MAN TYRANNY – POVERTY – DISEASE – AND WAR ITSELF
IN THE LONG HISTORY OF THE WORLD ONLY A FEW GENERATIONS HAVE BEEN GRANTED THE ROLE OF DEFENDING FREEDOM IN ITS HOUR OF MAXIMUM DANGER I DO NOT SHRINK FROM THIS RESPONSIBILITY I WELCOME IT
THE ENERGY – THE FAITH – THE DEVOTION WHICH WE BRING TO THIS ENDEAVOR WILL LIGHT OUR COUNTRY AND ALL WHO SERVE IT AND THE GLOW FROM THAT FIRE CAN TRULY LIGHT THE WORLD
AND SO MY FELLOW AMERICANS ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY MY FELLOW CITIZENS OF THE WORLD – ASK NOT WHAT AMERICA CAN DO FOR YOU – BUT WHAT TOGETHER WE CAN DO FOR THE FREEDOM OF MAN
WITH A GOOD CONSCIENCE OUR ONLY SURE REWARD WITH HISTORY THE FINAL JUDGE OF OUR DEEDS LET US GO FORTH TO LEAD THE LAND WE LOVE – ASKING HIS BLESSING AND HIS HELP – BUT KNOWING THAT HERE ON EARTH GOD’S WORK MUST TRULY BE OUR OWN
Excerpts taken from President Kennedy’s January 1961 Inaugural Address. Stonework was done by John E. Benson of Newport, R.I.
Next week: A special post from the Southern Poverty Law Center