Speech by TRC signer and author Dick Russell at the JFK Memorial in Dealey Plaza
It is an honor to be asked to stand here today and speak to you about John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. Fifty-six years since he was brutally murdered in this space, it remains a tragedy that is painful to speak about. For what we lost that day is yet an open wound from which our country has never recovered – because of the promise that John F. Kennedy’s time in office carried, and also because the truth has never been told about what happened to him here in Dealey Plaza.
I came of age during the 1960s, a Kansas City kid whose whole life had revolved around sports Suddenly with that rainy weekend when I was sixteen, nothing would ever be the same. When the three other great leaders of that era were also cut down in their prime – Malcolm X in 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 – the hope of a different kind of America, one in which meaningless wars became obsolete and impoverished citizens got a chance to succeed, died with them. Lies superseded honesty. Corruption superseded compassion.
John F. Kennedy and his comrades-in-arms were great men because they were willing to grow as human beings, to change not only their minds but open their hearts. None of us would be here today, had not the Kennedy brothers been willing to put aside ideology during the Cuban Missile Crisis and face down the mad generals who would have driven us into the abyss of nuclear holocaust. Like each of us, the brothers had their human flaws. But their integrity and courage far outweighed these lesser character traits. What JFK came to stand for created powerful enemies, who felt justifiably threatened by a newer world that the Kennedys and their African-American brethren were seeking. So, one by one, they were eliminated. Not by “lone nuts,” as the big media would have us believe – but by organized groups out to keep their power intact.
As an investigative journalist and the author of several books on the assassination of President Kennedy, I have come to the conclusion that we were all the victims of a coup whose reverberations continue to this day. A young man named Oswald was set up to take the fall for a cabal that included rogue CIA, far-right military, extremist Cuban exiles, wealthy industrialists, and Mob gangsters. This coup was ingeniously orchestrated, pointing a false finger at Cuba and the Soviet Union in order to ensure a massive cover-up by our own government. While dozens of witnesses have been silenced, hundreds of incriminating documents have also been destroyed or withheld from public scrutiny.
The extremes that we are seeing from the current administration in Washington, with its intimidation of witnesses and refusal to turn over evidence legally sought by a congressional inquiry, is unfortunately a natural outgrowth of what began on November 22, 1963. Perhaps, as Malcolm X famously said that day, the chickens are coming home to roost. Amid the chaos of these times, we would do well to remember the words of John F. Kennedy, addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27, 1961, early in his presidency and ten days after he was deceived by the CIA at the Bay of Pigs invasion.
JFK: “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society, and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control….
“No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition….
“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.”
That legacy is still our responsibility – to fight for a better world for our children and future generations even when the odds may sometimes seem insurmountable. A great psychological thinker, James Hillman, who was among the founders of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, once said: “What do you do when the ship is going down? I may want to get in the lifeboat and leave – but there is no place to go, there is no other shore. So you still do all the things that make the day in dignity and honor. You do the work, whatever the work is. It’s touching the world, keeping in touch with what needs to be held, touched, felt, noticed.”
So let those of us who are elders strive to do this, as we pass the torch to a new generation. A generation with young people like the ones from Parkland High School who, amid their grief for lost friends, organized the inspiring march against gun violence in Washington. A generation with young people like Greta Thunberg from Sweden who, amid their grief for our planet, are sounding an eloquent and impassioned call to take immediate action toward changing our agricultural, industrial and energy systems to combat climate change. The social justice that those four men of the Sixties believed in and gave their lives for can and MUST become what we fight for today.
We stand on a precipice, our democracy that was once an example for free nations of the world in grave jeopardy. As we contemplate a world begging for our attention, on so many different levels, let us remember these words of President John F. Kennedy:
“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us thru that darkness to a safe and sane future.” Thank you.
- Dick Russell
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