(Memphis) Almost all Americans more than 55 years old remember when they learned President John F. Kennedy had been shot.
In Memphis, it’s no different, as many know something about that moment 50 years ago, when everything seemed to change.
JFK’s assassination left vivid impressions seared into the memory of noted Stax Records songwriter and producer David Porter.
“The day President Kennedy was assassinated, I remember just as I remember when Dr. King was assassinated. It seems the sky became overcast, a dark overcast look in the sky. For us losing him, I think it was a tremendous loss,” Porter said.
Fifty years later, Memphians recall things like where they were at that very moment.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell was in 6th grade English-Grammar class.
“I remember the teacher came in and made the announcement. We all were shocked because we didn’t know what assassination meant at that age. It was such a traumatic event,” Luttrell said.
Barbara Andrews is director of education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. She says JFK’s death felt like the loss of a family member.
“It was so very personal for my mom and all our neighbors. I remember coming home from school and this house was dark except for the TV. My mother was in mourning as she watched that TV in shock,” Andrews said.
In the African-American community, the President’s death was perceived as a major setback for equality.
Otis Sanford is a WREG-TV commentator.
“Many people were saying “they killed Kennedy. They killed Kennedy.” They killed someone who cared about us meaning African-Americans. So, it was deeply hurting,” Sanford said.
Kennedy’s assassination raised many questions.
Bill Morris is known as the man who read James Earl Ray his rights after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis.
The former sheriff and county mayor has his own theories about the President’s death.
“There’s a growing trend that says John Kennedy was shot by multiple assassins. For me, I think the assassination of Kennedy is one of the biggest coverup in all of American crimes. I think it’s one of the most unsettling things for me. I think there was a conspiracy there as I do for killing Dr. King,” Morris said.
Memphis insurance agent and former interim Memphis City Councilman Henry Hooper is a retired secret service agent. He knows the men who were assigned to protect president Kennedy.
Hooper dismisses Kennedy conspiracy theories.
“I’ve had some time to spend with the former agents who were on that detail when he was assassinated. I continually see people come up with questions about the assassination and all those things. I think the facts came out during the previous investigations,” Hooper said.
For some the assassination in Dallas resonates loudly in Memphis because both cities share the pain of being where two icons lost their lives.
A C Wharton is mayor of Memphis.
“For Memphis I think it has a particular significance because of our unfortunate, but ever real history of Dr. King having given his life here for the sake of tolerance,” Wharton said.
50 years later, many have drawn different lessons from that dark day. Some admittedly have a greater distrust of government, but others have been inspired to greater idealism for equality because of JFK and his beliefs.
“I do think Kennedy really cared about equal opportunity and equality,” Sanford said.