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Marking the 50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination

Friday, November 22, 2013

Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. November 22, 1963 (Walt Cisco/Dallas Morning News/Wikimedia Commons)

Where were you fifty years ago today? How did you change after the assassination of John F. Kennedy? How did you see our country change?

Peniel Joseph, professor of history, founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, and author of Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama (Basic Books, 2010), talks about what Kennedy's presidency and death meant for civil rights.

Then, Marvin Kalb, senior advisor to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, and now author of The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed [Brookings Institution Press], talks about his memories of November 22, 1963, and takes calls from listeners as we remember the death of President Kennedy. 

→ EVENT: The Kalb Report will host a live show tonight in the main ballroom of the National Press Club, located on the 13th floor of the National Press Building, 14th and F streets, NW, Washington, D.C., 7 PM | Tickets


Kennedy's June 1963 Civil Rights speech, which Peniel Joseph calls "his finest moment as president."


Hear Boston Symphony conductor Erich Leinsdorf announce the assassination of President Kennedy and the crowd reaction. They then play the funeral march from Beethoven's Third Symphony. More at TIME.

Guests:

Peniel Joseph and Marvin Kalb
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
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Comments [53]

Evan from Brooklyn

The Mighty Sparrow's calypso song about the Kennedy Assassination.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8r2HYzBRxc

Nov. 23 2013 04:49 PM
KathyLPV from Long Branch, NJ

I was a junior at Red Bank Catholic High School, NJ. We didn't hear that JFK was shot or died until about 2:30 pm. At that time, we were listening to the Army Band from the now defunct Fort Monmouth. Our principal and other staff decided to let them play on with their program, not telling the band members either. I can only presume they thought it would be a way to honor JFK and his family. When they came out after the program and announced our President was dead, even the soldiers gasped in horror. Some of us thought it was a big mistake. On the way home, a bus driver asked us why we were crying. We asked if he'd heard about Kennedy's death, and he told us, "Life will go on." We weren't sp sure. Our lives were drastically changed from then on, just as with 11 September 2001.

Nov. 22 2013 11:24 PM
Rvt from Chelsea

Kennedy was glamorous and we adored him for not getting us nuked in NY the year before due to missile crisis. I was in English class 7th grade with Mrs. Brenner when Mr. Seiderman opened the door to tell us the news. I could not believe the grief on the teachers faces it was so profound. My parents believed LBJ did it. Recently a lawyer friend told me he was retained by a friend in CIA who had been ordered to shoot someone inDallas. The agent knew if he did he was the next target so he went into a bank to get arrested in order to be in prison that day . My friend sued CIA re lost benefits when agent got out from prison where he had done time for attempted robbery. This was a footnote in some tome on the assassination.

Nov. 22 2013 06:14 PM
Robert Slaughter from The Bronx

I was in Study Hall in the next to last period of the day at High School in NE Ohio... The teacher in charge of the study hall was our football coach, Joe Shoaf, and he had stepped out for a moment and came back in with a strange look on his face. He did not announce anything but soon everyone in the hall knew the awful news... and a strange quiet fell over the whole room of over 100 students... I was on the basketball team and the first game of the season was to be played against St John's HS in Ashtabula Ohio that evening. The last period was to a pep rally for the game. It was the most somber pep rally we ever had. The game was cancelled of course. The students were released to go home. The halls of the school were strangely quiet as the students went to there lockers and boarded the buses or got into their cars. The bus ride home was extremely quiet, for a bus load of students on a Friday after school. It seemed as if everyone was sleep walking through that whole weekend, as we watched the whole event... lying in state, Oswalds being shot, the funeral processing, etc. I will always remember the whole thing.

