Where Were You? America Remembers the JFK Assassination, compiled and edited by Gus Russo and Harry Moses circa ’60. One of the grammar points we have to teach in French is the kind of sentence often referred to as “interrupted action.” Most Law and Order episodes begin with an ‘interrupted action:” The old man was walking his dog when he saw the dead body. Was walking – imparfait (the imperfect tense, the background action); he saw – the event, the passé compose. I thought that this book would be a series of interrupted actions. I remember that I was walking into the library at Emory University when the lady who checked our bags said, while weeping and struggling to breathe, “The president was shot.”
Indeed, there are quite a few such tales. Jimmy Carter, a forty-year-old congressman from Georgia, was returning from the fields on his tractor. Bill Clinton, age seventeen, was in his high school calculus class. Joe Biden, age twenty-one, was walking through his college campus. He quickly ran to his car to put on the radio. Tom Hanks was drawing a picture in his second-grade art class when the principal came in. Jane Fonda was making a movie in Paris. When she heard, she said that she thought she would never feel safe again.
There are about fifty stories, but many of them are not like this. Some knew Oswald, some were Kennedy supporters, other got caught up in conspiracy theories. One touching piece is by Marie Tippet, the widow of the police officer who was also killed that day. She tells of a call from Bobby Kennedy and prints in full a letter she got from Jackie Kennedy. After fifty years of being a widow she says, “There will never be another man for me.” Buell Frazier, Lee Harvey Oswald’s coworker, picked him up to take him to work at the book depository that day. He noted that Oswald had a package with him. He said it was curtain rods.
Richard Goodwin and Doris Kearns Goodwin discuss the assassination but also the presidency of JFK. Harry Belafonte considers the presidency through the lens of the Civil Rights movement. We learn about how much was hidden from the public about Kennedy’s health problems. The controversies surrounding the various conspiracy theories are explored through the voices of those who were there. Friends of Clay Shaw, the only person to have been tried because of Jim Garrison’s theory, point to a miscarriage of justice. Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK, comes under scrutiny.
Through the numerous anecdotes we learn a great deal about the political and social context of the era. The editors have rendered us a service: In compiling this comprehensive look at the assassination, they have frozen a moment like no other in the lives of Americans who were alive at the time. This was truly a moment when everything changed.