50 Years Later: Remembering the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Nov 22, 2013

On this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a presidential motorcade through a plaza of onlookers in Dallas, Texas. Commentator and Murray State History Professor Dr. Brian Clardy reflects on his parents' memories of the day.

50 Years Later: Remembering the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

By Dr. Brian K. Clardy

In November 1963, my Mother was studying to become a Secretary at Western Kentucky Vocational School in Paducah and sitting in her typing class when the booming voice of Director H.C. Mathis come over the loud speaker. His voice relayed news of the unthinkable.

My Dad was in a biology lab at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee when students began to mill about and whisper an awful rumor.

Everywhere in homes and businesses, television screens glared and radio stations interrupted their programming to tell the latest.

The world began to hear the awful news and watch the horror unfold.

President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.

Moments later, news reports surfaced (and confirmed) that he was dead. He was only 46 years ago.

How could it happen?

It all seemed surreal……unfair…….cold even.

He was young and during his 1000 Days as President he had taken bold steps. 1963 was no different.

Although hesitant to support Civil Rights legislation, he relented because he saw a much larger moral issue…….separate and apart from partisan politics. Kennedy intoned:

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

He had just stared down Soviet missiles in Cuba just a year before and that summer before his trip to Dallas, he spoke of a new era of peace with the Soviet Union at American University:

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.

But a gunshot in Dallas silenced that hope…………..and that sense of eternal optimism.

Who was responsible? Was it Lee Oswald? Was the killing part of some grand conspiracy? Was it the Russians? The Cubans? Organized Crime? Was it those people in authority who felt threatened by the changes that he sought to bring?

Does it matter?

He was now gone. A nation was robbed of its young and energetic leader…..and a part of a generation’s soul and spirit went with him.

That fateful day in Dallas haunts us still as we, 50 years later, are still grappling with its legacy and still trying to imagine what the world would be like had he lived.

Dr. Brian Clardy is an Assistant Professor of History and Coordinator of Religious Studies at Murray State University. He is also the Wednesday night host of Cafe Jazz on WKMS.