The Echoes of November 22, 1963, Continue to Inform My Worldview

The disruptions, fears, and uncertainties of today’s politics are rooted in the nation’s past behaviors — those which were hateful, those which were helpful

Morning along the levee South of Baton Rouge (photo by Jim Moore)

Religion, action, and reaction

On this day in 1963 I was a 14-year-old high school freshman attending Jesuit High School, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The news of John Kennedy’s assassination hit me in three ways:

First, the Catholic leadership of the school were devastated and their sadness swept through the halls and into the classrooms like a flash flood of sorrow, fear, shock, prayers, and disbelief. The usually rock-steady voice of the school’s president wavered and broke as he announced the news. I cried not just because I was sad, but because so many adults were sad. I was not a Catholic (the school was just the best choice for a good education), but the waves of Our Fathers and Hail Marys that lifted out of every room in the school did carry me along with their impassioned pleas.

Second, since I was a military kid living on Barksdale Air Force Base just outside town, I knew the tempo of the base would change immediately, and that some, if not all, of the B-52 crews were going to be leaving the alert facility and heading for their planes. A base bus came within 30-minutes to pick up the few students who were Air Force kids, and I remember the gates of the base closing behind the bus as we passed the main gate entrance.

And third (but not last), before the bus arrived to take us back to the base, I heard some of my classmates cheering Kennedy’s death, calling him the N-loving president and expressing what was essentially the bigoted parental hatred they had learned at home. Their excitement horrified me, but, later that evening, recalling daily evidence of their small-mindedness, I was not surprised.

I was all-too-aware of the problem. Just a month earlier, soul singer Sam Cooke and his wife, brother, and manager had been turned away from a Shreveport Holiday Inn because they were Black. It may have been a Catholic school, but it was located in a deeply Southern town, with enough lingering Jim Crow emotion spread around to marinate young minds for years to come. (Sam Cooke wrote, “A Change is Gonna Come,” in the wake of the hotel incident: https://710keel.com/the-history-of-shreveport-sam-cookes.../).

During the week following the assassination, we were glued to the television, devouring every bulletin, looking for national-level reassurance, fearing local violence, wondering what more might be behind the shooting. Without a doubt, the national news anchors — Walter Cronkite in particular — provided the steadying voices we needed. I don’t doubt that some of their professionalism and insistence on “getting it right” at a time of high-strung tension and rumor mongering influenced my decision to become a journalist.

Journalist, former Capitol Hill staff (House and Senate), former Cabinet speechwriter, editor, photojournalist and bird photographer. Top Writer Quora 2016–2017

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