It was 50 years ago that President Kennedy was murdered in the streets of Dallas. The question asked by many cable news shows was “where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?” For me, it was never a matter of where I was physically. It was how President Kennedy’s death affected me emotionally. I went into an instant depression, I actually lost all hope.
I was in high school, and had been made to feel as though I did not count. That was life for many Negros.
Negros (that’s what we were called at that time) were secondary in this society and women were given even less respect. I will never forget my mother telling me, “You have two strikes against you. You are black and you are female”. President Kennedy was the hope of the Negro. We were a nation in search of meaningful change. We wanted freedom, we wanted rights.
As I recall, there was a Woolworth 5 and 10 not far from us. We never sat at the counter. It was okay for us to shop, we just did not order food there. There was an air of “stay in your place’. No signs saying “White Only”, just an evil atmosphere. It was much worse in the South.
“When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, African Americans throughout much of the South were denied the right to vote, barred from public facilities, subjected to insults and violence, and could not expect justice from the courts. In the North, black Americans also faced discrimination in housing, employment, education, and many other areas.”
When Dr. King spoke, I would reckon that every African-American family sat quietly and listened to him. He set the pace for us to have the hope that is so needed for personal success. African Americans held the same respect for President Kennedy as they did for Martin Luther King. They were only lower than Jesus! It was a tremendously intense time in life. We had the March on Washington in the summer of 1963.It was the same year that President Kennedy was assassinated, almost three months to the day. African-Americans were soaring with hope, only to have their dreams crashed. President Kennedy, and the hope of black America died on November 22, 1963.
‘The march was held on August 28, 1963. The march was a collaborative effort of all of the major civil rights organizations, the more progressive wing of the labor movement, and other liberal organizations. The march had six official goals:
'1) Meaningful civil rights laws, 2) a massive federal works program, 3) full and fair employment, 4) decent housing, 5)the right to vote, 6) and adequate integrated education.”
'Of these, the march's major focus was on passage of the civil rights law that the Kennedy administration had proposed after the upheavals in Birmingham."
One would have to understand the density of the circumstance to clearly understand why President Kennedy meant so much.. It is impossible to express how great the grief was among African Americans. He was a savior of sorts. He was not a savior of souls, but he presented an opportunity for the lives of African Americans to change, no one else ever had. The hole that the death of President Kennedy put in the atmosphere when he died was huge.
The following is an excerpt from “Sword of The Lord”, by Andrew Himes;
"In late August, the Democrats held their convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and I sat on the couch in our living room watching every minute of the drama on our little black-and-white TV. A lone black woman testified before the Credentials Committee. Her name was Fannie Lou Hamer,
'Hamer told of being arrested for trying to register to vote, and what happened when they carried her to jail. She said “They left my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said, ‘You are from Ruleville all right,’ and he used a curse word. And he said, ‘We are going to make you wish you was dead.’ I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack…I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted.
'I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old…The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet—to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush. One white man—my dress had worked up high—he walked over and pulled my dress—I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up.”
Hamer paused and looked up at the Committee members. She said,
'“All of this is on account of us wanting to register, to become first-class citizens, and…I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”
Certainly things got better, but we are once again fighting for the right to vote, in 2013! I wonder what President Kennedy and Dr, King would say. The right to vote for people of color, women, and young people in college has now been suppressed by gerrymandering. We have come full circle. Those are the things that came to my mind as I remembered the assassination of President Kennedy. A poem by Gwendolyn Brooks explains the way things were, far better than I ever could. Her poem had a lasting impression on me.
THE BALLAD OF RUDOLPH REED~ By Gwendolyn Brooks
Rudolph Reed was oaken.
His wife was oaken too.
And his two good girls and his good little man
Oakened as they grew.
"I am not hungry for berries.
I am not hungry for bread.
But hungry hungry for a house
Where at night a man in bed
"May never hear the plaster
Stir as if in pain.
May never hear the roaches
Falling like fat rain.
"Where never wife and children need
Go blinking through the gloom.
Where every room of many rooms
Will be full of room.
"Oh my home may have its east or west
Or north or south behind it.
All I know is I shall know it,
And fight for it when I find it."
The agent's steep and steady stare
Corroded to a grin.
Why you black old, tough old hell of a man,
Move your family in!
Nary a grin grinned Rudolph Reed,
Nary a curse cursed he,
But moved in his House. With his dark little wife,
And his dark little children three.
A neighbor would look, with a yawning eye
That squeezed into a slit.
But the Rudolph Reeds and children three
Were too joyous to notice it.
For were they not firm in a home of their own
With windows everywhere
And a beautiful banistered stair
And a front yard for flowers and a back for grass?
The first night, a rock, big as two fists.
The second, a rock big as three.
But nary a curse cursed Rudolph Reed.
(Though oaken as man could be.)
The third night, a silvery ring of glass.
Patience arched to endure,
But he looked, and lo! small Mabel's blood
Was staining her gaze so pure.
Then up did rise our Roodoplh Reed
And pressed the hand of his wife,
And went to the door with a thirty-four
And a beastly butcher knife.
He ran like a mad thing into the night
And the words in his mouth were stinking.
By the time he had hurt his first white man
He was no longer thinking.
By the time he had hurt his fourth white man
Rudolph Reed was dead.
His neighbors gathered and kicked his corpse.
"Nigger--" his neighbors said.
Small Mabel whimpered all night long,
For calling herself the cause.
Her oak-eyed mother did no thing
But change the bloody gauze.