For those of a certain age, Nov. 22, 1963 was their own “Day of Infamy,” the day the world as they knew it changed.
Like Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and pushed the nation into World War II, the day President John F. Kennedy was killed changed the way a lot of people thought about what would come next, about our nation’s politics, about the power of a single act of violence.
The decade that followed his death reflected a new uncertainty and restlessness in the country and exacerbated growing political divisions among young and old, liberal and conservative, rich and poor. The Civil Rights Movement was peaking (the Civil Rights Act passed the next year) our involvement in Vietnam — and the anti-war movement it spawned — was growing and we were racing to the moon.
Kennedy’s death didn’t spawn any of those things. But the trauma of him being shot down in the street jarred a lot of people out of the relative complacency of the 1950s and into a new, and often uncomfortable, future.
For the first time, the nation was able to watch history being made live, largely unfiltered, on television — all of us, all at the same time. We saw the motorcade and the chaotic moments after the shooting and photos of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President with a stricken Jackie Kennedy standing next to him. We saw Lee Harvey Oswald — the man who police said shot Kennedy - gunned down by Jack Ruby before the nation got any idea of motive. We saw the casket in the Capitol Rotunda, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s heartbreaking final salute to his father, the somber procession through Washington, D.C., to the Arlington National Cemetery and the lighting of the eternal flame at Kennedy’s grave. One tribe (very) briefly united.