1963 at 50: A year's tumult echoes still

By Christopher Sullivan

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12 2013 9:41 p.m. MST

In June in Berlin, where a communist-built wall showed the Cold War divide most sharply, he envisioned the ultimate triumph of freedom. "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin," he said, "and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "

That same month, promoting peace was his theme in a commencement address. "In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet," he told the graduates. "We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

Five months later, he traveled to Texas, for political fence-mending ahead of the 1964 election. He was waving at the cheering crowds that lined his sunny Dallas motorcade route when the rifle shots came at 12:30 p.m. Central time.

Newsreel footage shows cheers turning to shrieks, as TV announcers break into soap operas with bulletins. Soon there would be nonstop coverage, which, though common now, was like nothing seen before on television. Broadcasts brought the nation together in a shared experience of bewilderment and grief.

Just as today's generation remembers the moment of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the memory of Nov. 22, 1963, remains crystalline and, inevitably, becomes a teaching tool.

"All of a sudden, we heard all of these rumors. Then somebody had a transistor radio," recalls Spivey, then a high school student, describing how he brings the moment to life in class today. "And I remember standing by the lockers, just listening. ... Students crying, in this predominantly black school in Chicago, kids saying, 'What's going to happen to us now?'"

Hundreds of miles east, Hine was heading into high school debate team practice, where at first everyone thought a student was joking when he blurted the inconceivable news. He wasn't kidding, though, and the feeling absorbed then has resonated ever since.

"Up until that point," Hine said, "there was this widespread belief in big business, big government, big thinking to lead us into a better future. The assassination didn't completely undo this, but it showed that some things are far more fragile than we ever imagined them to be."

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