A Virginia Reader On The Day Kennedy Died—And The Consquences
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Re: Hugh McInnish’s  Fifty Years Ago Today: How An Alabama High School Received The News Of Kennedy’s Assassination

From: Vincent Chiarello (e-mail him)

The day President Kennedy was murdered, November 22, 1963, is to many of a certain age – mine – similar to what an earlier generation experienced on the day in which the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7th, 1941.  The events of those particular days are indelibly etched in our collective minds, and many can, to this day, recall exactly where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news of the president’s death.

Mr. McInnish was in the faculty lounge; I was teaching a high school class in World History, but aside from the immediate differences in school and place, there is a similarity of results a half century after the president’s death.

The New York City high school in which I taught consisted of a student body that was notably better academically prepared save those that required an examination for entry; well over 90% of the graduating body went on to college, many to the vaunted Ivy schools. Blacks composed less than 5% of the student body; Hispanics 1%, if that. One sign of that academic achievement mentality was that the school fielded no football team; athletics were of secondary importance, but Advanced Placement classes existed in all major academic areas: I taught the Advanced Placement course in European History.

The school was equipped with a public address announcement system that informed us when to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or other administrative matters. Very rarely were classes interrupted, but on this day that was done twice: first to announce that President Kennedy had been shot; the second, to announce his death. I can recall vividly the effect that the news had on the students in the class: very different from Mr. Mcinnish's Alabama students— several girls began to cry openly.

Beginning in 1967,  busing students into the school began, and the composition, and academic achievement of the school began to change; three years later I left Martin Van Buren High School for a career in the U.S. Foreign Service, a change I never regretted. Still, that day in 1963 at the school is part of my memory’s hard drive and cannot be erased.

Decades later, I happened to pass the high school as the school day ended. What was immediately noticeable was the virtual absence of whites amongst the throng who poured out the doors. Also noticeable were the numbers of Latino, South and East Asian students in those groups, clearly a result of the changing patterns of immigration since 1965.

But in addition I could not help but notice that the school now had erected goal posts on the playing field, for the school now funds and fields a football team.

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