American Experience: JFK - Part Two

About This Episode

In 1961, the most challenging issue facing the new administration is the spread of communism and continuing Cold War fears. Only a few months into his first term, JFK launches the Bay of Pigs invasion, an unmitigated disaster that teaches him a powerful lesson. Nikita Khrushchev proves a stubborn foe, and Kennedy takes a stand against the spread of communism in a country few Americans have ever heard of — Vietnam. Kennedy faces Khrushchev again in the Cuban Missile Crisis, ignited when Soviet warheads are spotted in Cuba. Negotiating his way out of the crisis proves to be one of Kennedy’s finest hours, and he spends the rest of his term working for nuclear disarmament.

Health issues continue to plague the president and pain is a constant companion. Glamorous first lady Jackie captivates the world on her travels, while rumors of the president’s womanizing continue in Washington.

On the domestic front, civil rights prove tricky for the administration, as they rely heavily on the support of Southern Democrats. Forced to intervene when Freedom Riders take direct action in Southern states, the administration sends in federal marshals to ensure their safety. But it is only later, when Governor George Wallace of Alabama refuses to allow African-American students in the state university, that Kennedy brings the issue to the nation, calling for the passage of a civil rights act.

Looking ahead to the next election, Kennedy knows he must win Texas to have a second term. So he takes a fateful trip to Dallas, with Jackie accompanying him on her first domestic trip. It is there that an assassin’s bullet ends his life, forever enshrining him in myth.