Remembering the Day Innocence Died In America

It was just after two o’clock  on a cool, cloudy, Friday afternoon when we heard the news.

“President John F. Kennedy has been shot and he is dead.”

For a generation of young Americans, the killing of President John F. Kennedy, just two blocks north of U.S. Highway 80 in Dallas, changed our lives forever.  Adults, teachers, parents, and even battle hardened veterans, were crying.  The innocent children could not understand why.   Sadly, there were those who were taught to hate who cheered and  reveled as the sorrowful sobbed all around them.

The events of the “Four Dark Days” unfolded on televisions across the county and around the country as families and friends gathered around their black and white sets to see what was going to happen next.  As it happened, history happened right before everyone’s eyes.   

Nearly everyone alive over the age of 55 remembers where they were when they heard the news. What you are about to read are the memories of a sampling of local school students, now in their late 50s and 60s.  Many remember that Friday autumn afternoon fifty years ago,  as if it were yesterday.   You can read the numbness in their words, the pain in their tears, and the sorrow in their souls - the sorrow of the innocents. 


Three gun shots rang out in Dealey Plaza at 1:30 EST.  Within minutes, the news of the shooting spread rapidly across the nation.  School principals across the county received the word that the President had been shot.  Thirty minutes later the news came that the President had died.  It then became their task to notify the students of the tragedy.  

Angie Bedingfield Alford was playing on the playground of Cadwell Elementary School when her teachers,  Paulina Shaluta and Mrs. Grace Bedingfield,  came outside to tell us: “It felt very surreal. My mother was devastated. We stayed glued to our black and white TV in the days that followed,” Alford recalled.

At Moore Street School, Principal Sally Horne spoke over the intercom telling the students the news. Vicki Adams Blizzard distinctly remembers, “It was after 2:00 when our principal, came over the intercom and announced the news about President Kennedy. It was  a cloudy November day right before Thanksgiving break. School let out early. I remember going home and watching television, stunned and saddened.”  

Renee Fraser put her head on her desk and cried.  After school was let out early, she kept on crying.  Like nearly everyone in the country, Renee and her family were glued to their television sets for the next four days. 

Cheryl Belcher still remembers when the announcement came over the speakers, “Everyone gasped and stood still. It was quiet in the hall full of kids. I think we were all shocked and afraid of what it might mean for our country. It made me realize how fast things can change. It also made me realize our country is vulnerable, even with all the protection our country has.” 


For many school students, the assassination left an indelible mark on their memories.  For many students, it was the first time that they had ever seen their teachers and principals crying, even the tough football coaches had tears in their eyes.

John Pike was in Coach Sapp's Health/PE class. The principal called all the teachers to the office. When Coach Sapp came back, he was crying. Edward Tanner remembered, “Coach Sapp told us what had happened and then he had to ask the few who were cheering to stop.”

Peggy Hood Pridgen, a 6th grader at Saxon Heights, remembered that suddenly all of the teachers gathered in hall, crying, whispering. “Finally Mrs. Garner announced, "President Kennedy has been assassinated. A brief moment of silence, Peggy remembered, “Then we clapped because we had no idea what that big word meant! We quickly learned from her face that wasn't the appropriate response.” 

Dublin Mayor Phil Best was in the 2nd grade in McRae, remembered his teacher crying as she rolled in a television so her students could watch history happening in front of their eyes.

Nan Barfoot’s most vivid memory of that day was the moment when her health teacher Evelyn Tanzine went out into the hall after a knock on the door.  “She came back, she was crying. She could hardly get the words out. ‘President Kennedy has been shot and he died.’ Holy cow! We all sat in stunned silence, you could've heard a pin drop,” Barfoot harked back to that day.  

Becky Stewart Meeks recalled, “I was in the 5th grade at East Laurens. Our principal broadcast the radio announcement over the intercom system. I remember a teacher from another classroom went running down the hall screaming.”

There was total silence in Mrs. Harris’ 7th grade class.   “Mrs. Harris read the announcement as she cried.  No one knew what to say or do,” Danny Hooks recalled. 


Rosemary Reinhardt Digby, a senior in high school at Dudley High School, recalled “I was walking back from lunch when one of my classmates told me the president had been shot. My first reaction was "what is the joke?" No joke. We went in the school library. I can still see Walter Cronkite's face when he announced the president was dead. I don't think any of us realized the impact of the death of a president. My Mother told me how she remembered the day Roosevelt died and how devastated everyone was. The same feeling we all had during that time.”

Elouise Franks  was ironing her husband’s clothes. “I had to stop for a while it was so unreal for this to happen - a real nightmare to me, she remembered.

Darlene Calvert Farrell remembers the still which  fell over everyone as if they had lost their best friend.

Candace Spicer Christian and her sister Heather were planning on going with their parents George and Barbara Spicer to celebrate their anniversary.  “I remember sitting in our den watching CBS. We did not go out to eat that night and I could not understand why. I remember my dad saying it was too sad a night for us to be celebrating,” Candace reflected.


