John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, TX, left the world stunned. Reactions to the JFK assassination ranged from complete shock, to fear, to grief, and in some cases, celebration. This was obviously a time before the Internet could quickly spread information, so Americans were glued to their TV sets awaiting news. Many who have shared their own JFK assassination stories say there was a general sense of confusion that day - this was the Cold War era and it wasn't clear if this was a larger attack on the United States or if it was possible that one man had actually acted alone. This confusion would launch hundreds of JFK conspiracy theories that still exist today.
Prominent newscaster Walter Cronkite was the voice who told many what had happened; JFK had been shot in the back of the head and would not survive. Americans were crushed by JFK's death. He represented change and hope for a lot of people, especially Black Americans who saw an ally and civil rights champion in him, and Irish Catholics who saw a man of their own religion in the White House for the first time.
The event had such a profound effect on the public that questions like, "Where were you when JFK died?" became common for Americans to ask each other, not unlike how we currently ask each other, "Where were you on September 11?" To remember former President Kennedy's assassination, we've gathered some memories from people who describe what the announcement of his death was like for normal Americans and people around the world.
He Won't Ever Forget The Way His Tough Teacher Sobbed
"I was in the third grade. I remember my teacher coming into the room and saying that the president had been shot and killed in Dallas. She then sat down at her desk and just sobbed. I remember that the entire class was just stunned into silence. That teacher was one of the toughest women I had been exposed to up until that time. To see her absolutely bereft and in tears was probably why I have such a clear memory of that day. Being a third grader, I was clearly not caught up in the politics of the period. It was the reaction of all the adults, the people who controlled... our young lives, seemingly helpless with grief that I still remember to this day."
Maya Angelou Felt Uncertain
For a JFK commemorative issue, poet Maya Angelou told American History Magazine:
"When I heard the news of President Kennedy's death, I remember feeling like one does when walking on the beach, barefoot, on the lip of the surf, and the sand drops away from under your feet when the wave recedes. I felt less sure of myself because my president was dead."
JFK's Death Hit The Irish Catholic Community Especially Hard
"My dad just sent me this email, he grew up a poor Irish Catholic in Brooklyn:
'Fifty years ago from the moment I am writing this message I was in my first year of University in NYC. I came out of French class and heard that President Kennedy had been shot and we didn't know his condition. All the cars in the streets were stopped with their doors open listening to the radio, with the hope that he was still alive. The announcement came that he had died. The church bells started ringing. Every person in sight was crying, as I am doing at this moment that I write this.
'On the subway home nobody spoke, nobody read a book, and almost all were in tears. For the Irish Catholic community, it was an even more devastating loss. He was one of us. We had gone from immigrants, to laborers, to firemen, cops, bartenders and then after years of work and fighting the prejudice… to the President of the United States of America. Yes, we established and claimed our dignity. It was a proud day for the Irish.
'He was and remains our hero. He certainly is mine.
'This is just a thought I share with friends, with a tear… many tears.'"
Some People Celebrated
"My grandfather grew up in Panama City, Florida. He told me he could here the applause start at one end of the school to the other. It still horrified him."