JFK Voices | KERA News

JFK Voices

Paul Schutzer / via 'Freedom Riders' c/o PBS

Fifty years ago this summer, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. But that didn’t come without a price. It was the era of the Freedom Summer, a bloody campaign to get blacks registered to vote in Mississippi. 

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North Texans reflect on where they were 50 years ago when President Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas.

BJ Austin / KERA News

Doctors Robert McClelland and Charles Baxter were part of the Parkland Hospital team that tried to save President John Kennedy. Earlier this year, McClelland talked at a conference about how the two witnessed the president’s last rites.

The two doctors were with the body in Trauma Room 1 when a priest arrived.  The position of the gurney made it impossible to leave without disturbing the priest. So, McClelland says, they stood "frozen" by the wall.

Tom Orr was just a kid when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. After witnessing Jack Ruby gun down Lee Harvey Oswald on television, Orr was surprised at how the assassination came to affect him.

Eighth graders at Kennedy-Curry Middle School in Dallas entered an essay contest about the legacy of John F. Kennedy. The winners were announced Wednesday. Here's the winning essay, written by Teriana Ward:

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture

Larry Allums was a freshman at Auburn University in Alabama when he heard the news of President Kennedy's assassination. Coming from the Deep South, Allums has had to come to terms with the tumultuous social climate as well as the traditionalist views of his parents in a time where neutrality wasn't an option.

Dr. Catalina Garcia isn't a Dallas native, but she fell in love with the city when she came for medical school. She learned about President Kennedy's assassination from a patient. She didn't pay much attention to politics at the time, but she learned quickly of the simmering tensions in Dallas.

Walton Muyumba is a professor of English at UNT. He found something telling while discussing literature as a response to terrorism with his students. Though writers processed other horrific events immediately, Muyumba says, much more time passed before there was a novel about JFK's murder. That's not unlike stories and feelings just now emerging from North Texans after 50 years.

Katie Sherrod was 16 when President John F. Kennedy was killed. She shares her memory of a small town united in front of the TV, wracked with sorrow. But she goes on to describe the Dallas she came to know as a journalist and producer - and a Texas she sees now, which has forgotten the need to stick together.

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As the anniversary of JFK’s assassination grows closer, so do the memories of people in Dallas who welcomed the president to the city where he would die. Many of them were children, who went back to school after hearing the news of Kennedy's death -- their distraught parents didn't know what else to do but take them back. Howard Weiner was one of those kids. He was 12 – a crossing guard for his 7th grade class. His dad insisted Howard not miss school on the morning of November 22, 1963, but his mom picked him up and took him to Love Field to greet President Kennedy.  

I met Shannon Hall at South Side Ballroom, in the shadow of downtown Dallas. We were there for a day-long symposium called Understanding Tragedy: The Impact of the JFK Assassination on Dallas. As a junior at UNT, Shannon drives down as often as she can - to hear music at South Side, see exhibits at the Dallas Museum of Art, peruse the shops at Riverfront. As a small-town kid, though, her first impression of Dallas was terrifying - and for all her fondness toward Dallas, she hasn't totally shaken the feeling.

Suncreek United Methodist Church

Before the nation mourned, news of President John F. Kennedy's death made its way around a broken city. Some Dallasites were waiting to hear JFK speak at the Trade Mart when they heard he would never arrive. Rev. Zan Holmes remembers a party frozen in grief.

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 As a child in London, 93-year-old Daphne Silwood was taken to see royalty whenever the public was invited. So as a supporter of President John F. Kennedy, she didn't think twice about taking her two kids out of school to see the First Couple at Love Field. What happened at the fence would stay with her for 50 years.

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Hundreds gathered on Nov. 2 to discuss the impact of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Dallas. "Understanding Tragedy" brought together writers, politicians, journalists, religious leaders, scholars and others. KERA live-blogged the event. Here are highlights: 

Update, 2:51 p.m.: There has been lots of praise today for J. Erik Jonsson, who became Dallas mayor shortly after Kennedy was assassinated. He worked to improve the image of the city in the years following the assassination.

“I applaud Erik Jonsson for his goals and guiding, weaving us so carefully through this labyrinth of trying to get out of this dark shame that we felt as a city,” said Gail Thomas, president and CEO of the Trinity Trust.