Esther Earl died at age 16 from cancer. Her parents have published a collection of her writings.
Today, Here & Now is marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, on Nov. 22, 1963, with four hours of special coverage.
(Audio for this hour is at the top of the page)
At this time 50 years ago, President Kennedy was in Fort Worth, Texas, getting ready to leave for Dallas. Today, the city of Dallas is beginning its first-ever city-organized commemoration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In the 50 years since Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza, residents of Dallas have had an ambivalent relationship with how to mark what happened in the plaza. There is no Kennedy statue in Dallas. And yesterday the city paved over the X that conspiracy theorists place on the actual spot where Kennedy was shot in his motorcade. We speak with KERA reporter Lauren Silverman in Dealey Plaza.
The shots were fired at 12:30 pm CST, but up until that point, the Texas trip had generated big crowds and cheers, despite the fact that there was a strong anti-Kennedy sentiment in the Lone Star state. Historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School joins us to discuss the political context for the trip, which came a year before Kennedy planned to run for reelection.
In the months after President Kennedy was assassinated, many prominent poets wrote elegies for the fallen leader. Among them were W.H. Auden and John Berryman. But others couldn’t summon the words. The poet Randall Jarrell tried to write an elegy but could write no more than “the shining brown head.” Adam Gopnick joins us to discuss his recent article “Closer Than That” in The New Yorker, which traces the response of poets to the assassination.
In this hour, President Kennedy’s motorcade was making its way from the airport through the streets of downtown Dallas. At 12:30 CST / 1:30 EST, shots were fired at the president’s limo. Kennedy was mortally wounded and Texas Governor John Connally was also wounded. They were rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
We’re joined by Thomas Whalen, associate professor of social sciences at Boston University, to discuss Kennedy’s legacy, what was going on politically for him at the time and his relationship with Vice President Lyndon Johnson. We also touch down with KERA reporter Lauren Silverman in Dallas, Texas, who is reporting live from the city commemoration.
Meanwhile, Samuel Barber’s classic “Adagio for Strings” is a work that many Americans consider to be the country’s “unofficial” funeral music. It was played after the death of John F. Kennedy, as well the funerals of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein. Critics called it a work of pathos and cathartic passion that never leaves a dry eye. We speak with Barbara Heyman, author of “Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music,” who says it was not Barber’s intent to compose music that evokes such sadness.
At this time 50 years ago today, President Kennedy was the emergency room at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Doctors at Parkland Memorial Hospital were working frantically to save the president, but the effort was futile. Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. CST / 2 p.m. EST. There was no official announcement for another half hour, but there were already news reports to that effect.
CBS TV anchor Walter Cronkite read the words “President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central standard time, 2 o’clock Eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago” to a stunned national audience.
The police hunt for the suspect was underway in downtown Dallas.
We’re joined by historian Steve Gillon, scholar-in-residence at the History Channel and professor of history at the University of Oklahoma. He’s also author of “Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live.”
Many Americans today don’t have any memories of the Kennedy assassination. It’s just another chapter in a history textbook. We hear some thoughts from Sarah DiMagno, a senior at Lincoln High School in Lincoln, Nebraska.
We also get an update on the events in Dallas from KERA reporter Lauren Silverman
President Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital about an hour ago, at 1 p.m. CST / 2 p.m. EST. The news was setting in around the world. Thousands were gathering in Berlin, West Germany, (see video) to mourn the president, who had delivered his famous “I Am a Berliner” speech there just a few months earlier. The president’s casket was brought onto Air Force One for the trip back to Washington. Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office on the plane and became the nation’s 36th president.
A young man who would later be identified as Lee Harvey Oswald was in police custody.
We speak with Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. His latest book is “The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.” Sabato’s recent article in The Washington Post is “Five myths about John F. Kennedy”
We also speak with historian Peniel Joseph, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. Joseph’s op-ed in The New York Times earlier this year said Kennedy’s finest moment happened on June 11, 1963, when he gave a speech on civil rights that almost didn’t happen. (See timeline of Kennedy speeches)
Thomas Whalen, associate professor of social sciences at Boston University, and Kevin Cullen, a columnist for The Boston Globe, also join us.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAPS")
HOBSON: "Taps" played at Arlington National Cemetery this morning in Arlington, Virginia, to mark the 50th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We'll have the news of today, but we're also going to follow the timeline of this day 50 years ago as it happened.
