*As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, many things are being written and new revelations are surfacing about our revered fallen hero.
For instance, until now it has not been widely known about the various enervating illnesses JFK suffered from early childhood and throughout his adult life which included Addison’s disease. The many medications he reportedly was taking seem to be on par with the magnitude of findings after singer Michael Jackson’s death.
It was a sad day when we heard the news about JFK on November 22, 1963. That was truly the day America lost its innocence. Videos of the presidential motorcade ambling through the streets of Dallas, and the impact of that dreadful moment surely defined the BC and AD of our times. Thanks to television, the image of JFK was larger than life. On a higher level, Jesus – the very image of God – was larger than life. What deep sorrow and loss his disciples must have felt when he, the Son of God who had all power, died on the cross suffering the ultimate separation – from God the Father! [Ref: Matt. 27:45-50, KJV]
Looking through the historical lens at closely bonded relations it seems the closer the bond, the deeper the sorrow when it is broken. Just imagine the horror and shock, when JFK was shot, then the suddenness of loss Jackie Kennedy felt as she sat there watching her husband die in such a cruel and gruesome manner.
Think of JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy (who also died years later at the hand of a gunman); his big brother leaving D.C. for Dallas with all power, and being returned to him in D.C. in a casket all within a matter of hours. It’s the lasting anguish as intimated by L.C. Cooke on the loss of his brother, world-renowned singer Sam Cooke – shot and killed at the height of his career – “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.” Most of us can relate to the anguish and the agony of sudden loss; here one minute and gone the next particularly by a bullet. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John Lennon, and Marvin Gaye. The news was totally shocking and unexpected.
I was recently researching some songs in Stevie Wonder’s discography and discovered that the song “Purple Raindrops,” which was the B-side of “Uptight (Everything Is Alright),” was released by Motown Records November 22, 1965. Written by Stevie’s tutor Ted Hull, the song was already two years old which would place its creation around the time of JFK’s death in ’63. For years the song was virtually lost in oblivion, but Stevie was singing “purple” before Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and the movie “The Color Purple.”
There are various interpretations and meanings of the actual color purple. Award-winning designer Jennifer Bourn writes, “Purple combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red. The color purple is often associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, power, and ambition. Purple also represents meanings of wealth, extravagance, creativity, wisdom, dignity, grandeur, devotion, peace, pride, mystery, independence, and magic.” Does that sound like our beloved JFK and the romanticism of an anywhere place called Camelot? Coincidentally, at the time of JFK’s death I was living on Camelot Way in Los Angeles’ Green Meadows projects.
Purple signifies our highest honors. The Purple Heart is awarded to our military soldiers for meritorious performance of duty. I wish we could award one to every little child who has to leave home headed for school through a minefield of uncertainty due to senseless gun violence.
Bourn further writes, “The color purple has a variety of effects on the mind and body, including uplifting spirits, calming the mind and nerves, enhancing the sacred, creating feelings of spirituality, increasing nurturing tendencies and sensitivity, and encouraging imagination and creativity. Purple is associated with spirituality, the sacred, higher self, passion, third eye, fulfillment, and vitality. Purple helps align oneself with the whole of the universe.”
Bourn’s take on shades of purple can also be ascribed to Jackie Kennedy’s experience. In video composites Jackie is shown wearing pink when leaving the hospital after their infant son Patrick died just months before JFK, and the more familiar pink outfit that JFK’s blood splattered all over in the motorcade car in which they were riding. Bourn writes, “Light purple or lavender is a feminine, graceful, elegant color that has long been associated with refined, wealthy women. While the color purple represents royalty, lavender represents beauty and femininity. Lavender is considered to be the ‘grown-up’ pink.” Certainly Jackie’s “pink” went beyond lavender and to a deeper shade after that period in her life.
At the close of 1963, America was already feeling change in the air and it was voiced in Bob Dylan’s 1964 album release titled “The Times They Are a-Changing.” The following month introduced The Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show – the British invasion had begun. That same month The Kingsmen came out with one of the most controversial songs of all time – “Louie, Louie,” and 22 year-old Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing crown, declaring “I am the greatest.” Later in June The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” exploded on the charts – its simplicity reminded me of bubble gum and hopscotch. I think it really resonated in America and on a global scale as people reflected on Camelot lost. As 1964 came to a close we lost Sam Cooke who left us a message of hope – “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Despite all the difficulties JFK encountered during his brief presidency, he forged ahead. Being the youngest president ever elected, he intuitively knew that it was his moment. He knew his purpose was to usher in a new era, and he delivered. He was the “purple” and when he died, it spattered on us like purple raindrops and enriched our lives. The beginning lines to Stevie’s “Purple Raindrops” are: “Purple raindrops/spattered flowers/I daydream for hours…” JFK’s legacy – to dream big, and the challenge “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – is truly a profile worth remembering and acknowledging.
The song “Purple Raindrops” can be found on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UXsJ9Yj1Ho
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. www.larrybuford.com (213) 220-8101