Remembering the day the world changed

Published 11:38am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like most people who were old enough to be around on that day a half century ago, I have a vivid memory of first learning the news.

In the Friday, Nov. 22, Daily Leader, we will feature local residents’ recollections of that November day of 50 years ago, which also was a Friday.

As for me, I was on the playground at recess at West Lowndes School on Nov. 22, 1963. We had three recesses a day, one in the morning, one after lunch and one in the afternoon. Since President Kennedy was shot around 12:30 p.m. in Dallas, which was the same time in my schoolyard west of Columbus, Miss., where I was on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, I guess I was on the lunch recess. The details of the specific recess period escape me, but I do remember being on the playground when we all were abruptly called back into the school.

Something was wrong.

Back in our room, my classmates and I looked to our teacher, Lois Reichle, to explain what was happening. “The president has been shot,” she said.

Recalling those words, I can still remember that sinking sensation and not understanding how it could be.

In the world I knew then, things like someone shooting a president didn’t happen. Raised in that golden post World War II and post Korean War time that my fellow crest of the Baby Boom generation mates remember, we knew nothing bad ever happened – not really. Sure, there was a cold war and nasty Nikita Khrushchev and his shoe-hammering antics, but all that was so far away.

But 50 years ago in Dallas, the world outside came tumbling very close indeed, right into that bulky box with the round-cornered screen in our living room. We watched Jackie in her bloodstained pink suit, which was gray on most of our TVs, return from Dallas to Washington.

We watched Jack Ruby shoot the president’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, on those same TV sets not long after his arrest. And we watched the young president’s children, Caroline and John John, and the riderless horse at JFK’s funeral.

The world outside had entered our lives. The assassination in Dallas was the first national tragedy played out on television. Yes, if you go to YouTube and watch those old videos, what we saw was blurry and black and white, but it was grippingly real all the same to those of us who watched it unfold.

Kennedy’s assassination changed the world in myriad ways. Charlie Mitchell talks about some of its repercussions on the course of events for the next half-century in his column today.

Coming as it did on the first birth pangs of television news, the assassination’s coverage itself was transformational. The network news reporting on JFK’s death and its aftermath paved the way for the nightly televised coverage of the Vietnam War in the later 1960s and early 1970s and eventually morphed into the 24/7 news networks like CNN and Fox News.

Ask anyone my age and older where they were when they heard the news on Nov. 22, 1963, and they will likely be able to tell you. They also will probably be able to tell you which anchorman told them.

I was watching Walter Cronkite.

We only had one television channel in northeast Mississippi in 1963, and it was a CBS affiliate.

And that’s the way it was.

Rachel Eide is editor/general manager of The Daily Leader. Contact her at rachel.eide@dailyleader.com.