On this day in history November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas launching four days of national mourning
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history… November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States (1961–63) was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. by Lee Harvey Oswald, while in a Presidential motorcade in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas heading towards the Texas School Book Depository. Kennedy was in an open limousine waving at the cheering crowd with First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nelly when three shots in succession erupted, which hit the President, and the Governor. Governor Connally was hit just once, while President Kennedy was hit twice, fatally. The motorcade rushed to Parkland Hospital, where President Kennedy was pronounced dead at 46 years-old, 30 minutes after the shooting. For three days after the shooting, the nation mourned the loss of their young president culminating in a state funeral on November 25.
President Kennedy’s visit to Texas was part of his early re-election campaign strategy, where he hoped in 1964 to win Florida and Texas. Although the president had not formally announced his re-election, he already started touring states. In Texas, Kennedy was looking to bring squabbling factions of the state’s Democratic Party together. President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie left Washington on Thursday, Nov. 21, where they would go on a “two-day, five-city tour of Texas.”
On that fateful day, Friday, Nov. 22, the Kennedys started out in Fort Worth that rainy morning, before taking a thirteen-minute flight to Dallas. Arriving at Love Field, the Kennedys were greeted by the public, with someone handing Jackie a bouquet of red roses. In Dallas, the rain stopped, and the Kennedys joined the Texas first couple the Connallys in a now open top, convertible. They had to travel only ten miles to reach their destination, the Trade Mart; Kennedy was supposed to address a “luncheon.”
They never reached there. On route, Kennedy and Connally were both shot, but the president more seriously, with wounds in his head and neck, he “slumped over” into Jackie’s lap, and where she shielded him as the motorcade now sped to Parkland Memorial Hospital. There was little that could be done to save the president, and he received last rites before being announced dead at 1 p.m., a mere half hour after he was shot. In the book “The Kennedy Detail” Secret Service agent Clint Hill recalled, “It has taken me decades to learn to cope with the guilt and sense of responsibility for the president’s death, and I have made it a practice to keep my memories to myself. I don’t talk to anybody about that day.
President Kenney would return to Love Field where barely three hours before he arrived alive, leaving in a casket boarding Air Force One. Inside the “crowded” plane US District Court Judge Sarah Hughes swore in Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson as the 36th US president at 2:38 p.m. Jackie Kennedy was standing by Johnson’s side, still wearing the clothes stained with the president’s blood.
CBS News was the first to report Kennedy had been shot at 12:40 p.m. CT as the network cut into popular soap opera “As the World Turns” to report what had happened to the president. Anchor Walter Cronkite went live at 12:48 p.m. Cronkite announced the president’s death as he took off his glasses and wiped the tears from his eyes. There was an immediate outpouring of grief by the nation after news of the assassination broke, as they mourned the loss of an idealized young President. Robert Thompson, “a professor of pop culture and television at Syracuse University” commented, “While we didn’t see the assassination live, the television show about the assassination was a four-day long drama that played on national television.”
Police arrested Oswald, an hour after the shots were fired. Oswald, a Soviet sympathizer with ties to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, had shot Kennedy from the school book depository building, where he recently began to work. Two days later, Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner fatally shot Oswald, as he was being transferred from Dallas Police Headquarters to the Dallas County Jail; Ruby claimed he wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy any further grief.
The nation proceeded into four days of mourning, culminating three days later on November 25, 1963, when a state funeral was held for the slain president. According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Jackie Kennedy modeled the funeral after President Abraham Lincoln’s, Lincoln had been assassinated nearly a 100 years before. On Saturday, November 23, as Kennedy’s body was in repose in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours, President Johnson declared the day a national day of mourning. On Sunday, November 24, the President’s coffin was carried by the same horse-drawn carriage as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Unknown Soldier before him, to the Capitol building where his body laid in state for 21 hours, with 250,000 people visiting his casket in the Capitol’s Rotunda.
On that Monday, November 25, one million people gathered on the route of the processional from the Capitol to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where the funeral was held. Foreign dignitaries from 100 countries, including 19 heads of state came to pay their respects, and millions of Americans and 23 countries watched the assassination coverage and then funeral on TV, which was covered by then three big networks; ABC, CBS, and NBC. John B. Mayo in his 1967 book “Bulletin From Dallas: The President Is From Dead” determined that “CBS clocked in with 55 total hours, ABC played 60 hours and NBC — airing an all-night vigil from the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday — broadcast 71 hours of coverage that weekend.”
After the Requiem Mass, as the President’s body was carried from the cathedral, three-year-old John Jr. saluted his father’s casket giving the mourning nation an iconic image to remember. Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia after the service Jackie Kennedy and the president’s brothers Robert and Edward lit an eternal flame that remains burning over the President’s gravesite.
In 2010, historian Ellen Fitzpatrick published her book “Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation.” Speaking to PBS’s Newshour about the purpose of the book and looking back at the memory of President Kennedy, she claimed; “And what I was trying to get at was how Americans at the moment viewed John F. Kennedy. It seemed to me that, in the decades since his death, there’s been so much historical revisionism, much of it appropriate, that dismantled the hagiography that grew up around him in the immediate aftermath of his assassination.”
Continuing, Fitzpatrick explained, “It had become increasingly difficult for students, for younger people, even people of my own generation, to recover that moment, the kind of idealism and faith that people had and the way that President Kennedy was viewed in his time… So, I was thinking, how can I recapture this? And I went into the archives. I asked the archivist. I remembered the condolence letters. I remembered Mrs. Kennedy thanking the public.”
Historian Alan Brinkley eloquently honored Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death in 2013, with an article in the Atlantic Magazine, simply titled the “Legacy of John Kennedy” doing just that looking at the mystique of the 35th president that has only grown with time. Brinkley explains the reason why Kennedy remains a legend despite many failed policies and the introduction of far sweeping laws that passed during his successor’s administration. Brinkley writes Kennedy “remains a powerful symbol of a lost moment, of a soaring idealism and hopefulness that subsequent generations still try to recover. His allure-the romantic, almost mystic, associations his name evokes-not only survives but flourishes.”
After the most bruising and ugly presidential election in perhaps American history, the image Kennedy invoked is a sharp contrast to the political reality of today making Brinkley’s conclusion even more powerful. Brinkley expressed, Kennedy’s “legacy has only grown in the 50 years since his death. That he still embodies a rare moment of public activism explains much of his continuing appeal: He reminds many Americans of an age when it was possible to believe that politics could speak to society’s moral yearnings and be harnessed to its highest aspirations. More than anything, perhaps, Kennedy reminds us of a time when the nation’s capacities looked limitless, when its future seemed unbounded, when Americans believed that they could solve hard problems and accomplish bold deeds.” Whether Democrat or Republican it impossible in the era of Donald Trump not to wish for the idealism of the Kennedy era and ponder what if…
Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a over dozen years experience in education & political journalism.