Wednesday, November 16, 2011 , Updated 12:00 a.m., November 21, 2011
Before anniversary of JFK’s assassination, researchers gather information, memories
Visitors are prompted to contribute their stories to the museum’s permanent collection.
Posted by Flickr user Marion Doss; photograph by Cecil Stoughton; courtesy National Archives, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
DALLAS The city of Dallas is famous for many things, but it's most notably infamous for the fateful day in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on its streets. For those that remember November 22, 1963, JFK's death is forever encased in their memories.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza recently gave visitors a chance to share their remembrances during the interactive program Where Were You? November 22, 1963. Curator Gary Mack and Associate Curator Stephen Fagin showed videos of eyewitness stories, shared home video footage, and also invited audience members to step up to the microphone.
Edna Winnette of Richardson was the first to speak. At the time of the assassination, she was a fourth grader living in Eagle Pass, Texas. She remembers vividly being told at school, then being dismissed early. She came home to find her parents crying.
"At that time, minorities were very disenfranchised. When Kennedy was elected, there was a hope," she said. "Our parents had hope that Hispanics, minorities would have the opportunity to get into better jobs and better schools."
She also recalls how the president became a symbol for families like hers.
"At that time, being Catholic, you would have a picture of the Pope and of John F. Kennedy. It was very common," she said. "To see this icon being shot was very sad. It was a scary time."
Kathy Brooks of Dallas was a freshman in high school at the time. When the news first started filtering into her school, it took time to sink in.
"I remember there was a big question of whether there was going to be the high school football game that night. Of course there wasn’t," she said. "It was immediately cancelled. In Dallas, Friday night football was a big deal. There had to be something major going on for that to happen."
Later, Brooks remembered the shocking moment of watching Lee Harvey Oswald being shot on television.
“It wasn’t a replay. It was the actual moment it happened,” she described. “It’s just one of those things that are embedded in your memory, and it will make a difference in how you feel about things the rest of your life.”
Sandra Wilson of Rockwall, though she didn’t share her story with the group, remembered an emotional outpouring while she sat in the dining hall as a college student in Missouri.
“All of a sudden I started hearing crying and shouting from across the room, and it just spread over the whole hall as people found out,” she said.
She calls it a watershed event. “I idolized that president. I was overcome with sorrow and a little afraid,” she recalled. “After that, I was really very cynical about politics.”
Creating a living legacy
During the museum's Meet The Museum series, visitors are prompted to contribute their stories to the museum’s permanent collection of more than 900 video recorded oral histories.
“If you didn’t see President Kennedy that day, but you remember what Dallas was like at that time, we want to talk to you,” Mack said.
The project was actually started unintentionally: When the museum was gathering information, eyewitness interviews were conducted primarily for fact checking. “Little by little, we realized, we’re losing people every day that remember,” said Mack. “And the decision was made to make permanent recordings.”
A majority of those attending the program were middle and high school students back in 1963; most were too young to have an adult recollection of the assassination. However, Fagin says it is important to capture the observances of non-rememberers as well so Kennedy’s legacy will remain relevant to new generations. In fact, earlier this year, Fagin did a series of interviews for the Oral History collection with former and current Peace Corps volunteers. This agency was started under the Kennedy Administration to promote peace by living and working in developing countries.
Those interested in being interviewed for the Oral History project can get information on the museum’s website www.jfk.org.
For others looking for ways to remember the day JFK was assassinated, the Texas Theatre is hosting "JFK Day." The Texas Theatre is the site where Oswald was arrested, and the theater is recreating the minute-to-minute programming from that fateful day.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Assignment Desk, DFW
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