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Sunday, October 3, 2010

JFK Library Programs Will Mark 50th Anniversary

By Melanie Eversley and Sara Newman, USA TODAY

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is planning three years of programs to honor the 50th anniversary of JFK's presidency.

The observances will help Americans learn about or remember a presidency shaped by the space program, the civil rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis and other historic developments.
The events will include journalists who covered the Kennedy era and advisers who worked with the late president, among others who would have unique insider perspectives.

"We're trying to have people who lived during those times or covered them," says Thomas Putnam, library director.

It's an important anniversary, and because of this, the library wants to do things right, Putnam says. The three-year-long observance is set up to coordinate with the length of Kennedy's
time in the White House, before his 1963 assassination in Dallas.

"Fifty is oftentimes a bigger deal than other anniversaries," Putnam says. "People will want to look back on these big events that happened in the 1960s."

Last week, the library observed the 50th anniversary of the first of four televised campaign debates between Democrat Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon. Gathered together for a forum were former Kennedy advisers Ted Sorensen and William Wilson, and veteran journalists Russell Baker, Marty Nolan and Sander Vanocur, who covered the debate. They reflected on the historic event and how debates have changed over the years. Tom Oliphant, a former Boston Globe reporter, moderated.

On Nov. 8, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's election, the library will host a party with a couple of thousand people that will include a video feed of results offered by late anchorman Walter Cronkite, Putnam says.

And in January, veteran NBC newsman Tom Brokaw will share his memories about JFK's inauguration.

The other theme that will shape the library's observances is modern technology. Twitter, Facebook and the Internet in general will play an integral role in the anniversary events, library staffers say.

In January, the library launched a Twitter feed regularly updated by communications director Rachel Day that issues tweets coordinated with significant events in the Kennedy presidential campaign. The January start-up was timed to coincide with Kennedy's announcement of his candidacy, Putnam says.

"We're trying to re-create that as if people were watching the campaign again," he says.

The museum's Facebook page, which has 4,300 followers, includes quiz questions related to the Kennedy presidency and shares new articles and tidbits related to the anniversary. The library website also includes a daily "diary" that describes what Kennedy was doing each day 50 years ago.

By next year, the library and its foundation will complete much of its effort to create a digital archive of the Kennedy presidency. The records will be accessible to the public via the Web, according to the library website.

"John F. Kennedy was one of the most important presidents of our time," Putnam says. The anniversary "allows us to look back at the signature events of his presidency."

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