U.Va. Center for Politics Announces Plans for 'Kennedy Half-Century'

September 21, 2010
September 21, 2010 — On the eve of 50th anniversary of the election of President John F. Kennedy, the University of Virginia's Center for Politics announced details for a major new book on JFK by center director Larry J. Sabato and the production of a national television documentary focused on the legacies of Kennedy and his administration.

Also, later this week Sabato will tape a special for NBC's "Meet the Press" commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Great Debates of 1960. He then will travel to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, where he will begin a series of interviews with eyewitnesses to the Kennedy assassination.

Today's announcement is part of the Center's Golden Anniversary Series, a comprehensive series of events, productions and publications illuminating the landmark political events of the 1960s, including the first televised presidential debate between Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, which took place 50 years ago on Sept. 26.

Sabato's new book, "The Kennedy Half-Century: The Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy," will be published in 2013 by Walker & Company, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing. Based on interviews with major political and media figures and ordinary citizens alike, along with new archival finds, the book will tell the story of how Kennedy's life and administration, as well as his tragic death on Nov. 22, 1963, have influenced the general public, the media and every president who has followed him.

Working in partnership with the Sixth Floor Museum, Sabato is scheduled to begin a series of in-depth interviews this week with many of the key players and eyewitnesses who were in Dealey Plaza and witnessed the president's assassination.

Among the features of the book will be the most extensive study ever conducted of the public's view of a historical figure. Pollsters Peter D. Hart and Geoff Garin will supervise large-sample public opinion polls of Americans – those alive on Nov. 22, 1963, and those who have come of age since. The polls will be supplemented by focus group interviews of Americans conducted at various locales across the country.

The Center for Politics is working with longtime partner PBS to develop a major television special marking the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The documentary will be available to television stations throughout the country. Last year's production, "Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance," marking the 50th anniversary of the end of Massive Resistance, received a 2010 Emmy Award nomination for Best Documentary.

"The political events of the 1960s changed American society in both positive and negative ways," Sabato said. "Beginning with the first televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, all the way through Woodstock and the moon landing of 1969, the 1960s were among the most politically transformative years in American history."

Sabato's new book on Kennedy is the vanguard of the Center for Politics' new Golden Anniversary Series, which commemorates the landmark political events of the 1960s with programs, symposia, television documentaries, public lectures, travel opportunities and teaching resources offered by the Center for Politics to a nationwide audience.

In addition to public events and lectures, the Center for Politics will create lesson plans and other teaching resources for distribution through its national and international network of teachers who participate in the Center for Politics' Youth Leadership Initiative.

The Golden Anniversary series officially launched in April with a performance by legendary musician Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The series will reflect sequentially on 50th anniversaries of key political and social events, examining the legacies of these events for each year of the 1960s. Topics will include landmark civil rights marches and speeches, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, the Vietnam War, the start of Ronald Reagan's political career and the election of Richard Nixon, with many more covered along the way.

Other organizations partnering with the Center for Politics for events of the Golden Anniversary Series include: The Richard Nixon Foundation; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library; Harvard University's Institute of Politics; PBS Community Ideas Stations; U.Va. Art Museum; and the Virginia Film Festival.

For information on the Center for Politics' Golden Anniversary Series, visit here.

Fall 2010 Events


"The Great Debates: A New Era in Political Communication"
On Sept. 24, the Center for Politics and NBC's "Meet the Press" will examine the "Great Debates of 1960" and how these seminal television debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon continue to resonate. Former presidential aides, journalists, historians and media analysts will discuss how the debates forever changed elections and political discourse, as well as how technological advancements continue to shape politics today. The broadcast will be available for viewing online beginning Sept. 26 at www.mtp.msnbc.com.

On Sept. 30 at 7 p.m., the Center for Politics will host a special analysis of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate at U.Va.'s Newcomb Hall Ballroom. Expert commentators will analyze the debate as if it were occurring today.


"Remembering the Freedom Rides"
As a featured event at the 2010 Virginia Film Festival, the Center for Politics will host a screening of Stanley Nelson's "Freedom Riders," followed by a panel discussion with distinguished panelists who were part of this pivotal Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago. The Freedom Rides pushed Civil Rights to the forefront of the Kennedy administration's agenda early on. The screening will take place in Charlottesville during the Virginia Film Festival. Details will be released later this fall.