A lot of people in my generation took the Kennedy assassination out on Lyndon Johnson, not because we thought he had anything to do with it, but because he wasn’t Jack Kennedy.
This iconic photo still conjures up the whispers and stories about how Johnson did or didn’t treat the Kennedy clan in the immediate aftermath of the assassination.
It’s no secret that Johnson and Jack Kennedy was a politically expedient shotgun marriage (perhaps a poor of choice of words, as it turns out). But, for the most part, there are few people left once and for all to settle the discussion of the post-assassination relationship that continues to percolate in quiet whispers on days like today.
On the day of the president’s funeral, the picture of a young JFK Jr., saluting his dad as his casket was carried by, has become the most enduring image of the day.
But there is also this one. Just days after someone killed a sitting U.S. president for reasons that were still not clear, the new sitting president stood up and walked down a street, with a pretty unmistakable message of defiance:
MPR News producer Sara Meyer passed along this letter that Jackie Kennedy sent to Johnson the day after she buried her husband.
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for walking yesterday – behind Jack. You did not have to do that – I am sure many people forbid you to take such a risk – but you did it anyway.
Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later – you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now.
And most of all, Mr. President, thank you for the way you have always treated me – the way you and Lady Bird have always been to me – before, when Jack was alive, and now as President.
I think the relationship of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential families could be a rather strained one. From the history I have been reading ever since I came to the White House, I gather it often was in the past.
But you were Jack’s right arm – and I always thought the greatest act of a gentleman that I had seen on this earth – was how you – the Majority Leader when he came to the Senate as just another little freshman who looked up to you and took orders from you, could then serve as Vice President to a man who had served under you and been taught by you.
But more than that we were friends, all four of us. All you did for me as a friend and the happy times we had. I always thought way before the nomination that Lady Bird should be First Lady – but I don’t need to tell you here what I think of her qualities – her extraordinary grace of character – her willingness to assume ever burden – She assumed so many for me and I love her very much – and I love your two daughters – Lynda Bird most because I know her the best – and we first met when neither of us could get a seat to hear President Eisenhower’s State of the Union message, and someone found us a place on one of the steps on the aisle where we sat together. If we had known then what our relationship would be now.
It was so strange – last night I was wandering through this house. There in the Treaty Room is your chandelier, and I had framed – the page we all signed – you – Senator Dirksen and Mike Mansfield – underneath I had written “The day the Vice President brought the East Room chandelier back from the Capitol.”
Then in the library I showed Bobby the Lincoln Record book you gave – you see all you gave – and now you are called on to give so much more.
Your office – you are the first President to sit in it as it looks today. Jack always wanted a red rug – and I had curtains designed for it that I thought were as dignified as they should be for a President’s office.
Late last night a moving man asked me if I wanted Jack’s ship pictures left on the wall for you (They were clearing the office to make room for you) – I said no because I remembered all the fun Jack had those first days hanging pictures of things he loved, setting out his collection of whales teeth etc.
But of course they are there only waiting for you to ask for them if the walls look too bare. I thought you would want to put things from Texas in it – I pictured some gleaming longhorns – I hope you put them somewhere.
It mustn’t be very much help to you your first day in office – to hear children on the lawn at recess. It is just one more example of your kindness that you let them stay – I promise – they will soon be gone –
Thank you Mr. President