JFK Reflections

John_F_Kennedy_Official_Portrait

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.

JFK Assassination Reaction

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 3

L to R: (Top Row) Elizabeth Wells, Special Collection Archivist; William Nunnelley, Senior Editor and Director of Public Relations at SamfordJames Brown, Professor of History; Brad Bishop, Professor of Law; William Collins, Professor of Political Science; (Middle Row) Marlene Rikard, Professor of History; Harold Hunt, Retired Samford Theatre Department Chair; Larry Davenport, Professor of Biology; (Bottom Row) Jennings Marshall, Professor of Economics; John Mayfield, Professor of History; Ellen McLaughlin, Professor of Biology; Governor Albert Brewer, Professor of Law and Government  

How did the news impact you? How did your world change (or did it)?

McLaughlin: It was an emotional time. I don’t think we thought the world was gonna end, and we were grateful for a country where you could have a peaceful transition.

Wells: The assassination was one thing but our world was topsy turvey in ways that we never had before.  In 1963, our whole life changed. It was never going to be the same. That one year: the president is assassinated, dogs and hoses in downtown. . . The reporters that [my dad] worked with were afraid. Seeing what happened, it was like, ‘I can’t believe this. This is really happening. It really happened.’ It was incredulous that this could happen to a president. I don’t know why we thought it couldn’t, but we had never had that before. Of course, there were assassinations that happened before, but I mean, good gravy! You never think about that.

Mayfield: Oh yeah. That was a pivotal moment, it was one of the worst days, the worst weeks of my life, it was just awful . . . I remember that very well.

Bishop:  I coached the debate team and . . . they were young liberal Democrats that liked Kennedy, much more so than the more conservative students on campus.  It was heartbreaking for them and I think it ultimately . . . changed some of their lives.  It was unexpected and there weren’t any real answers at the time and there still aren’t.  It is still a mystery.

Hunt:  We had television . . . and we just literally camped out for days it seemed like. The television was on 24 hours a day . . . but you just didn’t want to miss a minute of it, and you just got caught up in the history of it and the significance of it. And the pictures, I can still remember so much of those pictures on television . . . . It was sort of a lost weekend . . . .

Brown: I can not tell you I was politically conscious when I was 18, but JFK had brought a kind of air of youth and vigor . . . that eased us young folks into politics . . . . I changed my major a little over 7 months later from engineering to history and poli-sci because they weren’t talking about any of this stuff in engineering, they weren’t talking about what was going on in domestic affairs, they weren’t talking about what was going on in foreign affairs.  I suspect that was the single most important event that pushed me over the edge into humanities was Kennedy’s assassination.

Collins: Before the assassination, in my twenties, I was pretty much a believer that the United States was a great place in terms of what it had to offer to the rest of the world. But the experience of that assassination, the experience of Bob Kennedy being assassinated, and in particular Martin Luther King being assassinated, plus my experience with the Vietnam War suggested to me that America is not what it appears to be and that’s sort of been my opinion from that point on. I don’t go around announcing that, but it unhinged everything.  The initial reaction in my class was that this was the beginning of some kind of atomic attack. Then we went to the coffee shop and sat with friends and just didn’t say anything. It was kind of like Pearl Harbor, just a trauma.

Rikard: Your first political hero was gone, and . . . there’s Johnson who was a totally different personality thrown into a difficult situation. And at the same time you lived in Birmingham where all these other events were taking place as part of the civil rights movement. And I had seen a lot of the sit-ins and so forth because I was working downtown and I walked during my lunch hour. I didn’t see the demonstrations over at Kelly Ingram, but I saw some of the sit-ins and demonstrations downtown.  Even though I know now that JFK was drawn reluctantly into the civil rights issues, still he embodied a view that was different from what the gubernatorial administration in Alabama was displaying, and I was drawn to that. My political world changed not only because of the assassination of JFK, but also because everything was moving so fast on the civil rights movement. And it all became melded together. . . and Johnson drew upon the feelings of the country and wanted to do something in the memory of JFK.  What stands out vividly in my mind is the reaction of one of my coworkers. She was so crass! Because the administrators at the WMU[1] told us they were going to close the building down, go home. And this woman came up to me and said, “Well this is one way to get a holiday.”  I couldn’t believe that somebody could be that crass about the tragedy that had just occurred.  I don’t know why that has stuck with me. I guess just because it had been like somebody had stabbed you — that somebody would say something like that in the face of such a tragedy.

How did the news impact those around you (friends, family, etc)?

Davenport: My world didn’t change.  I did feel a tremendous loss, something unthinkable had happened, in broad daylight, to someone who had become a hero for that generation.  He was becoming a hero of mine.  Everything about him was positive.  Of course, we had that whole early 1960s happiness about us.  I think that whole generation was happy to be free of World War II and the Korean War. Of course, the Vietnam War was about to hit, but they were happy times and they were prosperous times, and our president was leading us through that.

Nunnelley: Well we were just sort of shocked . . . stunned.  You don’t think that that will happen.  Presidents had been shot, obviously . . . but it had been a long time since there had been any sort of violence like that related to the President. So it was just a very shocking moment.  I remember that day very well, even though it’s been almost fifty years.  I was a young coast guard recruit in boot camp at Cape May, New Jersey, which is not that far from Washington maybe a hundred and fifty miles or so.  They wanted to have representatives of all the branches of service to march in the funeral procession in Washington. . .We didn’t have much access to news, but the next morning we understood that they were going to take a group of us down to Washington.  And so the next morning they put us on buses and took us — this would be on Saturday, the next day, to the Baltimore Coast Guard station.  And we stayed there.  On Sunday they bused us over to Washington, and split us up into small groups.  So when we were on the bus going to that assignment, or maybe it was when we were going back up to Baltimore for the night, we heard somebody in the front of the bus say, “They’ve shot another one.”  Well that was when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas Police Station on Sunday afternoon.  And so Monday, we put on our dress blues and we all went and we lined up on the North side of the Capital for the funeral procession.

Brewer: There were so many heart-wrenching things that took place and there was such a pall of grieving just everywhere.  You not only had the unbelievable picture of the assassination of an attractive and popular young president, but you had the terrible grief on his young beautiful family, who in many ways were just an all-American family and then you had the uncertainty of who would do such a dastardly thing; is our country under siege?  How serious is this?  What does it mean?  What could we do?  And who would do such a thing?  You began wondering what steps will be taken in determining who was responsible.  It was a busy, hectic, bewildering time.  And it was strange that we had such strong impressions and recollections about it many, many years later.

Marshall: We had the special ceremony, and they actually covered it with the local T.V. station, our special parade with the flag.  My roommate, who was an outstanding trumpeter, played “Taps.” And everybody was very emotional. Everybody was shocked. It was just disbelief. It was kind of surreal. Everybody just sort of stood around.  It was just a disbelief, a shocking thing.  There was a lot of tension in those days, and there was speculation about Cuba and tension with Cuba and people wondered, will this end up causing a war with Cuba? Who did this? Why?

Dvonch: There were religious teachers and non-religious teachers in the Catholic school, the idea that this happened to him because he was a Catholic, that was the initial reaction — why else would they kill him?  There was that thought that somehow people killed Catholics.


[1] Women’s Missionary Union

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