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1963

1963


“I’m getting out of here as soon as possible!”  Mary mutters as we approach Peter’s hotel room.  “For sure, for sure…” I agree as Peter steps out into the hallway to join us.

“Can you believe?!”  The incredulous question hangs unanswered between us.

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, November 22nd, 1963 in Texas.  President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has been assassinated riding in a motorcade less than ten blocks from where we are standing.  

Last night, the three of us had sung at the Municipal Auditorium in Austin.  Peter had left with friends immediately following the concert in anticipation of the November 23rd performance at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.   Mary and I had elected to stay in Austin and heard the shocking news - and the continually depressing updates - over the radio in the rental car we’d been driving for the past three hours.  

My initial hope (or a classic case of denial) was that 1) the information was not true, and/or 2) the information must be exaggerated and finally that 3) even if such a thing were possible, of course the president would recover…  Would that any of those options have been true.  The fact of the matter was that the President was officially pronounced dead by the time we arrived at our dallas hotel. 

“Well obviously, everything has been cancelled and we…” Peter trails off, shakes his head.

“I just want to get out of here!” Mary repeats.  “I mean, who knows what crazies are still around…”

A month before Kennedy's ill-fated trip, U.N. ambassador Stevenson had been jeered, jostled, hit by a sign and spat upon when he visited Dallas to mark U.N. Day.  Dallas police were fearful that similar demonstrations would occur when Kennedy visited Dallas.   Several people, including Stevenson, had warned Kennedy against coming to Dallas, but Kennedy ignored their advice.  Curiously it was reported that sometime during the trip the President had confided in his wife, Jacqueline “'We're heading into nut country today…”  

Over the next ten to fifteen years I (and I think most of America as well) attempted to understand why a charismatic president - a symbol of our revitalized nation - would have been assassinated.  Who could have conceived and carried out such a thing? Was it that Peter, Mary and I had so completely misunderstood the sense of the country...the concerns of our audiences? 

Was there not an enlightenment, a 'movement' if you will, toward a broader more inclusive understanding of what was meant by 'human rights'?!  While it might have been naive to assume that the mere passage of a civil rights law could instantly change longstanding antagonistic relationships, at the very least that legislation seemed to be an indication of a majority of public sentiment. 

Did the assassination mean that the values that we held were a minority view? that, in fact, america held no 'real' shared vision of its future? 

As if in answer to these questions, the subsequent shootings of Martin Luther King, Junior and Robert Kennedy, seemed to re-enforce the awareness of an evil intolerance that still roamed the country. 

 

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