John F. Kennedy's Legacy In San Diego
November 21, 2013 1:33 p.m.
Michael Parrish, UC San Diego Professor of History
Related Story: John F. Kennedy's Legacy In San Diego
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Retrospectives on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are all over the airwaves this week. The great footage of 1953 shows us over and over again the president's motorcade and the shots from Lee Harvey Oswald but it does not show is how that one act affected lives of millions of individuals and as some claim change the destiny destiny of America. We're opening our phone lines to hear your thoughts and memories and comments about the Kennedy assassination. I would like to welcome my guest Michael Parrish. Thank you for being here. The moment that you heard the news that President Kennedy will was shot, what was your memory of that?
MICHAEL PARRISH: I was a junior at the University of California in Riverside. I was attending my morning class and going up the elevator and when the door opened there was a political science professor shouting ìthey've killed Kennedy, they've killed Kennedy!î I think he gave voice to what was at that very shocking moment, a widespread belief that Kennedy had been shot and perhaps murdered in by right-wing fanatics. There had been some ugly incidents in Dallas prior to his visit. An ambassador of the UN had been jostled on the streets and he had been spat upon and there was a rather vicious attack on the Kennedy administration that was percolating through the Dallas community and of course it turned out to be something rather different from an extreme John Birch society conspiracy against the president.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Professor Parrish, when we see old finish footage of the reactions of the people, they're weeping openly and looking completely shocked not knowing what to do. I am not saying that something that devastating would not affect us now, but I think back in 1963 this is something absolutely unbelievable. This was unheard of. Is that the right feeling?
MICHAEL PARRISH: Certainly had not been the assassination of a American president since the turn of this entry with President McKinley. There have been attempts on the life of Franklin Roosevelt. I suspect that to that extent it was unprecedented in the life experience of millions of Americans in 1963 they had never experienced something like that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was the reaction of people around you?
MICHAEL PARRISH: Again I think the initial reaction was that the president had probably been attacked by extreme conservative right wing groups in Dallas area that there was anger towards the present towards his initiatives.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What were the people reacting like around you?
MICHAEL PARRISH: At the time I went home and I remained glued to the television set for the rest of the two or three.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you see him killed on live television?
MICHAEL PARRISH: People in my apartment building where I was living at the time were also very shaken and certainly upset by the events.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your phone calls with memories and comments about John F. Kennedy's assassination fifty years ago tomorrow. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. It must've felt at that time and especially after that killing of Lee Harvey Oswald that the nation had in this sense gone crazy. Was that the feeling that you had at the time?
MICHAEL PARRISH: It was sensitive and very extraordinary. There was a sense that the Dallas Police Department had not provided very effective security to lead that assassins who such a crowd of people. To make him very vulnerable to an attack by many people who should probably should not have been in that station.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have color on the line. Ron, welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: It's nice to be back.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was it like covering this story that affected every American?
NEW SPEAKER: You have to remember that this is a very different time. In 1963 the president of the United States was a member of every family of the United States we had thirty years of pretty good and popular presidents. By this time we had suddenly this gorgeous family, and then a murder that devastated everyone. The thing is everyone else could grieve and we are who are doing television could not create. I spoken to a lot of my former colleagues and they say the same thing. You had to stick that grief into a compartment of your brain and say I'll cry tomorrow because today we have to work. What happened was for the next four days and four nights without stopping television covered this event. That had never happened. It never could have happened up to this point. Radio and newspapers would never keep the pace. Newspapers cannot keep up and radio did not have pictures and for the first time, the first time at the entire country had television sets. The audience for this show was 175 million people. The professor told you that the country did not go crazy and I think that we were part of the reason you are Tom Shales of the Washington posted that television became the national heart of around to which the entire country gathered for warmth comfort and information here we spent for four days supplying that information and some of it was wrong but we kept supplying information and that this country did not go into the streets and went to the television set. That could not have happened and need even ten years earlier. But now everybody had television and over those four days, modern television was born over three networks over the four days.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell me one or two of the images that stick in your mind from the coverage of those four days of three nights back you were providing live coverage to the United States.
NEW SPEAKER: The first bulletin did not say that colony was shot. The they said that shot were fired. You kept hoping that they did not hit him or hoping that it wasn't so bad. He went to a good hospital. They thought may be able to pull him out of this. That first half hour you just wanted it to not be true. But you have to keep reporting it. Come up with confirmation and get good sources in keep going on the air and say that we are reporting that the president is dead and we still did want to say that he was dead until we got official confirmation. All that time, all we wanted for was it and not to be true.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today. I'm here with Professor Michael Parrish we're taking your calls. On the line with us is Maria in San Diego. Welcome to the program. What is your comment?
NEW SPEAKER: My comment is I was in high school and I was a senior. The emotions still come but mostly the silence. And the grief.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you for calling and sharing and I know that was not easy for you. I am just wondering, fifty years later that kind of memory that can trigger that kind of emotion, it is such a powerful ñ and make such a powerful statement on the kind of event that this was for America. How did this change America?
MICHAEL PARRISH: I think initially there was enormous anxiety about what was going to follow with respect to the new president of the United States Linda Johnson. There was some anxiety that Johnson might not pursue or follow the Kennedy programs and he has certainly not been in the vanguard of those supporting civil rights for example she was unknown entity and there was an enormous anxiety about whether or not he would be able to fulfill the Kennedy promise. We were certainly surprised when that is exactly what he did or keep pushed far beyond anything that John Kennedy had done with respect to the two civil rights payers bills and the war on poverty and the environmental policies and the eight education and Johnson was a masterful and able president. He was able to in effect build on the Kennedy legacy and use the sense of murder of and grief to push ahead with this very liberal and progressive program. In many ways presidential assassinations have historically had that impact in the United States.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That we take another call. Allen is calling us from North Park welcome to the program. Okay, we made him stand the line too long. What you said really intrigued me. Much of what we perhaps think of in the JFK legacy is what happened after his death.
MICHAEL PARRISH: That is certainly true. His civil rights bill was big wishing in Congress make wishing in Congress make wishing languishing in Congress can't hear been very slow to respond to even their demonstrations in Birmingham and then until the got out of hand. He made that magnificent speech in which he put the civil rights bill before Congress but it was bottled up. There was not a big deal of optimism that was going to be approved very quickly. So it was Lyndon B. Johnson who really pushed that forward in 1964.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me take another call. Diane welcome to the show. What is your comment?
NEW SPEAKER: My comment is that I was twenty-eight-month-old and merely as memory and my earliest memory and was looking at people of the isles and there always crying and I remember asking my mom later on in my life as a child, where were we when everybody was crying? My mother said that that was the day John F. Kennedy died. That was earliest memory I had in my life.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me go to Steve from. Steve is not joining or answering us, Steve are you there? What is your comment?
NEW SPEAKER: I am fifty-seven and there's not too much I remember since a great but I do remember my teacher going out to the hallways from the main office and I remember the two of them crying as a teacher went back into the classroom and we all went to a small school. We all went to the assembly Hall to watch the TV and then I remember the funeral and watching my mother and she just cried the whole day. She was from London but still saw that she felt that same sense of loss. It seemed like we were starting a new era in people felt that I think that was powerful.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're breaking up a little bit but thank you for joining us. In a recent poll 60% of Americans do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald believe that he did not act alone here and I don't have much time to go into this but it sounds and it is part of what is left over from unresolved feelings, about this assassination. I'm sorry I am completely out of time now, but I want to thank our listeners for calling in and thank my guest Michael Parrish thank you so much.