Valdosta Daily Times

November 22, 2013

JFK Assassination Remembered

Kristin Finney
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — On Nov. 22, 1963, America's 35th president, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, TX. Fifty years later, his death continues to be seen as one of the most significant historical moments of the century.

The Valdosta Daily Times contacted local officials and residents to speak with them about their memories of the assassination of President Kennedy. They also spoke with a professor at Valdosta State University that has taught on the subject of the assassination about the significance of the event and why it plays such a pivotal roll in history after 50 years.

Mayor John Gayle was attending Valdosta State College in 1963; he was 20 years old. He remembers the day well, "A group of guys and I had gone duck hunting that day and we actually heard about it from another guy who came into the pond that afternoon. When we heard, we went back to the Student Center at the college.

Everyone was in there watching the news. I remember thinking what a loss we had as a country. Kennedy was one of those that you always regarded as a very smart individual. It really was a great loss for this country. There's no telling how great of a loss it was."

City Councilman Joseph "Sonny" Vickers, District 3, was 22 at the time. "I remember that day really well. I was hunting and I was on my way back when I came back into someone's yard and they told me. I just dropped to my knees. It knocked the breath out of me. It was a very very sad day because I was hoping that the President would help us move along with the Civil Rights movement at that time. The whole nation was very saddened by that because we were looking for good things from President Kennedy," recalled Vickers.

Vivian Rumker was 30 years old and working as an office manager when she found out. "Back then we didn't have TVs or radios in the office. I remember I was dealing with the mimeograph making copies wen I found out. At first I didn't comprehend it. I didn't think he would die from it. I just thought it was an incident. I was in denial. Then I went through another trauma when I found out that he had died. It was a real shock," said Rumker.

Oree Jackson was in his mid-twenties and attending adult education classes. He remembers, "Someone came into the class and told us. I didn't think that someone would do that to the president. It was one thing reading about someone getting shot, but actually seeing it was not ok. He was the first president I ever voted for."

J.C. McKinnon was in the old Valdosta High School when he found out. "I was 17 years old. The principal, Mr. Bridges, came over the intercom and told us. Everyone was in shock that someone was able to do that. He was a good president," recalled McKinnon.

The death of President Kennedy affected people of all ages.

City Manager Larry Hanson was only seven years old at the time. Despite being that young, Hanson remembers the day well, "I was living in Bermuda. My father was serving in the Air Force and we were stationed overseas. I remember the moment. I was with my family in the living room of our house and we were listening to it on the radio. I have a vivid memory of the occasion and how sad it was, even as a child. There was a fear and apprehension of the unknown and what it all meant."

Clinton Hopson was eight years old when he found out. "I was living in Philadelphia, Penn. I was playing bacilli in the street and skateboard with my friends. I remember suddenly all of the parents got really upset. I asked what was going on and they told me. I tried to console my parents. Everyone in the neighborhood was upset. It was all the adults talked about. At that age I didn't really understand, but I have learned more as I have gotten older," said Hopson.

Dr. James LaPlant, Interim Dean of the Graduate School at VSU, has taught about Pres. John F. Kennedy during several of his classes. He believes that this event has remained such a significant portion of history for many reasons.

"It's always a shock when a president is assassinated. I believe that people had a difficult time processing that one individual, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was seen as a loser and a waif of a man, could bring down such a young, vibrant president. I believe that's why the conspiracy theories quickly emerged. It just helps people with the grieving process and helps us make sense of it. At the time there was this image of Camelot, a lot of which developed after his death. He was placed on a pedestal after his assassination, when in reality, at the time, this was a president who was struggling and worried about being reelected in 1964. This was also during the time of the Cold War and if you look at media accounts from the time, people were wondering if this might be the beginning of World War III. People were wondering if the Soviets had killed Kennedy," said Dr. LaPlant.  

He also believes that people remember their specific actions after finding out about Kennedy's assassination because of the shock.

 "I think for people who were alive at the time of the assassination it was just such a shock. It was a collective shock to the nation. It's like 9/11 is to the current generation, everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 occurred. For people who were alive at the time, they all remember where they were. My parents can tell me exactly what they were doing and what a shock it was. People couldn't believe that someone had taken down such a young, good looking, vibrant president."