President Kennedy Is Assassinated Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After only two years in office as president of the United States, charismatic world leader John F. Kennedy was slain, leaving a nation, and world, stunned. In the years following, conspiracy theories questioned many circumstances of the assassination, and the questions and doubts continue.

Summary of Event

At approximately 12:30 p.m. central standard time on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. At the time, Kennedy and his party, consisting of his wife Jacqueline, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, Senator Ralph Webster Yarborough, and Texas governor John Bowden Connally and Mrs. Connally, were traveling in a motorcade from Love Field to the Dallas Trade Mart, where the president was to make an address as part of a fund-raising drive for the national Democratic Party. The stricken president was rushed to Parkland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead within the hour. Assassinations and attempts;John F. Kennedy[Kennedy, John] Presidency, U.S.;John F. Kennedy[Kennedy] [kw]President Kennedy Is Assassinated (Nov. 22, 1963) [kw]Kennedy Is Assassinated, President (Nov. 22, 1963) Assassinations and attempts;John F. Kennedy[Kennedy, John] Presidency, U.S.;John F. Kennedy[Kennedy] [g]North America;Nov. 22, 1963: President Kennedy Is Assassinated[07730] [g]United States;Nov. 22, 1963: President Kennedy Is Assassinated[07730] [c]Crime and scandal;Nov. 22, 1963: President Kennedy Is Assassinated[07730] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 22, 1963: President Kennedy Is Assassinated[07730] Kennedy, John F. [p]Kennedy, John F.;assassination Oswald, Lee Harvey Kennedy, Jacqueline Connally, John Bowden Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;assumption of the presidency Johnson, Lady Bird Ruby, Jack Yarborough, Ralph Webster

Two hours after the shooting, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the thirty-sixth president of the United States. Johnson immediately left Dallas for Washington, D.C., on board Air Force One with the corpse of the murdered president. Within a matter of minutes after the plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., Johnson appeared on television and made his first public statement as president of the United States.

Certainly, a statement from the new president was needed. The nation appeared panic-stricken; every newscast and many rumors heightened the suspense and fear. Never before had so great a tragedy been covered so completely by the communications media. Forty minutes after the assassination, Walter Cronkite Cronkite, Walter , a noted news commentator for the Columbia Broadcasting System, reached all that network’s affiliated stations with a news flash: “The president has been shot.” The business of the entire nation ground to a halt. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara McNamara, Robert hastily summoned the Joint Chiefs of Staff to an emergency meeting. The panic was heightened by a breakdown of the Washington telephone system. Senator Edward Kennedy, the murdered president’s brother, was unable to place a call to Parkland Hospital.

In Dallas, there was difficulty with the police radio network. A series of documentable but lamentable events confused the search for the assassin and added to public fears. Americans felt such a deep personal loss over the assassination of the young president that they seemed unable to carry on any but the most routine of daily affairs, pending the last services and interment in Arlington National Cemetery. To many, especially the young, the fallen president rapidly became a folk hero.

Lee Harvey Oswald, who had once renounced his U.S. citizenship to become a Russian national, on Thursday, November 21, had carefully examined his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and placed it in a specially made bag before departing for work at the Texas School Book Depository. On the morning of the murder, he took his rifle in this bag to the sixth floor of the depository and arranged boxes against the window so that he would have a “dead-fall” shot on occupants in cars approaching and leaving the highway below. Earlier, while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Oswald had qualified as expert with the M-1 rifle. Oswald knew that the Kennedy motorcade would have to turn just in front of the depository before heading down toward the underpasses.

It was on the sixth floor of the depository that witnesses saw the marksman and the gun. The evidence bears out that Oswald left the depository within three minutes after the shooting and boarded a bus, from which he soon disembarked to enter a taxicab. Soon after the shooting, the Dallas police radioed a description of the suspected assassin to all members of the police force and placed them on alert. Oswald, who had gone to his room and secured a .38-caliber pistol, was approached by police officer J. D. Tippit Tippit, J. D. . He shot and killed Tippit and ran to the Texas Theatre, where at 2:50 p.m., police arrested him. On Saturday, November 23, Oswald was formally charged with the murder of the president.

President and Mrs. Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally and wife, moments before the shooting.

(Library of Congress)

Immediately after Oswald’s arrest, J. Edgar Hoover Hoover, J. Edgar , director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation , urged that Oswald be secretly transferred out of the Dallas jail. This advice was ignored. On Sunday morning, plans to transfer Oswald to the county jail were completed. While the move was being made, Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, shot Oswald. An audience of millions saw the shooting because the television networks had been permitted to cover the transfer. This third murder in less than two days served to confuse forever the reasons for the assassination and the positive identification of the killer. Again, the nation recoiled in horror. Hastily, the mythmakers began to follow their craft, weaving Ruby in the fabric of their story.

The state funeral began when the coffin of the president was taken to the White House. The following day the casket was taken to the Capitol, where hundreds of thousands of silent mourners filed by, many of them in tears. More than ninety million Americans watched the television broadcast of the funeral procession from Capitol Hill to the grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy had gone to Dallas because of the factional split in the Democratic Party in Texas. One wing of the split was headed jointly by Vice President Johnson and his supporter, Governor Connally; the other unit was led by Senator Yarborough. Because of the uninspired leadership of several extremely wealthy Texans, Dallas had become renowned as a center for right-wing conservative and reactionary politics, despite the fact that most of its citizens were considered law-abiding and peaceful. Prior to the assassination, some political visitors had been verbally abused, and one reportedly struck by a zealot. The Kennedy motorcade participants all remembered the adverse political slogans that appeared as the president passed. Fearing this sort of atmosphere, many close associates of the president had warned him against going to Dallas.

