On Friday, 22 November, 1963, President Kennedy had planned to drive through Dallas, Texas on a campaign visit. He was visiting several cities in Texas, but Dallas had the most right-wing political groups and anti-Kennedy people. After a visit there, Adlai Stevenson told Kennedy that it might not be a safe place for him.
Although Jackie Kennedy hated campaigning, she thought she would enjoy the visit to Texas. The Presidential motorcade was to proceed from Love Field - the airport, through Dealey Plaza, past the Texas School Book Depository, eventually arriving at the downtown Trade Mart for a luncheon.
Kennedy and his motorcade proceeded through Dealey Plaza at about 1:30 PM Central Standard Time. Along with Kennedy were his wife, Jackie Kennedy, John Connally - the Governor of Texas and his wife, Nellie Connally in an open-top limo. Mrs Connally told Kennedy something to the effect of 'You certainly can't say Dallas doesn't love you'1. The car slowed down on a curve, moving about 11 miles per hour, when several shots were heard, which fatally wounded JFK and hit Governor Connally as well.
In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade, the first reports say the president was seriously wounded.
...so said Walter Cronkite at 1:40 PM EST on November 22, 1963, interrupting the Soap Opera As the World Turns with a CBS news bulletin. Indeed, Kennedy had been shot by an assassin or assassins. The American public were glued to the television and radio as new information became apparent. However, for hours, no footage of the assassination was known to exist2, as the media didn't consider the ride through Dealey Plaza important enough to air.
Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Hospital in the limo. A priest was called to administer last rites to Kennedy, but by that time the surgeons realised Kennedy was already dead. Kennedy wasn't examined by a local coroner. His body was loaded onto Air Force One to be taken to Washington DC. Seats were removed so that Kennedy's coffin could be placed in the seating area, rather than cargo.
In the airplane, Lyndon Johnson (who had been just behind Kennedy in the motorcade in Dallas) was sworn in as the new President only one hour, 39 minutes after Kennedy died. The inauguration was a solemn scene, performed by US District Court Judge Sarah T Hughes (an old friend of Johnson)
Meanwhile, the world watched as it became apparent that Kennedy was dead. Walter Cronkite reported this with his legendary words:
From Dallas, Texas, the flash - apparently official - President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time an hour ago... Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly, and become the 36th President of the United States.
Cronkite uncharacteristically nearly cried on National Television. He would remain at work for 72 hours straight. Broadcast and news of the assassination would similarly go on for several days. Kennedy was the youngest President to die in office, after only being President for two years, ten months.
Every facet of America mourned in some way and the entire world was shocked. Radio stations played soft music in tribute. Most sporting events were cancelled3. Stocks quickly dropped following the announcement of JFK's death4. Hundreds cried and prayed in public. Normal life in America simply stopped for a few days following JFK's death.
Kennedy's body was placed in a coffin in the White House East Room for one day. The next Sunday, Kennedy's coffin was placed in the Capitol Building Rotunda, where several thousand people walked past the coffin that day. He was buried November 25 at Arlington National Cemetery at a very fancy, stylish funeral. Dozens of world leaders, kings, presidents and representatives from 90 countries attended the funeral. Among these leaders were Irish President Eamon de Valera, West German President Heinrich Luebke and French President Charles de Gaulle. John F Kennedy Jr's salute to his father's coffin is one of the unforgettable pictures of the event.
Today, an eternal flame burns over the grave of JFK, which Mrs Kennedy lit at the day of the funeral.
Who Did It?
Shortly after JFK's assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested at the Texas Theatre for shooting a Texas Police Officer JD Tippit. Some thought there might be a connection, and it was found that Oswald worked at the Texas School Book Depository - which overlooked Dealey Plaza. He had been in the Depository while Kennedy drove past, but had walked out before it was sealed. Oswald was charged with killing Kennedy in the evening of 22 November.
On 24 November, during Lee Harvey Oswald's prison transfer, nightclub owner Jack Ruby murdered him while millions watched on national television.
On 29 November, President Lyndon Johnson formed the Warren Commission, named after its leader, Earl Warren (Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court) to investigate the assassination. They later concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, who fired three shots, and that there was no conspiracy. This conclusion relied on several things-
Dozens of witnesses were wrong that they saw gunfire and smoke coming from various areas around Dealey Plaza - not the Book Depository.
Oswald could fire three shots - through a tree, from the Texas School Book Depository, with great accuracy - one missing the car entirely and two shots coming at almost the same time, one bullet having an opposite trajectory to where Oswald supposedly was.
This theory also requires a 'magic bullet theory', in which one bullet hit Kennedy in the throat and proceeded to make several turns and twists to account for several wounds to Governor Connally. The single bullet supposedly went through several different parts of the body. They include Kennedy's throat, Connally's back, Connally's right wrist, eventually lodging itself in Connally's left thigh. The bullet then ended up on Connally's stretcher at Parkland Hospital in pristine condition.
However, the theory was supported by:
Evidence from a recording of a police radio, which agrees with what the sound of the events would have been if Oswald was the lone assassin.
The belief that 'magic bullet theory' was physically possible.
The conclusion of the Warren Commission has been largely discredited. Oswald is generally considered not to be the lone assassin, but a part of the conspiracy. The Congressional House Select Committee on Assassinations, established in 1976, determined that the Kennedy Assassination was a result of a conspiracy.
There are dozens and dozens of conspiracy theories about who really arranged the assassination of Kennedy. They include-
Lyndon B Johnson - he had the most to benefit from Kennedy's death, especially since JFK was probably going to drop him as running mate for the 1964 election. LBJ, who was from Texas and had a number of political connections there, could control the reaction of the Texas government fairly well.
Cuban Exiles who were angry about the Bay of Pigs invasion had motive and probably the means to pull of this plot.
The Mafia, furious at the crack-down on organised crime sanctioned by JFK and his brother.
The CIA, because JFK was probably going to hand over intelligence operations to the military.
Fidel Castro, who killed JFK because of all the times JFK and the CIA had tried to kill him.
The KGB, for obvious reasons. To soften America up or to eliminate JFK because he was a threat.
Lee Harvey Oswald, from the sixth floor of the Book Depository.
Aliens killed him because he was going to tell the American public about how the government covered up UFOs.
Kennedy lives on, however, in the legacy he left behind. The 'New Frontier' he wanted did not die with him. Many of his goals - an American on the moon and better civil rights also would not die with him. His successor, Lyndon B Johnson, named a Space centre after him, showing directly his affect on space exploration.
Some thought that Kennedy's younger brother, Robert Kennedy, would carry on the goals of his older brother's administration, but he too was killed by an assassin on 5 June, 1968.
Kennedy, who would have almost certainly been re-elected, could have led the US to even greater prosperity, and through more difficult times. It's impossible to know. Some think, however, that the scandals of Kennedy's affairs might have caught up with him in his second term. He very possibly could have been impeached.
It would have been interesting, anyway.
Oddly, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy share a number of coincidences. They include-
Lincoln was elected in 1860 - Kennedy was elected in 1960.
Both Presidents were assassinated in office on a Friday.
Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. Both secretaries reputedly advised them not to go to the place where they were assassinated.
Lee Harvey Oswald - supposed assassin of Kennedy - shot him from a warehouse and ran to a theatre. John Wilkes Booth - supposed assassin of Lincoln - shot him in a theatre and ran to a warehouse.
Both Presidents were succeeded by a Vice President named Johnson - both Southerners. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808, Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.
Both Presidents were pro-Civil Rights.