Nov. 22 2013 03:39 PM
doyleman

I was just seven years old when John Kennedy was assassinated and it took me many years to figure out the the depth of the grief that my parents felt that weekend as we watched the events on T.V. To the Irish who had been immigrating to the US for over 120 years in 1963 because of poverty and persecution and had fought as Americans in all the wars since the civil war,built the cities and the railroads John Kennedy's presidency was the culmination of all their dreams. Most had left behind their friends and family to travel to a foreign land never to see their loved ones again. The fact that one of their own kind had made it to the top showed that all the hard work and sacrifices that many generations of Irish had put in were not in vain.They had come here to find a better life for their children and yes they had made the right choice.No longer would there be signs"Irish need not apply". When John Kennedy made his trip back to Ireland during his presidency as the returning hero it was the beginning of a new prosperity where many Irish would go back every summer to see their family. So on that day in Dallas when his life was extinguished by an assassin it was like someone in our immediate family had died.

Nov. 22 2013 03:07 PM

The principle announced it on the PA system.I was looking at my teacher-Sister Scholastica and I saw her face change; her mouth formed an 0 and she kept saying ,oh, oh ,oh, over and over. I was mesmerized- like an autistic person, by her mouth forming the letter o and her repeating the 0h sound. We then all prayed the rosary with our principle on the PA system leading it. In the school yard when we were being dismissed I heard one classmate say-"I'm glad". When in front of my building[Clinton Hill, Brooklyn]I saw my middle aged neighbor pushing a grocery cart. She looked so calm and clueless so I went up to her and said;" Mrs. Morris-do you know what happened? The president was killed"! She calmly said; "yes I know" and showed no emotion or even interest. I was baffled.
My father who never watched t.v. watched the funeral and told me to watch and remember because we were watching history. So now when I think of that event I think of my father too. The anniversary speaks to me not about political history[what would have, could have been] but about the ephemeral nature of time, the transcendent impotence and even pomposity of earthly power in the face of eternity and how what connects us more then our common beliefs, culture ,politics etc.,is just our all being, here and now.

Nov. 22 2013 02:54 PM
Charlie from Tenafly, NJ

Coming out of swim class, heard the PA announcement in the locker room. One kid started joking around about it, immediately confirming my longstanding impression of him as an idiot.

My homeroom teacher (wish I cud remember her name; can anyone help me out?) stood at the homeroom door. I asked her "Is it true?" She could only nod shakily, her red-rimmed tearful eyes underscoring the truth. I slumped into my seat, as the understanding of post childhood shock and grief began to take hold in my 14 yr old mind, heart and soul.

Nov. 22 2013 02:30 PM

FWIW: this is the President Kennedy I remember.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/11/22/americans-think-john-f-kennedy-was-one-of-our-greatest-presidents-he-wasnt/

Nov. 22 2013 01:38 PM
Joel from Westchester

I took an extended lunch from my job on Madison Avenue to see a Mondrian show at the Sidney Janis Gallery and was returning to my desk at about 1:30. I noticed a strange, eerie quiet on the Avenue. Apparent strangers were talking in hushed tones to one another– unusual for the insular city crowds. I stopped and questioned a passerby. I was told the terrible news which I carried back to my job at CBS Television.

Nov. 22 2013 12:07 PM
myriam from Sheapsheadbay, Brooklyn

I was just born a week before. On november 15th, 1963. And I was the first baby of my family. My father was a high rank officer in our country. He later told us how convinced he was that the secret services did it (kill Kennedy).To Kennedy's daughter, our deepest regret for your father's loss.

Like the kids of 9-11-2001, we the 1963 kids feel like we are the kids of the 1963 JFK assassination. And with this 50th anniversary celebration we cannot hide our age to anyone.

Life gave me a boy on the famous 2001 year, and a girl on November 22nd of 2005. Today is her birthday. Happy birthday Marwa.

Nov. 22 2013 12:06 PM
mejimenez from manhattan

Just heard a caller's story of people celebrating JFK's assassination. Here's another. At the time, my father was the Operating Manager of the Inter-American Press Association, an organization of newspaper publishers in North, Central, and South America. They were holding one of their twice-yearly meetings in Miami. JFK had attended the opening before heading to Texas. The multi-day meeting was still in session when news of JFK's assassination arrived. My parents were horrified when they encountered a group of publishers, owners of major American newspapers and newspaper chains, breaking out the champagne.

