Several of us, eighth grade girls, spent our lunch hour decorating the bulletin boards in our classroom. Our teacher, Mr. R, who didn’t like doing bulletin boards, would let us take turns arranging seasonally appropriate boards for the classroom.
As we finished tacking cutout shapes and letters to bright construction paper on the wall, the bell rang, signaling the start of the afternoon lessons. June was the first one into the room. She was crying. “I hate those boys for saying such awful things”. We questioned her. “They are pretending to shoot guns and saying the president was shot!”.
In tumbled the boys, looking sheepishly as if they were just disciplined in the hall. They went right to their seats and Mr. R came into the room, sat on his desk chair, and put his head in his hands.
We waited in silence.
Something was wrong.
I remember feeling as if a fog had settled around Roosevelt Grade School. A fog had, indeed, settled; not just on our little classroom, but, on the entire country.
Miss L’s voice came on the public address system. She was crying. Our principal never showed emotion, except on that November afternoon. As she pulled herself together, Miss L sadly said in a voice we had never heard before, “President Kennedy is dead. He was shot in Texas a short time ago. Let us all bow our heads and pray”.
I was just a few weeks shy of turning 14 on that November 22, 1963 afternoon. I was very young and naive, full of young hope and far-reaching dreams. I admired Mrs. Kennedy, with her sense of style and sophistication, and I respected our young president. It was his energy and speeches and challenges that made me feel as if I could do something good with my life, maybe even something in politics.
I don’t remember being dismissed from school, or walking the six blocks home. I do remember the sadness that settled on our house, and that long November weekend in front of our black and white Zenith television set. Like most Americans who had television, we watched the terrible events play out, much of it live, in our small living room. If we were in the car, the radio talked to us in hushed tones. When I went to bed, it was through a fog that I slept.
That Sunday, my dad, sister and I were just leaving church, which was just across the street from Roosevelt school. The mood was somber that Sunday. Voices were hushed in that fog of grief we collectively navigated. As we walked to the curb to cross the street, a car pulled close, the driver rolled down the window and said to us and anyone else who would listen ” someone just shot Oswald in the police station in Dallas”. Those words spread through the parishioners faster than the fog that was upon us. Like Daddy, Dottie and me, they scurried to their cars, anxious to get home.
When we got to our house, my grandmother, Yia Yia, was softly crying in the living room. She had just seen Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald with a gun, in real time, on television as she sat watching.
We spent that Sunday watching television, crying, talking softly, staying close to each other. We spent Monday, November 25, along with our grieving nation, putting a president to rest. It was the first funeral I ever attended. I will never forget it. Ask just about anyone aged 60 or older what they were doing when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot, and they will tell you.
I think that the events of that November framed a generation or more in ways still emerging.
How did you hear about President Kennedy’s assassination? What were you doing? If you are a bit younger, how have you come to know of Kennedy’s murder.