Sept. 15, 1963 or Nov. 22, 1963? Which date stands out more in your memory?
Most Americans who were alive in 1963 would probably choose Nov. 22. Indeed, even if you weren’t alive in 1963, it would be hard not to know what happened on that day.
For the past two or three weeks, it’s been no easy task to avoid hearing about the date. I lost count of the number of television specials and news stories devoted to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Nov. 22, 1963 was, darned near unarguably, a sad day in American history. (There were those that were shamelessly ecstatic about JFK’s assassination, particularly the guy that put a sign in the window of his business that read, “Closed, due to the death of our nigger-loving president.”)
Americans who lived in 1963 can probably tell you exactly where they were when Walter Cronkite announced on CBS news that JFK had died at 2 p.m. EST.
I was in Harlem Park Junior High School in Baltimore, but I didn’t know about JFK’s assassination until at least two hours after Cronkite made his announcement.
Our unit head, a man named Dr. Lowell, had arranged for us to have a combination party/food raiser for the needy at Thanksgiving. He knew how we had been looking forward to the party for at least a month.
So, around 2 p.m. or so, we heard his voice on the intercom telling us that an ATTEMPT had been made on President Kennedy’s life. He gave no further details.
Once school ended, we had the party, but it didn’t last long. Dr. Lowell stopped the proceedings and told us that President Kennedy was, in fact, dead. He dismissed us and said the nation was going into a period of mourning.
And mourn we did, most of us anyway. JFK’s assassination was a downright bummer. I was saddened for weeks.
Saddened, but not shocked. The shock had come two months and seven days earlier, on Sept. 15, 1963.
That was the day the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were killed. Collins, Robertson and Wesley were all 14 years old. McNair was only 11.