JFK exhibit at Baylor seeks memories of 1963 assassination
By REGINA DENNIS firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, September 23, 2013 12:01 am
Organizers of a special collection at Baylor University on the upcoming 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination are looking for personal reflections from local residents to chronicle the impact of the event.
The W.R. Poage Legislative Library at Baylor recently opened the new exhibit, called “John F. Kennedy: His Life — His Presidency — His Legacy.”
Residents who visit the exhibit or go to the library’s website are invited to write their memories of learning that Kennedy was shot and killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while traveling in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas.
“There are students at Baylor who have no recollection of Kennedy, neither do their parents have any recollection of him, only their grandparents have memories of him,” said Ben Rogers, director of the library.
Of the handful of submissions on display so far, most are of residents who were in elementary school at the time and recall teachers or principals announcing the shooting, then sending students home early as word of Kennedy’s death was confirmed.
“As my father, in tears, picked me up from school, he explained to me that this president believed all men should be equal, the black and white the same,” wrote Melanie Smith, a Baylor staff member.
One letter was submitted by then-Baylor student Susan Lorance, who decided to travel to Dallas with a foster child cared for by her mother to see the president.
After seeing Kennedy pass by, the duo drove away from the congested area and stopped by an access ramp where a police officer was stationed, awaiting the procession.
The book depository where shooter Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have fired the fatal shots was about a block away from the area. Lorance wrote that she could not distinctively recall hearing the gunshots, but she heard shouting on the officer’s police radio commanding everyone to clear the area.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I pulled Melinda around and decided we needed to get across the expressway to our car as soon as possible,” Lorance wrote. “The urgency in the shouted message that I heard was unmistakable.”
Minutes later, she heard of the shooting from another driver who pulled over on the side of the road, but initially thought Kennedy would be fine because “this was Dallas and nothing exciting ever happened in Dallas.”
“That was the day a nation left its innocence behind,” Lorance said in the letter.
The Poage library will continue collecting personal submissions through May, when the exhibit will end.
Rogers said staff members will continue adding to the display, including a planned exhibit in the spring on Kennedy’s civil rights involvement.
The JFK collection was started in 2004, when a Fort Worth man offered the Poage library the research papers and notes of Penn Jones, who had been the editor of the Midlothian Mirror and covered Kennedy’s Dallas visit.
Jones wrote “Forgive My Grief,” a series of four books on the topic, and in some ways is considered “the grandfather of Kennedy assassination research,” Rogers said.
Some of the material from Jones includes his interview notes for the books and articles, as well as pages of teletype from the Associated Press sent over news wires frantically conveying details in the aftermath of the shooting.
From there, the library set out to acquire more papers and items related to the assassination, such as a collection of research and dozens of books written by journalists on the topic.
Rogers said the library obtained many of the donations through connections made at the Coalition on Political Assassinations’ annual conference and the International Conference on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Another major coup for the library are dozens of boxes of newspapers, magazines and governmental documents about Kennedy’s assassination donated by the Mary Ferrell Foundation, named for a Dallas legal secretary who immediately began gathering and archiving the materials the day after the incident to eventually create a research clearinghouse.
The exhibit also includes a display case of vintage still and video cameras that would have been used by some of the reporters then, as well as some of their iconic images of the shooting’s aftermath.
“We’ve become a depository on Kennedy assassination research,” Rogers said. “Several other schools have Kennedy collections, but I can’t think of other assassination research collections.”
Three sets of materials came from collectors in Massachusetts, Kennedy’s home state.
Rogers speculates that some universities have steered away from the assassination angle because of the ongoing theories about a conspiracy and second gunman being involved, despite the federally chartered Warren Commission declaring that Oswald was the sole shooter.
Oswald was later shot and killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby during a press event at the Dallas police headquarters.
The Poage exhibit includes a wall outlining the conspiracy theories, citing some information from the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ investigation into the incident that implored the FBI to investigate.
“The House Select Committee said there’s something else going on here, and the FBI sealed the records,” Rogers said. “Why would you seal the records if there’s nothing going on?”
Besides the assassination materials, the exhibit includes things such as campaign posters and buttons for Kennedy and vice presidential running mate Lyndon B. Johnson; vinyl records of his speeches while in office; photos of the Kennedy family in the White House; magazine profile covers; copies of the speeches he was to deliver in Dallas and a later event that day in Austin; and mementos from Kennedy’s inauguration, including an invitation addressed to the library’s namesake Poage, who was then a U.S. congressman.
There are also specific display cases on major initiatives Kennedy championed before his death, including dramatically expanding the country’s space program, establishing the Peace Corps, pushing for greater recognition of the arts through special events at the White House, and championing the Civil Rights Act that was eventually signed into law by Johnson.
“Even when I was in public schools, you start U.S. history, but you never quite get to the modern era before the year was over,” Rogers said. “(Current students) only have a vague recollection, if any, of Kennedy and what he was like . . . so I think it’s important for them to understand the president and what he accomplished.”