Nov. 22 2013 12:04 PM
BK from Hoboken

I am 38 and do not understand my parents' generation infatuation with everything Kenmedy. To my objective, born in 75 eyes, they are yet another ruling elite family who passed money and power down through the family. As for the "star crossed" fates of many of them, when you have lots of money for flying yourself to Martha's Vineyard, ski trips, parties at the family compound in FL, you increase your chances of bad things happening. I hate to see the familial power in today's politics too. Hillary is talented but damn I dot want to go Bush Clinton Bush Obama Clinton (or Bush again, as in Jeb). In a democracy of 300 million people we can't find suitable leadership outside of these power clans?

Nov. 22 2013 12:03 PM

I disagree with the caller who says we are living in more violent times. The research shows the opposite. What is different is that now we are much more aware of violence and have instant media access to its implications.

That having been said, I remember my parents and grandparents when they heard about Kennedy's death. I think the reason why it was so profound was because it was televised and he was a young charismatic figure struck down in his prime - regardless of what people felt about his politics.

Nov. 22 2013 12:02 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I was 10, sitting in my 5th-grade classroom, when the announcement came over the PA that President Kennedy had been shot. I don't think it was the voice of anyone at the school; maybe they patched in a news report. There was a strange noise in the background; someone (in the classroom?) said it was a helicopter. I didn't understand completely when the voice said, w/pauses, something about "preparing...a casket...for the president"; I knew the word "coffin" but not "casket," so I didn't realize it meant President Kennedy had died. I did know Mrs. Kennedy couldn't have said "Oh, no" in the way the announcer made it sound, & somehow I felt it should have reflected the way she must have really said it.

It was shocking, but it took a while before I really understood what it meant. I kind of remember images from TV over the next days; I'm not sure if I saw the shooting of Oswald live or replayed, but I remember seeing John-John salute his father's coffin at the funeral.

In regard to the current caller, who was born on 11/22/63, a friend told me 2 weeks ago that the assassination was on his 15th birthday, & it had colored his birthday for years after.

Nov. 22 2013 11:57 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

Am I the only one who thinks that JFK was a womanizing narcissist and entirely mediocre president? Still, a perfect representative for the Boomers. All style; no substance.

Nov. 22 2013 11:57 AM

I was in Mrs. Kirkpatrick's first grade class. Room 106 of Beech Street School in Hackensack, New Jersey. We were sent home early. I got home and walked up the back stairs to the second floor apartment where the family who rented from us, the Coopers, lived. I entered through the lower half of the dutch door and announced "Did you hear the glad news?!" and then corrected myself "sad news"...Very tough weekend for the nation. I was in front of the TV watching WABC when Oswald was shot.

Over the fifty years since his death the nation has learned about Kennedy's loose morality, it took over fifteen years to see the Zapruder film - (Geraldo Rivera on one of his late night specials),... The pall of misery and death that seems to follow the Kennedys does make them seem cursed.

For me, a bigger change for the country since then has been the theft of services that amounts to the modern American economy. The average salary in 1963 of $4,400, would buy $104,000 of goods and services in today's economy.

I hope we all wake up and turn the fruits of our labor back to the people that create it.

Nov. 22 2013 11:56 AM
Karen from Manhattan

I was in 4th grade eating my hot lunch in a public school, in Massachusetts--where people disliked the Kennedys but voted for them anyway. The Boston Symphony recording was the first thing that has moved me in a week of over-saturated coverage of this 50th anniversary. I don't mean to be disrespectful, it was an important and tragic event, but I'm tired of hearing about it.

Nov. 22 2013 11:55 AM

@BrianLehrer & @WNYC: Many thanks for an astounding set of calls on the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Nov. 22 2013 11:53 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Oh, you're caller was right. There was a lot of quiet unspoken joy by the strong right wingers, and many in the Cuban refugee community, that Kennedy had sold them out to Khruschev, promising not to invade Cuba, and that Kennedy had indeed gone soft on communism. Also the rumors of his sexual antics were not endearing to everyone either. So that Kennedy was a god to all is definitely not the whole story.

