I was there. I saw him that fateful day, Nov. 22, 1963, in downtown Dallas.
I, and a group of maybe fifteen 13- and 14-year-olds from J.L. Long Junior High, no chaperone, or other adult presence. Parents had freely given permission for us to walk a half-mile to the nearest bus stop, catch the bus to downtown, make our way among the city streets, find a spot on the curb, and watch the presidential cavalcade.
We saw him, JFK, the beautiful, smiling Jackie, the handsome Gov. Connally, and the elegant Nellie. They graciously waved while we screamed and yelled from our curbside perch.
As soon as they passed, we raced to the bus stop, hoping to catch one before they were filled to capacity. We wanted to return to our Lakewood stop in time to linger at the corner drugstore and purchase a middle-of-the-day soft drink — a mild moment of playing hooky before our trek back to school.
One of the boys, a transistor radio to his ear, yelled at us to be quiet. He said, “The president has been shot.”
We, a group of excited, school-skipping, essentially mindless ninth-graders, laughed in ignorance, assuming a joke.
But it wasn’t. The TV was on in the corner drugstore. Somber news reports told us that the vibrant man we had just seen and cheered on was dead. Dead. Shot. In the head.
Sobered and silent, we walked that half-mile back to school. By the time we arrived, frantic phone calls from our parents wondering if we were OK had the office staff staring us down as we checked in. I phoned my mother, assured her I was well, and wandered down the silent basement hall to my classroom.
My teacher wept with her head on her desk.
Teachers were not supposed to weep. I felt their shock, even as it still seemed unreal.
My parents followed politics avidly, and, with one TV in the house and with them controlling what was on, I was exposed early to political discourse.
I had remembered, even as young as I was, in 1960 being totally shocked that John F. Kennedy would win the election. Not one person I or my parents knew would have considered voting for him.
It was as though I were reared in a Republican monastery, and no other political views entered that enclosed space. My entire world said, “Kennedy didn’t have a chance at election.”
But he did, and then he didn’t have a chance when he came to Dallas.
Dallas, a city led by a tight oligarchy of very wealthy men (yes, men — not men and women), did not like JFK. Prominent women, the “mink coat mob,” had surrounded and spat upon Lady Bird Johnson a couple of years before. My parents did not inhabit those elite socio-economic circles, but certainly knew the people who did.
My world: We hated. We heard the worlds of extremists and bought into their fear.
And now, 50 years later, the worlds of extremists still generate fear and hatred of the other. Now, a national oligarchy of the extraordinarily wealthy hold in their money-marked hands the political future of those who make legislative decisions.
Scarily, things have not changed in 50 years, except to become worse.
It frightens me. I want this nation to be blessed by God, and to be a blessing to the world. We are, after all, one of the most religious nations in the world.
But extremists from both the left and the right, from those dangerous conversation topics of politics and religion, spew hate and mistrust. Extremists tell us that the “other” cannot be trusted, must be fully wrong, and must be destroyed, wiped out, voted away, or … even killed.
Fear rules. Have we learned anything from our history?
I fear not.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.