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Forty-Seven Years Ago Today

EDITORIAL NOTE: Jan Adams, who blogs at Happening Here and usually writes the Gay and Gray column for this blog, is on a terrific trek visiting Hong Kong and Nepal. Before she left, she penned this story about today's sad anniversary.


Kennedy 11-22-63

Where were you on November 22, 1963? Many, most likely most, people who see this post will not yet have been around, or were very young children, on that day. But those of us who were over perhaps age 10 almost certainly do remember.

That's the day that President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas -- the day that truly announced to white middle America that the sleepy, peaceful, Eisenhower era was gone for good, the day that really initiated the traumatic time we call "the Sixties."

I was sixteen. I am not going to pretend I understood much of what swirled through the nation over the next few days, but here's my remembrance of that time.

Being a budding politico who had not yet understood that my path was as an operative, not as an office holder, I was carrying out what I think was the only high school elective function I ever managed to wriggle into.

I was a sophomore (11th grade) representative to something called the "Judicial Council" - I think now that our job was to reinforce the school administration's behavioral norms by ostentatiously enforcing discipline on our fellow students. What that meant that day was that I, an underclass twit, was proctoring a detention study hall full of bumptious juniors and seniors.

When someone slipped into the room to tell us the President had been shot, I wasn't upset because I doubted my own ability to control the room. The whole school was called to an assembly, then sent home. I don't remember whether they told us that Kennedy was dead.

I did not come from a Kennedy-supporting household. My mother was a Republican committee member and had turned out the vote for Nixon in 1960. My father was a disappointed, aging, white man, personally quite pleasant, but if he were around today he would be nodding agreement with Tea Party complaints.

But for both parents the rise of Hitler and World War II, which they understood as a struggle against barbarous dictators, defined what mattered in the public realm. (Yes, such conservative, anti-fascism made the space for such anomalies as "moderate" Republicans once upon a time.) For a U.S. president to be assassinated within the country threatened everything they trusted in.

I had more or less liked Kennedy's energy, but had no real opinion. Somehow, I had already absorbed the information that this "champion" was foot dragging on civil rights for Black people (Negros) and hoped for more. How little changes when it comes to presidents.

My parents were glued to the TV. The day after the shooting, a Saturday, I therefore had a chance to borrow the family car to do some shopping. I had just gotten a driving permit and ventured downtown with friends.

This also was a chance to indulge my new adult habit -- I could smoke while driving. As I lit up a cigarette, my attention wandered and I dinged a city bus' fender. Fortunately, the bus driver and I agreed that there was no real damage beyond a few scratches so we ignored it. There was an impulse to be gentle with each other in those awful days.

Mother dragged me to church on Sunday (my curmudgeonly father didn't do church) so I missed seeing Jack Ruby shoot accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV. But I didn't miss the replays. Nobody did.

Though like pretty much everyone else I must have watched the mourning and the funeral on the tube, I have no memory of the touching moments we are supposed to recall -- Jackie's dignity, young John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket, the burial at Arlington.

I do remember knowing that Lyndon Johnson would be president and not liking that because he was from the south. The rest of the country looked at the south much as we still often do, as a swamp of bigotry and reaction. Besides, hadn't the south just shot Kennedy?

Of course I was wrong about Johnson though it took decades for me to understand that. He was undoubtedly the most successful progressive president of my lifetime until his imperial war brought him down. Would that the present incumbent would understand that going along with little wars can be the undoing of all good intentions. It doesn't look that way today, but never say never.

Where were you on November 22, 1963? Do you still care?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: The Fame of the Name


Comments

I was teaching a third grade class in Detroit when another teacher tiptoed in and whispered to me that the president had been shot. As I listened to the car radio, it still wasn't announced that he was dead,leaving the possibility that he was just wounded. I actually believed that and only later learned to be more skeptical.That event is the only reason I recall that teacher and her name, Mrs. Dorothy Forman.

I was in high school, at an assembly. They delayed telling us until it was over, because it was the talent show and they wanted the kids who had worked so hard to put it on to be able to finish. They sent us to our next class, and what I remember most clearly is the shuffle of feet in the corridor. The school had about 2500 students, and normally you heard talking, yelling, lockers banging, but that day you only heard the shuffling of feet as we made our way to the next class. They put the radio on live feed over the PA system, and when the announcement was made that he had died, they sent us home.

I don't know about everyone else, but to me it represented the end of childhood security in some very real way. Not that I was traumatized, but but it blasted through the cocoon of safety that middle class Americans pretty much still grow up inside.

I remember a lot more after that, but I'll spare you, as this is a comment, not the place for a whole essay.

I was at home, 5 months pregnant with my daughter to be. My husband called me from work..said he had heard about the assination on the radio. I immediately turned on the TV and stayed glued to it for the next two days.

I was liberal even in those days, although I didn't really know what liberal meant. My husband's family was from Memphis and they were against any kind of rights for "Nigras", so they didn't like Kennedy as a President. They also felt he mishandled the Bay of Pigs invasion. I was alone in my leanings at most of the family dinners.

I was making a movie of my toddler daughter, who was posing and twirling around so her skirt would flare out, when the phone rang. My husband, who was managing a radio ststion, called to tell me that the president had been shot. I turned the TV on to see the horrible photos of the motorcade. At that time, Kennedy was in the hospital and not yet dead. We all hoped and prayed that he would live. Of course, his wound was so grave they knew he was dying, but held out hope to the nation. Edward R. Murrow gave us the news that he was dead.

I was old enough that I do remember the solemn funeral cortege and the stoic courage of Jackie and the salute given by John-John. Tears can still come to my eyes when I think of it.

I remember. I was in 7th grade, in a Catholic school whose teachers were almost all nuns who belonged to the Sisters of Mercy, an Irish order. This was in South Buffalo, then an almost exclusively Irish Catholic part of town. So I was aware of the Nixon-Kennedy race in 1960; I think we prayed for Kennedy, a Catholic and an Irishman, to win.

Our principal, her voice breaking, got on the loudspeaker to announce that he'd been shot. We certainly prayed then.

I remember watching the black-and-white TV with my mother during the days that followed, and an air of grief. Probably my strongest memory is of that grief permeating the days until the funeral.

Like Jan, I think of that as the beginning of the '60s. For me personally, it was some kind of watershed event; things weren't the same after as before.

I was at Figaro's Cafe in Greenwich Village with poet friend Marilyn Hacker when we heard that news, which destroyed what was left of my political innocence. I was 18.

I was at work in the financial district of San Francisco when the announcement of the shooting came - late morning on the west coast.

We were all let out to go home and I remember being surprised that the San Francisco Chronicle already had an "extra" on the streets - eight pages of mostly photos from the Dallas parade.

I was too poor then to have a television set, so I spent most of the next three days at the bus station in Mill Valley, where I lived, along with many other residents of the town watching the news all day, reading newspapers as they were delivered.

I recall that we didn't talk much among ourselves. We wandered in and out, went for coffee or a sandwich nearby and returned. There were a lot of quiet tears.

The team from my advertising agency was making a major presentation to the regional managers of Alitalia airlines who were meeting in Cincinnati. I was point man for the team, responsible for MCing the presentation. I spent the night at the Hilton and delivered our presentation at 10:00 AM on the morning of November 22, 1963.

The presentation was well received and we could count on the Alitalia business-at least for a while. (In advertising like the restaurant business, you're only as good as your last meal or campaign). The team and I headed to an upscale Italian restaurant for lunch to celebrate our victory. It was a two martini eventl that lasted over two hours, just at coffee, a waiter came to our table and told us that the President had been shot.
I left the restaurant and returned to the Hilton where I picked up my bag, checked out and headed to the airport. I don't remember the flight back to New York but I do remember going home and watching the news on the TV for several hours seeing Caroline "John John" and Jackie, Johnson and Oswald. I saw Ruby shoot Oswald and I knew that Camelot was over and that it had all been a fantasy - a dream.

For the 43 years I ignored politics completely. I had worked hard on JFK's campaign but after that, politics was a fool's game as far as I was concerned. In 2007 I saw Obama at a rally here in Austin and I thought that maybe JFK had a successor.
But Camelot ended a long time ago and Obama is no JFK.

My recollection is that feelings about Presidents were different when Kennedy was killed than they have been in recent years.

Inciting hatred of political rivals, as opponents of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did, and enemies of Barack Obama are doing now, was not acceptable to many in both parties.

I did not vote for John F. Kennedy, yet once the election was over he had my respect as our leader. He gained support from me, and many others, with resolute action during the Cuban missile crisis.

My job with The West Bend Company was becoming increasingly disenchanting, and on the fateful day I was in Janesville, Wisconsin, interviewing for a position with the Parker Pen Company. It was going well, and following a convivial lunch with the department manager, an offer seemed likely.

