I bought my first color television set, a 27 inch floor model, from Sears. It was delivered to my house on Tuesday, November 19, 1963. It worked fine until Wednesday evening; then just died – no picture, no sound. I called Sears service department the next morning and a service call was scheduled for the afternoon on Friday, the 22nd.
How and why on Earth would I remember such details after almost 47 years? Well, John F. Kennedy was assassinated on that Friday, the 22nd of November, and the service appointment was canceled – as was virtually everything else. The entire country came to a halt for the horrifying days that followed – until after the President was buried on Monday, the 25th. Later that week my TV was fixed – it had just been a short. The set performed beautifully for more than a decade thereafter.
I remember that Friday afternoon as if it were yesterday, and not just for the shock of the assassination. That afternoon I was exposed to a dark side of America that I not known existed. In a sense I lost my innocence that day.
Early in the afternoon I was alone in my office in the Federal Building (now the City Hall), the other three I shared the office with were out for a late lunch, when a friend from another office came into the room looking quite shaken. He told me that he had just heard on the radio that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and that it was believed that the wound might be fatal. While he was telling me what details he knew, it suddenly became apparent what the ending was – mournful music from a loudspeaker began echoing throughout the building. It was an eerie sound — magnifying as it bounced off all the many surfaces of the large atrium outside my door. My office was on the 2nd floor to the left of this photo.
A few minutes later I got a call from the front office – the President is dead – all federal offices are closed immediately – go home.
I didn’t feel like going home right away. I decided instead to go to the small diner on the corner to discuss what had happened over a cup of coffee. The diner was one of my favorite places, not only for the great food but also for great conversation. It was a hotbed for political discourse – the owner, his wife and daughter were extreme right wingers and a majority of their customers were lawyers and politicians of similar views who worked in the area. I loved the challenge of debating them. Because of their smiling good nature I never took seriously the mean spirited and personal things they uttered. I thought it was just exaggeration for shock value.
I never believed that they really hated the President and all Democrats or that they truly believed they were all communists and socialists who were plotting the Government’s takeover of private industry; who planned on taking away guns from the people so they couldn’t resist when they created a dictatorship; who wanted to redistribute the wealth of the nation, taking it away from the people who earned it and giving it to lazy minorities, etc., etc. -the very same arguments we hear from the right wing today.
But I learned the truth the moment I stepped through the door of the diner, and my political naivete was gone forever. It was as if this were London, and England had just won the World Cup. The diner was packed with my former debate opponents who were rejoicing over Kennedy’s murder. It was party time! I was stunned!
I can remember saying something to someone like: “Hey,the President’s been murdered. How can you be laughing about that?” The response was that it was wonderful. It was only a shame that they didn’t get Johnson, too. The masks were off – I realized that these people actually believed every vile, hateful thing they’d uttered. I left.
Ever since, I take seriously the madness I hear from the far right. I take seriously the madness I hear from the far left, also. They are the dangerous ones in our midst. And, I have never been more fearful for the future of this country than I am today. Just read the newspaper and watch television news and it will become obvious why.