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October 14, 2017

The days leading up to John F. Kennedy’s Assassination

Winner of the Fall 2017 StMU History Media Award for

Best Article in the Category of “United States History”

November 22, 1963 was a dark day for America. It was one of those days in the life of a nation when everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news: Kennedy has been shot. New generations of Americans have since been born that did not experience that chilling day. For those who may not know, the people of Dallas were not strong supporters of President John F. Kennedy’s policies, ranging from his support for racial integration and his intention to ban nuclear testing, to rumors of his negotiations with the Soviet Union. Kennedy had hoped to smooth over many of those conflicts and win over many of those who opposed to him in Dallas by going to talk to his critics. His intention for that day in November was to drive through Dallas, give a speech to about 2500 local business leaders, and then ride through the streets of downtown Dallas, seeing thousands of people along the way. He hoped to calm the conflicts between the people who were against him and wanted to create a sense of peace.

Kennedy’s Secret Service Agents had warned Kennedy of the risks of riding through Dallas openly exposed in a “bubble top down” limousine. But Kennedy wanted to wave to his fans and supporters. Disregarding the concern, President Kennedy ordered the car’s top to be removed, and obviously being the president, he got what he wanted.1

Seconds after the Assassination of John F. Kennedy | November 22, 1963 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Kennedy’s side sat the beautiful First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie riding in the front seats. John F. Kennedy had been in San Antonio as well as Houston the day before riding through and waving to his beloved supporters and fans.2 While in San Antonio with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, they visited the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, as well as attend a testimonial dinner in Houston for United States representative Albert Thomas. The two then flew to Fort Worth to spend the night and rest there. The following morning, Novemeber 22, John F. Kennedy went on to a breakfast sponsored by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and then flew to Dallas to meet with his lovely wife, and start the ride through Dallas.3

The drive started off with the car making its way through downtown Dallas. The car made a quick left turn onto Elm Street, but to do so, the driver, Secret Service agent William Greer, had to drive at a speed of 11 mph, which was a direct violation of the rules given to ensure the safety of the president. They then rode past the Texas School Book Depository, and then towards a small grassy area called Dealey Plaza.

The large clock seen by many on the top of the billboard atop the Book Depository struck 12:30 pm, and within a matter of seconds sounds of gunshots, screams, and fear echoed through the streets of Dallas. Although it is not clear whether three to six shots were actually fired, it is known for a fact that one pierced through John F. Kennedy’s skull, painting the car red, and Mrs. Kennedy’s hands were suddenly filled with bits and pieces of his actual brain. She went into shock and repeated how she was literally holding her husband’s brains. It was a horrible memory that would last forever in her mind.

The Warren Commission was tasked with investigating the assassination, and it issued its findings less than a year later, concluding that Oswald had perfectly planned out the assassination, and the evidence used to prove it was that he was the only person on duty for the sixth floor at that exact time when JFK was shot, and that three bullets traced directly to his Mannlicher-Carcano meant he had to have fired at JFK.4

Mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald | Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

What led this man to commit such an act? We have learned that Lee Harvey Oswald’s childhood had been very sad; his mother showed him no love, despite all his efforts to please her, which is rough; every child needs love from their mother. Oswald’s father died leaving him and his siblings to grow up in an orphanage. Being deprived of the affection of parents, he often found himself in trouble. An incident with the Bronx zoo police due to truancy led to the findings that Oswald was of great intelligence paired with hostility and aggression. Oswald joined the US marines at the age of seventeen, and served a short time. He did not take reprimands from his superiors well. From June 1962 to November 1963, Oswald worked for a commercial photography business, a coffee company, and, finally, the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. There is evidence that in March of 1963 he purchased a rifle and revolver from a mail-order company. Around the same time, April 1963, rumors spread of an attempted assassination on a right-wing extremist, General Edwin Walker. Oswald’s record began when he was arrested twice later that year, in August, for disturbances with anti-Castro Cubans. Oswald took a bus trip to Mexico City, where he visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in an attempt to obtain a visa to enter Cuba. Being denied entrance into Cuba, Oswald returned to his family in Texas and obtained employment at the Book Depository.5

