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Remembering the death of John F. Kennedy

     "We were so innocent in 1963
       It seemed as if no one had misbehaved except President Kennedy..."

I have never shaken the feeling that things changed on November 22, 1963, that violence became the norm so that today we have mass shootings in abundance, at the same time as we are eating popcorn and watching movies that sensationalize graphic cruelty and violence. My play, Oswald's Chin ( is summarized, as "the degeneration of American morality since the death of President Kennedy."  I wrote that play twenty years ago, and in the numerous rewrites that piece has undergone, I have have yet to change a word of this statement.

Even with a much better knowledge of American history that I had in 1963, it is evident that violence had existed all along, for Black people, for the working class who had fought bloody battles for an eight-hour day and for basic rights. The horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in in Newton Connecticut that upset the country earlier this year was surely not met with the same shock and surprise that American must have felt in 1927 when Andrew Kehoe, murdered his wife, killed 38 children, 6 adults and injured 58 people before blowing himself up in Bath Township, Michigan.

To a fourteen-year-old however, the 60's was a decade of assassinations in the USA. It saw the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and even the leader of the American Nazi Party, George L. Rockwell. But of course, what started it all was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Friday November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death, and in some ways, it is clearer to me now than it was then.

It was Friday morning, November 22, 1963. We were in our 9th grade English class, looking forward to the weekend. My parents were planning to take a little time for themselves and go out for dinner and a drink to celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary. Suddenly the school intercom system crackled to life and we listened to the voice of the principal of my Junior High School announce that the President had been shot while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

Ten minutes later the principal came on again and with a quaver in her voice let us know that the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was dead. We all sat in stunned disbelief, except for one girl who burst into tears and cried loudly and endlessly. No one thought to comfort her. The English teacher cursed and swiped violently at the air. All this seemed right and normal in lieu of what we had just heard.

In the hall it was pandemonium. Girls were crying and hugging each other, a boy ran down the hall slamming into others and shouting, "They killed the President! They killed Kennedy!" I overheard one girl declare that she was glad her father hadn't gone to Dallas after all, because he really hated Kennedy. We were sent home to be with our families.

I walked home in a daze not knowing what to think, not believing that it could be true, that this man I had watched debate Nixon, this man my parents had chosen to run the country, this man with a pretty wife who spoke Spanish and French, and dressed like a model, was gone forever. When I got home, my mother was sitting in the darkened living room watching the television with our next-door neighbor. This is how we began the longest week-end of our lives.

On Sunday, November 24, as preparations were being made to lay Kennedy in state for public viewing, my parents and I watched in horror as Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was gunned down on nationwide television. It is hard to imagine that it has been fifty years since November 23, 1963. For some of us is was a coming of age moment. For the country it was a turning point in our history where any cover that we had managed to hold over eyes was ripped off. It was as if we were suddenly joined to the world, where horrible things that are splashed in the news become deeply personal, life-changing and irrevocable.

It felt as if that day marked the day that violence in America would begin and never end. I believe that moment was hard-wired into the collective mind of my generation, that we took it with us, to the streets, to the campuses, and to the ten-year war that followed in Southeast Asia--the very one that JFK had done his best to prevent. It is probable that the Vietnam War would never have occurred if Kennedy had lived--that Kennedy's death was the butterfly effect that changed the course of recent history.

I believe that the day JFK was murdered is still with us today. As the Boomer generation gradually fades away, the legacy of that single moment will continue to live on in the collective conscious and unconscious, and in the individual actions of the American people.


JFK Assassination

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Comment Preferences

  •  I remember the event and ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    it got me to thinking about the cultural moment when we first attached significance to remembering the event. I posted a diary about it last night, but most of the commenters misunderstood the point and just shared their memories of the event, which I find comparatively uninteresting.

    I do remember the event, but I have a good memory. I was 9 years old at the time and for whatever reason it did not shake my world, even though I come from an Irish Catholic background. Mostly I was annoyed by the interruption of regular life, especially regularly scheduled television programming.

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 07:59:36 AM PST

  •  You are right... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Demi Moaned

    I'm only a couple years younger than you. 11/22/63 was sixth grade for me.
    When I heard about the RFK assasination in '68 (a few months after MLK) and read the Life magzine story, I remember thinking, This is what happens when someone becomes too popular. I wasn't shocked.
    The Kent State event in 1970 didn't seem to make big ripples in my school, either.
    But maybe because I knew no one who was politicized, till many years later.

    •  What we remember and how we are affected (0+ / 0-)

      is a matter of great subjectivity.  The assassination of MLK was significant for me as well.  I was in college at the time, and our political science professor had been attending sessions for peaceful resistance.  He would come in and show us how to cover our head when we were been beaten upon in a demonstration.

      After the assassination, we all sat in great expectation, waiting to hear from this great defender of non-violent protest. He was late for class, he was unshaven, and his hair had grown longer during the spring break.  I thought, where is your peaceful resistance now, Mr. L? The political actions I chose to follow from that moment on would not be with a flower in my hair.

  •  We are stuck in our own thoughts today (0+ / 0-)

    because those who experienced that woeful day remain marked forever.  When the memories are called up, all of the hurt and befuddlement and rage comes pouring back.

    I was on the UC Berkeley campus and I had just finished a Zoology exam in the old Life Sciences building.  As I exited the east door I noticed several students rushing down the path with panicked looks on their faces.  Then I heard anguished voices calling out "Shot!" "Kennedy!" "The president."  I pressed my binder to my chest and started running in the direction of the Student Union building where a flow of students was pushing to get in.

    We all crowded around a black and white TV, listening and not believing.

    When it was all over the crowds went silent and everyone went to find some comfort with friends or family.  My family was nearby so I went home and spent the next week in front of the TV, weeping and not understanding what anything meant.  

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 08:17:05 AM PST

  •  Could be a narrow age range feels it intensely (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think it could be folks like me.  I was 12 and in the 7th grade.  Old enough to remember the day and that weekend in a lot of detail and to understand it and relate it to the events that followed.  

    In 8th grade I remember my first experience with a heated debate over Vietnam in the same Catholic School where I'd learned that JFK had been killed.  First time in my life I ever heard anyone challenge a priest, another 8th grader, and it was over Vietnam.  

    I was 17 when RFK was shot and he'd been a real hero to me.  MLK was of course killed the same year.

    I was a college freshman during Kent State when I think about 400 campuses pretty much shutdown due to the chaos.  

    I was a senior in college when the Vietnam War ended.  

    So all these events happened when I was really forming attitudes that I would carry through adulthood.  

    Even being a few years younger or older and the culture shifts and upheavals wouldn't have hit you so full on.

  •  I remember the event with stark clarity (0+ / 0-)

    I was a 16 year old high school senior. I wrote a diary about it and posted it this morning. You can find it here.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:22:41 AM PST

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