We returned to the office and got on an elevator. A sobbing woman came aboard and announced, “President Kennedy has been shot. He’s dead.”

The reaction was total silence. When we got to our floor, my host said, “Thanks for coming.” I shook his hand, got back on the elevator, left the building, and drove home. I don’t remember a thing about that trip or that evening.

I never heard another word about the Parker job, and I didn’t ask. It seemed as though the vast majority of Americans, Kennedy supporters and detractors alike, were stunned on Nov. 22, 1963, and for many it took a while for the shock to wear off.

I was a junior at the University of Washington; I'd just come into the student union bldg. to get something to eat and saw the news on the TVs there. No one spoke, some were crying, when I walked outside it seemed unbelievable that everything was still standing and looking the same. And it was a harbinger of awful things to come. My whole family, especially my Irish Catholic Democratic grandmothers, were broken hearted.

I was in the kitchen in the UK, mother of two young boys and I remember staring unbelievingly at the radio when the awful news was broadcast. It had almost the same impact as nine eleven. He was such a symbol of hope to all the world and we didn't know or really care about his imperfections then.

My husband was in school, my daughter was at day care, and I was on lunch break at the Federal Reserve Bank lunch room. I remember that I had a half avocado in my hand that was filled with french dressing. Someone told me that Kennedy had been shot. I didn't believe them. I thought they were joking with me, and continued thinking that way until I got home after work.

Up until that moment, I had been a political neutral following the voting patterns of my family. Kennedy's death changed me and put me into action.

I was in the second grade. I understood that something really bad had happened, as all of the grownups in my world were crying. Grownups never cried. I remember watching things on the television, and having a general idea of what had happened. No one had ever considered that an American President could be assassinated. When we watched the killing of Oswald on the news, it became even more confusing to me.
It was the end of American innocence.

I don't remember my busride home that day but I remember walking into the living room and my mother in tears with supper unprepared (it was suppertime in Ireland) and all she could do was point at the television and say "look what they did to Jack, look what they did to Jack."
He had paraded through Cork just a few months before and had touched my toddler sister's outreached hand as my mother held her up to him.
I still cry thinking of that.
XO
WWW

I was in class at a public elementary school. A teacher entered our classroom and whispered to our teacher. I recall only understanding the gravity of the situation by how my teacher reacted. Shattered is what I recall. He fumbled an announcement that the President had been shot in as calm a voice as he could muster. We children understood immediately to be still and respectful as we were scared and unsure what that meant. Small children rely so heavily upon grown up's reactions at moments like those. I remember him walking over to the radio that was set up high on the wall and tuning in to hear the news.

It is interesting and somehow poignant to commemorate this event by pondering what everyone was doing at this particular day in their lives.

I was in phy ed when the principal announced that the President had been shot, but the announcement echoed so much in the gym that we didn't really understand more than that it was serious. I was in Geometry when we learned he was dead - and I remember the teacher trying to say something to us to help us, but it didn't make sense. I remember also watching TV with my uncle and the only comment I remember was my aunt saying "Oh, she'll get married again." I couldn't comprehend how she could even think of something like that at such a time - I never had quite the same feelings about her after that.

I worked in JFK's campaign, along with my mother, and was priviledged to meet him in person. At the time of the assassination, I was living on a USMC post with my Marine husband, and pregnant with my third child, named John.

JFK was relatively conservative compared with his younger brothers, as were many politicians in that period, lest we foget. And yet, much happened to change the world for the better.

I was in 8th grade in southern California. Two years earlier on the same day (Thanksgiving eve 1961), my dad died in a car wreck. On Nov. 22, 1962, I was sitting in the back seat when my mother got disoriented in a heavy fog and T-boned an embankment in a country intersection. I broke my nose, my younger brother bit through his lip, my mom was OK. We were all pretty hysterical, though. Then, 1963 and the President's assassination, which as we all know truly changed the course of history (for the worse, in my opinion). I don't much like this time of year, all those memories and regrets.

I was repeating grade eleven, huge high school in Montreal, Canada.

It was my best year of school, bar none. Good marks, friends. But that day when the Principal announced JFK's death over the intercom, we were frozen with shock in our seats.

The Principal sent us all home immediately. I remember walking stunned. For days, we were glued to the television.

The photos of that day in Dallas are with us forever.

Scenes of the 60's. What we have learned, what we helped change.

