Where were you Nov. 22, 1963?
“On the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, I was in high school study hall. In our school, the principal would make important announcements over the public address system, and of course students would react in various ways, depending on what he was announcing.
On that day, the principal’s voice came over the PA system and his tone of voice was very different. He told us about the shooting, and his voice choked as he said the shots were fatal. He said we need to pray for the Kennedy and Connally families and our country.
We were so stunned that no one said anything. I just remember going to my next class and sitting there in shock.”
— R. Gerald Turner, President, Southern Methodist University
“I’ll never forget it! I was heading up the stairs of the Harvard Faculty Club (in Cambridge, Mass.) from the 99-cent lunch we graduate-student Teaching Fellows relied on, when I heard the television set in the front parlor of the first floor saying something about “Dallas, Texas” and “the president.” We all know the rest. I suppose that, too is now history.”
— Jeremy Adams, Altshuler & C. Professor of History
“As a young college graduate eager to see the world, I had found my dream job. Armed with journalism degree and swimsuit, I was working as a reporter in Honolulu. It was paradise…until that day, Nov. 22, 1963.
I was hunched over my typewriter at Hawaii Press Newspapers when the editor bolted upright from reading the wire and said, “The president’s been shot.”
“Where was he?” I quickly asked, vaguely aware of a planned trip to Texas. “Dallas,” he sneered, knowing it was my hometown.
I hurried to the house I shared with girlfriends, and we huddled around the TV, transfixed as we watched the emotional, devastating stories unfold hour by hour, day by day.
The impact was immediate; I had to get back to the mainland. Everything was happening in Washington while I was covering Island news and learning to hula. It seemed so frivolous.
Within weeks I found a job on Capitol Hill, later went to graduate school and subsequently had a long professional career specializing in politics at The Dallas Morning News. The tragedy of the century changed history and, incidentally, the course of my life.”
— Carolyn Barta, Professor of practice, journalism
“I was in Akron, Ohio. I was working for Goodyear and playing basketball for their industrial league team.I was on my way to North Carolina to get married and I heard on the radio that the president had been shot in Dallas. I had about a 12 hour drive. I remember in the small towns I went through people were running to the church. The whole time I was in my car I just heard accounts of what happened. He was a big hero of mine. I loved everything about him. That was a real sad day.”
— Larry Brown, head coach of SMU men’s basketball
“As a young faculty member, I was bowling with students and some faculty in Rochester, N.Y. when we heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot.
I have no memory of specific details after that. I do not know if we continued bowling or not. What I remember is the pall of grief that hung over the entire nation for the next few days. Everyone was glued to the TV to follow the sorrowful events after the assassination. Believe it or not, TV aired no commercials that weekend. There were no conversations about anything else; no other thoughts. Never before, thanks to TV, had the entire nation expressed such an all pervasive tone of sadness and national mourning. I had no idea then that on the 50th anniversary of the assassination I would be spending my 23rd year in Dallas teaching at SMU.”
— Charles E. Curran, Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values
“On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a senior at North Carolina State University, majoring in electrical engineering. I heard the sad news that afternoon as I was driving from Raleigh to Greensboro, N.C. to pick up my fiancee — Mary Ann Farrington. We were planning to attend the North Carolina State vs. Wake Forest football game that evening in Winston-Salem, N.C. Because of the late news, the game was not cancelled; but I remember that it was a very somber event. Mary Ann and I will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this coming year.”
— W. Milton Gosney, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Electrical Engineering
“I remember the moment vividly. I was a graduate student at Yale University, and that morning I had finished my thesis proposal. After lunch, I walked across the campus to talk to my advisor. I heard the news from a student with a portable radio. I was standing exactly where I saw John F. Kennedy three years before, my first time voting, when he drove through downtown New Haven, Conn. in an open convertible. The peculiar shock to me was the mixture of that strong memory with news so unexpected and unbelievable.”
— Michael Holahan, Associate professor, English
“I was in the sixth grade at Benbrook Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. We were in assembly watching the movie “Toby Tyler” when they stopped the film and our principal stepped on stage. In a very shaky voice he announced that the president had been shot and school was letting out immediately. He was crying. A grown man back then simply did not cry in public, so we knew something terrible had happened. The teachers were all shocked and crying and asked us to be very careful getting home. Parents were already lining up in front of the school to pick up their kids.
As I walked home mothers were clustered in their front yards, crying and hugging each of us as we walked by. I didn’t know these women, but their distress and deep concern was evident. Once home I turned on the radio and learned the horrible truth: our president was dead and it happened just 30 miles away in Dallas.
The week following that day it felt like a heavy, dark cloud hung over all of North Texas. People were quiet, businesses closed and traffic was very light. Many stayed home watching TV and listening to the radio. I didn’t understand it, but there was a powerful sense of shame and dread.”
— Steve Lee, Adjunct professor, communication studies
“I was a college student in Massachusetts and I had gotten in my car and I was backing up and my best friend came up and banged on the window. He said, “They just shot Kennedy.” I said, “Joe, come on that’s a sick joke.” He said, “No, no I’m serious. JFK got shot.”
