On Thursday, the 21st, we had a good idea where we were headed, individually and collectively. By that sunny Friday afternoon, we didn’t. The days to follow brought more death, fear, confusion and questions. By the Thanksgiving dinner on the following Thursday, I remember being simply thankful to be alive.
Do you remember where you were? Do you recall what you felt that day and throughout the next week? Did the assassination and subsequent events propel you to action or change your mind about your plans for the future? Today, almost 50 years later, what is the legacy of that historic date?
I remember the turmoil more than the details, but I know I was a few minutes into a mind-numbing mega-lecture on world history in a ground-floor room in the library of the University of Maryland-College Park. Our TA ran in and yelled that the president had been shot. Students recoiled in shock. The professor stammered around a few minutes then reluctantly gave us a 10-minute break, which gave everyone a chance to spill out on the mall to search for more information. The J-school was just next door and some journalism students brought out wire copy. Others had news from televisions scattered around campus. Eventually, we filed back into the lecture hall and the prof restarted. She said something like, "Will they never learn the lessons of history?" One by one, everyone in the hall got up and walked out.
By the time I got back to downtown DC, Kennedy had died and fear had gripped the city. Flags were being lowered. Telephone lines were clogged. The empty streets and sidewalks were you all you needed to see to understand how frightened people were.
I should mention that, at the time, many Washingtonians saw Texas as a lawless, awful place. Anything and anyone coming out of it was suspect, including Lyndon Johnson. Was he to blame for this? Did he lust after the presidency so much that he hired an assassin to eliminate Kenney? Or was this the first step of an invasion, the prelude to a coup? Would Russian troops be on the National Mall the next morning? Would other leaders be taken out by snipers?
The world was truly upside down. Obviously, no one was safe. No one could be protected, even a president. Nothing was safe, nothing was sacred and there might be nothing between ordinary people like me and a totalitarian takeover. For a newly married 19-year-old, November 22 presented a watershed moment, perhaps the first truly adult moment in my young life.
Birds on a Wire Blog looks back at that fateful day and week through a series of posts published four years ago. See what some of your friends remember. Read an eyewitness account written by a young television cameraman assigned to the Dallas parade and courthouse. And read the inaugural speech that became the mantra for an entire generation.
Please share your memories and thoughts with us. Hit Comments in the upper-right corner of this post to join the conversation.