Friday, November 22, 2013

"You'd Better Say Your Prayers. The President has Been Shot"

Headlines from the Ft. Smith Times Record, Nov. 22, 1963
Courtesy SWTImes

I was in the 7th grade at St. John's the small parochial school I had attended since kindergarten, and I was not yet 12 years old. I remember the day so well. Lunch was over, and we were settling in for afternoon activities. Then the principal, Sr. Annene came in the room, and interrupted the teacher and said, "You all had better say your prayers. The president has been shot." We all gasped and were speechless. The teacher asked, "is he head?"  "We don't know", she said.

The air was almost sucked out of my lungs, and I felt sick! President Kennedy? No!!
A feeling of despair suddenly was there! I remember the emotion so well, "But--he was our friend", I remembered saying to our parents. They knew what I meant--he was a friend, we felt to the Black community.

An announcement came back shortly, that we were to go over to the parish church and have a prayer service within the hour. How strange--we were all so quiet. Usually pouring into church before mass, included the usual fidgeting and the teachers going "shhh" to settle down to a respectful reverence. But this time there was no need. We were all silent, even the children from the lower grades were quiet. We were ushered into the parish pews and began to pray the rosary. So solemn, so quiet and so sad. School was dismissed early and we walked home quietly.

At home the television was on and the footage that we have all seen thousands of time since, was showing. The motorcade, the grassy knoll, the shots, people scurrying for cover, the first lady scurrying for cover, secret service men climbing on top of the car, and confusion.

I recall two days later on Sunday morning after early Mass, of course the television was on. My parents were in another room, and I heard them say they were moving the gunman Oswald. I saw a man rush towards the prisoner, and saw confusion and heard the words, "Oswald has been shot."
I was not sure what was happening and went to ask my parents? "So they shot that Oswald man, too?"
They looked at me, and then they rushed to the television set. Again--for the next two days the flurry of events were shown. Then came the funeral.

We all watched it. The motorcade, the military and John Jr. saluting his father on the steps of the capitol.

I was only 11 and so much had happened in three short days---and I remember trying to make sense of it all.

To me, to my family, to my school mates, to my community--he had meant something---he had represented a ray of hope.

The country had dared to elect a man from New England, a Catholic, and for many people of color, this president was possibly a true friend to the black community. And we had reasons to hope that year, the March on Washington in August of that year had given us more hope and more of the dream.

And this president had even met with leaders  in the Civil Rights movement. And to so many of us, this meant so much, as he represented justice and possible equality.

Image: National Archives/Newsmakers/Getty Images

But on November 22, things changed. I learned so much that day. And my life had changed forever. At 11 years I was a child and had never watched the news, but from that time forward, I realized that the world was much bigger than my small world, I realized that words like justice, equality and hope were so heavy and actions of people unknown to me, could affect me.

And I learned on November 22, 1963 that sometimes dreams are deferred.

"What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?"
-Langston Hughes-

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M. Dawn said...

Very well said. Brings back similar memories, not just of JFK's assassination, but the later ones of MLK Jr. and RFK.

LindaRe said...

It was such a sad time and we momentarily lost our hope, until LBJ.