At the time it wasn’t clear if he was going to make it or not, so I put my radio on. I was driving home and all the way I listened to the news on the radio that JFK had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
When he was president, my father had a motel business in Cape Cod. We were booked out a year in advance because everyone would come to Cape Cod because they knew on Sunday morning JFK always went to Francis Xavior Catholic Church in Hianis. He went to 10 o’clock mass and people by the thousands would wait and take pictures. The best thing that ever happened to our business was having JFK in the White House.
My mother just cried for days. It was a terrible impact on my family; a very traumatic experience in our household.”
— Albert W. Niemi, Dean of Cox School of Business; The Tolleson Chair in Business Leadership
“I was a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald that day, assigned to the rewrite desk to do a story on Jackie Kennedy. We were on strict deadline, for we were an afternoon newspaper with a noon deadline that we held back just a bit for the president’s arrival. One of our reporters (Val Imm) was at Love Field, and she had given me notes about Jackie’s appearance, her interaction with the adoring crowd, and other descriptions when the shots were fired. Our deskman who was monitoring the police radio transmissions stood up and shouted that shots had been fired at Dealey Plaza. My efforts to write the Jackie Kennedy story immediately were dropped at that moment. I ran the five blocks to Dealey Plaza and began interviewing eyewitnesses. What a weekend it turned out to be. “
— Darwin Payne, Professor emeritus, communications; SMU official historian
“I was in a seventh grade science class at La Vega Intermediate School in Waco, Texas when the principal began playing a radio feed over the intercom system to inform us that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I remember there being a general feeling of sadness and disbelief. But what I remember most about the JFK assassination was the television coverage that followed. The coverage of the Lee Harvey Oswald killing and the funeral of JFK were extraordinary. The visuals of the funeral procession with the caisson, the riderless horse with the boots turned backward in the stirrups, and the drumbeat in the audio are incredibly vivid in my memory. I learned for the first time of some of the powerful symbols that represented the United States. And I seemed to understand, as I now know, that a national catharsis was being played out over a horrible tragedy through the medium of television. I had a sense that weekend, even at the age of 13, that television was coming of age as a news medium.”
— Tony Pederson, Professor, The Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism
“I was there to see the president come down Lemmon Avenue because my son was in kindergarten at Holy Trinity. I stood on the corner on Lemmon with the priest who gave last rites to the president at Parkland later that evening. It was Father Huber, he was so excited, he’d never seen a president before.
I loved President Kennedy and all of the Kennedys. I watched, because I was a housewife, every time he was on the news. He was so charismatic and he was really my president.
After we saw him go by, we went back to school and we were in the cafeteria when this little nun came running saying, “The president’s been shot.” We just couldn’t believe it.
That weekend I remember we never left the TV. It was like the whole town was in mourning. It was such a moving, kind of sad experience that everyone remembers. ”
—Dee Powell, Executive assistant to the dean of Cox School of Business
“Fifty years back in time. Sixth grade. Our teacher was Sister Mary Aloysius, the Mother Superior of St. Mary’s School, located in a small blue-collar, working class town in northeast Ohio called Newton Falls. At roughly 2 p.m, there was a knock on the classroom door and a whisper to Sister Aloysius. She returned to the front of the classroom, asked us to kneel and to pray for the soul of President John F. Kennedy.
SISTER: “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.”
CLASS: “And let perpetual light shine upon him.”
SISTER: “May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed.”
CLASS: “Rest in peace, amen.”
We were then dismissed from school. For the next 3 1/2 days, we experienced something unique in American history. To this day, I talk about this in my class on the “Politics of Change” and in my course with Tom Stone on “JFK: His Life, His Times, and His Legend.” In 1963, over 90 percent of American households owned a television set and from Friday afternoon through Monday, there was no entertainment programming or commercials. Instead, the public — from coast to coast — watched news reports from Dallas and Washington, the memorial services at the White House and the Capitol, the processions, the funeral mass and the burial of the president in Arlington National Cemetery. The public witnessed collective shock and grief along scenes that have become iconic — the poise of Mrs. Kennedy, the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the salute of young John F. Kennedy, Jr among them.
We engaged in the national experience of mourning a president and experienced, via television, America’s First National funeral. ”
— Dennis Simon, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, political science
“I was in the sixth grade, living in Longview in far northeast Texas, where JFK was not — due to his opposition to segregation — very popular. My elementary school had no science teacher (maybe they were “protecting” us from Darwin); therefore, most of the instruction we received in scientific matters came in the form of 30 minute black and white films they showed us every other Friday afternoon on an old projector that made so much noise you could barely hear the voiceover.
At one point (it must have been about 2 p.m.) we became aware that our teacher, a handsome and strapping country boy who wore western shirts and cowboy boots every day of his life (even, I suspect, to church) returned to the classroom and stopped the film and, without bothering to turn on the lights, announced that the president had been shot in Dallas and was “presumed dead.” Then he started the film and left the room again.
Being only 11 or 12, most of us were primarily concerned about whether the local high school football game that night would be postponed. It wasn’t. ”
— Tom Stone, Senior lecturer, English