After my father's death, my mother resolved to do everything she could to make sure that the record of his administration was preserved. She had confidence that his decisions would stand the test of time and wanted future generations to learn what an extraordinary man he was. She helped set in motion one of the most extensive oral history projects ever conducted up to that time, in which more than one thousand people were interviewed about their life and work with John F. Kennedy. Although it was painful for my mother to relive the life since shattered, she knew it was important that she participate. She always told us that she chose to be interviewed by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, former Harvard professor, and special assistant to President Kennedy, because she was doing this for future generations, and that was why she put the tapes in a vault to be sealed for fifty years.
I first read transcripts of these conversations a few weeks after my mother's death in 1994 when the vault was opened and her lawyer gave me a copy. Everything about that time was overwhelming for me as I found myself faced with the same sorts of decisions about her possessions that she had made thirty years earlier. Knowing her wishes for the oral history made it easy—I knew I was reading something that wasn't supposed to be seen yet—and although I found it fascinating, I put it back in the vault to await its time.
A few years ago, my family began thinking about how to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of my father's presidency. We decided to concentrate our efforts on projects that would make his legacy accessible worldwide. Working with the staff of the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation and generous private partners, my husband led the effort to create the largest existing digital archive of a presidency, as well as online curricula, downloadable exhibits, and a Web site—www.jfk50.org—intended to renew my father's call to service for today's generation.
The publication of these interviews is an important contribution to this commemorative effort, and one with its own story. When the director of the Kennedy Library first approached me with the idea, I asked him to search the archives to confirm my mother's wishes regarding the date of publication. Surprisingly, given the importance of the material, there was no deed of gift or transfer, nor a letter of intent regarding the date at which the interviews were to be opened. There was only a brief notation by a former government archivist that these interviews were "subject to the same restrictions as the Manchester interviews." By way of background, there are three significant interviews that my mother gave after my father's death. The first was to Theodore H. White in Hyannis Port on November 29, 1963, only a few days after my father's funeral. In that interview, my mother famously told White that she and my father used to listen to the record of the Broadway musical Camelot in the evening before they went to bed, and looking back, "that one brief shining moment" reminded her of his presidency. White's article was published a week later in Life magazine, but the notes of his interview were sealed until one year after my mother's death. They are now open to researchers at the Kennedy Library in Boston.