Written by Madeline Snider
Through the 20th century, there were many iconic photographs that remain recognizable to this date; Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon, the explosion of the atom bomb, Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and many more. However, arguably the most iconic photograph through the 20th century was the photograph taken of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Jackie Kennedy shortly following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. This photo was taken at 2:38pm, merely two hours after the death of JFK, aboard Air Force one, where Johnson was standing between his wife, and Jackie Kennedy being sworn in as the new President of the United States. This photo, and the story behind the photo best encapsulates the second half of the 20th century.
The loss of JFK affected not only the United States by enforcing the ideas of conspiracies within the American people, but the country and the whole world mourned for the loss of the American President. This shows the truly great impact that not only the Kennedy’s had on the United States, but the world as a whole. The photograph shows that through the death and tragedy of JFK, the United States was just as powerful as ever, Camelot continued to thrive through Jackie Kennedy, and as a result of the assassination, conspiracy theories continued to thrive in their peak.
On November 22, 1963, President JFK was campaigning in Dallas for the upcoming 1964 election. It was on this fateful day that President Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motor car through Dealey Plaza shortly after 12:30. It was 1pm when President Kennedy was pronounced dead, and only 2:38pm on the same day when Lyndon B Johnson took the oath to office, and became the new President of the United States, and when the iconic photograph was taken. According to the autopsy report that was released on the death of JFK, it states that “three shots were heard and the President fell forward bleeding from the head. (Governor Connolly was seriously wounded by the same gunfire.)” The first bullet was said to have hit President Kennedy in the neck, the second shot created a fatal wound in his head, and the last missed entirely. It was said that a Dallas Times Herald photographer saw a rifle barrel in the window of the Texas School Book Depository building, where it was later found that the fatal shot was taken. An hour after Kennedy’s assassination, employee of the Texas School Book Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested for the assassination of JFK. However, it was only shortly after that that Oswald was assassinated himself.
The Influence of JFK
The Kennedys have gone down in history for many reasons. Beyond JFK’s assassination, the family was extremely influential on the American people, and the whole world during and after their time in the White House. The era of the Kennedys had the family known as the Camelots. JFK and his wife Jackie were the youngest President and First Lady of the United States when he was elected into office in November 1960, and inaugurated in January 1961. They were viewed as a modern-young couple who brought a new face to the United States where Kennedy promoted the idea of a “‘New Frontier’ required harnessing change, setting goals, and making changes,” and it was believed that JFK “could seize the moment, shape the country, and change the world.”
This view of JFK as an amazing, new leader capable of change was not simply in the eyes of the American people, but he was seen as such across the globe. For example, in June 1963, in West Berlin, JFK gave a speech in regard to the Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany. He spoke of how those who believe communism is good need to come to Berlin and see the horror that the people of Berlin face daily, and that he cannot wait to see the West and the East reunited. Kennedy’s speech was viewed as a movement toward world peace and had nearly 60% of West Berlin’s 2.3 million population crowding the streets. In the United States, American’s were confident that “Kennedy would bring an end to the war in Vietnam, and would also bring forth a better America through his New Frontier policies.”
However, it was not just in his time alive that he influenced the world, it was in his death as well. In the United States, following the announcement of President Kennedy’s death, the whole country came to a stop as the news spread on the radio and television. “Times Square ‘slowed as near to a halt as it ever comes,’ … in Washington, normal congressional came to a halt,” Around the world, countries were mourning the loss of the American President. In Britain, flags flew at half mask, as Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home gave prayers at Westminster Abbey. Nearly every country across the world was sending prayers for President Kennedy. “Berlin deadicated a new street to Kennedy, named the John F Kennedy Platz.
In Tokyo, Buddhist priests prayed before Kennedy’s picture. In Paris, families sat glued to their television sets. In Moscow, despite the tension between the two, Premier Khrushchev was stunned by the death of President Kennedy.” Many more countries in Europe, and elsewhere across the globe felt the tragic loss. In London, more than ten thousand people travelled to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Kennedy’s death was treated like a Royal death, where on the day of his funeral, Big Ben tolled every minute for an hour. In Canada, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson renamed a Yukon mountain top, Mount Kennedy. Even the Northernmost province of Denmark named a road after President Kennedy and said: “even if we are only a tiny dot on the map, President Kennedy nevertheless meant a great deal to us too.” Countries such as Iran and Israel renamed streets and planned memorials in the name of President Kennedy.
