JFK Reflections


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.JFK Collage Friday (3)L to R: (Top Row) Governor Albert Brewer, Professor of Law and Government; William Mike Howell, Professor of Biology; William Nunnelley, Senior Editor and Director of Public Relations at Samford; Marlene Rikard, Professor of History; Wilton H. Bunch, Professor of Philosophy; (Middle Row) Jennings Marshall, Professor of Economics; Larry Davenport, Professor of Biology; (Bottom Row) Ellen McLaughlin, Professor of Biology; H. Hugh Floyd, Professor of Sociology; Joe McDade, class of 1961;  Elizabeth Wells, Special Collection Archivist 

Which was more impactful for you: the JFK Assassination, the Nixon resignation, or 9/11?

McLaughlin: Coming from NY and knowing some people who worked in those buildings – [they] were not killed, but they did go across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home – I would say that had more of an impact than either Nixon or Kennedy, because in both of those, there was a resolution— there was a transition that our government had provided for, our system of government.  9-11 there’s still not… there’s still too much emotion all wrapped up in that.  There’s no resolution yet for these people.

Nunnelley: I thought that the Kennedy assassination probably was more impactful because it was so shocking.  It may be simply because I was up there marching in that funeral procession after Kennedy was shot and seeing those hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets.  We marched from the Capital, down to the White House and then over to the church where the funeral procession was held. And then we marched from there past the Lincoln Memorial and across Arlington Bridge to Arlington Cemetery.  We didn’t go into the cemetery, but . . . right outside and we could hear the funeral being conducted.  The guy that blew “Taps” made a mistake on one of his notes which was an unfortunate thing.  Air Force One flew over and all the dignitaries were there.

Rikard: They’re all different. The assassination was of someone that I admired and had policies that I identified with. Nixon I did not like from the very beginning. I used to almost yell at the T.V. when he came on and was lying to us and you knew he was lying. So I was glad when he resigned. I was upset that he was still going to get a pension, but I was glad that he resigned and that we were through with him. 9/11, I was at a different age and it was a different world. It was a world where we had suddenly become aware of terrorism. They’re different events and I don’t know how you compare them. It’s apples and oranges.

Marshall: Definitely 9/11. I mean, if you look at it, we’ve had a number of presidents killed in the past. This was a terrible thing, but it was something that had happened before. The tragedy of Kennedy being killed was over with Oswald being killed by Ruby. With 9/11, with the terrorists killing all those people, and it wasn’t over. You knew that was just the beginning. A terrible beginning.

Brewer: They are all so different.  They all represent failure.  In terms of tragedy — the magnitude of tragedy [of] 9/11 would have been probably greater.  In terms of failure of the system of government in which we take such pride and for which so many have died . . . it just failed.  The person [Nixon] we selected to lead proved unworthy of the trust that was placed in him.  That is sad, a personal failure like that is sad.   The Kennedy assassination just represents an act of violence for what reason we don’t know.  When a flower is just taken from among us — we were deprived of the results of his vision.  He had a vision, a great vision.  Every leader has a dream of the way he wants to go; some are stronger than others.  Few would have been as strong as John Kennedy was with his and his sincerity of purpose.  Our nation, his generation, and the generations to come were deprived of the realization of that dream.

Mayfield: Oh I felt the most impact from the war in Vietnam.  That’s the big if — if Kennedy had lived would we have gotten stuck in Vietnam? I really think that Vietnam, it took ten years, and had more of an impact. There’s catastrophe, then there’s ongoing catastrophe. We can often bind our wounds after catastrophe, but to see people sent off to die, over and over again, in my opinion was just devastating.

McDade: Each one is different, each one has their own unique connection with history and that was a loss of a president.  We had lost presidents before, some died in office and that was a tragic thing.  But I think when terrorists attack you in your own country it is a different experience, so they are unique in their own experience.

Bunch: I followed the Nixon resignation much more closely, the most closely of those three.  I think because I am older and more thoughtful, probably 9/11 had a bigger effect on me because I could imagine outcomes that could be disasters.  I was fascinated by Nixon, but I don’t think I worried that the nation was ever going to fall.  Whereas 9/11, I could easily imagine World War III, and so I think that probably had the biggest effect.