Nov. 22 2013 11:53 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Some people just can't wrap their heads around the sad, tawdry fact that a charismatic world leader could be murdered by a delusional nobody.

Nov. 22 2013 11:53 AM
James Abro from Toms River, N.J.

I was in Catholic grade school when President Kennedy was killed. We had a custodian named Mr. Kennedy who was beloved by the nuns and children. When the announcement came over the intercom, we were told to pray for Mr. Kennedy (the janitor) and his family.

Nov. 22 2013 11:51 AM
April from Yupper West Side

Brian, I'm angry you won't take a call from a southerner who, along with southerners from every southern state - yes, Mississippi and Alabama - were in the civil rights movement in Chapel HIll, NC. I was in Harry's bar, unwinding from a demo when the radio was turned loud with the terrible news. Left with two friends to her apt, where we spent three days weeping. (And eating deliveries from the Chicken Box Restaurant. Guess what? White southerners eat fried chicken and watermelon, along with black eyed peas). Where we sat in at the crossroads of CH's main drags, now is half MLK Blvd. Can you say that about midtown Manhattan? We've had two black mayors. NYC one. "New Yorkers went south to join the civil rights movement"? Same statement in The Makers about feminists in the crm. In Asheville, NC, where I lived for a wonderful while, woman, NOT girlfriends and I took the skin off our husbands with our fire breathing mouths. People blame Dallas for killing Kennedy with its right wing John Birch society aura. Oswald was a self professed Marxist, another thing you didn't mention, Brian. When my brother was at Swarthmore, after getting into Harvard - several other NC friends turned Harvard down, we went to YPSL - for the ignoratti, Young People's Socialist League, parties in the Village. I really do need to get my FBI records one of these days. Mah muthuh who had a strong southun accent, from Concord, NC, tried to join the communist party but was turned down for being "socially frivolous and politically immature". Chapel HIll was full of Communists, homosexuals, artists, and smart women straining to find something to do outside marriage. Before her marriage my mother had written for the Federal Writer's Project, and acted for the Play Makers theatre which at that time toured the country. On her deathbed she was reading "The Feminine Mystique" and "Zen Buddhism". She co founded the NC League of women voters with Helen Gillin, and campaigned for Kennedy. I was on phone with Chris Matthews, on your show, I think, about her vintage Kennedy campaign button, which I gave to an Irish doorman. I've gotten the first black deskman in this building. The Struggle continues. And everyone isn't happy about it. People to interview: John Ehle about his book "The Free Men", about the CRM in Chapel Hill. Not as good, but good, Robert Cohen from NYU, co author of "Rebellion In Black and White: southern student activism in the 1960s" with David J Snyder at USC, South Carolina not southern California. You have my email. And I have John Ehle's phone number. Ideally American Experience would cover us before we're all dead. Too bad you wouldn't let one southerner on the air to talk about the CRM. Why we need an American Experience. Put in a word to them, readers.

Nov. 22 2013 11:47 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Two vivid memories from a Massachusetts boyhood:

Perched on my father's shoulders as President Kennedy spoke to an enthusiastic home crowd at Westover Air Field, a month before the assassination.

A sheet of a new product, the paper towel, included with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, a four-color illustration of the late president printed on it.

Nov. 22 2013 11:46 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan, sorry the fellow Sirhan Bishara Sirhan is a Christian.
Let’s get people’s religion right. LOL

Nov. 22 2013 11:46 AM
Adam Turinas from Madison NJ

I was born in London at 1:20 pm CST, within the hour of JFK's assassination. Suffice to say I have no recollection but for my family it was always a day of mixed emotions. It's always been a little strange having this tragic event as a shadow over my birthday.

