JFK’s murder shook campus in 1963

By Nyssa Bulkes

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, students in the Holmes Student Center’s Pow Wow Room sat mute, all ears tuned to the voice of a radio commentator.

Instead of being excited about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, some sat in tears. Others were frozen in shock.

“The President of the United States is dead,” the announcer said.

The voice was professional, but as solemn and shaken as the rest of his countrymen. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by a sniper as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.

At first, some students thought reports of the assassination were a poor attempt at humor. Others were more realistic.

Kennedy’s assassination resonated strongly among young Americans. In his 1961 inaugural address, Kennedy’s most memorable quotations encouraged young men to become active and join the armed forces.

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” he famously said.

Three years after Kennedy’s death, Northern Star managing editor Gary Watson supported continuation of the late president’s legacy by working for the betterment of the nation.

“It is time we stop mourning the fact John Kennedy was unable to continue his work and rather carry out what he so strongly advocated – action for the positive good of the country as a whole, rather than actions for individual betterment,” Watson said.

Kennedy’s popularity took an ironic up-swing in the years after his death. Elected at 43 years old, he is the youngest president in U.S. history. Many Democrats remember how inspiring Kennedy was. His identity as a recognized war hero earned him popularity among nationalists and young Americans looking to leave their mark on home soil.

Michael J. Mortensen, a 1963 NIU student, wrote to the Star’s Letters to the Editor section reflecting this opinion.

“John F. Kennedy was a war hero, an intellectual, a virile example of American manhood, and most important, an American who gave his life in service of his country,” Mortensen wrote.

Matthew Streb, a current assistant political science professor, reminds us that had Kennedy lived, he would have endured some of the nation’s most trying political issues.

“Many forget that Kennedy was not very popular at the time of his assassination and would have faced a difficult re-election in 1964,” Streb said. “Had he been re-elected, he would have had to deal with Vietnam. It is quite possible that, had Kennedy lived, history would be no kinder to him than it has been to [Lyndon] Johnson.”

Streb’s colleague, assistant political science professor Artemus Ward, confirmed Streb’s views in critiquing Kennedy’s short presidency.

“Kennedy was narrowly elected, but after his assassination, an overwhelming majority of Americans said they voted for him,” Ward said. “Americans consider him one of the top presidents in U.S. history. Yet, it is widely held by academics that Kennedy’s brief presidency does not warrant such praise. Kennedy’s popularity is largely due to myth-making and martyrdom.”