Dvonch: Oh, personally?  Nixon.  I was in Washington D.C. going to college during Watergate and I was taking a class taught by a congressional aid on politics in the election.  and so I volunteered at the White House and I volunteered for Spiro Agnew, opening his mail.  And I wrote Christmas cards for congressmen. So I was very involved and it just totally mesmerized me and also disappointed me. Because of my personal experience being in Washington at that time, I felt like I was experiencing that history, as opposed to just observing 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination. I had met Spiro Agnew, I had been in the Nixon White House.  It was more real.

Wells: I was angry at Nixon. I was angry because he didn’t have to do that to win. He had been so good with China.  Yet when 9/11 happened, I couldn’t believe. I couldn’t understand it. It was so loud. I thought, ‘what is happening?’ I saw it, then I saw the second one hit and realized this is real.  It was just incredulous. I had to teach a class in here that afternoon on the Civil War. Can you imagine what that was like to teach a class on the Civil War on 9/11?

Floyd: 9/11. . . 9/11 was a global issue.  It disturbed me more.  Not necessarily because the towers were attacked and the pentagon was attacked.  Globalization . . . means we are right in the middle of it.  9/11 was so powerful and [it was] symbolic to attack the trade center which was the center of global capitalism and to attack the Pentagon which was the center of global militarism because we are the big guys.

Davenport: Well, this will be unpopular, but I would say the Kennedy assassination, because I was at such an impressionable age.  After that, it was just like the innocence was all gone. The Nixon resignation, we applauded that, we knew it was coming.  That was not a shock.  Now, 9/11, I’m still trying to make sense of it.  But, the first loss of innocence was Kennedy.

Howell: 9/11.  That was the first time we had really been attacked here by a foreign nation.  And so many people got killed. I remember exactly where I was when that happened too. We all thought it was a small plane to begin with, but when we found out it was a jumbo jet, it was crazy.  I was watching the TV when the other plane came in and I KNEW it wasn’t an accident.  We watched the buildings crumble, fall to the earth.  We saw people standing up there and jumping.  I think that had more of an effect on me.  I mean, those people went to work that morning and they had wives and husbands and kids and they never came home. But my daily life didn’t really change after [the Kennedy assassination and Watergate].  Everyone’s lives were changed immediately.  We went straight to war, then we went into Iraq, and the war is still going on. The economy tanked. We are still reeling from that one event.  It rocked the world.

Adapted from Oral History Interviews by Holly Howell, Sara Curley, Ben Woodall, Haley Rester, Smith Ann Burley, Katie Dover, Lauren Ziemer and Robert McNeill.


Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee_Harvey_Oswald_arrest_card_1963 (2)

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.

JFK Thursday

L to R: (Top Row) John Mayfield, Professor of History; Lowell Vann, Professor of Art; Marlene Rikard, Professor of HistoryLarry Davenport, Professor of Biology; (Middle Row)  Judge John Carroll, Dean of Cumberland School of Law; Jennings Marshall, Professor of Economics; James Brown, Professor of History; (Bottom Row) William Collins, Professor of Political Science; Harold Hunt, Retired Samford Theatre Department ChairWilliam Mike Howell, Professor of Biology; Governor Albert Brewer, Professor of Law and Government; Brad Bishop, Professor of Law

What were your reactions to the arrest/murder of Lee Harvey Oswald? Was he the lone gunman? Why was Kennedy assassinated?

Bishop: I remember that he [Oswald] was arrested.  I remember seeing on television a live shot of him being shot and killed unexpectedly by a person who had not been mentioned up until that time.  I think the thing that went through everyone’s minds was — set up; that it was a designed plan, but no one ever really knew what happened.  History doesn’t really support that, but I think that everybody at the time when it happened was even more afraid then because there seemed to be a cover up to make it difficult to figure out exactly what happened.

Brewer: You may recall a man named Jack Garrison, who was the DA in New Orleans who alleged the conspiracy and got an indictment maybe, but nothing came of it, so I am not sure that there is any evidence or significant evidence that anyone was implicated other than Oswald.  I have no idea and I never let myself get caught up in the investigations or the allegations of the Communist plot.  I never felt that there was enough information to reach a definite conclusion one way or the other.  Oswald was undoubtedly an unbalanced person.

Carroll:  It was absolute shock that here I am watching television and watching the perpetrator that killed President Kennedy and then all of the sudden there was another assassination.  It is hard to describe how unsettling all this was.  Here is a country . . . built on the rule of law — that there was a political process — and all of the sudden these two prominent murders and then of course five years later Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Brown: It was so quick, just three days later, you couldn’t help but think conspiracy.  The fact that Oswald had the Cuban and Russian connections . . . . You really didn’t want to know if it had been a Russian plot because that would have meant war.

