President John F. Kennedy: He was my First President

By Floyd Miller | November 1, 2013

In 1960, I was a student of history and government. Professor Lonnie Cunningham, my history and government teacher, made history come alive.I was aware of most of the Presidents and studied quite a bit about President Lincoln, Garfield and McKinney and the events surrounding their assassinations. However, I never thought my President would be assassinated.I call President Kennedy my first president because his election was the first one I remember. I was 11 years old when President Kennedy was running for office. I heard the talk about him being the first Catholic running for office. People wondered out loud if he would get his marching orders from the Pope if he won the election. {{more}}On Inauguration Day, he spoke that one line that will be with us for ages, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That line was impressed upon us by our teacher.As his administration got underway, we were still in the Cold War. It was this courageous president that got Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union to blink and turn his ships away from Cuba, thus ending the Cuban Missile Crisis, a scary time in our history.The Civil Rights Movement was underway, with Dr. King’s non-violent movement. I certainly believed that President Kennedy and his attorney general, bother Robert Kennedy, would be able to help Negroes. Hope was high among Negroes that President Kennedy could assure the freedom that President Lincoln put into law 100 years earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation.It’s amazing how fast hopes can be dashed. For me, it was on November 22, 1963. I remember it was a little after lunch and teachers were in the hall whispering. The disturbed looks on their faces told me that something was wrong. I assumed that one of my friend’s dad, who had been in a motorcycle accident, had died. This thought was sad because their mother had died in childbirth at the age of 32 or 33 a year or two earlier.Our suspense soon turned into shock when our teacher told us that President Kennedy had died; he had been assassinated. We were sad; teachers were crying, students were crying and some us were like zombies. In the midst of the grief, we were wondering who did it. Was it the Russians, and were they going to bomb us?I remember we had P.E. class that afternoon. We went to the gym and a few guys tried to shoot basketballs. After a few minutes they joined us in the bleachers and we all seemed to just stare at the basketball in the middle of the gym floor. Our hearts were broken; it was such an empty feeling.I remember watching little John John salute his father’s casket and the dignity and grace that the First Lady had during that terrible time in our nation’s history. Many what ifs were on my mind surrounding the assassination: What if he had the top up, What if it had been raining, and what if they had taken a different route. I actually wrote a poem in memory of President Kennedy. However, I lost it. I remember reading A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. I was searching for answers. Even today, many questions remain unanswered. About 20 years ago I bought some old Life and Look magazine that had full length stories surrounding his life and his death. I will read some of those stories on the 50th anniversary of his death.Today, we know what the country has been like without him. I still wonder what it would have been like with him. After all, he was my “First President.”