SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago Friday -- five months after he spoke at what was then San Diego State College -- was the beginning of rapid change in the U.S., according to an SDSU professor.
"When I talk to people of that generation, this was their loss of innocence," said Seth Mallios, a Kennedy expert who is chairman of SDSU's Anthropology Department. In quick succession came escalation in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and Watergate, he said.
John F. Kennedy was fatally shot on Nov. 22, 1963, as he rode in a convertible in Dallas with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. His accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was in turn killed two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
The assassination spawned a vast amount of conspiracy theories about other potential killers, and who was ultimately responsible. There has been so much discussion of the event over the years that it was kind of surprising that talk about the Kennedy assassination was muted this year, until recently, Mallios told City News Service.
The university marked the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's appearance in April, and neither Kennedy family members nor prominent Democrats accepted invitations to attend, he said.
The professor -- who serves as SDSU's campus historian -- said JFK's death came several months after he made extremely important speeches on peace, the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and education rights.
"The summer of 1963 was the apex of his presidency," Mallios said.
The education speech came at San Diego State's commencement ceremony that June. He was in the midst of forcing the University of Alabama to integrate and the South wasn't a welcoming place, according to the professor.
"He was able to address civil rights in a very safe spot in the West," Mallios said.
He said the speech sparked a transformation that turned San Diego State from a college to a university. The president was actually late to the commencement address because he wanted to meet people, according to Malios.
"He wanted to meet as many people as possible," Mallios said. "He knew that's what made him such a good candidate -- his rock star status."
The professor said photos and film of Kennedy's visit to San Diego, where an estimated 250,000 lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him, are shocking by today's standards, with random people shaking his hand and even grabbing his face.
The end of such lax security was one of the legacies of the assassination, he said.