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"One of the Most Historic Days in Our Lives"
Remembering the Tragedy, Researching the Legacy
President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy as their car turned the corner toward the Texas School Book Depository, Nov. 22, 1963; © Darryl Heikes, Briscoe Center for American History, Heikes (Darryl) Photographs, e_dlh_0009.
There are certain dates deeply etched in the American conscience, burned into the memory of all who experienced them. Events like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy are what Walter Cronkite once called "monumental collective national experiences."
2013 is the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, and the center's resources have much light to shed on that fateful event.
The center is home to Cronkite's papers and published his memoir. As CBS's news anchor, Cronkite was intimately intertwined with a generation's experience of the assassination.
His papers include logs and transcripts of CBS's live coverage and feature his original notes: "That is the way it was on one of the most historic days of our lives."
Cronkite's papers are joined by others at the center acquired from journalists and politicians working in Dallas that day, including three men present in the presidential motorcade.
Photograph by Cecil Stoughton; Courtesy LBJ Library, #1A-1-WH63.
U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks travelled in one of the cars behind the presidential limousine and later stood by during the swearing in of President Lyndon B. Johnson on Air Force One at Dallas' Love Field. He was one of the very few southern congressmen to vote for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. Brooks can be seen to the upper right of Jackie Kennedy in the famous photograph of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office in Air Force One on November 22, 1963.
Julian Read was press secretary for Texas Gov. John Connally, who was present and injured in the presidential limousine. Read rushed to Parkland Hospital, where he found the first lady and Nellie Connally outside the trauma rooms. Mrs. Connally relayed to Read what she had experienced in the limousine, information he used in his press briefings that same day. The Briscoe Center published JFK's Final Hours in Texas, Read's memoir of the assassination, in October.
"Volumes have been written about all that happened following the assassination," says Read. "But little has been recorded about the things that did not happen. Kennedy was due to travel to Austin for a fundraiser and gala. Hundreds of Texans from all over the state were already in their hotels preparing for that evening. The decorations were all in place. The barbeque at the LBJ Ranch was cooking. These stories leave a unique local imprint upon the national heartbreak that followed."
Read's archive includes invitations to these cancelled events, his personal notes from Parkland, handwritten press requests and even an angry telegram from CBS News. The archive also includes a document created by one of Connally's staffers, furnishing the president with local references to give his Texas speeches some provincial charm. The references for Austin include praise for UT, an Oklahoma Sooners joke and another about Coach Darrell Royal running for office.
Finally, Seth Kantor was present in the White House press bus and, like Read, rushed to Parkland. He later testified before the Warren Commission that while at the hospital he spoke with Lee Harvey Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby, a detail refuted by the Warren Commission. Later, Kantor questioned official accounts of the assassination in his book, Who Was Jack Ruby?, positing that the Dallas police had allowed Ruby into the jail basement where Oswald was being held specifically to kill him—a theory disputed by other students of the tragic events surrounding JFK's murder. His papers include rough drafts and research notes from the book, cassette tape interviews, photographs and correspondence.
Fifty years later, the center's collections are open to scholars, students and members of the public who wish to research the assassination.
John F. Kennedy Assassination: Selected Images