This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy–for people of my particular sub-generation, the quintessential early traumatic national experience.
If I remember correctly, my elementary school in LaGrange, Georgia sent students home a bit early that Friday, November 22, when the president was pronounced dead in Dallas. I know I remember walking to a nearby intersection where in 1960 we were all taken to get a glimpse of JFK as he campaigned. Horrible little political junkie that I was–and probably struggling to grasp what had happened in those pre-1968 days when assassinations had not become common–I talked with one of my political junkie friends about the potential impact on the 1964 presidential race. Soon after my family made a short trip to visit my grandmother for the weekend, and the car radio was broadcasting nonstop religious music with occasional news updates; only then did it all start to sink in.
I’m not sure that people who grew up in the crisis-saturated decades that immediately followed, much less the more recent era of manufactured media crises and non-stop gabbing about them, can appreciate how profoundly affected Americans were by the JFK assassination. As a number of observers are now reminding us, Kennedy was in some respects as hated by the radical right as Obama is today, and Dallas was widely considered the capital of that sentiment. But the national mourning over the assassination was as close to universal as a constitutional democracy could probably manage.
In the intervening years, a mystique about JFK in particular and his family in general definitely and understandably developed. But the shock over the events of November 22, 1963, was unmistakably real and can hardly be exaggerated.