November 22nd, 2013


50 years ago in Dallas, President Kennedy was assassinated




[Spoiler (click to open)]

Today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas. I don't remember the events of that day, but one of my earliest trips as child with my family, was to visit the Kennedy memorial at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery in 1964. The lines were extremely long. And the grief you saw on faces was palpable. When I became a newspaper boy years later, when I collected payments, you would see homes with framed photos of President Kennedy in windows, or when the door would open, you'd see framed photos hanging on the wall opposite the door. Some even would have Palm leaves from Palm Sunday wrapped over the photograph, and that symbolism wasn't lost on me. In the generations after Watergate, I suppose it's hard to explain how things changed for a generation that was inspired by President Kennedy.

When President Kennedy was shot and later pronounced dead, the Boston Symphony was in the middle of an afternoon concert, that was being recorded for broadcast by WGBH. The connection between Boston and President Kennedy was a strong one, his own grandfather had been the mayor. Erich Leinsdorf breaks the news of Kennedy’s assassination to the audience. There are two waves of reacting to the news, more so when the orchestra started playing the funeral march from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (The Hero Symphony). Time magazine's James Inverne, has a great feature on how the BSO music librarian had to go around the orchestra placing music on the stands, and informing the musicians about the change and what was going on.

Tom Brokaw has a new book and documentary that details how Americans came to grips with the assassination. "Where Were You?" turns the clock back 50 years to reassess a darkly pivotal day in the nation's history in which many suggest America lost its innocence. Examining both the minute details and long term ramifications of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Filmmakers, musicians, politicians, are all interviewed. Andrew Young, who was a civil rights worker, was with Martin Luther King, Jr when they heard about the assassination. Martin Luther King noted that if the President of the United States, with all the protection of the armed Secret Service agents couldn't be protected, expressed his own concerns that he too would more than likely be shot. Jane Fonda's interview is particularly poignant. The documentary will air tonight, and you can see an interview here with Mr. Brokaw, as well as significant excerpts.

Vice President Johnson and his wife Ladybird were a key component of the trip to Texas, which was to mend fences in the Texas Democratic party. A Texas native and stanch New Deal Democrat, Johnson's abilities in healing the rift between the progressive and more conservative wing of the party were a high priority for this trip, prior to the 1964 presidential election. Ladybird Johnson had been keeping an audio diary for several years, and it was her day-to-day routine at night to narrate the events of her day onto a tape recorder that would be transcribed by a secretary later. She describes the awkward moment when she encountered Jackie Kennedy in a hallway, and what to say.

Ladybird Johnson, L.B.J., and Mrs. Kennedy at a Fort Worth, Texas breakfast prior to the Dallas motorcade.

Parts 1 and 2 of Lady Bird Johnson’s Audio Diary for November 22, 1963. and the transcript with her handwritten notes. (pdf) cf. illustration below<

The Library of Congress has an exhibit on political and editorial cartoons from this period, and folks who enjoy cartooning and history would no doubt enjoy looking through the collection: Herblock looks at 1963: fifty years ago in editorial cartoons.