John F. Kennedy photo

John F. Kennedy Event Timeline

January 20, 1961

 John F. Kennedy (35) Event Timeline
01/20/1961 – 11/22/1963


Accepts the Democratic Party Nomination for President at the Convention in Los Angeles.


Election Day. Kennedy defeats Vice President Nixon with 56.4% of the Electoral College and 49.7% of the popular vote.




Inaugural Address. “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”


First State of the Union Message; discusses the Cold War and the missile program.


By Executive Order 10924 directs the Secretary of State to establish the Peace Corps, In a Statement and Message calls upon Congress to make the program permanent.


Statement issued on the occasion of the Soviet Union putting a man into space. Yuri Gagarin orbits the earth and return safely.


Proposes funding for the Alliance for Progress.


In news conference, addresses the Soviet accomplishment of sending the first person to space. Pledges “there will not be, under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the United States Armed Forces.”

04/17/1961  -  04/19/1961

The United States sponsors an invasion of Cuba with anti-Castro Cuban exiles trained by the CIA. To reduce the explicit linkage with US military assistance, Kennedy chooses not to authorize US air strikes. The invasion fails spectacularly.


Message to Chairman Khrushchev Concerning the Meaning of Events in Cuba. “While refraining from military intervention in Cuba, the people of the United States do not conceal their admiration for Cuban patriots who wish to see a democratic system in an independent Cuba. The United States government can take no action to stifle the spirit of liberty.”


In Address before American Society of Newspaper Editors, addresses the Cuban fiasco. “. . . we will not accept Mr. Castro's attempts to blame this nation for the hatred which his onetime supporters now regard his repression.”. . . “We dare not fail to see the insidious nature of this new and deeper struggle. We dare not fail to grasp the new concepts, the new tools, the new sense of urgency we will need to combat it--whether in Cuba or South Viet-Nam.”


An integrated group of students organized by the Congress of Racial Equality leave Washington DC on a “Freedom Ride” through the deep South. Despite Court orders, segregation was being enforced in some bus stations serving interstate bus lines.


Celebrates the first American in space, Alan Sheppard Jr.


Freedom Riders Bus is met by a violent mob in Anniston, Alabama. One of two buses was firebombed. Later in Birmingham, riders were again attacked and beaten.


Statement Concerning Interference with the “Freedom Riders.” “I have instructed the Justice Department to take all necessary steps based on their investigations and information.”


Address to a Joint Session of Congress, Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs. Speaks at length about confronting “adversaries of freedom” at home and abroad. Calls for increased defense spending and spending on civil defense. Concludes with a call for landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth before the end of the decade.


Remarks on signing legislation funding the Alliance for Progress.

05/31/1961 –  06/06/1961

European trip with stops in Paris, Vienna (meets Khrushchev), London (meets Prime Minister MacMillan).


Remarks and Question and Answer Period at the Press Luncheon in Paris. “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.”


Concludes two days of talks with Chairman Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. They do not reach an agreement about the ongoing situation in Berlin.


Remarks Upon Signing the Housing Act. “This bill is the most important and far-reaching Federal legislation in the field of housing since the enactment of the Housing Act of 1949.”


East Germany begins construction of the Berlin Wall in order to prevent mass defections from Soviet-controlled East Berlin to West Berlin.


Decides to send Vice President Johnson to visit Berlin.


Remarks after Vice President Johnson reports to the President after his trip to Berlin. Also see Johnson’s report online.


Warns the Soviet Union that its support of the construction of the Berlin Wall will be viewed as an aggressive act.


Statement protesting Soviet Resumption of Nuclear Weapons Tests.


U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in a plane crash in Katanga Province, Congo. Questions persist about whether the crash was accidental or involved some hostile act.


Address before the General Assembly of the United Nations. Addresses an array of issues include Vietnam and Berlin.


Remarks on Signing legislation creating the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.


Announces progress with the voluntary desegregation of schools.


Statement Concerning Soviet Plans to Test a 50-Megaton Bomb.


Statement Concerning the Development and Testing of Nuclear Weapons.


Remarks at the White House Concert by Pablo Casals.


Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Concerning Monetary Silver. “. . . I have reached the decision that silver metal should gradually be withdrawn from our monetary reserves.”


Executive Order 10980. Establishes the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Statement.

12/15/1961 – 12/22/1961

Trip to Latin America promoting the Alliance for Progress, involving stops in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia.


Proposes sending a council to help with the economic recovery and state-building of the Dominican Republic.




Second State of the Union Message.


News Conference, Among other topics, discusses talks in Geneva, which the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom adjourned on 01/29/1962 after attempting to reach an agreement on a nuclear test ban. No agreement was reached.


By Proclamation, places an embargo on all trade with Cuba.


Remarks following the flight of John Glenn who orbited earth in the Friendship 7. “. . . this is the new ocean, and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”


In Bailey v. Patterson the Supreme Court holds firmly that legal segregation in interstate or intrastate transportation facilities is unconstitutional and “settled beyond question.”


Address to the American People on Nuclear Testing and Disarmament. In a nationally broadcast address, discusses Soviet resumption of nuclear tests and announces that the US will conduct a series of tests, both underground and in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. The tests are necessary to assure that the Soviets do not achieve nuclear superiority.


Following the Geneva Tariff Conference, Kennedy reports to Congress that import duties will be reduced in order to promote trade with the EEC.