Nov. 22 2013 11:39 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

There were lots of assassinations. Lincoln was shot but it was a lone shooter, not a conspiracy. McKinley was assassinated, no conspiracy. Reagan was shot, though not killed, but no conspiracy. So why would anyone believe in some conspiracy when it came to the Kennedy assassination? It was crazy lone gunman, Oswald, period. You cannot trust people who dream up conspiracy theories. Even the assassination of Robert Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian, was said to be a conspiracy. It was a lone nut with his own grievances. Period.

Nov. 22 2013 11:38 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

@Taher-

LOL, you don't think it was Oswald?

OK.... maybe, like his brother Bobby, he was really killed by a Palestinian, another bloodthirsty Muslim murderer.
Yea, OK.

Nov. 22 2013 11:36 AM
mick from Inwood

To the "person" hiding behind the Dickensian pseudonym, is there nothing in the American saga, no moment so tragic or uplifting, that you will not subvert into an excuse for your angry white male/partisan Republican vitriol? "Have you no decency, sir?" Obviously, not.

Nov. 22 2013 11:32 AM
steve from Manhattan

There is just too much first-hand evidence that Oswald, an American spy who was in the USSR on assignment (he didn't defect) and who was doing the anti-Castro events as part of his cover, was in fact part of the "conspiracy" to kill the President, and yet was also the fall-guy (unbeknownst to him) and the scape-goat. This was all but confirmed when his long-time friend and "conspiracy" colleague Jack Ruby silenced him to prevent him from naming names and spilling the beans... The white-washing Warren Commission and the media sealed the deal, and it seems that the greatest crime of the last American century will forever be both unsolved and covered-up.

Nov. 22 2013 11:32 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan , still believe it was Oswald? The establishment's line?
LOL

Nov. 22 2013 11:29 AM

Something of little importance in the overall scheme of things:

The state funeral for JFK was on November 25, 1963.

That was the JFK Jr.'s 3rd birthday. The photo of that little boy saluting must be one of the most iconic photos in American history. Whatever anyone's opinion of President Kennedy, who is not moved by the thought of that little boy losing his father.

Nov. 22 2013 11:28 AM
Giuseppe from Manhattan

I was born on November 22, 1963 at 10 PM Dallas time.
I was born in Rome, Italy, which would make my birth time 5 AM on the following day.
Although I was not premature, my mother entered labor when she heard the news of JFK's assassination.
I moved to the US in 1990 and my first residence was in Dorchester, MA with a view off the JFK library.
I became a naturalized US citizen in 2007.

Nov. 22 2013 11:26 AM
mick from Inwood

At this point, it is difficult to describe what the Kennedy presidency meant for Catholics in 1963, at least for those of us living in the Mid-west. Remember, in the 1950's the third K in the popular explanation of the abbreviation "KKK" as the list of people the "Real",i.e., White, Protestant Americans were supposed to hate stood for "Katholic." Not just in retrospect, Kennedy's election signified the acceptance of the Catholic population as "Real Americans". I was a freshman in Catholic high school in November 1963 when the principal interrupted the classes with the announcement that the president had been shot. History was my favorite subject and I remember telling myself that Teddy Roosevelt had survived an assassination attempt, but I was in tears as we moved to the next class. The father of my best friend from grade school ran a small business, and unlike most of the students and staff at a Catholic school, he had always spoken against the Kennedy presidency. When he saw me in the hall, he couldn't believe that I had tears in my eyes and, in true adolescent boy form, started to make fun of me. The other students in the hall told him to shut up, but I was never again more than politely friendly with him.

Nov. 22 2013 11:25 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

The Leftist Mainstream/NPR Media still downplays that Oswald was a communist who defected to the USSR, failed there in Minsk, returned with his Russian wife and was trying to get asylum in Cuba at the time of the assassination.
He was NOT a right wing gun nut. He was one of your own.

Nov. 22 2013 11:20 AM
Ralph from NYC

I was probably the first person in my high school to know. Was chatting in the office of our HS radio station when eventually I realized that the UPS machine was giving off an extraordinary number of extra bells. Phoned the faculty advisor and he said, very firmly, "I'll be right up to announce it. NOBODY is to say or do anything on the air till I get there!"

