Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words, Historic Conversations on Life with JFK

May 19, 2011, 1:50 PM

May 25, 2011 -- Hundreds of books have been written about the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Countless documentaries have been made, thousands of testimonials and oral histories given.

But for almost 50 years, one voice was silent: Jacqueline Kennedy's.

Now, in an ABC News exclusive, Diane Sawyer will anchor a two-hour 20/20 special in September in which America will hear Jacqueline Kennedy's conversations for the first time, put in context by historians and by the woman who knew her best: her own daughter.

Jacqueline Kennedy: American Icon

Jacqueline Kennedy, who reinvented the role of First Lady and whose style, glamour, and courage helped to define an era, chose not to speak publicly about those years. In virtually the only print interview she gave (to Look Magazine in 1963) shortly after her husband was assassinated, she literally did define the era, likening her husband's presidency to Camelot; it was a comparison that caught the imagination of a nation in mourning. When she died in 1994 without having written her memoirs or consented to be interviewed for a documentary, it appeared that her insights were lost to history forever.

But though she didn't want to speak publically, she wanted to leave behind a record for history. So just four months after the death of her husband, she sat down for a series of recorded interviews with historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. For 8 and a half hours, she spoke about her husband, her family, and the explosive historic events of those 1000 days. She left these tapes to her daughter, Caroline Kennedy -- and specified they be released at the appropriate time.

These free-ranging conversations form a kind of time capsule of an era of incredible danger (the Cuban missile crisis) and of incredible promise (the beginnings of civil rights legislation). They cover a period of years, from Jacqueline Kennedy's early days on the campaign trail to her very last campaign appearance in Dallas. Above all, they reflect Mrs. Kennedy's evolving sense of herself and her role as First Lady as she talks about her family and married life in the White House, providing a unique window into one of the world's most admired women.

The 20/20 special coincides with the release of a book called, "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy," with a personal foreword by Caroline Kennedy and annotations by historian Michael Beschloss. The book includes the original audio tapes from these historic interviews.

"It is a great privilege to be able to share these recollections with the millions of people who admire my parents. My mother took very seriously the obligation to preserve and document the history of my father's administration--and these interviews are the result. I am honored to play a small part in that effort by bringing them forward in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration," said Caroline Kennedy.

The book is being published by Hyperion, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Administration and in association with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

The Diane Sawyer primetime hour is scheduled to air in September. In addition, reports will air across all ABC News broadcasts and platforms - including "World News with Diane Sawyer," "Good Morning America," "Nightline," and "This Week with Christiane Amanpour." Segments will also air on ABC News Radio, ABC News NOW, and NewsOne.

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