I can tell you exactly what I was doing fifty years ago today.
I was an eleven-year-old boy in Mrs. Richardson’s fifth-grade class. It was a Friday, November 22, 1963, and I was excited because my dad was getting me out of school to spend the weekend with my Aunt Louise Morgan Davis, which I often did. Aunt Louise lived in Bristol. She was a lonely woman with rough patches in her life, but she was also the richest member of our family and the president of Davis Pipe and Metal Fabricators, Inc. I spent many weekends and summers with her, sometimes taking the bus between Elizabethton and Bristol, but more often being driven by my dad, who worried, I think, about his sister’s state of mind. Looking back, I realize I was her primary medicine. She and I got along wonderfully.
Dad showed up an hour or so before the end of the school day, came to my class, and took me to the principle’s office to sign out. Entering the room we knew something was wrong. Mrs. W. K. Main, our principle, was standing around a radio, looking stricken. She told us in hushed tones the president had been shot in Dallas. No one knew his condition. I remember my dad saying something like, “Every profession has its dangers.”
We loaded into dad’s red pickup for the drive to Bristol, and I have no recollection of any conversation between us or of listening to the radio. The trip took about an hour, and we usually stopped halfway in Bluff City for gas, because two stations there had an ongoing price war and gasoline was a few cents a gallon. Arriving at the factory, we found everyone in my aunt’s office standing around the radio looking stricken. I asked, like any eleven-year-old, “Is he dead?” Aunt Louise looked at me and quietly nodded her head. This happened shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and everyone suspected Khrushchev and the Soviets were responsible, which would likely mean nuclear war. There was tension in the air.
Dad left me with Aunt Louise, and that weekend at her house on Fairmont Street I watched the news nonstop on her large console television. I remember much of it—the reports of Johnson being sworn into office, Kennedy’s body arriving in Washington, Oswald being arrested, Oswald being shot, the somber motorcades, Jackie in black, the funeral procession, the riderless horse, the world leaders including Ethiopia’s flamboyant Haile Selassie, the burial at Arlington.
My biggest frustration–remember, I was an eleven-year-old boy–was missing Lee Harvey Oswald being shot and killed on live television. Only one network was broadcasting from the jail at that moment, and it wasn’t the channel I was watching. I tried without success to find a replay the terrible event. It was only many years later I finally saw a videotape of Oswald being gunned down in the basement of the Dallas police station.
The trajectory of the bullets of November 22 changed the trajectory of my times and of the history of our world. I sometimes wonder how we would have been different today had Kennedy survived the attempt on his life. Would Vietnam have happened, the antiwar movement, the drop-out generation, the Jesus Movement, the Civil Rights Act, Nixon, the Middle East Wars, Watergate, Carter, Reagan, the collapse of the USSR, the liberalization and secularization of America, the rise of terrorism, the election of Barack Obama?
I’m glad I remember what happened on November 22, 1963, with the assurance the Most High rules in the affairs of man, charts the course of history, removes and sets up leaders, rules and overrules the tragedies of the times, and moves our world in a chain-reaction of events that will one day lead of His return. History moves in mysterious ways, but it is not rudderless. History truly is His Story, and our times are in His hands.