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

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)

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We did a concert on November 21 in Houston, and we were driving to Dallas on the 22nd to do a concert. We were in a rental car, and we heard it on the radio. We checked into a room to call the promoter and cancel the concert. We called the airlines and said, “What’s the first flight out of Dallas?” And she said, “To where?” And we said, “Anywhere.” Because we were firmly convinced Dallas was going to burn down. We ended up flying to L.A. and spending the week watching television there in a hotel.

His presidency was so short. It’s all supposition—what kind of president would he have been? Has his myth far outstripped the reality? Of course.


I was in ninth grade, at Saint Augustin High School in San Diego. I was going to a Catholic school, so you can imagine how important Kennedy was to all of us. He showed a tremendous amount of grit during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but his main thing was the psychological factor. He made us believe in the future, in a better world, in the Peace Corps. He created a feeling of a future filled with hope at a time when we were coming out of a dark period of paranoia, of nuclear holocaust, of fear, the cold war.

I was sitting in the gym, and the coach came in. He had a little transistor radio in his ear, and he said the president had been shot. It was like this beautiful world of hope and youth had just come crashing down. We didn’t know that he was dead yet. The school stopped, and everybody was hanging on every word. When the news came that he had been killed, I wept.

What he did have was this vibe, this aura, the energy that anything was possible. I’ve carried with me that optimism. I constantly revisit it. Had he lived, I think the nation would have followed a completely different path.


I was a senior at SouthwesternUniversity in Georgetown, Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin. I was taking a French exam. The proctor came in, and he looked so strange. I got home at 8:30 p.m., and I hadn’t seen a soul, and there was my newspaper, the Durham Times, an evening paper, and it said Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. It was so outrageous and horrible that this bright man was taken out like some bird in the field. I was at a friend’s house watching them transfer Lee Harvey Oswald and watched Jack Ruby shoot him, and it was as if the whole world was coming apart.

Kennedy was a wonderful political figure. He knew the system, and he interested the public and drew them to the presidency. Of course, they staged a lot of it, and Kennedy and his wife “featured” themselves. The Kennedy administration brought civil rights in as a means of saving themselves. They had not been committed to it for a long time. There was the semi-famous moment when he met with Martin Luther King Jr. at the White House. When King left, Kennedy said, “I didn’t know what to say to him.”


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