I remember the JFK assassination as if it happened yesterday.
JFK ASSASSINATION SETTING THE SCENE
Let me take you back to my home town, Baytown, Texas, Friday, November 22, 1963, population around 30,000. Six days prior to Thanksgiving, thirteen days till my thirteenth birthday, and twenty-seven shopping days until Christmas.
The city was an oil town, most of its residents working for the Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Exxon) started by Ross S. Sterling that began operations in the area in 1917. My father, a PhD chemist, was one of them.
Prior to 1948, the area was known as the tri-cities because Baytown, Goose Creek, and Pelly existed side by side. Eventually they were consolidated. Other names considered for the new city were Gander City, Lee City, Bay View, Port Humble, San Jacinto, Sterling City, Point Sterling, and Sterling Bay.
The local newspaper, The Baytown Sun, highlighted the following that day:
- The Brunson Theater was showing Elvis Presley’s “Fun in Acapulco” and advertised a Saturday Morning Kiddie Show with cartoons and comedies plus a special sci fi thriller “Collossus of New York”. Silver dollars were given away and a twist contest was held on stage. Adults 80 cents, students 60 cents, children 35 cents.
- Over at the Decker Drive-in “Take Her, She’s Mine” starring James Stewart and Sandra Dee would light up the night sky.
- The Rebel Inn on Market Street featured a Friday special, all you can eat fried fish with French fries, coleslaw, and hot rolls for $1. (Note: at this time Catholics were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays so at slumber parties and school, fish sticks were mandatory.)
- The following appeared in the Woman’s World section of the paper. “Mrs. Carl Koenig and Mrs. Tommy Williams will present a program, “Voice and Vocabulary Reflect the Inner You” at a meeting of the Rho Zeta Chapter, Beta Sigma Phi Dec 2 in the home of Mrs. B.W. Johnson…” Women were only known by their husbands’ names.
JFK ASSaSSiNATION MY RECOLLECTIONS
I attended Baytown Junior High School, known as the Red Goslings as our school colors were red and white. The only high school in town, Robert E. Lee (maroon and white), had a Gander for its mascot. The other junior high, Horace Mann, was known as the Green Goslings. The school sat amid a Humble-occupied area, down the street from the company’s ship channel loading dock. The company-run doctor’s office was nearby. My mode of transportation was the school bus, three to a seat. No seatbelts!
I remember the day being balmy. No jackets or sweaters. I was in Mrs. Higby’s seventh grade Texas history class, sitting at the typical wooden school desk with chair attached when the PA system clicked on. The administration had looped us into the radio, streaming the news, with no introduction. When it became apparent what had happened, Mrs. Higby began to cry.
My family had been Nixon supporters, my father even taking me to one of his campaign rallies. Early on I had heard school playground scuttlebutt about Kennedy, a Catholic. If he were elected, the Pope would run the country. The gravity of the situation did not register with my twelve-year-old mind.
My only other memories afterwards are riding my bicycle with friends, seeing the funeral on our black and white TV, and the heaviness surrounding me.
JFK ASSASSINATION COLLECTIVE SHOCK
The Baytown Sun headline and article from the Dallas Associated Press was obviously pasted in at the last minute. Articles below the headlines such as “President Lashes Out at Critics,” “JFK Credits Thomas (Congressman Albert) for Space Push”, and “Radiant First Lady Charms Houston” by wearing black velvet told a different story, a narrative of the nation before tragedy struck. Business as usual.
JFK ASSASSINATION THOUGHTS
Little did I realize the turbulence on the horizon. I came of age in a decade (1960s) marked by the Vietnam War and anti-war protests, the Civil Rights movement, more political assassinations, and countercultural movements.
I thought the turmoil was behind us. How disheartening it is to feel our country slipping back into these dark places, with little tolerance to allow others to pursue their vision of the American Dream. I cling to Abraham Lincoln’s vision, to be united by the better angels of our nature.