In a News Conference, criticizes at length, in what became known as “jawboning,” a proposed increase in steel prices. “. . . the American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans.” A few days later the steel companies reversed course.


Writes Congress recommending reforms of the Federal Reserve System:  Making the terms of the President and Board Chair coterminous; increasing the salaries of Board members.


Interviewed by Eleanor Roosevelt for National Public Television. Discuss the new Committee on the Status of Women and the outlook for women in society.


Marilyn Monroe sings Happy Birthday to the President at a celebration event in Madison Square Garden. (His actual birthday was 10 days later.) Link to YouTube video.


The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) adopt what is known as the “Port Huron Statement.” The SDS becomes a leader in anti-war, anti-capitalist protest. “. . . we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation governed by two central aims:  that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life; that society be organized to encourage independence in men and provide the media for their common participation.”


Messages on the Occasion of the Independence of Burundi and Independence of Rwanda.

09/13/1962 In a News Conference, condemns as "outrageous" the burning of two Negro churches. Pledges that the Federal government "shall do everything we possibly can" to protect citizens attempting to exercise their right to vote.


Following considerable litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Meredith v. Fair held that Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett was in contempt of court for blocking the registration of an African-American student, James Meredith at the University of Mississippi.


By Proclamation, directs Mississippi officials to comply with court orders. By Executive Order directs the Secretary of Defense to take all appropriate steps to enforce the court order. And in a televised address to the nation, explains his actions. He states, “Neither Mississippi nor any other southern State deserves to be charged with all the accumulated wrongs of the last 100 years of race relations.”


Message on the Occasion of Independence of Uganda.


Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms buildup in Cuba. In a televised speech, reveals that he has received “unmistakable evidence” of offensive missile sites in Cuba. Accuses the Soviets of deliberate deception. Announces that a strict quarantine on shipping offensive weapons to Cuba.


By Proclamation, orders the military to interdict offensive weapons and associated materiel to Cuba. This begins a period of high-stakes negotiation that veers close to nuclear war.


Statement following Soviets decision to remove missiles from Cuba. In return, the United States pledges not to invade Cuba and also agrees, secretly, to remove outdated missiles from Turkey.


Announces the conclusion of atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific.


In a News Conference, announces that the Cuban blockade is lifted.




Third State of the Union Message.


In George Wallace’s Inaugural Address as Governor of Alabama, he proclaims, “Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. . .[sic]and I say. . .segregation now . . . segregation tomorrow. . .segregation forever.”


In letter to Chairman Khrushchev, proposes a meeting to discuss nuclear testing.


Announces postponement of underground nuclear tests during discussions of a test ban treaty.


In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of right to counsel applies to criminal defendants in state courts because of the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Birmingham Campaign.” Southern Christian Leadership Conference begins a campaign to promote integration of public facilities in Birmingham, AL.


Jailed for his role in the Birmingham demonstrations, Martin Luther King writes his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”


Congratulates the first group of American climbers to summit Mount Everest.


Radio and Television Remarks Following Renewal of Racial Strife in Birmingham. Two bombings had occurred the night before.


Sends federal troops to Birmingham, Alabama following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights campaign in the city.


Delivers Commencement Address at American University, where he speaks about establishing a nuclear test ban treaty and announces his sincere desire to make peace with the Soviet Union. The speech leads to an effort to increase communication between the two nations.


Through Executive Order, directs the Secretary of Defense to insure the integration of the University of Alabama. This was pursuant to a Proclamation of the same date commanding the Governor of Alabama to cease undermining the laws and the Constitution of the United States. Kennedy was reacting to Governor Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama to block two African-American students who arrived to register for classes.


Denounces segregation and promotes equality in an Address to the American people on Civil Rights. “We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress. . . “


By Executive Order, creates the Advisory Council on the Arts, which will eventually pave the way for the National Endowment for the Arts.


Medgar Evers, a civil rights leader from Jackson, MS, is assassinated as he returned to his home from an NAACP meeting.


Treaty signed and takes effect creating the “hot-line” linking the US and the USSR. This communications system could be used in the event of military crisis.

06/22/1963 – 07/02/1963

Travels to West Germany, West Berlin, Ireland, England, Italy.


Visits West Berlin and shows his support for the city, stating “ich bin ein Berliner” — “I am a Berliner.”


Statement about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At the 250,000-strong march advocating for rights for African Americans, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream Speech.” Activists meet with Kennedy to urge him to take action on reform.


Addresses the KKK’s bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on 09/15/1963, which killed four African American girls and injured twenty more.


Statement following Senate vote to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty.


Remarks at Signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.


Remarks at Presentation of the Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.


By Executive Order creates an Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women.


President Diem of Vietnam is deposed in a coup and later executed. The US government knew of the planned coup but did not attempt to stop it, apparently not foreseeing that Diem would be killed.


Remarks at the Breakfast of the Forth Worth Chamber of Commerce. “. . . on three occasions in the last 3 years the United States has had a direct confrontation. No one can say when it will come again. No one expects that our life will be easy, certainly not in this decade, and perhaps not in this century.”


President Kennedy is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson becomes President and continues Kennedy’s work in passing historic civil rights legislation.


Jack Ruby shoots and kills Lee Harvey Oswald at a Dallas police station, eliminating the possibility that Oswald could provide a full account of his actions and motives.


President Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He had lain in state at the Capitol, followed by solemn processions to the funeral at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and then to Arlington.


Last edited 07/25/2023

John F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Event Timeline Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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