Two days later I'm daydreaming in church, thinking, "This is the worst thing that's ever happened. What could be more mayhem than this? Following the logical progression, I figured, well, if somebody shot Oswald..." Imagine shock when I get home. No, not psychic. Just a kid's limited view of the world and its possibilities.

Nov. 22 2013 11:18 AM
NW from NYC

I'm 30 now -- my view of JFK was always only superficial, that people loved him because he was wealthy and charismatic. The first caller here makes me think people at the time loved him for a more substantive reason, that he made them feel safe, like of course the country was heading in the right direction? (Maybe because he *was* such the picture of success, but still -- I wish I'd ever been able to feel something like that from a president).

Nov. 22 2013 11:12 AM
Brian

I'm 42. I did not live through the assassination but grew up with two parents whose world had been shattered. My father talked about it all the time - the two Kennedy assasinations (but it was the Bobby Kennedy one that really upset him).

Until today I hadn't thought much about how the assasination affected me, but having parents who were so affected I am sure had a trickle down effect on my generation and surely shaped how we saw the world as well.

Nov. 22 2013 11:10 AM
Tara from Brooklyn

Thanks for playing that long clip from Kennedy's speech on race. I am 30 years old and one of those people who have seldom heard more than a few lines of Kennedy's speeches. I didn't even realize he had such a Boston accent.

I have to say that not having grown up in that time, it is hard to imagine what it was like. Having grown up in an era where respect for all institutions, especially the presidency, is so low, and looking at the massive backlash against President Obama's attempt to restore the sort of optimism Kennedy represented, it is hard to fathom how this event created such a major turning point and sense of loss of possibility.

Nov. 22 2013 11:08 AM
tom from astoria

I remember watching with my Catholic mother for days and days, in little yellow pajamas with the feet in them. SIGNIFICANTLY, my mother who really idolized the Kennedy's and JFK in particular, told me recently that she thinks President Obama is 'even better than Kennedy, more brilliant."

Nov. 22 2013 11:08 AM
Fred from Brooklyn

I was born in 1963 and I don't get the whole Kennedy thing. He was just another politician, in the game to gain wealth, power and, in Kennedy's case, women. My radio will remain off until the next segment.

Nov. 22 2013 11:06 AM
Robert from NYC

I was a first year organ student at the NY College of Music and I was at a church near the school practicing the organ, much to the regret of the church's cleaning lady. I had no afternoon classes so after organ practice I returned to the school to return the church and organ keys to my organ professor. When I got back to the school and entered the lobby (very small school consisting of three town houses on East 85th street then) and the otherwise very busy with musical sounds of pianos, horns, woodwinds, human voices, violins, inter alia, and conversation among students, there was dead silence and everyone was just sitting or standing around staring into space. As I approached my professor's office, he was standing in the doorway of the office also staring into space, silent with his mouth dropped open. I handed him the keys and asked if he was ok and he said, the president was killed. I was confused, "What?", he repeated what he said and I, still confused, just walked out wishing him a good weekend and went to the subway on 86th street. On the train was a group of high school girls all crying and some were consoling one who was crying hysterically. The rest of the riders looked stunned and staring, some crying. I asked someone what happened and she told me what had happened. Well I was stunned myself and when I got home my mom was there just home from her first and new job after a divorce crying with the tv on watching the news. Well the rest is history following the 4 full days of news coverage.

Nov. 22 2013 11:04 AM
Debra from Montclair

In second grade (public school), the principal came in to our classroom and quietly told us the news. He told us to go home - right home. The weather was much the same as it is today in New Jersey. Dark and wet. Even though I was young and didn't really know what "assassinate" really meant, it all felt like a dream. I kept thinking of Caroline and what she must be thinking. My parents weren't Kennedy fans as we were from the midwest, I remember my Dad watching TV all weekend. After church on Sunday - he was right in front of the TV when Ruby shot Oswald. His exclamation and shock at the unfiltered event was extraordinary.
By the way, my younger brother and I really liked Kennedy - because he never broke into Saturday morning cartoons for speeches (did other Presidents?).
It was just really quiet everywhere. Didn't hear that kind of silence until the morning of 9/11 in our neighborhood.

