The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Ramona's picture

    John Kennedy's Death And How It Changed Us

    John Kennedy, even with his publicly reported physical frailties, was a man with an almost mythical presence.  He was young and vibrant, he had a beautiful wife and two small children, and, true or not, we perceived him as the peoples' president--as close to being one of us, his wealth notwithstanding, as we were likely to get.  He was the FDR we had been wishing for.

     It was accepted, we thought, that modern American presidents didn't die from assassin's bullets.  It was unthinkable. But John Kennedy did.  Walter Cronkite broke the news to us and we were forced to believe it:  At 1:00 P.M. Central Standard Time, on November 22,  1963, in Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas, the president died .

    Not long after the announcement my seven-year-old ran into the house, wild-eyed and gasping.  "The principal said we had to go home," my daughter told us.  "They said to hurry.  I was so scared."

    My little girl ran all the way, a half-mile from the school to our house.  Her fears were local;  she couldn't fathom that much commotion unless it meant that something bad had happened to her family.  The death of a president was not something she needed to worry about, but the sight of her sobbing mother made her knees buckle and she joined in, crying because I was crying.

    I cried for three days; not continuously, since we had two small children who needed reassuring, but my daughter, middle-aged now, remembers that for the first time in her life she felt fear in her own house.

    The TV was on from morning until night.  We watched Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president aboard Air Force One.  Too soon.  Too soon! We're not ready to call him president.  Impossible to avoid the bloodstains on Jackie's pink bouclé suit as she stood silent nearby.  It seemed such a brave, foolish, poignant thing to do, to continue to wear that suit still showing traces of her husband's splattered brain.  Even those who had seen the First Lady as a bit of an extraneous butterfly now held her to their hearts.

    We watched the funeral--the riderless horse; Jackie in her heavy black veil, eyes hollow, staring straight ahead as John's grieving brother, Robert, held her arm; John-John, sweet little boy, saluting his father's casket.  We watched as a procession of dignitaries followed along behind, someone's somber voice announcing their names as they passed by the television cameras.  For a few brief moments we found respite in trying to identify the Washington celebrities by sight before they were announced.  But, as happened many times throughout those terrible days, reality set in:  Our president, Jack Kennedy, had been murdered.

    Later we watched the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald enter the jail, arms held by two armed guards, and then watched in horror as a man, later identified as Jack Ruby, lunged in front of the camera and shot Oswald dead. 

    Rumors flew;  it was a conspiracy and not the work of a lone gunman.  Oswald knew too much.  Ruby had ties to the mob.  Castro had orchestrated this from Cuba.  The Soviets were involved.  Others would die. Nobody was safe.

    We didn't lose our innocence on that day.  We hadn't been living in a fairy tale world.  We had lived through WWII, had feared the Hydrogen Bomb, had been glued to the TV during the Cuban Missile Crisis, had watched as our country botched the invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  U.S troops were in Vietnam and anti-war rallies were sprouting up all over the country.  The civil rights movement was growing and with it came long-hidden truths about the institutionalized brutality against blacks.

    We lived with uncertainty, but it was tempered and presented to us in black and white on our televisions and in the pages of Life Magazine.  We had no 24-hour-a-day news channels.  No internet. Our newspapers were thick with other things to distract us. We could turn it on and turn it off.

    But on November 22, 1963 everything changed.  We were embarking on a journey with a new president nobody wanted and nobody trusted.  Our fear turned to cynicism and instead of a country held together by the pain of an assassination, we became a country torn apart by anger and distrust.  The Warren Report, the exhaustive study of the Kennedy assassination, brought more doubt than closure.  Three civil rights workers were murdered the following year in Mississippi and the South became a furious battleground.  Vietnam war protesters took to the streets by the thousands as the war escalated and the draft forced our children into deadly battles they couldn't believe in.  The underground drug culture came up for air and flourished.  And in 1968, five years after John Kennedy was killed, we lost two more good men to assassins' bullets--Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. 

    We'll never know where we would be today if on that fated day in November those bullets fired from the Dallas Book Depository hadn't hit their mark, but we do know we didn't get over it.  We couldn't close the book; we couldn't change the channel.  Our president had been assassinated and for far too long afterward our world was an ugly place.

