Friday November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As we reflect on that tragic day and honor the memory of the late president, students in the “Oral History” class this semester conducted a series of interviews with current and retired Samford employees and alumni. Each day this week, the Bull Pup will highlight these Samford voices.
L to R: (Top Row) William Collins, Professor of Political Science; Elizabeth Wells, Special Collection Archivist; Governor Albert Brewer, Professor of Law and Government; Wilton H. Bunch, Professor of Philosophy; (Bottom Row) John Mayfield, Professor of History; Judge John Carroll, Dean of Cumberland School of Law; Jennings Marshall, Professor of Economics; James Brown, Professor of History
Where were you and what were you doing when you heard the news of his assassination?
Wells: I was a freshman at Banks high school. I was in my English class. We were having a vocabulary exam that day. Everything was just like normal when all of the sudden over the intercom comes this newscast and our principal said ‘You need to listen to this.’ There was the broadcast of the national news talking about the assassination of the president. We all just sat there. My teacher cried. It was stunning to think that the president of the United States had been assassinated.
Marshall: I was in military school. I went to the barracks, because I had a free period, and I turned on the radio, which I wasn’t supposed to do. When I heard the news I was shocked. I walked out of the barracks and I went down to the Quonset hut where the ROTC unit was. The professor of military science there was Captain Lindsey. I said to Captain Lindsey, “Did you hear what happened?” He said, “No, what happened?” I said, “The President’s been shot!” And he immediately said, “No! What?” I said, “Yeah! It was just on the radio! The President’s been shot!” There weren’t any radios in there, so he jumped up from his chair and ran outside to turn on the radio in his car. I followed him, and he was in his car listening to the radio, and I was standing next to his car.
Carroll: You know it probably hit us worse than other parts of the country because we were in Massachusetts and it was a shock; absolute disbelief because my generation saw Kennedy as the . . . torch bearer for a new America. It was just a terrible shock and a terrible tragedy.
Rester: I was attending Perkinston Junior College in Mississippi. I left school early that day and got a ride down to Gulf Port, which is twelve miles from home [Biloxi, Mississippi]. There was a bus that went back and forth between Gulf Port and Biloxi. As I got on the bus, there were two ladies talking about somebody that had been shot in a convertible. I wasn’t interested in that conversation very much; I thought “Gosh, that’s unfortunate.” When I got home, probably about 20 minutes later, my sister Sherri was visiting, and she met me on the steps of our home and she said that someone had shot the president. We went inside, and Walter Cronkite, I think, was on the air live, and at that time I don’t think they knew the outcome. I did get to see the part where he announced that the President was dead.
Bunch: I was then a graduate student in physiology and bio-physics and a resident in orthopedic surgery at the University of Minnesota. The night before Kennedy was shot…the Twin City Orthopedic Society had a guest speaker and, totally out of custom, they invited the residents. I was at this fancy dinner with a guest speaker from Virginia, and to warm up the crowd he was telling jokes. And his last joke was that “Arkansas had devised a plan to eliminate all the taxes. You might wonder how they’re going to do this. Pretty simple. They were going to shoot Bobby Kennedy and put a pay toilet over his grave.” And we laughed…The next morning, well I guess it was about a little after noon. I was walking up the steps of the library and somebody came dashing out and said, “The President has just been shot and is probably dead!” I had that sudden feeling of irresponsibility. Just last night it was funny that somebody might shoot one of the Kennedys, and today, someone did. It was just as if I had been slugged and I have never really forgotten that moment. I was just, sort of in a daze; I took it so personally. That evening of laughing, I just felt guilty as sin.
Mayfield: It came over the loud speaker, and we were in the middle of physics class, and I guess it ran from 11:30 to 12:30. . .the speaker came on and he [the principal] had an important message that the president had been shot in Dallas and that we wouldn’t have any other kinds of information, so we went from there to homeroom. Everybody was in homeroom, and they asked us to stay and have a moment of prayer for the President, who at that moment was assumed to still be alive. I could hear the assistant coach on the telephone in the office next to homeroom, and he was saying “Oh, I see, I see, I see, I see,” and the moment of prayer stopped and the loudspeaker came on and said, “Okay, the moment of prayer has stopped,” and as that came on the assistant coach walked out and said, “President Kennedy’s dead.” He had a friend at Parkland Hospital, and when they brought the body in it was pretty clear that he was dead. We knew he was not one to make things up.
Brewer: Someone came into the dining room where we were having lunch. I think it was the manager of the place who was an acquaintance. He came over to our table, just my wife, Martha and I, just the two of us, and said the radio has just reported that President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas. I thought it can’t be and then the next question, how serious was it. I asked that question and he said they didn’t know. They hadn’t said anything to that effect and then I remember a businessman from Decatur came through the dining room and made a comment about how happy he was at the news or something to that effect. About that time the radio reported that he was not expected to live. It was a few short minutes that it was reported that he had died.
Collins: I was in Tallahassee Florida. I was finishing my undergraduate degree. I was a senior. I was taking a course in comparative politics under a professor Robert Bone. I can remember the building I was in and I was sitting down in the 3rd row in the left side, that’s how vivid it was. He [Bone] had been a diplomat in Indonesia and we were studying Indonesian politics and they were very fearful at the PKI was going to take over and we were discussing that. I remember the lecture. And then the head of the department came in and said the president had been shot and we were just all kind of stunned. He continued the lecture, I even have the notes for it, somewhere packed away. Then the same guy came in about a half our later and said the president’s dead. We just all thought the war had started.
Brown: I was coming down the library steps, the old main library at Tennessee Tech, it had two flights, a left one and a right one, and I was coming down the left hand flight of steps and about two steps from the top someone at the bottom called up to us what was happening. I can take you to the step today and show you which one.
Dvonch: I was in my seventh grade classroom. We had televisions in the classroom . . . we could see it right then and there. We saw it unfolding. It was very striking as a child.
Adapted from Oral History Interviews by Holly Howell, Sara Curley, Ben Woodall, Haley Rester, Smith Ann Burley, Katie Dover, and Robert McNeill.