Collins: It was a hit. The guy came up and did what a professional hitperson would do. So he came up . . . and didn’t even have to aim the gun. Ruby was a mobster.

Rester: The [Warren Commission] findings just weren’t solid enough for me. While I didn’t think it was a conspiracy, I left room for it to be. But over the years, as I read more and thought more, I pretty well ruled it out. It was a lone, individual working to do the unthinkable.

One of the things that puzzled me though is how Oswald was able to make that shot from that distance. And at a moving target and hit several people in that car. That was a little problematic — especially with people saying they heard shots coming from other directions.

Rikard: I’ve never been much of a conspiracy advocate, I think often individual people do terrible things on their own and I’ve never seen anything that convinced me that there was a conspiracy.

Marshall: How does this Night Club guy who’s just this shadowy character, how does he get past all these FBI and police and everybody and . . . walk up to Oswald and shoot him? It was just beyond belief.  That made people think Oswald knew something that somebody didn’t want him to be able to tell. So everybody’s thinking, Who’s behind it? Was the mob behind it? Was Cuba behind it? Was Lyndon Johnson behind it? Does it have something to do with Marilyn Monroe? All this wild speculation.

But it was just strange to see somebody shot live on television. Now there’s all these reality shows, but this was real. There he was, just Bam. Shot right there and killed right there on T.V.

I got to go home on Sunday for Church leave [from military school]. You got to go home on Sunday to go to church. So my dad came out and picked me up and my roommate came with me. We went to church then we went to my parent’s house and my mother was fixing Sunday dinner, and we were sitting around the T.V. watching the coverage [of] the assassination. It was the only thing on T.V. They had all this coverage about Lee Harvey Oswald, and you see him being transferred from the jail to somewhere, and you see this guy walk around this policeman and walk towards Oswald, and you hear the shot.  My roommate said, “He just shot him!” And I said, “Naw, he didn’t, did he?” And my dad said, “I think he did!” I said, “What?!” We’re all watching it, but you still didn’t believe it.

Mayfield: On Sunday we hauled off to church which wasn’t very cheery either, and we were coming back in this big white Pontiac, and Walter Cronkite with CBS News came on the radio, and said that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot. Where does this end? First, you have the President shot, then you have the prime suspect shot. I went home and turned on the TV and saw the replay of it, of Oswald’s shooting, and I couldn’t believe it. They took this guy [Oswald] out of the car across from a parking garage with nobody in front of him, and a crowd milling about, and even at the ripe old age of eighteen I realized that was in technical terms, stupid.

Hunt: The fact that Ruby was so irritated with him [Oswald] and felt that close to the Kennedys and wanted to do that for the Kennedys. It was an amazing time.  I know Johnson really wanted to be president; he would have liked to be president when Kennedy went in, but I can’t believe that Johnson would be implicated; I just don’t think so.

Davenport: It was an amazing shot, that’s the part that gets me.  Oswald was depicted as this Communist trouble maker.  I remember, and, of course, this was a time of constant [fear of] Communism and conspiracy theories.  We were all, as kids, junior G-men, looking for Commies under every rock and, so, we didn’t have any doubt that Oswald did it.  We didn’t have any doubt that he was connected to the U.S.S.R. and the only downside of Jack Ruby killing him is that we would never know the connection.

Howell: And for him to be shot by the owner of a nightclub and a sleazy type guy? You say, “Now who paid HIM to kill Oswald?”  I always felt that he was a hit man for somebody.  I was watching the very moment when they brought him out and Jack Ruby shot and killed him.  Another traumatic event.  Whatever Oswald knew was gone forever.

Floyd: The guy that killed him was portrayed as having some collusionary connections with other elements that wanted Kennedy dead.  That made the conspiracy theory much more viable for sure.

At the time, I thought it was very interesting because the media portrayed him as kind of conspiratorially related to Kennedy’s hostility towards communism and capital links of the US.  Whether it was the Cosa Nostra kinds of relations or in Cuba.  I didn’t think there was an argument convincing enough for me to take a position.

Vann: I think if he [Oswald] had been kept alive and been put on trial maybe those things would have come out, but it just sort of closed the door and you didn’t know what was on the other side of that door.


Adapted from Oral History Interviews by Holly Howell, Sara Curley, Ben Woodall, Haley Rester, Smith Ann Burley, Katie Dover, Lauren Ziemer and Robert McNeill.