Oscar Hammerstein, II in the opening verse of his song, You Have To Be Carefully Taught in the musical South Pacific wrote, “You have got to be taught to hate and to fear.”  Sadly the assassination of President Kennedy brought out the worst in those children who have been taught to hate others they disagreed with.   Although widely popular across the country, President Kennedy was hated by some Southerners. 

Tom Patterson was taking his post as a Hillcrest Elementary Safety Patrol guard. When the bell rang, kids streamed out of school. “The first to approach my beat was my younger brother Hunter, who said ‘President Kennedy got shot in Dallas. A fellow safety patrol kid reveled in the news because of the President’s compassion for the plight of African Americans. Hunter & I were both so shocked we didn't know what to say,” Patterson remembered.  Meanwhile, Tom and Hunter’s sister Calli walked home down the street to see her mother Alice sitting on the ottoman with her face in her hands, sobbing. “I was barely six and trying to understand why my mother was so sad about a man she didn't know dying. I knew something was terribly wrong,” Calli remembered. Pam Holmes heard a similar remark a Johnson Street School.  

Gail S Rogers, a 7th grader then, remembered when the news came over the intercom that the President had been shot. “In the midst of overwhelming sadness, one boy jumped up and yelled, ‘I’m glad someone shot him,” Gail recalled.   Stunned and sad, Gail loved the Kennedys and even named her first baby doll Caroline. 

Some of the kids in Marcus Clements’ American History class at Adrian High School clapped as well.  Mary A. Lewis was walking to the Band Room in preparation for a music festival that evening when she heard a young boy yell, “The South Will Rise Again.”


For African-Americans, the death of John F. Kennedy was a double blow.  For the first time in American history, an American President was beginning to establish policies to create equal rights for African Americans.  

Phyllis E. Turner was watching TV while her mother, Mrs. Equilla Speight Edwards,  was outside hanging clothes on the line.  The program was interrupted when Walter Cronkite who made the announcement.  As if it was yesterday, Phyllis recalled, “When I heard the news, I ran out to the porch and yelled to my mother, "Mama! President Kennedy's dead! My mother dropped everything, ran inside the house, sat down on the bed and said sadly, "Lord, have mercy!"

Sharmen May Gowens was in her 4th Grade class  at Susie Dasher School. “Mrs. Cruise came back into the classroom and told us "Class, I have some bad news. President Kennedy has just been shot. I screamed out, ‘Shot?! Oh, NO!’ I started crying and so did the rest of the class. It was a sad, sad day,” said Gowens, who was so moved by the death of the president that she composed this memorial poem a few months later. 

Mr. Kennedy, I remember
That day in late November
I was told you were killed,
I knew it couldn't be "for real.”
I cried, cried and cried,
But on that day you died.
That day was very sad
For two children lost their dad.
November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three
Was when this country was sad, sad as could be.
You strove for the truth and right
With all your heart and all your might.
I will always remember you
As a man who was true
May God ever bless
This country to be a success.
While you lived, you did your part
You will always live in my heart.
May you forever rest in peace
For my love will never cease. 

                             Sharmen May Gowens


Some Laurens County residents were close to the scene at the time of the shooting.

Becky Wood  was living in Garland, a suburb of Dallas.  She turned down a chance to go to see the President and went to school that day.  “When the announcement came over the intercom, the room was completely quiet until the sobs began by teachers and students alike.  Even the slumber party we had planned was a solemn occasion. Somehow, it felt we lost more than a president that day,” Becky recalled. 

Rudy Collins  was in the 3rd grade in Dallas.  Her father, who worked at the Dallas Times Herald, came to pick her up.  He was crying. Rudy saved all the pictures in the magazine and papers. She still has them.  


There are some historians who divide the 20th Century into two parts, the time before the assassination and the time after that fateful day.  To many, the assassination represented the end of innocence of what was good and right in America. 

“ I think this event was the beginning of the end of innocence for my generation,” Kim Butler maintained.

Kay Middlebrooks Baeumel left school and jumped off the back porch as most Moore Street students always did.  She cried all the way to her home two blocks away. “ I can still remember it like it was yesterday,” Baeumel said.

Lorene Flanders was her 1st grade class at East Laurens when the announcement of the president's death came over the intercom. Her teacher, Miss Orlene Gilbert, began to cry.

“After a moment I went to her and told her that no one would shoot the president. I knew that the president's brother had something to do with the government, and I told Miss Gilbert that it must have meant that the president's brother had been shot. It was inconceivable that someone would shoot the president,” recalled Flanders, who kept telling her fellow students returning from recess that no one would shoot the president.”

Mary A. Lewis was preparing for a band festival that evening on the old football field. She remembered, “I was afraid of what would happen next. They told us the band festival would go on that night because the out of town bands had already left for Dublin. That night, the combined bands from Dublin (high school, and Junior High) and from the visiting town (can’t remember which one) played the national anthem. I cried.”

But the killing wasn’t over.  Mary and her family returned from Mass just in time to turn on the television to see the first live telecast of a murder, Jack Ruby’s shooting of the prime suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Mary lamented, “I held my baby brother in my lap for the funeral. I told him someday I would tell him that he saw it all. I watched, as young John Kennedy broke the nation’s heart with a salute. Then life went on,  but it never was the same again.”