I was looking through a box of stuff my mom saved for me when I came across a newspaper clipping from the Kennedy assassination. Mom had not only saved the clipping from The Daily Sentinel (based in Grand Junction, Colorado, my hometown), but she had saved a complete pristine copy of Life Magazine on the assassination and on Lee Harvey Oswald.
Mom had saved things for each of her children she knew we liked. She had a box for each of her children, which included me and my three sisters. All our boxes were filled with memorabilia, birthday cards and notes she saved. None of us knew she had saved all these things until we found them after she passed away in 2019. Maybe I'll write about the boxes in a later column.
I was too young at the time to really grasp the enormity of what happened in 1963, but my love of history and reading over the years made me aware of what a pivotal year 1963 really was.
I don't know if you recall all that happened that year, or maybe you are too young. Either way, permit me to share some interesting facts.
In 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was president. The civil rights movement, which started out as a grassroots issue, was reaching a crescendo. In June of the same year, President Kennedy gave a pivotal televised address. During his speech, he emphatically stated he would send a civil rights bill to Congress. At the time, the speech received mixed reviews.
The racial disturbances in the south that prompted Kennedy to act were seen on national television for the first time. It was television that brought the struggle to American living rooms. Kennedy's relationship with the civil rights leaders wasn't very good. In fact, he was criticized by civil rights leaders because he wanted to wait until his second term to send the bill to Congress. His hesitancy brought more unrest. By April and May of 1963, numerous protests were erupting all throughout the south, and in other parts of the United States. Protesters, many peaceful, were jailed, harassed and sprayed with fire hoses, injuring many. This was especially true in Birmingham, Alabama, where Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Conner took a firm stand on segregation, and the protesters themselves.
Later in May, federal courts ordered the University of Alabama to admit African American students. George Wallace, governor of Alabama at the time, another strict segregationist, didn’t want this to happen. Although President Kennedy warned Gov. Wallace to not get in the way of the courts ordered admittance to the university, he did not heed the warning, or so it seemed.
After searching, I was able to locate a black and white photo of Wallace stubbornly standing in the doorway of the university. However, the history behind the picture is interesting. Kennedy and Wallace evidently worked out a deal where Wallace would stand in the doorway for the photo but move aside when the students were admitted. Wallace wanted to show his constituents that he was taking a stand on segregation. Things are not always what they appear to be, it seems.
Kennedy would end up sending his civil rights bill to Congress in June of 1963.
As Kennedy’s civil rights bill was slowly, but surely, making its way through Congress, unfortunately, he would not live to see his bill come to fruition. In November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated while he and his wife Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, along with Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie. Connelly was also seriously injured, but lived. I won't be speculating here if there were two assassins, or just one — the jury is still out on that issue.
After Kennedy’s assassination, it was up to President Lyndon Johnson, a larger-than-life personality from Texas, to take up the mantle of civil rights. On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Johnson indicated he owed it to Kennedy to make sure the bill came to fruition. The momentous event was televised from the White House.
There’s an interesting side note on the famous picture of Johnson being sworn in as president on Air Force One with Jackie Kennedy looking on. You probably have seen the photo or at least heard of it. The photographer's name was Cecil William Stoughton, best known for being Kennedy's photographer. In the iconic picture, Jackie Kennedy is still wearing the clothes she had on when the president was shot and rushed to the hospital. When asked if she wanted to change into different clothes she said no, “Let them see what they have done.”
Those clothes, among various other items from the assassination, are still preserved at the national archives. The donor, Caroline Kennedy, had specific instructions to not release them to public view until at least 2103. That’s when the 100-year deed will expire. It will be up to the Kennedy family to decide whether to release them after the expiration date.
Scholars and historians have speculated what would have happened had Kennedy not been assassinated. Kennedy struggled all his life with debilitating pain in his back. He also had numerous affairs while president. He was a flawed individual just like all of us.
The year 1963 was a turning point in American history for many reasons. Maybe you are a fan of the Kennedy assassination conspiracies. I know I enjoy reading about them. Evidently, my mom was a fan of President Kennedy, although I never knew. It's kind of sad we only learn things about our loved ones after they are gone.
I guess life is sometimes too busy. Maybe it shouldn't be.
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at email@example.com.