The President's Been Shot- page 2 | History | Smithsonian
President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally ride through the streets of Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the day of Kennedy’s assassination. (© CORBIS)

The President's Been Shot

Forty years ago, the assassination of JFK stunned Americans, who vividly recall the day even as they grapple with his complex legacy

(Continued from page 1)

I was walking down the street in Cincinnati. I was there to look at a location for a theater. Somebody stopped me. I was overwhelmed. I was crying. I remember it like it was this morning. All the credit that he has been given, all of the praise, I think is due him. . . . I’ve never felt that his private life was the way to judge him. We should judge a president by the way he performs as president.


When he was shot, I was teaching government to seniors at MiamiEdisonHigh School. Some of these kids were 18, and I was 23. We’re tied together for eternity. I was standing in front of my fifth-period class and the announcement came over the intercom. Everyone was stunned and shocked.

There was such a sense of optimism in 1963. It spilled over. You were proud to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The assassination was a terrible blow to our self-esteem, to our naiveté.


I was walking on the DukeUniversity campus to teach my freshman English class, and I saw Josephine Humphreys, who’s become a wonderful novelist and was then a freshman. She was holding a small transistor radio up to her ear. I said, “Jo, what are you doing?” She said, “The president’s been shot.” We went up to the classroom, and the other 15 or so students were up there. We just sat there. The radio began playing the funeral march from Beethoven’s Third Symphony. Then Roger Mudd’s voice came on and said President Kennedy had died. We sat there stunned. I didn’t even possess a television. I raced over to another student of mine off-campus who had a rickety black-and-white TV. We sat there until 2 or 3 a.m. watching news. I was utterly horrified.

We know now the Oval Office is not a cathedral in terms of sanctity. The impression that everyone loved him is not true. He is now deified. Back then, he was likable. He had many skills and a good sense of humor. He acquired an awesome sense of self-possession during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the single scariest event in my life.


I was in college, KansasStateUniversity, a sophomore, and I was living at a fraternity house. I kind of remember someone shouting. When the assassination occurred, all of the brothers in the house gathered in the private apartment of our housemother and just sat around stunned, watching the events unfold. We stretched out on the floor. No one said anything. There was a great feeling of shattered emotions. We didn’t know what to make of it.

My reflection now is colored by the fact that I spent ten years in the White House with two presidents. I think of it in terms of Mack Kilduff, Kennedy’s deputy spokesperson, who had to tell the world Kennedy had just been killed. In the 1990s, when he was the editor of a small paper in Kentucky, he came out to a George Bush rally. I remember shaking his hand and realizing, My God, this is the fellow who had such an enormous impact on the nation when he announced Kennedy’s death. He seemed so human up against a memory that was larger than life.


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