In commemoration of John F. Kennedy’s assassination fifty years ago today, I was given the great privilege of being on WAKM Radio in Franklin, Tennessee. Hosts Hudson Alexander and Tom Lawrence took calls as we discussed that tragic moment with those who had lived through it.
The phone lines lit up, callers spoke of where they were when they heard the news. But after awhile, I noticed a remarkable pattern – they weren’t talking about Kennedy.
Instead their words spoke of a significantly different experience…
“It was the first time I saw my mother cry.” “The school secretary went silent.” “The older students were coming down the stairs, sobbing.” “I have never seen my father so upset.”
On the day of the assassination, well over 8 million Americans were between the ages of 5 and 14. Today, many of those who can personally remember that day were children when it happened. For them, the impact came not from “the end of Camelot” but through something far more immediate and personal.
In an instant, their homes and schools were transformed into places of collective mourning, and the vast majority of their adult authority figures suddenly humanized themselves into fragile and emotional beings. While the moment would not last, the memory of that moment itself remained indelible, for a half century onward.