In 1963 America was still innocent. World War II was well behind us. We had a young president with a fashionable wife and two lovely children. In spite of the Cuban Missile Crisis the country felt safe although travel and trade with Cuba are made “illegal”.
Our president had avoided war and was negotiating peace with the USSR. The US signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom which was ratified by the US Senate.
Civil Rights were being addressed and Clemson University in South Carolina admitted its first African American student. James Meredith was the first black person to graduate from the University of Mississippi. President Kennedy promised a Civil Rights Bill. Meanwhile demonstrations for equal rights continued to take place across the country. Dr. Martin Luther King, JR was arrested but by August he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC to a quarter of a million people.
The Women’s Movement was gaining steam. The president established a Commission on the Status of Women in an effort to recognize women as equal to men in the workplace.
In a small country on the other side of the world things were heating up. Viet Nam, split into North and South Viet Nam after the French left the country, engaged in a civil war with outside influences encouraging and aiding each side. Most of the population of the US had very little knowledge of what was happening in Viet Nam although that would change dramatically in years to come. The US became deeply embroiled in the conflict costing millions of dollars and thousands of American lives.
Things were beginning to change in the US but it wasn’t until November 22, 1963 that disaster struck and the country changed forever. Our sense of safety was destroyed by shots fired in Dallas, Texas. Around 12:30 in the afternoon as President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline, Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie were proceeding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza. President Kennedy was killed and Governor Connally was wounded. This started over 50 years of controversy about whether the assassination was committed by one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, or was part of a conspiracy involving a variety of groups from organized crime, to Cuban nationalists, and even the Central Intelligence Agency.
In the years that followed the country was drawn deeply into the war in Viet Nam and thousands of Americans were killed in the conflict. Civil Rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. President Richard M. Nixon was implicated in a break-in of the Democratic National Committee at Watergate building in Washington, DC. Eventually Nixon resigned to be replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford. What some people have forgotten is the fact that Ford became Vice President after the resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Agnew had agreed to resign after being charged with bribery, extortion, tax fraud, and conspiracy.
The events in Dallas on that sunny day were the beginning of a sea change in America. Driven to uncertainty by questions about the Kennedy assassination, the Viet Nam conflict, the assassinations of King and RFK, and the dishonesty of the Nixon administration trust in the government dwindled. In the years that followed many other things would cause Americans to question their government.
President John F. Kennedy died on November 22nd and America’s innocence began a slow demise on that day as well. It will take many significant changes in our country to restore confidence in our leaders, if in fact that can even happen. Until then we are left to look back at the bright, shining days of the 50’s and early 60’s nostalgically.
“View From the Sixth Floor: An Oswald Tale” is a work of fiction that highlights the changes in American society after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Beginning with a southern retired teacher’s fascination with the event and her questions about a conspiracy, the story follows her investigation of the assassination and the shocking discovery the answer was right under her nose all the time.