Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Thirty nine years ago the Kingdom of Camelot died when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Decades later I feel that a part of America died that day in Dallas. I heard the news of the Dallas shooting when an announcement was made by our Superintendent over the school's intercom system. I remember feeling stunned as well as having a great sense of revenge.  

Our country stood still for that terrible weekend in November of 1963. I felt as though I lost a close family member. Our whole family wept openly and we were riveted the television and said the rosary as a family. President Kennedy was our President, a fellow Catholic. Our family was one of the relatively few Catholic families in town. When John F. Kennedy was elected, there were approximately 30% Catholics in the country. There was nearly a perfect correlation between parental political preference and that of the children. During the 1960 election, we had pitched debates about the Presidential election. Nixon was the clear choice of my classmates reflecting the fact that Humboldt had a large Republican contingent. 

The descendents of the early Prince Edward Islanders tended to be Republican and Protestant. Catholics tended to be Democrats. There also seemed to be a correlation between the size of the farm and the predisposition to vote Republican. The bigger the farm, the more fervent the Republican. There were exceptions to this rule, but the small farmer of Humboldt tended to be Democrats. The workers on the railroad and the depot personnel of St. Vincent and Noyes also leaned in the direction of Democrats. At least locally, the debate over the merits of a Kennedy Presidency often descended into arguments about Papal country of the country.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the chasm between Catholics and Protestants was great. By mid-century, at least in the Humboldt area, there were few religious differences and in fact, many intermarriages between Catholics and Protestants. Still, the Kennedy Presidential candidacy was marked by religious prejudice even in our Red River Valley.   

I know that all of the Catholics I knew in Kittson County were proud when the first Catholic President was elected. I think that JFK and Jackie won over many Protestants with their glamour and fresh approach that replaced the dowdy Eisenhowers. During the campaign, I had many arguments with the Loer girls about why Kennedy was better than Nixon for our country. The Loers--Diane and Carolyn were close childhood friends but we did differ on our politics. The Loers were also deeply upset by the Kennedy assassination.

I wonder how an event 39 years ago can still resurrect tears and even despair. My memory of my schoolmates' reaction to the assassination is dimmed by the decades. I can only resurrect my own memories with any accuracy. I remember going home on the bus as we had an early dismissal. Our family went shopping in Hallock on Friday evening. The stores were open but the shoppers were preoccupied with the tragedy. I remember going into Clay's Drugstore and buying candy and watching that wonderful display case of salted nuts revolve listening to conversations of the assassination. I think that the shoppers did not have Christmas on their mind that Friday night.

We lived in a black and white world in the early 1960s in N.W. Minnesota. Our little set was tuned to ABC because our set did not receive signals from CBS or NBC. The routine of those sad days continued but always in the background was the omnipresent grief from the death of our President. I remember seeing the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby live. The caisson drawn by black horses (fwhich earlier carried the body of Lincoln) is another memory.

I know that our country was changed by November 22, 1963. The events of 911 rekindled many of the emotions and collective angst we felt so many years ago in the early 1960s. Our little corner of N.W. Minnesota gathered together despite political differences and allegiances to grieve the loss of a family member.