50 years later: Imagining the world with John F. Kennedy

Marcus Traxler Editor-in-Chief


 I can’t imagine that day in Dallas. 

Nov. 22, 1963, the day that president John F. Kennedy was killed by assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Texas while riding through the downtown Dealey Plaza. 

The analysts of the era say it’s the day our country’s innocence was forever lost and it’s hard to argue with that. While the nation had been through wars and conflicts and had its share of turmoil with leaders, when presidents had been killed (and to that point in U.S. history, just three met their fate in office) it had been in a much less gruesome manner than a sniper in broad daylight. 

It’s the original “Where were you when…” moment. The closest thing my generation has to that is 9/11 and that was another event that stops you in your tracks.

When I was a young boy, few things fascinated me like the presidents of our country. I loved reading about their history and what sorts of issues they had to deal with in their time. And of all 44, I’ve been the most enamored with JFK. 

I, like so many, like him because he was sharp as a leader and in the way he carried himself. At the same time, he wasn’t perfect at all. His health was pretty bad for age 46 and with rumors of affairs and indiscretions, we still don’t know what to believe. 

He’s the most talked about president we’ve ever had and his family is probably as close as we’ll ever get to having a royal family. That day 50 years ago is probably the most written about day in U.S. history and to me, that’s amazing. 

This is an interesting anniversary for so many reasons, mainly because there’s a lot we don’t know. It brings up so many of the moments of that day, the conspiracy theories and what could have been done differently. 

To me, my mind sticks with the many questions of that era that were spurred by that day. 

We don’t know what the outcome of the Civil Rights movement would have been with Kennedy in charge. He had made progress but one of his objectives for his trip to Texas was to work on getting support for the legislation in a notoriously Republican state. And in the week Kennedy was killed, LOOK magazine laid out the chances Kennedy could lose in the 1964 election. 

At the time of his death, we didn’t know what was going to be done about the conflict in Vietnam, making that particular question a very interesting one. The rest of the world was a frenetic place and that was brought to the United States 50 years ago.

It thrust a dramatically different president into office, Lyndon B. Johnson, and I think it can be safely argued that the time between 1963 and 1968 would have been different with JFK still in charge. They say we’re more cynical since then and with strong feelings on race, sexuality, authority and drugs, among other things in the 1960s, people’s passions ran wild. Maybe all of that wouldn’t have happened if JFK spoke in Texas and then came back to Washington. But we only know what happened. 

I wasn’t alive in 1963 and even so, the day has so many poignant moments. The glowing sun as the President and his wife walked off the plane at Love Field, shaking the hands of well-wishers; those endless photos of the moments before he was hit by Oswald’s shot. Secret Service agent Clint Hill diving on the back of the president’s limo and pushing Jackie Kennedy back into the car. CBS’s Walter Cronkite, narrating the event that created television news as we know it, taking off his wide-rimmed glasses and holding back tears; Jack Ruby shooting Oswald on national TV; a caisson carrying JFK’s body down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., while millions watched and wept from their homes. 

I’ve watched the documentaries and read the accounts from both that day and from now. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I become solemn about that day I never knew because I still can’t imagine it. 

Marcus Traxler is the Editor-in-Chief at The Collegian. He can be reached at [email protected]