Remembering Kennedy

Nov. 21, 2013 @ 04:46 PM

Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Today, people are still fascinated by the Kennedy family and rattled by the assassination. Kennedy is still the subject of numerous films, books and television shows. His wife, Jackie Kennedy, is still a fashion icon that intrigues many. The Kennedy family's political lineage continues with Joseph Kennedy III, a freshman congressman from Massachusetts, who is Kennedy's great-nephew and Robert Kennedy's grandson. 

Kennedy, the 35th president, is one of four presidents who were assassinated in office, following Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley. While attempts have been made on other presidents, Kennedy is the most recent presidential assassination. 

Echoes of the shooting rippled across the nation, impacting almost every citizen. 

Resident Bea Colson remembers the shooting like it was yesterday. She remembers every detail down to what she was wearing and how her hair was styled, she said. 

She was a senior at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. She said she was walking across campus from a gym class to art class when a student ran to her and said that President Kennedy had been shot. 

"We ran back to the dorm to sit together in what was a commons room," Colson said. "We sat there until they announced that he had died."

Colson said they were "awestruck" by the news and traumatized. 

She said at the time she had been registering people to vote. The voting age was still 21 and at 20 she could not vote, but could register. She said at that time, the literacy test was still required for registration and they would rehearse the Preamble to the Constitution with people. 

She remembered going door-to-door in Charlotte, registering people to vote in the upcoming election. 

Like many, Colson felt a personal connection to the Kennedys.

"I felt like I knew the Kennedys because when I was in East Union...when he announced that he was going to run for the presidency, the newspapers...carried all the information, then Life (magazine) had carried all the information," she recalled. "We were just mesmerized by them and when he was killed it was really traumatizing." 

"We had dreams and aspirations," she said. 

Colson said at the time she was talking to her mom about joining the Peace Corps and had some friends who joined. The Peace Corps is a program where college graduates are sent around the world for two years to assist people in other nations. It was established by Kennedy in 1961, through an executive order. 

"We were getting ready for all those things that made us Kennedy-era people," Colson said. "Everything just came to a halt." 

"It was an opportunity for a new hope," she said. She said she had been very involved with the Freedom Riders in Charlotte and had been busy with marches. That year she was involved in an exchange with Johnson C. Smith University, where white students came to their campus. 

"We were involved in all of that and I think President Kennedy had given us a new breath of urgency to get in there and get things done," she said. "Then, of course, during his tenure as president he had sent U.S. Marshals here and... (we) felt like (we) had support and thing were going to get better."

"There was a new hope. Then it was almost like it was squashed out," Colson said.  

She said they were "tranquilized" from November until about March. 

"We were just in a state of total disbelief," she said. "It was almost like everything stopped." 

She said classes were canceled the rest of the week and weekend events were canceled. Many students went home to be with their families. Classes were also canceled the day of the funeral. 

"It was an experience that we had never had before," Colson said. "The rest of us just sort of held on to each other." 

Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore was working in Norwood, in Stanly County, in the insurance business at the time, he said. He was about 25.

He said he remembers someone telling him, perhaps a resident. 

"It's something you don't believe," he said. "It's hard to look for a television or a radio or something to get the news"

He said he found a radio later on, which confirmed what he had been told. 

"Like everybody else that afternoon, you're glued to the television for the rest of the night," he said. 

Resident Stephen Austen was an eighth-grade student in New Orleans at the time, he said. 

He wrote in an e-mail that their principal came to each classroom personally to deliver the news. 

He said they had a "ring-side seat" to the various investigations, particularly the inquiries of District Attorney Jim Garrison in New Orleans. Garrison opened an investigation into the assassination and remains a controversial figure. Oswald lived in New Orleans prior to the assassination, something Garrison examined in his investigation. 

Nancy Rorie was 20 when Kennedy was assassinated. She said she remembers it "vividly." She was at home with a five-month-old baby, watching television while rocking in a rocking chair.

She said she was watching "whatever soap opera was on" when Walter Kronkite broke in on the news to report that he had been shot. He had not been pronounced dead at the time. She said she jumped up and called her mom, who was working in the historic courthouse at the time.

"Everybody...was glued to the television watching it," she said. "After that it was a very, I think, sad time, but Lyndon Johnson just jumped right in and did everything he could to get the things passed that Kennedy was so passionate about." 

"That helped ease the pain, to know that civil rights was going to be worked on...I think that lifted the mood somewhat." 

Colson also praised President Johnson in offering some comfort to the nation and a sense of security.

This week has been marked with numerous television specials as people stop and reflect on what happened 50 years ago.