Political necessity prevailed, because presidential aides feared that the small margin by which the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had carried Texas in 1960 had been dissipated by Kennedy’s advocacy of liberal measures, including a civil rights program. National polls also showed the president’s popularity to be at its lowest point. His economic and social programs, known as the New Frontier, were stalled in Congress. The U.S. public had not forgotten the Bay of Pigs incident, which had placed the president and the nation in a poor light internationally. The president decided to go to Dallas and actually used some of his political clout to force Governor Connally and Senator Yarborough to ride in the same motorcade with him. For the first time since the loss of her baby in August, Jacqueline Kennedy had agreed to accompany her husband on a political trip. Her wit, charm, and great popularity enhanced the president’s visit.

Evidently, the president achieved considerable success in arousing Democratic leaders, for prior to his visit to Dallas, he had been greeted by large and friendly crowds at Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. Everyone in the presidential party appeared pleased when they left Fort Worth for Dallas. Hopes soared that the Democratic Party in Texas would be reunited because of Kennedy’s visit. Then came the trip from Love Field, Dallas, that had been scheduled to terminate at the Trade Mart. The route had been published in the newspapers, and Oswald perfected his plans on the basis of that route.

One week after the assassination, President Johnson appointed a commission to gather all the facts about the event. This commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren Warren, Earl , became known as the Warren Commission Warren Commission . Six other distinguished public figures served on the commission with Warren. Beginning in February, 1964, the commission held hearings, gathering fifteen volumes of testimony and depositions and eleven volumes of exhibits. In late September, the commission reported to the president its conclusion that Kennedy had been assassinated by Oswald and that there had been no conspiracy.

Significance

The assassination of John F. Kennedy came at the start of a five-year period that saw several political assassinations in the United States. Assassins killed Malcolm X in 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, and, two months after King, the president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy. The nation was in deep mourning, some even in shock, after President Kennedy’s assassination, and the shock wave reverberated for years. Leading politicians came to distrust, at least to some degree, public contact, and it even had the effect of making citizens rethink the importance of the vice president, the person who would take over control of the country should a standing president die.

Furthermore, doubts about facts of the assassination continued unabated. The Warren Commission Report did not still the cries of those who believed that Kennedy’s assassination could not have been perpetrated by a paranoid loner. Soon, some respectable writers began to attack the commission’s conclusions; those eager to capitalize on the murder had begun feeding the public half-truths and juggled facts in numerous volumes ranging from the fanciful to the absurd.

A large number of books also came to market during this period, each with its own version of a conspiracy theory. The first of these, Whitewash Whitewash (Weisberg) (1966) by Harold Weisberg, was a direct attack on the Warren Commission Report. It was soon followed by Rush to Judgment Rush to Judgment (Lane) (1966), by Mark Lane Lane, Mark , a prominent New York attorney. Lane was to write a series of books accusing numerous agencies in the government of taking part in a conspiracy. Despite little real evidence for his theories, he remained a popular speaker on the subject for many years.

The U.S. government itself often provided impetus to conspiracy theories with its own confusion. In 1975, it was revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency Central Intelligence Agency;conspiracy theories had attempted to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960’s. The Warren Commission (and perhaps even Kennedy himself) had never been aware of these activities; it was a short jump to the question of what other information the CIA had withheld. As a result, a new investigative committee was established in September, 1976, with congressman Thomas Downing Downing, Thomas , a devotee of the conspiracy theories, as its chairman. Downing eventually was replaced by Louis Stokes Stokes, Louis of Ohio, and in December, 1978, the commission reported that it could find nothing substantially inaccurate in the Warren Commission Report.

Before the 1978 report was released, two acoustics experts, analyzing a dictabelt recording of the actual assassination, argued they could hear an additional shot being fired from the front of the motorcade. Although the analysis was shown to be inaccurate, it clouded the issue still further. Many conspiracy theories were significantly challenged by Case Closed Case Closed (Posner) (1993), by Gerald Posner. Posner’s analysis of all aspects of the case indicated that Oswald alone was guilty. Assassinations and attempts;John F. Kennedy[Kennedy, John] Presidency, U.S.;John F. Kennedy[Kennedy]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bishop, Jim. The Day Kennedy Was Shot. 1968. Reprint. Toronto, Ont.: HarperCollins, 1992. An hour-by-hour account of the fateful day in Dallas.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Donovan, Robert J. The Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. New York: Popular Library, 1964. A synopsis of the twenty-six-volume report on the assassination.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giglio, James A. The Presidency of John F. Kennedy. 2d rev. ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006. A balanced and updated portrait of Kennedy’s presidency and his historical legacy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and Museum. http://www.jfklibrary.org. The official Web site of the Kennedy presidential library and museum.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lane, Mark. Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991. Accuses the Central Intelligence Agency of a role in the assassination. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manchester, William. The Death of a President. 1967. Reprint. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. A well-researched account of the trip to Dallas and the assassination, written by one of the president’s closest friends.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Posner, Gerald. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. 1993. New ed. New York: Anchor Books, 2003. Debunks the conspiracy theories and argues that Oswald acted alone in the assassination. Must reading for details of Kennedy’s murder. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Scott, William E. November 22, 1963: A Reference Guide to the JFK Assassination. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1999. Discusses the reports of medical and ballistics experts, government officials, and law enforcement. Includes an extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United States. Warren Commission. Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Holmes Beach, Fla.: Gaunt, 2001. A reprint of the official 1964 Warren Commission Report. Bibliography, index.

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