The sixties. How hard I try to hold on to the music, the good times. It is impossible to fully recreate those moments but Sirius radio helps.

Take care.

I was high school junior in Algebra II class when they broadcast the news over the P.A. and our teacher, Mr. Smith, sat down at his desk and cried. Later, we were sent to our home rooms and dismissed. It was weird our normally raucous hallways were strangely quiet as we headed to our buses. We had the rest of the week off but no one was excited about it.

My sister and I were glued to the television.

And the speech tournament on Saturday was cancelled which was a big disappointment.

It was as if the world had stopped. And it changed in those awful.

I never have trouble remembering the date--my 13th birthday. I think the effect of Kennedy's assassination on our nation was similar to that of 9/11. Shock that such a thing happened in America.

I was 6, almost 7. In first grade. My first real awareness came when the after school cartoons were not on.

I don't recall how my parents reacted, but a few days later there was a memorial in front of the grade school. The teachers and staff were quiet, subdued and, shockingly to a 6 year old, softly weeping.

That's what stuck with me all these years. It must have been something real bad if it caused the grownups to cry.

I was in the eighth grade, living in Yateley, England. I was at a neighbor's house for a party when my dad came to the door, and spoke to the parents. Then they told us.
The small Catholic church we attended held a special memorial Mass that week, for the Americans living in the area.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It was early evening in the capital, Freetown, when a man came up to me on the street where I was walking and said, "Our President is dead. Our President is dead." I thought he was referring to the President of Sierra Leone.

I was in 7th grade math class when the announcement came over the P.A. speaker that the President had been shot We were told to take a moment of silence. The news got worse after class as we walked up the stairs to our lockers and an early dismissal.

I went to pick up my younger siblings with my mom. They were laughing, thrilled to have the next day off from school. I remember my mother's tearful rebuke: "Should they kill him again?"

Glued to the black and white images of the cortege on the tv or trying to amuse myself outside but close to home, the weather matched the mood -somber, grey, on the verge of tears.

Truly an inflection point, like December 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001.
a/b

I was twelve years old sitting in sixth period math class when the principal came over the public address system.
He said that the President had been shot, and that the school dance would be canceled that evening.
I remember being more upset about the dance cancellation.

I spent the weekend with my mother watching the story unfold. I was watching television and saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. It was wierd,but I remember I did not think that what I was seeing was real.

Most of the respondents to this post are younger than I am. I was 26 then and recuperating from two back surgeries. My first marriage had collapsed and I had what was then called an interlocutory (interim) divorce decree. I was working off and on at temp clerical jobs.

Everything paled beside the great national catastrophe of the JFK assassination. All these years later, I still cannot recall that day and those that followed without tears coming to my eyes. Such a loss of hope, optimism and dreams for our nation. I don't think we ever fully recovered, and I'm not sure we ever will. It's a moment frozen in time--others have compared it to 9/11/01 and 12/7/41. Yes, in my eyes it was like that.

At the time I was in the US Air Force stationed at Clinton-Sherman AFB located near Clinton, Oklahoma.

Early afternoon I was in the electronic shop where I worked and they called everyone in the building into a large hallway - something they had never done before. It was there that the officer in charge made the announcement regarding the President's assasination.

He also informed us that the base was now in a "state of alert" and would remain so until further notice.

I was stationed at a SAC base (Strategic Air Command)so a large segment of the B-52 fleet went on high alert.

It would seem militarily speaking, that the first couple of days surrounding the event were quite unsettling given all the unknowns at the moment.

I was in 5th grade, going to a one room country school in Nebraska. Our only electricity was a light bulb on the ceiling, thanks to the REA. My classmates older brother stopped in with a transistor radio, so we could listen to the news. My farm family were staunch Democrats, one of my uncles was working at the Pentagon at the time. Doing what, he still won't say.
We too, were in church when Oswald was shot. But as soon as we got home, my father sat us back in front of the television. He told us it was "history in the making" , and that we needed to watch.

Ronni: What a coincidence! I too was working in the SF financial district. A co-worker came in and told us the President had been shot. God how awful. And this was just the beginning of a tough tough era in American life.

I was a freshman in high school, in the lunch line, when the news came. Classes were cancelled and we watched tv all day (boarding school). We had no idea our history had changed, for the worse, forever. We were more upset when we weren't allowed to finish watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

But I think many of us began to mistrust all the bs the gov't told us around then, and by college I was marching against the war and became a totally liberal person which I remain to this day (though I am quite disappointed in Obama).

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