Nov. 22 2013 11:02 AM
Joe from nearby

I was in 3d grade, very young. I remember being at home and the TV was on but the normal shows weren't. Everything was very very quiet and still, as if the world was holding its breath. The screen simply showed President Kennedy's casket in the rotunda. The camera didn't move. I was too young to fully appreciate the magnitude of that moment so it was confusing. It seemed far away but I felt safe in our house.

Nov. 22 2013 10:57 AM
Joan from NYC

It was during high school assembly that Sister Mary Joseph announced that the President had been shot. I don't remember who told us, but by the time we were back at home room, we knew that he had died. Many of us went to church where one of the sisters was standing on the altar polishing…something. It seemed funny and weird and sad. She didn't know yet and we couldn't tell her.

Going home it felt like 9/11 would so many years later. Impossible. A complete and visceral shock. This was the United States. Things like this did not happen.

The world, our world, suddenly felt very fragile. And everything went silent.

Nov. 22 2013 10:55 AM
Nick from UWS

I was in the third grade at PS 166 in Manhattan, sitting in Miss Vallar's math class. Suddenly another teacher came into the room and whispered something into Miss Vallar's ear. Miss Vallar looked tense and said "Children, I have to go out of the room for a minute, I want you all to sit quietly until I come back." The tension of the situation was immediately obvious although none of us knew what was happening. We were all sitting there in silence at our desks with our hands folded, looking at each other nervously. It was weird to be in the classroom alone without a teacher. A minute later, Miss Vallar came back into the room and she was weeping. We were all frightened...and she told us what had happened. A few minutes later the Principal came onto the PA system to give the official announcement. I can't remember whether the school day continued or not.

Nov. 22 2013 10:55 AM
ivan obregon from manhattan

JFK wanted to end the Cold War and began the process with the nuclear-test ban; was going to nationalize the federal reserve bank; believed shelter, housing, education, and a full employment economy were government responsibility in "The Great Society"; opened the nation to immigration from all parts of the world; refused to defend Israel's claims over the palestinians "unconditionally"; and risked his 1964 election on defending desegregation and civil rights protection prohibiting discrimination.

The media can snicker all it wants on his womanizing, his leisurely book-reading, sports-loving, culture-consuming "European lifestyle", and keep postulating that he would have been as stubborn, as fanatical, and as impractical as LBJ on Vietnam even after his last executive order was the withdrawal of advisers there as he saw the civil war was turning into an actual revolution and his last public statement on the issue that " in the final analysis, it's their war, not ours".

Cynical as we can be about politicians, and JFK played political hardball, too, as RFK was no joke against the mafia or the fbi/cia and LBJ was selected as vice-president not from any personal affinity but to win the south, texas, and to mediate in the senate, it's worth remembering that this cynicism was bred.....after JFK was killed.

The myth was not perfect (mistakes, hesitations, political calculations) or pure (the bad is a laundry list, too) or maybe even ideal but in impact and significance to american history and ideals and compared to other american presidents since, it was real.....and his "essence of decision"-making during the Cuban Missile Crisis is enough to mark his presidency as one of our greatest simply because he and his brother literally helped save us from....WWW lll and nuclear apocalypse, and that's more than enough.

November 22, 1963 should be a national holiday because in practice, it already is.....

Nov. 22 2013 10:53 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn, NY

Fifty years ago today in London, where it was 6:30 in the evening, my parents were having a going-away party. They were about to move to the United States . . . to Dallas. People arriving at the party brought the news that President Kennedy had been shot. My parents described it as terribly shocking to everyone, such was the aura around Kennedy, and especially to them since they were about to move to Dallas.