YOUNG: I think we just hear in those "Taps" the same sort of hesitation that happened 50 years ago when "Taps" were played at Kennedy's funeral. And at this hour in 1963, President Kennedy was still in Fort Worth, Texas. He would soon board Air Force One for Dallas, which today is holding its first ever city-sponsored commemoration in Dealey Plaza.
The city has a complicated relationship with this day. Fifty years ago, businessmen from Dallas were thrown out of cabs in New York. Hate mail arrived by the bag full from around the world, even though Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a Marxist drifter who rather liked Kennedy's push for civil rights.
Lauren Silverman is a reporter with KERA in Dallas. She's in Dealey Plaza. Lauren, we know an event is coming up, but what are you seeing now?
LAUREN SILVERMAN: Well, the crowds here are gathering and huddling as close as possible. It is freezing out. I think the high today is 42. So everyone is waiting for the event to begin in Dealey Plaza, where the assassination occurred.
YOUNG: Well, we know there were 5,000 tickets given out through a lottery, 13,000 people, though, really wanted them. What is the sense of people there? Do they want to participate in this day and embrace it? Do they want it to pass quickly because of the shadow on their city? What's the sense you get?
SILVERMAN: Well, I talked to a few women this morning, and most of the people here are either big history buffs, if they weren't alive when - 50 years ago, or they have a very distinct memory of where they were when the assassination happened and, as one woman put it to me, wanted to come full circle back to this moment today, here in Dallas, when it happened, and wants to see the city come around and recognize the history of it and finally, as you said, for the first time have an event for - in memory of John F. Kennedy.
YOUNG: Well, we know the city has also been a magnet for tourists from around the world, for conspiracy theorists, who put marks on the ground where bullets are believed to have struck the president. Those marks were removed this week. But it's awkward, the city is both attraction and reminder. Give us more of a sense of the city's complicated history.
SILVERMAN: Yeah, so the city has a very complicated history with what happened here. For many years, this city in some ways didn't want to open the wound that was November 22nd, 1963. So much like they paved over those X's that were in the sidewalk, they sort of swept what happened under the rug, and this is the first time that people are coming to terms, in a way, with what happened.
Back in 1963, you have to remember Dallas looked a lot different than it does today. It was a divided city. It was a Republican city. It was 75 percent white. Right now the population is 42 percent Hispanic. So it was - although the schools were not integrated yet. So things looked very different here in '63, and people welcomed Kennedy, but there was also leaders who were loud and vocal opponents of the change that he was trying to push through.
YOUNG: Yeah, we mentioned the city received hate mail after the assassination. But also the mayor received hate mail before. As you said, some people were not happy that Kennedy was coming. And let's just listen. In the days after the assassination, then-Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell, who rode in the presidential motorcade, spoke about what kind of legacy he thought Dallas would have after the assassination.
MAYOR EARLE CABELL: I don't think that this will hurt Dallas as a city because I believe that the people of the nation realize that this was not an act of Dallas, not an act of the true thinking of Dallas. This was the act of a maniac.
YOUNG: Well, he might have been right in the long run, but Lauren, as you know, not in the short run because, you know, people would send mail addressed to you people who killed the president in Texas, and it would go to Dallas.
SILVERMAN: Yeah, I mean, he in the short term definitely was hopeful and optimistic and overly so because the scar that was left on the city of Dallas, not only on the city but on people who were afraid to say that they were even from Dallas when they would travel around, even around the world because it was seen as just this horrible, evil place.
So in the short term it wasn't seen that way, and the city has worked hard to try and change that perception, you know, with the Cowboys and with the show "Dallas," and there's been various reincarnations of the city that are still continuing. And - but as you said, the mayor did receive hate letters. He received letters that accused him and other people of being complicit in the plot to kill the president or to not protect him.
Maybe they didn't pull the trigger, but as one of my colleagues put it, they certainly helped to load the gun.
YOUNG: Yeah, well, a part of the mayor's - well, part of Kennedy's undelivered speech will be read at the commemoration today, and as you said, hopefully a lot of healing for that city. Lauren Silverman, a reporter with NPR station KERA in Dallas, speaking to us from Dealey Plaza, Lauren thanks so much.
SILVERMAN: Thank you, talk to you soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.