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Letter: Complicated reactions at time of assassination

Published: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 11:34 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 11:34 p.m. CDT

To the Editor:

I was a first-year middle school English teacher in Lubbock, Texas, when President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.  

My students, 12- and 13-year-olds, returned from lunch with the news. I was horrified, first by the news, then by the attitude of my students. They were happy.

This was an upper middle-class neighborhood, and because these students were “happy,” I tried not to react too badly toward them, knowing full well they were only reflecting their parents’ views. I found a very conservative teacher “counseling” her little following on the fact that one did not kill a president just because one did not approve of them.

She bragged to me about what she was doing. I went to the school office and asked the school secretary if we could have a moment of silence since we prayed every morning. She reluctantly agreed. 

There are so many dynamics to these stories of “where were you?” This was not an act from nowhere ... even though Lee Harvey Oswald seemed to come from nowhere. One of my best friends had told me two years earlier that she wished Kennedy would die ... or be killed? I don’t remember, but I know we had nothing much to say to each other after that. 

An odd coincidence is that in 2004, my husband had his last Fulbright to Minsk, Belarus. We lived two blocks from where Lee Harvey Oswald worked for 2 1/2 years. We were shown the building early on in our time there, as if that is what Americans would like to see.

There was one note of extreme sadness from a student in my classroom that day, and her reaction muted the overt happiness of others. As the daughter of a state senator, she had actually danced with President Kennedy at his inauguration. She was hysterical. I took her in my arms and held her while the other students looked on. Finally, she went out of the room.

The students came back after that long weekend humbled. I guess their parents realized what they had done. The impact on my husband and me was so dramatic that when Watergate unfolded, we said nothing negative to our young sons about President Nixon until the Saturday Night Massacre ... then we lost it! Never did we say he should die. That would never occur to us.

Betsy Whisenhunt


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