Editor’s Note: This column was first published the week of Nov. 18, 2013. It was edited to reflect the passage of time.
This Friday, Nov. 22, marks the 56th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
You may have noticed the anniversary of the assassination was upon us, assuming you’ve turned on a television set lately and caught one of the documentaries or special reports that have aired about the assassination since the first of the month. Then again, it seems every year at about this time we’re reminded of that tragic event in Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, now more than a half century ago.
I wasn’t born until 1969, or some six years and about two weeks after Kennedy was killed. I grew up, though, reading about it and watching it over and over thanks to Abraham Zapruder, a garment manufacturer who captured the assassination with an 8mm camera.
Some 16 years ago, I paid a visit to Dealey Plaza. It was surreal to say the least. Very sad, too, in an odd sort of way. I suppose standing near the site where a president was assassinated shouldn’t feel normal. And though I don’t want to reinvigorate an argument about whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, you’ll never convince me in a million years that Oswald rattled off three shots in less than six seconds with a bolt-action rifle, twice striking a moving target.
A number of years ago, Daddy recalled where he was and what he was doing when Kennedy was killed. He was working as the political editor at the Monroe Morning World and News-Star World, since merged and renamed The News-Star. The Ewing family owned the papers then.
Back in those days when a breaking story came across the Associated Press wire, a bell would ring on the side of the machine, alerting the newsroom that “something had happened.” Indeed, on that Friday during the noon hour, across the wire came the news that Kennedy had been shot.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the bell rang again, and across the wire came a dateline from Dallas — President Kennedy is dead.
It was disturbing enough, according to Daddy, hearing the news that Kennedy had been shot, but what happened in the newsroom at The News-Star when Kennedy’s death was announced, disgusted him.
The newsroom erupted in jubilation.
When I asked why, he said it was simple. Kennedy supported civil rights.
Let there be no misunderstanding. Daddy had voted for Richard Nixon in 1960 and would vote for Barry Goldwater in 1964. In other words, Sam Hanna was no liberal who felt John Kennedy hung the moon.
But the assassination of a president — in broad daylight for all the world to see — was a shocker to him. Not as shocking, according to Daddy, as watching his colleagues at The News-Star celebrate Kennedy’s death.
Former West Monroe Mayor Bert Hatten once worked as managing editor at the Monroe papers. In fact, Hatten hired Daddy in 1956. But Hatten had the left the papers by November of ’63 and was working in the insurance business.
At the time, or in November of ‘63, Hatten also was working for former Gov. Robert Kennon’s third campaign for governor. Kennon had served one term from 1952-56.
Kennon was a segregationist. One of his opponents in the ’63 campaign was former New Orleans Mayor Chep Morrison, a Catholic who was an ally of the Kennedys.
As Hatten recalled, the Kennon campaign had bought a full-page ad in newspapers across Louisiana touting Kennon’s candidacy. The ad featured a picture of a large boxing glove. Beneath the boxing glove were these words: “KO the Kennedys.”
“Then the assassination came, and that killed us,” Hatten said, referring to Kennon’s gubernatorial campaign.
John McKeithen went on to win the Democratic nomination in a hard-fought campaign against Morrison, setting the stage for McKeithen to become Louisiana’s first governor to serve two consecutive terms.
Yet, shortly after the assassination, Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office in Dallas aboard Air Force One to succeed Kennedy. You’ve probably seen the picture.
Perhaps much of the nation still turns its attention to the Kennedy assassination each November because it was the first time the assassination of a president was caught on film. Perhaps. And it’s only natural to wonder what would have transpired in America had Kennedy lived.
Would the U.S. military have gone full steam ahead into Vietnam? Would civil rights have ripped apart the Deep South and points elsewhere, such as Washington, Los Angeles and Detroit?
We’ll never know because much of what Kennedy truly stood for and believed ended on Nov. 22, 1963.
He was 46 years old.
Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at email@example.com.