    Now, 51 years later, we're hearing about White House breaches where people with weapons are getting too close to our president before they're stopped and the same fear surfaces from a half-century ago.  I'm afraid for Barack Obama. 

    The level of murderous hatred toward this man is far beyond anything I've ever witnessed in my lifetime.  I would like to think much of it is an act, made easier because one can remain hidden and anonymous and penalty-free on the internet, but I know all it takes is one lone gunman hell-bent on killing the president.

    I want every person who ever publicly threatens the president, or wishes out loud for his death, to be found and questioned and made to prove he or she has no real intentions.  I want those threats to be taken seriously.

    I want us to stop interpreting the First Amendment to mean there are no consequences to advocating for the death of the President of the United States.  We have given the highest honor in the land--the presidency--to a man named Barack Obama.  He is a good man, but even if he weren't, we, as citizens of the country he was elected to head, have an obligation to make sure our president is kept safe.  This president.  Any president.

    (The 50th Anniversary post, November 22, 2013)



    Wonderful post, Ramona. Even now it's hard to think about it. As a recent resident of Texas , I still haven't been able to go into Dallas to see the memorial.

    I too worry about the hatred toward Obama and the way it's fueling the nut jobs. And the establishment Republicans who know this is wrong won't speak up because they are cowed by the Tea Partiers.

    But we will get through this. As you said, there is no quitting now.



    I too worry about the hatred toward Obama

    Where was Obama, when Wisconsin needed his leadership to fight S. Walker and the Koch brothers?

    Or his lying to the voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania about NAFTA

    People should have been more worried about Obama' contempt, for the members of the American Labor Movement. The activist wing of the New Deal Party.

    I don't wish Obama harm, I just regret he had been selected as the standard bearer of the Democratic party. Knowing what we know now, the American workforce suffered while the upper 1% was rewarded.

    The voters of Wisconsin kept Walker in place after a recall election. They followed this by re-electing Walker in November. If you think that Obama could have changed things in Wisconsin, you are sorely mistaken. The voters of Wisconsin want a union-busting Governor.

    Edit to add:

    Walker got 52% of the vote. Wisconsin has elected a Governor from a different party than the President in 27 of 31 elections since 1932.,_2014

    If you think that Obama could have changed things in Wisconsin, you are sorely mistaken.

    I guess we'll never know, but one thing is certain, Obama didn't give a crap. and saw no need to lend his voice and leadership to the cause.

    Unlike George Washington who knew the insurmountable odds against him when he and his suffering recruits encamped at Valley Forge, George Washington went on to rally his troops to victory.

    But not this Quisling Obama, who didn't give a shite about the American labor movement.

    If its foreign workers, who'll be tomorrows cheap labor for industry, he'll exercise executive orders to protect their cause?  To hell with the cause in Wisconsin?  

    The voters in Wisconsin said that they did not care about the labor movement by voting for Walker in the 2010 recall and again in November. This is Wisconsin's vote, not Obama's vote that was cast. Despite family members and neighbors harmed by Walker's anti-union actions, the voters of Wisconsin turned their backs and said yes to serfdom to the corporations.

    The wet and freezing soldiers at Valley Forge,  were ready to walk away from the war that was seeking freedom from Tyranny from the overlords of Britain and had it not been for the leadership of G Washington the war would have been lost  

    The people in Wisconsin needed to know and hear from the President to reaffirm the reason to fight harder if necessary, firing up the base of supporters to give aid.

    Instead the voters of Wisconsin must have concluded, why struggle and fight for a cause when Democratic leadership of DC wouldn't even support the struggle.

    As has become so obvious; if your allies in Washington don't give a crap, the troops become demoralized. 

    But then again; why expect Obama to offer leadership on any issue, important to the American working class?

    Instead the working class should have expected a continuing ideology "Give the money to the banker class and it will trickle down to the working class" 

    Wisconsin Progressives did not give up. They attempted to recall the Governor,tried to block a Republican state Supreme Court Justice, and remove Republican state legislators. All attempts failed. The voters of Wisconsin voted for what they wanted and they want the GOP and union busting.

    It took me a while to get it thru my thick head, but Obama believes in bipartisanism no matter what he has to sacrifice in order to move his agenda forward. That said, no one should expect him to take a political side be it in the halls of Congress or at the State levels. Once you accept it, it becomes easier to understand the WHY in how he moves the political process forward.


    Of course, one would think he would have had second thoughts or developed an alternative approach in dealing with a hostile political Party determined to defeat him every step of the way. Thus we have the current political and financial quagmire that neither Democrats or republicans give a rat's ass about fixing leaving We The People hung out to dry.


    But he and all members of Congress were elected by the public to serve their interests, so if there's a question about any of their actions, We The People need not look any further than the mirror to see who is to blame.


    Wisconsin wanted Scott Walker

    Florida wanted Rick Scott

    Kansas wanted Brownbeck

    Iowa wanted Ernst

     The people spoke

    Resistance, what does that have to do with my piece?  Are you saying you understand why people would want to kill Obama?

    Deleted comment 

    Deleted my comment.

    No need to reply then? 

    I really don't want Obama harmed, in fact we should all pray for all of our leaders, to do the right thing for the people 

    How should people express their disapproval of a Presidents policies, without stirring up those who would hurt the President?

    Smile, don't complain; tell everyone he's the best President ever?

    It's his policies and the direction his leadership has taken the country that has angered many people.

    You said the abolitionist movement and Civil Rights movement was wrong

    Thanks, Oxy.  These are strange times, requiring eyes wide open.  There are degrees of hate and we can live with it, up to a point.  I think we've passed that limit and now we really have to pay attention.  I'm not suggesting a police state but those breaches at the White House, the constant longing for Obama to die--often in sickening ways, the proliferation of guns, and the level of craziness on and off the internet, makes this president increasingly endangered.  We can't allow that.

    five years after John Kennedy was killed, we lost two more good men to assassins' bullets--Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. 

    All important leaders of the movement towards economic equality. 

    Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

    I worry for his life too.  I tell the kids that I have never known a president to be so disrespected by the media or congressional members.  Yet he is the most dignified and thoughtful president that I remember.  It is all because the color of his skin.  This behavior towards the president's office has made a big impression on these kids.  They don't like it. 

    Momoe, talking to kids about this is so important.  I think you're creating some fine activists there!

    I always hoped that racism would be an embarrassing thing of the past, and I can't tell you how disappointed I am that it's still with us.  I know much of the hatred toward Obama is because of his color, but we've been struggling with the spread of ignorance and hate for many years before he came along.  The impeachment of Bill Clinton was a part of that vast Right Wing conspiracy and their numbers, unfortunately, keep growing.  They've built a whole culture around it and it's now an accepted norm.  Any sign of kindness or compromise from that side is a sign of weakness.  That's dangerous thinking and it's not going to go away without a real culture shift.  I don't see that happening.  Unfortunately.

    This young generation sees their elders as selfish and cruel.  I have had friends of my oldest grandson tell me that their grand parents and parents think they are lazy bums.  One of them is in Architect School and he dreads Thanksgiving Dinner and Christmas. They can't figure out why their relatives think no one deserves anything.

    Maybe there is a cultural shift going on. but we are not noticing it.  The younger generations know that this kind of politics don't care about them and why in the future would they vote for them. 

    OUCH !!!!


    I see your point !!!


    We baby-boomers are the front and center stage while those behind us are left with sucking hind-tit.


    But Congress is really the one to blame, but it's full of baby-boomers too, so chances are the younger generation's needs will not be heard, like jobs, salaries and benefits so they can at the very least have the same things their parents and grandparents had.


    In other words, we have a lost generation of young adults right in front of us and can't see them because our children are getting in the way.

    Tonight I was in Walmart with my oldest grandson when the twitter feed lit up with the Ferguson verdict.  Then he got phone calls right after that about it.  He was baffled as to why there was no indictment,  

    We were there because we were waiting for the stockers to empty large boxes.  He needed them to set up collection points at USF for children toys. The English honors society is doing this to give the toys to Prisons so the prisoners have something to give to their kids when they come and visit for Christmas. He told me the idea was to strengthen their family relationship when a parent is in jail for drugs. Taking on a project like that doesn't endear them to their families.