The evidence found that Oswald must have fled the depository within three minutes after the shooting, then got on a bus, from which he then exited, and then proceeded to enter a taxicab. Soon after the shooting, the Dallas police radioed a description of the suspect to all members of the police force and placed them on alert. Oswald, who had gone to his room and carried his .38-caliber pistol, was approached by police officer J. D. Tippit. Sadly, he shot and killed Tippit and ran to the Texas Theatre, where he was arrested at 2:50 pm.6 Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Despite all the doctors’ efforts, Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm, November 22, 1963. Oswald was subsequently murdered before he could even face a court. On November 24, 1963, he was murdered by a night club owner, Jack Ruby.

Jack Ruby was a severely distraught man, who felt a truly deep connection to JFK, which is the primary reason he targeted Lee Harvey Oswald. He was emotionally broken by the so recent and painful loss of the president. Ruby took matters into his own hands. He made a plan, and acted immediately on it. His first stop was an easy stop for him. As he walked through the doors of the Dallas Police Headquarters,  police saw nothing more than a friendly-faced man, not knowing his true intentions. He had knowledge of Oswald entering and being held in the facility, which explains why he wanted to wait to see him. Ruby waited, and overheard bad news. He heard that there was a problem with the transportation of some sort, and realized his plan was going to need to be reconstructed. He chose to wait Oswald out. While waiting, things delayed the schedule, and led to Ruby parking one block away, re-entering the building and hiding in the basement garage of the police basement. While waiting out the arrival of Oswald, he noticed the guard on watch at the time had left, and saw an opening to make his way towards the spot Oswald was to arrive at. Making his way, Ruby saw many reporters, and camera lights were going off constantly. And then saw Lee Harvey Oswald. He made his way towards Oswald holding the .38 caliber and then fired at Oswald, killing him on live television. People around the nation witnessed the murder happen within seconds, and then they witnessed the arrest of Jack Ruby that happened immediately after his killing. Ironically, Oswald was rushed to the same hospital where Kennedy had been taken just two days earlier. He was buried the same day Kennedy was laid to rest, November 25, 1963.

The casket of John F. Kennedy | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

John F. Kennedy had a beautiful service. The site was designed by a long known friend, John Carl Wernicke. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and was marked with an eternal flame, symbolizing his lifelong and eternal remembrance. The 22nd day of November, 1963 is a day that will be remembered by many as one of the nation’s saddest days. This was the day the thirty-fifth president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated. This was the day that the nation lost one of its most beloved presidents. This day impacted so many people’s lives because all went through this tragedy together.7

  1. Stuart A. Kallen, The John F. Kennedy Assassination (Detroit: Lucent Books, 2009), 12.
  2. Alice L. George, The Assassination of John F Kennedy: Political Trauma And American Memory (New York: Routeledge eBook Collection,2013), 37.
  3. Handbook of Texas Online, June 2010, “Kennedy Assassination,” Texas State Historical Association.
  4. James R. Phelan, “The Assassination: assassination,” New York Times, November 23, 1975, 250.
  5. Salem Press Biographical  Encyclopedia, January 2017, s.v. “Lee Harvey Oswald,” by Scott P. Johnson.
  6. Salem Press Encyclopedia, March 2017, s.v. “President Kennedy is Assassinated,” by Bennet H. Wall.
  7. Martin Luther King, “John F. Kennedy,”Transition, no. 15 (1964): 27-28.

Jasmine Martinez

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Recent Comments


  • Idaly Oropeza

    I am absolutely fascinated with this article. I think anytime President Kennedy is mentioned, we only hear about the day of his assassination, how his wife gathered his brains or about the conspiracy theories regarding his murderer. However, we never hear about the days leading up to his last minutes on earth. Something interesting about this article is that you gave background information on the murderer himself.

