John F. Kennedy

JFK pic

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 Square

L to R: (Top Row) John Mayfield, Professor of History; Elizabeth Wells, Special Collection Archivist; James Brown, Professor of History; Governor Albert Brewer; Harold Hunt, Retired Samford Theatre Department Chair; (Middle Row) Wilton H. Bunch, Professor of Philosophy; William Nunnelley, Senior Editor and Director of Public Relations at Samford; Joe McDade, class of 1961;  (Bottom Row) William Mike Howell, Professor of Biology; Marlene Rikard, Professor of History; William Collins, Professor of Political Science; H. Hugh Floyd, Professor of Sociology

What were your views (or your family’s views) of JFK/Kennedys before his assassination?

Howell: Most of the people where I grew up, in south Alabama, did not like the Kennedys . . . and they did not like the idea of integration; they wanted everything to be separate. There were lots of lies that would go around about the Kennedys and people would make up untrue stories about them to try to make them sound like a worse family than they were.  People said that they were trying to push integration on all of the south and no one wanted any of that.  You could hear this talk going on all the time.

Bunch: I was a rock-rib Republican. I didn’t vote for him. Despite the fact that I was really a Republican and I had Catholic biases . . . I thought that he had done very well.

Dvonch: as a child, . . . my views were that he was young, so much younger than Eisenhower, that he was funny, that people liked him, that he had little kids, . . ., I could relate . . . .  So my view of him was a very positive one. Well, I grew up in a Catholic family, so they were very positive because of his Catholicism.  My mother was Irish, so she was very favorable because of the Irish connection.  I grew up in Chicago.  Chicago was controlled by Irish politicians, and in fact some people claim it was the Irish Chicago political machine that got him elected. So the whole city of Chicago was very much behind him.  We would have his press conferences broadcasted on our channel 9, WGN, and so when we’d come home after school, instead of cartoons we’d see the president.  [Vicki (Dvonch) Bunch grew up in Chicago.  She experienced the JFK assassination as a seventh grade student and followed the event via television.  She graduated from Loyola University/ Stritch School of Medicine in 1976 and proceeded to practice Orthopedic Surgery.  She is married to Wilton Bunch.]

Floyd: I viewed him as a progressive that was a reasonable progressive.  I didn’t have any kind of reservations about his religious affiliations.  My family was the same way. They didn’t feel that it was a threat.  They were pretty progressive. Even though they were evangelical Protestants they were not exclusionists.

Rikard: He was one of my early political heroes.  When I became eligible to vote during his assent into politics and the presidency, I found him to be a very interesting person. He was young. He represented change, he represented a more liberal view of life and of politics. He had a very attractive personality, a very dynamic personality that . . . attracted a lot of young people about my age in the 1960s.

Brewer: He seemed to have an aptitude for governing, for understanding the art of the possible, for implementing programs that were well conceived and broadly beneficial.  I just had a very favorable impression of him.  It was unusual being from the South to have that sense because he was looked on with disfavor by a lot of people in the South who were interested in politics because he was a New Englander but, there was a sense of moderation in him and a reasonableness that left one with feeling that you didn’t have to fear him.  But, there is some people whose views that are seen as so radical that one doesn’t want to subscribe to them.  He was not that way.

Wells: My family was Baptist. There was discussion at that time about JFK being Catholic. Would he be able to make decisions on his own? Or would the church interfere? That was a big question being asked at that time.  I don’t think my parents, that I recall, espoused that at all.  They were more concerned that he, being such a young person, be able to run the country.

Mayfield: My family was very conservative. They didn’t like him. I liked him.  I liked his style. I liked his politics. I liked his sense of humor and his commanding presence.  I was young at the time, and he was a refreshing change from the Eisenhower years. Eisenhower was a good man, but he was kind of dull. Kennedy brought in style.  People like that attract you. But mostly I liked his sense of humor; he was just really good at press conferences, and responding to the give and take.

Hunt: I voted for John Kennedy. I’m not sure why. I’m a Republican. I’ve been a Republican for years and years and years, but there was something about getting caught up in the Kennedy aura.

McDade:  I hate to admit it but I did not vote for him.  I voted for Richard Nixon . . . .  But as he [John F. Kennedy] became president, I became very interested in his administration and was very impressed with . . . what he was doing.  After the Cuban Missile Crisis, I became more and more impressed with President Kennedy and came more to appreciate his role as president . . . .

Collins: I was brought up in my grandfather’s house and I voted in 1960. I was 18 and living in Georgia[1], and I voted for Nixon because my grandfather voted for Nixon and he had not voted for a Republican in his entire life and he said the Kennedys didn’t have brains in their head.  I didn’t know what he meant but I kind of got it later. He didn’t like him because he was Catholic.  The other thing about Kennedy was that the South did not like him and he sounded very liberal for the time.  He was not as it turned out, . . . .

Brown: He was young and attractive and articulate and bright and surrounded himself with bright people.  He got a lot of us involved in politics.

Nunnelly: I don’t recall that I had strong views either way.  He was the president and the president is revered in most cases, . . . .  I remember that I may have been surprised when he won in 1960.  [He was] very popular, you know, young, vibrant, . . . which was a bit of a contrast to the presidents that had been before him.

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


[1] Georgia lowered their voting age from 21 to 18 in 1943.

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