Dallas, Texas: November 22, 1963
I didn't really like English class. It was okay, and fairly easy, but it wasn't something for which I had a yearning or a passion. So, we're doing some English-y thing, when the principal's distinctive voice came over the school PA system. His voice boomed, as it did every morning, out of the wooden box that was mounted in the center of the front wall, up next to the acoustic tiled ceiling. This time, however, he didn't say much, other than, "Attention Students". Then we heard the crackle and static of a radio broadcast coming through the speakers, reverberating through the now-quiet hallways.
"President Kennedy has been shot." I don't remember what followed that. The world had just changed. Nothing that followed really mattered. The President had been shot. The entire building, Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, was silent. Just that radio broadcast and, then, a few sniffles, then some more. Mrs. Gambrell walked down the aisle passing out Kleenex to some of the students.
After English, I had Physical Science. The passing period between classes, normally a riot of noise - lockers slamming and students shuffling and yelling - was absolutely silent. So much so, that it was a bit scary. So unfamiliar and foreign was the feeling of unity among we teenagers that I didn't experience again until April 19, 1995. The Physical Science classroom had one of the few televisions in the building. The educational network had just begun wiring and installing rooms for educational programming. But, now, the television had been tuned to one of the three national networks. The room was packed. Again, no noise at all except for the news broadcaster.
There was really no school the rest of the day. Many people just hovered around the few television sets. The bell rang but most people stayed put, or wandered to find their friends. Many cried. Some sat on the floor in the hallway. Teachers were consoling as many students as they could. At some point in the afternoon, the principal, on that same PA system, announced that some of the buses had arrived and that we could leave school for the day. Since it was a Friday, we had the weekend to adjust and return to school on Monday. But on Monday, while the brick school was the same, the nation was not.
© James Robert Watson, PhD, 2008