  • Eugenio Gonzalez

    Nice article; it does an excellent job describing the Kennedy administration’s issues. Before reading the article, I knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was, but I never knew anything about his childhood and struggles. One thing I learned from this article is that before JFK visited Dallas, President Kennedy visited the city of San Antonio as a San Antonian; it is interesting to know.

  • JoAnna Mendez

    When learning about John F. Kennedy, we learn about what he did in his time as president and how he was assassinated, but we do not hear of the couple hours before his death. So, it is very crazy to see and read about how someone’s life can take a completely different turn in a matter of minutes. Like you brought up in your article, he had been to San Antonio and Houston before going to Dallas and nothing happened to him so, it’s shocking and in a way interesting how much power one person can hold, and how much disruption they can cause in a blink of an eye.

  • Daniel Gimena

    Nice, easy reading article about one of the most important events in US history.

    As a European, I obviously had heard about the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, but I didn’t know many details.
    I liked the way the author presents and explains the history of the other two main-characters of this sad day; Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. It was interesting to read about this two characters and to try to understand why they did what they did on November 22, 1963.

    Personally, I didn’t know that Kennedy’s murderer was assassinated and, furthermore, the same day as the president. It had to be a terrible day, with unexpected things constantly happening while the whole country and world were watching their TVs. I can understand the impact that this moments supposed for many people, as it would also have supposed a big shock to me.

    Terrible things happen constantly in life. That day was one of those days that many people didn’t want to accept and let go. The best we can do in order to honor Kennedy’s memory, is remember him as the beloved president he had been.

  • Amelia Hew

    Before reading this article, I am not too familiar about the assassination of President Kennedy. Despite Oswald having lived a tough life, his reason of his assassination of the president was never know as he was shot on life TV by a night club owner, Jack Ruby who were distraught by the news about the death of the president. This event must be traumatizing for Mrs. Kennedy to literally held her husband’s brain in her hands after he was shot.

  • Todd Brauckmiller Jr.

    Always such a tragedy every time I hear the assassination story of JFK. To think someone would resort to such drastic actions, taking the life of another person is just so cruel. What sounded the most tragic to me is how his wife must have felt. Holding the remains of her husband after he had just been shot right next to her. That event alone would haunt anybody for the rest of their lives, such a dark time for her. This was a great U.S. history article and I find this story one that will remain as one of the most darkest moments in United States history.

  • Ashley Martinez

    Before reading this article I had little knowledge about the assasination of John. F Kennedy. I had briefly heard about it but this article did a great job showcasing the factual evidence that occurred on November 22, 1963. I cannot imagine the feelings that the First Lady had while having her husband’s brains all over her after he was shot. I’m sure this moment really affected her daily life, how could it not? John F. Kennedy was taken to soon unfortunately by Lee Harvey Oswald. This event will be remembered as a significant time in U.S History. It is crazy that Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby. This was a great article.

  • Mauro Bustamante

    The article was informative and the assassination of JFK has always been a tragic and highly controversial topic to many. I don’t really know anything of the assassination of JFK maybe just conspiracies that have occurred throughout the years. This article not only gave the insight of what had happened to Kennedy but it also gave informative insight of the killer himself. Oswald was an interesting man and I wondered what was really the reason why he killed Kennedy and if it really was his idea or others idea, maybe he was just a little piece to a bigger game? however this article was really interesting and well written.

  • Jasmine Rocha

    I don’t know much about the assassination of Kennedy just maybe the conspiracies behind and the that he died. I did not know that Kennedy had gone to Dallas to bring peace to the people there knowing that many did not favor him and the tension was high. But not only did we get the insight ton Kennedy but the article also gave us the insight on the killer himself Oswald the only thing missing from this article and history, in general, is the answer to why Kenndy was killed but it will remain a mystery.

  • Katherine Watson

    As someone who has lived in Texas her whole life, I honestly had no idea why John F. Kennedy was in Dallas before him being shot. I didn’t even know that much about the assassinator either, but it is interesting to think about the fact that the tensions were already high because of the Union. I know his death is looked at as a conspiracy, with it being such a heavily secured event but he was targeted, and maybe Oswald didn’t think that our former president’s views seemed fit for this country.

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