A little sidebar: In their travels through the American South in the early 60s, my parents often met with hostility — until it became clear that they were not Yankees, but English; Britain had supported the South in the Civil War.

Nov. 22 2013 10:52 AM
Karla from Manhattan

I was in study hall in an all girl's catholic high school in Baltimore and heard the phone ring in the principal's office. Then the message came over the intercom. Riding home on the streetcar someone loudly said amid the total quiet that it was a good thing that Kennedy was killed. I decided to fulfill Kennedy's inauguration speech by teaching on an Army Post in Germany. I left for Germany as Nixon left for CA after his resignation. My group of friends and I wallowed in Watergate, mourned our friends killed in Vietnam, took on the 1960's philosophy to treat each other with respect and to serve in non-high earning professions.

Nov. 22 2013 10:39 AM
Gary from Upper Left Side

After careful, scholarly research on my part, I'm convinced that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, one of two scenarios would have occurred after Kennedy’s victory in the 1964 election by a landslide: 1) a year or two later, he would have been forced to resign (a la Nixon) or would have faced impeachment (a la Clinton) due to mounting scandals and uncovered reckless behavior risking the safety of the world (not just national security), and with Kennedy maybe a world crisis he couldn't bullsh*t his way out of like previous ones, or 2) Kennedy would have had to leave office, defeated by the inevitable loss of the Vietnam War, the Soviets beating the Americas to the moon, and socio-economic strife in the U.S. become increasing violent—even more than what had occurred (a la LJB). (Note: for WNYC Lefties: Nixon was in the White House when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.)

P.S. It was only Oswald who killed Kennedy. In fact, there was an aborted assassination attempt on Kennedy when he was president-elect in 1960. No conspiracies. Conspiracies are fun for the media and generate a lot of content/money for the media. But just like with MLK, the attempts on Ford and Reagan, and John Lennon's shooting, we live in a crazy world where one guy with a gun and some determination can take out the most powerful person. Talk about the democratization of power.

Nov. 22 2013 10:35 AM
Cathy from West Islip, NY

The day that JFK was murdered, and I lost my sense of safety and hope for a better world. I remember walking home from Hillside Junior High School in Queens, my arms full of school books with a rubber strap around them and crying, sobbing loudly and with abandon, feeling as if my world had been shattered. I can see the street corner where my friend left to go into her house and I turned to walk on another 3 blocks to my home, alone. I remember thinking, very clearly and consciously, that I would never feel safe again, as the optimism that JFK had inspired in me washed away in my tears.

And that turned out to be true. It’s as if a switch was thrown, and my hope for the future went out like a light. With JFK in charge, I had felt that everything would turn out alright. Without him, the world became a dark and dangerous place.

Nov. 22 2013 10:10 AM
Charlie from Tenafly NJ

Coming out of swim class, heard the PA announcement in the locker room. One kid started joking around about it, immediately & for all time confirming my impression of him as an idiot. My homeroom teacher greeted me with red rimmed tear-filled eyes. The shock was just starting to set in for real.

Nov. 22 2013 09:37 AM
Ed from Larchmont

In the death of JFK we get a sense of how people reacted to the death of the martyrs - innocent, good people killed brutally. And we have a sense of awe. Since President Kennedy was a Catholic, one can say that one feels also echoes of the Crucifixion, an echo which the martyrs present us with.

Nov. 22 2013 08:51 AM
Jan from Westchester County, NY

I was in the 6th grade, living in a small town in South Carolina, even though my parents were "Yankees". As I got out of school, a school bus arrived from the high school. An older girl who I knew was just getting off the bus, and she told me that Kennedy had been shot. I didn't believe her because of the anti-Kennedy sentiment in the town. I rode my bicycle home as fast as I could and ran upstairs. When I saw my mother sitting in front of the television, I knew right away that the girl had been correct.

Two days later, we were just returning home from church. We had left the television set on for some reason, and as I entered the room, I saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald.

Nov. 22 2013 08:37 AM

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