Officials, politicians, journalists recall assassination of JFK

November 21, 2013 

Here are edited letters from local officials, reporters and politicians:

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray

I was in fifth grade, Mrs. Jackman's class. The principal's voice, Mr. Moore, came over the PA system to tell us that the president had been shot. Later, in PE class, he told us the president had died from the wounds.

Ed Staats of Crestwood, former Associated Press bureau chief for Kentucky

My career as an Associated Press newsman had begun just two years prior to that fateful Nov. 22 day in Dallas.

I had spent the day prior covering President Kennedy's visit in Houston, assigned to help the Washington AP political reporter traveling with the White House press pool by writing sidebar stories.

It was my job to cover President Kennedy's speech at a "Golden 27" appreciation dinner for veteran Texas Congressman Albert Thomas. Those attending included Mrs. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Gov. John Connally and some 3,300 more political admirers of Thomas, who was suffering from cancer of the spine.

My story began, "President Kennedy took time out of a hectic five-city tour of Texas last night to help 3,300 persons pay tribute to a tall Texas congressman, Albert Thomas."

So on the 22nd, the president since departed from Houston, I had the morning off, and my wife and I were returning from the grocery when drivers yelled at us out their windows to turn on our car radio.

I immediately drove to the AP office at the Houston Chronicle to staff the bureau and begin several days of nonstop reporting and writing.

Nearly all other Texas AP staffers converged on the main bureau in Dallas. We all wrote every sort of assassination follow-up story imaginable in the days and weeks to follow.

And stories and books continue to be written 50 years later.

Gov. Steve Beshear

"I was a first-semester sophomore at UK, and I remember that I had just left my Latin class at the Funkhouser Building when someone said the president had been shot. I stayed glued to the television for the next several days, trying to make sense of the unreal events."

Georgia Powers, former state senator and civil rights activist

I was working in 1962 for Wilson Wyatt. He was running for the U.S. Senate.

During that time, we had a reception at the Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville, and I met Jack Kennedy.

He was so charming and much more handsome than his picture. He certainly made a good impression.

I was at home in Louisville on that Nov. 22, watching TV, when I heard the dreadful news. I was shocked. How could this young, vibrant president be dead? Little did we know that in the next few years assassins' bullets would also bring down Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

State Sen. Julian Carroll, former Kentucky governor

I was working in Paducah at that time as a lawyer. My law partner, Lloyd Emery, and I had taken a trip to the McCracken County Courthouse that day. He went inside to file some papers, and I stayed in the car.

I was listening to the radio when CBS News broke that the president had been shot in Dallas. The news broke shortly afterwards that the president was dead. You could hear Walter Cronkite announce the president's death, and then CBS just started playing appropriate background music.

I was trying to get all the details. I told my law partner when he got back.

It was a tremendous shock, so hard to believe. I didn't want to believe it.

No one could believe that anyone in this country could get such access to the president.

I think most people stayed glued to the TV that weekend. On that Sunday, we saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.

You sometimes think how different the world would have been if Kennedy had lived.

That horrible moment changed so many things.

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson of Louisville

I was a senior at Louisville Seneca High School and was home alone that day, preparing for the senior play that night, The Music Man.

I was in the orchestra, a French horn player. We were let out of school early for the play.

Like everyone else, I had the TV on that afternoon. My dad was working at the grocery, and I think my mother was there, too.

The news broke and I was dumbfounded. I was 18 years old and just couldn't believe it.

I can't remember if we had the school play that night. I doubt that we did.

Former Lexington Mayor Pam Miller

We were in Washington, D.C., when Kennedy was shot and were devastated. I was a reporter for the Congressional Quarterly and had to write the story of Kennedy's funeral for our wire and weekly magazine. Our whole newsroom was crying off and on for two days.

Former Lexington police Chief Anthany Beatty

I was in seventh-grade English class on the tragic day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Our teacher came into our classroom and made the solemn announcement that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas. The Lexington Junior High School (now the Lexington Traditional Magnet School) had just been somewhat integrated, and my seventh-grade class was not diverse. I distinctly remember the silence and uncertainty in the classroom as tears filled her eyes. This was very frightening for a group of seventh-graders who were dealing with issues of race, war and social upheaval. I can assure you that we all remember the emotion and fear that we experienced that day. I then remember the school-wide moment of silence as our principal made the announcement and led us in a prayer for our country. As a young man growing up in Lexington, I witnessed, the travesty and injustice of racism. President Kennedy represented the first glimpse of hope and change for the betterment of all people, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or age.

Al Smith, Lexington, founding host of KET's 'Comment on Kentucky':

The Kiwanis Club lunch meeting had just broken up when someone on the street said there was a shooting in Dallas. A few minutes later, I saw Walter Cronkite on the TV confirm that the president was dead, and brush away a tear.

As I watched the TV, I remembered seeing Kennedy speak at a campaign rally in Bowling Green three years before, and the laughter at the end. Mayor Bob Graham presented him a country ham, covered with the green mold of smokehouse seasoning. After a quizzical look, Kennedy smiled. "The bravest person in Massachusetts history was the first guy who ate an oyster," he said.

Much of Dallas seethed with hatred of the president because he had finally taken a stand for civil rights for blacks. That's what Atlanta's liberal editor Ralph McGill told us on the radio that night.

That was some of the depressing comments a friend and I heard driving back from a 12-step meeting on addiction recovery in Clarksville, Tenn. We were alcoholics in a fragile new-won sobriety, and JFK supporters. But we didn't drink that night. The years that followed were so grim that a monk at Gethsemini near Bardstown later told me he woke up Jan. 1, 1970, and suddenly shouted, "Thank you, Jesus! The damn Sixties are over!"

These accounts were compiled by Herald-Leader reporters Greg Kocher and Jack Brammer.

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