LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Olympic torch at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will be lit today to mark the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's acceptance of the Democratic nomination for president.
Kennedy delivered “The New Frontier'' speech to a packed stadium in 1960, pledging to devote himself “to lead our party back to victory and our nation back to greatness.''
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who also serves as the president of the Coliseum Commission, requested that the torch be lit in commemoration from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Sixty years ago today, John F. Kennedy accepted his party's nomination for president and delivered an inspiring speech about what it would take for the people of this nation to rise to meet challenges they have never faced before,'' Hahn told City News Service. “History was made that day and it was a proud moment for Los Angeles.''
Hahn said the audience of supporters numbered 80,000 people -- “the largest crowd to ever hear a political speech'' at that time.
Though it might surprise those who only remember his soaring oratory in front of his partisan audience, Kennedy moved quickly to disparage Republicans for not holding an open convention and to criticize his opponent, Richard Nixon.
Kennedy characterized Nixon's political career as often showing “charity toward none and malice toward all'' and accused him of having “spoken or voted on every known side of every known issue.''
Then the Democratic nominee shifted to higher moral ground to acknowledge that the Democratic Party had taken “what many regard as a new and hazardous risk'' by nominating a candidate of the Catholic faith.
“I look at it this way: the Democratic Party has once again placed its confidence in the American people, and in their ability to render a free, fair judgement,'' Kennedy said, according to a copy of the speech held in the online archives of his presidential library. “I hope that no American, considering the really critical issues facing this country, will waste his franchise by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation.''
After taking the opportunity to further bash Nixon, Kennedy moved to distance himself from political sniping.
“The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high -- to permit the customary passions of political debate,'' he told his supporters. “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.''
Kennedy saw the 1960s as a historical turning point.
“We stand today on the edge of a new frontier -- the frontier of the 1960's -- a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils - a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats,'' he said. “ ...The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises-- it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.''
In calling for Americans to sacrifice and rise to the challenges to U.S. freedoms posed by Communism and Russia in particular, Kennedy's belief in American exceptionalism was clear.
“All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do,'' Kennedy said.
Hahn's father, former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, led the Pledge of Allegiance at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, which was held down the street at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Exposition Park, where the Banc of California soccer stadium now stands.
During the drama of the 1984 Olympic Summer Games, gold medalist and decathlon athlete Rafer Johnson was the relay runner who carried the handheld Olympic torch into the stadium to ceremoniously ignite the blaze. However, the flame can be started by flipping a series of switches and is lit during the fourth quarter of USC home football games as well as more momentous occasions, as when Los Angeles was awarded the 2028 Summer Olympics and to commemorate D-Day.
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