The death of President Kennedy was more than mourning the loss of a world leader, it was losing someone the whole world believed could make great change, and get them one step closer to world peace. The image of President Johnson being sworn in, with Jackie Kennedy standing beside him, still covered in her husband’s blood all while keeping herself composed, shows how significant the loss of JFK was. As the entire world looks upon this photo, they see the loss that not only Jackie Kennedy suffered that day, but the entire country, and the global community. JFK’s impact was everlasting, whether it was during his time as president, or after his passing, he stands out as an important figure in history, and the photograph truly represents the impact. When one sees the picture, it is not thought of as the beginning of Johnson’s presidency, it is seen as the end of JFK’s.
Conspiracies Surrounding JFK’s Death
The 1960s were at the height of conspiracy theories. Following the death of President Kennedy, many conspiracy theories emerged in regards to his assassination. Whether it was theories that involved Russia, the American Government, or even Lyndon B Johnson, a large number of American’s had theories that surrounded JFK’s death. As Oswald was arresed for the President’s assassination, the public learned that he was an ex-marine who had communist leanings. It was also discovered that he had tried to renew his citizenship in Moscow in 1959, when he was refused, he moved back to the United States to Dallas and got a job at the book depository. The emerging facts of Oswald sent America into a belief that their President’s death was a result of a conspiracy.
Due to the timing of the assassination, and the longstanding tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the newfound information of Oswald led the American public to believe that President Kennedy’s assassination was the result of a communist conspiracy. This belief that JFK was assassinated due to a communist conspiracy led to large panic through the American people. It’s seen that after events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, and Kennedy’s openness of being anti-communist, it is no wonder why there were theories of his assassination being linked to communism. Others believed that Kennedy’s assassination and Oswald were tied to the United States tensions with Cuba, as further evidence emerged of ties between Oswald and Castro; such as Oswald being known for calling Fidel Castro “Uncle Castro,” and having plans for his family to move to Havana, Cuba.
Another conspiracy that followed JFK’s death involved new President Lyndon B. Johnson. Before Kennedy’s death, there was a rumour circulating that Kennedy was trying to have Johnson dropped from the ticket as Vice-President in the 1964 election. Which led to a belief that Johnson was involved in Kennedy’s assassination, thus giving him the presidency. The assassination of JFK resulted in the rise of conspiracy theories, as after his death hundreds of theories emerged surrounding the assassination; some involving the CIA, the FBI, and more commonly the Soviet Union. The photograph of Lyndon B. Johnson instilled in the American community a reminder of the tragic loss the country faced, and how the true mystery of Kennedy’s death was never solved. With Oswald being charged for the assassination, and himself being assassinated only days later, it closed the case of the murder of President JFK. With the police being unable to question Oswald for why he assassinated the President, hundreds of theories came into play, but none were ever proven to be true. The assassination of President Kennedy brought an influx in conspiracy theories to the United States which reinforced a fear of communism in the American people, among a new form of distrust for the American government.
There are many iconic images from the 20th century. As each event happens, photographs are taken and from that point forth when these events are thought of, it is the iconic images that are seen. Events are remembered through their images, and as history continues, iconic images collectively pile through the 20th, and now 21st century. While there may be a photograph that stands out as the most iconic, such as the image of Lyndon B Johnson and Jackie Kennedy following the assassination of JFK, there stands many more. As more iconic events happen, more iconic photographs emerge. Every few years there is an event that occurs which brings forth a new image to remember the event by. Whether this is Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, an iconic image from the 1990’s Oka Crisis, or images of the Twin Towers falling on September 11, 2001; iconic images will continue to emerge.
While to some, the assassination of JFK does not seem to be as iconic as others, it holds extreme importance to some. Like events such as 9/11, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, the assassination of JFK is one that leaves people saying “I remember where I was when it happened.” These words alone, are enough of an argument to prove a photo or event iconic. The assassination of JFK left a lasting impact on not only the United States, but it left the entire world mourning the loss of the American President, it brought forward the height of conspiracies, and proved to be an event that could hault the tensions between Soviet Union and the United States, even just momentarily. The photograph of Lyndon B Johnson being sworn in with Jackie Kennedy by his side continues to be an iconic image to this date that reminds everyone of the tragic loss that was felt on that day in 1963.
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