Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.
November 22nd, 1963
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
On a bright and sunny day at 12:30PM in Dallas, Texas, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was making his way through the city as a campaign stop and to solve minor disputes within the Democratic party. Along with him was his wife, Jacqueline, and Texas governor John Connally. As his presidential limo and motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, the unthinkable happened: a series of shots rang out in rapid succession. The crowds panicked and screamed. Onlookers cried out to their horror that the president had been shot. In truth, three separate shots had been fired, two of them striking President Kennedy and one striking and wounding Governor Connally.
Dallas police and Secret Service agents tried to make sense of the situation, rushing up a grassy knoll hill where the shots had possibly come from. The scene was utter chaos, made more difficult by the crowds giving contradictory statements. The nature of the city made it to where the echo of the shots could have originated from several places. One witness stated that he had seen a man leaning out of the sixth-floor window of the Texas schoolbook depository. Upon later investigation, a rifle was found hidden away with three spent shell casings nearby. Nearly all the employees were accounted for except for one: Lee Harvey Oswald. Less than an hour and a half later, Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D Tibbits, who was shot and killed by Oswald after confronting him in the street three miles away from Dealey Plaza.
The country was in a state of shock. Many sat glued to their televisions and radios, listening to the tragic details as they learned that President Kennedy had succumbed to his wounds. Many feared this was a targeted assassination by the Soviets and that even nuclear war could be imminent. By 2:38PM, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was quickly sworn into office on Air Force One; the moment was captured in an iconic photo with Johnson next to Jacqueline Kennedy still wearing her blood-stained clothes. What no one knew at the time is that the assassination was caught on film by a local, Abraham Zapruder, on a small 8mm film.
This incident shook the United States to its core; many feared conspiracy and the aftermath led many to believe this could be the case. Two days after the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred to a different jail when he in turn was shot and killed by a local bar owner, Jack Ruby. This development would eventually have to be settled by a federal commission called the warren commission, who looked into the motives and attempted to piece together these chaotic events to determine blame and how this could have transpired.
Today, most historians agree that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in taking the life of President John F. Kennedy. In all American history, this singular event continues to be studied and debated to this day.
If you would like to know more the about this topic, the Union University Library has a vast number of resources from books to documentaries on this subject. Here are some links below: