Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series on the enduring impact of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago. This first story sets the young president's loss in the context of a tumultuous year, 1963.
A new year was just beginning — an extraordinary year, in which so much would change.
Half a century ago, on Jan. 14, 1963, George Wallace took the podium to give his inaugural address as governor of Alabama. His words framed a fiery rejoinder to a civil rights movement gathering strength.
"I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny," he thundered, "and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"
Fifty years later, the words still have the power to shock. In college classes like "The Sixties in History and Memory," today's students recoil.
But turn the pages of their text to a day just seven months later, and there's another riveting oration. At the thronged Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a vision of a "day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!'"
The students shiver at the words and cadence of this speech — and at the contradictions and convulsions of 1963.
"We constantly make the point," notes Donald Spivey, who teaches "The Sixties" at the University of Miami, "that you're hit with all of these things at once."
Under the shadow of the Cold War's threat of "mutually assured destruction," 1963 was the year of dawning arms control between the U.S. and the Soviet Union; they signed a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In June, the adversaries agreed to set up a "hotline" communications link between the Kremlin and the White House to insure against a catastrophic mistake.