    The behavior of the GOP since Obama has been in office has made a life time impression on the youth. Almost half the kids are growing up in poverty.  Corporations will have a hard time convincing them that this was good for the country.   



    Your grandsons are very special young men and you can take a bow for that, Momoe.  Collecting gifts for prisoners to give to their families is an inspired idea.  I hadn't heard of that before.

    The young will have to be the standard-bearers and I have faith in them.  Education is the key and we old folks have to make sure the opportunities for learning are there.  We're not doing a good job of it, but the solution is to fix what's wrong with public education, not throw it out or turn it over to the privateers who would like nothing better than to keep our kids dumb and uninformed.

    Milton Freeman thought up all the idea that privatizing everything was the better way to go.  His radical ideas was a knee jerk reaction of communism and his dislike of Keynes. I think Freeman had a form of PTS because of the work he did during the war and just didn't like government after that.  We know that charter schools are sub par to public education.  Just a few of them do a good job and that is because of the wealthy clientele.  I see charter schools as bad at propaganda as was the Soviet education system.  They are no different, just different propaganda and rewriting history.  Maybe I will live long enough to see all of Freeman's ideas about economics and society get swept into the dust bin of history. 

    Thank you for this remembrance, Ramona.  I think it strikes a chord with all of us old enough to remember precisely where we were when we heard the news.  I was in junior high and the loudspeaker suddenly came on in my classroom with the radio reports.  We didn't know at first that they were talking about OUR President.   The teacher thought that maybe they were talking about the President of Ethiopia, because, well, things like that didn't happen in America.   But soon it became apparent the news WAS about our President and we were told that we were getting out of school early and to go straight home.   I think this generation's innocence was lost that day.

    You could be right, Mr. Smith.  The younger generation, kids still in school, may well have seen the assassination as a catalyst for an uneasy world they were destined to live in.  The 60s, 70s and 80s were a strange mix of activism and hedonism, and there were times when I wondered whether there really was such a thing as mass insanity.  (I'm wondering the same thing now, come to think of it.)

    I don't know about the mass insanity but we are certainly going to have 2 years of Duck Dynasty Congress. 

    Thank you for reminding me. Just like Pearl Harbor, as time goes by people tend to forget the impact of events, especially those who were not around when the events occurred.


    But think too about that era ... McCartheyism, the big Red Scare in the US, and Communist encroaching everywhere in small isolated pockets of humanity around the globe ... all during the Eisenhower Administration with Republicans in Congress cozying up to the MIC while making the former Soviet Union their personal mascot of hatred to kick around as they pleased. 


    Kennedy won by a slight majority with enough doubt that Nixon could have challenged ... Kennedy received 112,827 (0.17%) more votes than Nixon nationwide and although Nixon won the popular vote contest in more individual states (26 to 22).


    So I would wonder if Kennedy's assassination was the first infant step towards the adversarial political process we currently enjoy today? While Republicans were not in any way shape or form responsible for the assassination, their vitriol towards Kennedy was on equal par. 


    In other words, the vitriol then is equal to the vitriol now, and guns are more plentiful and acceptable today than they were in the 60's.


    One need not be a rocket scientist to see where the two meld into a singularity.

    Yes, I should have included the McCarthy era.  That was huge.  We were on edge often before Dallas but nothing could have prepared us for what happened that day.  The truth is, the Kennedy shine was beginning to tarnish before he went to Dallas.  He couldn't please everyone, and liberals were beginning to see that all that they had hoped for was either not going to happen or was going to take much longer than expected.  There was grousing from both sides, just as there is with President Obama today.  I often wonder what Kennedy might have accomplished if he hadn't been cut down before his time?

    But in my lifetime I've never seen such open, raw hatred as we see today.  The gun culture doesn't help;  insisting on open-carrying guns into public places is just the beginning.  There are reasons why we work to keep guns in their proper place.  They're not toys, they're not symbols, they're lethal weapons.

    They're not toys, they're not symbols, they're lethal weapons.

    McConnell Warns Obama on Amnesty: 'Like Waving a Red Flag in Front of a Bull ..

    1776  deja vu?

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