Where Were You on November 22, 1963?

By on 20 November, 2013 in Carole King with 0 Comments

Photo by norfolkdistrict

As I am watching and listening to all the media commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy, I am really learning so much more about this historic event.

I so clearly remember that fall afternoon, Friday, November 22, 1963! I was sitting in the middle row in the middle seat of Mrs. Parks’ fourth grade geography class. We were studying grapes and olives as products of Greece. The principal, Mrs. Baggett, came on the intercom and announced that the President had been shot and very shortly afterwards the dismissal bell rang. We all rushed home to what would be a long weekend glued to the television.

We had a RCA Victor black and white console television with rabbit ears but only got WSFA Channel 12 at the time, and I recall seeing so much of the same film footage over and over. It has been fascinating to see all the other film footage that has been unearthed through the decades. The interviews of doctors, law enforcement, and other officials involved in that historic day are remarkable as we hear their recollections of 50 years ago. They seem as clear as my own juvenile memory is of that day. They go into great detail about how Mrs. Kennedy, in her time of mourning, felt the enormity of this event and planned the viewing, funeral and burial of her husband to rightly claim his place in history. A decade later, I saw the Zapruder homemade film footage of the actually shooting of the President that day in Dallas and this week the film is being shown all “teched” up so you can really see clearly the colorful the horror of that afternoon.

Even more fascinating is the exploration of the different trials and tribulations of Kennedy’s administration as the commentators review the legacy of his short reign. The one I most clearly remember is the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban/Russian missile crisis, and I can see how we came so close to a huge calamity on this planet. I was just a kid in elementary school but I felt the imminent stress of our potential demise by means of an atomic bomb even then.

We had an aluminum 20 gallon trash can in the corner of our breakfast room stocked with non-perishables. Instructions were delivered to our mailbox as to what our household was to do in the event that the sirens went off and a bomb was on its way. At the time, which was before Interstate 65, we lived on Gaston Avenue off Fairview Avenue. According to the Civil Defense plan, our family was to walk about half a mile carrying our garbage can full of supplies to Kershaw Manufacturing site which had a railroad track leg to the site because Kershaw then produced railroad maintenance equipment. We and all our neighbors were to be loaded on to train cars that would take us down to Union Station where we would then walk up to City Hall on Perry Street to the fallout shelter. Now even as an eight year old I knew this plan had huge holes in it! If it were during school hours that meant I had an extra 30 minutes to walk home before embarking on the hike to the rail lines. I knew this wasn’t gonna work and I worried about it, a lot.

I began to look for the orange and black shelter signs all over town that designated fallout shelters, or at least a basement. Many churches had fallout shelters in their basement as did ours so we were safe when we were at church. Normandale Shopping Center had a huge community fallout shelter, and many of the downtown stores had supplies in their basements furnishings for a shelter. The Capitol had a large shelter in its basement for the state employees. In 1986, while exploring the Capitol with architects before its closing for restoration, we found boxes and barrels of supplies still stocked in the basement storage areas. I am probably the only kid in the country that followed Kennedy’s negotiations in the daily newspaper and rejoiced with relief when the partial test ban treaty with Russia was signed in August of that next year.

These are just a few of my remembrances of those hectic days but from all the historical perspectives I am hearing this week, John Kennedy probably really did save our world!

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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