Texas history teachers got either a reprieve or a roadblock, depending on their view, when most schools scheduled vacation during the week of the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Generally news outlets highlight the anniversary, and it becomes a good time to discuss the events in history classes.
Classroom discussion openings are available for a broad range of topics in social studies: general government, presidential succession, politics and history of the 1960s, Vietnam, Cuba, the Cold War, U.S. international relations, Lyndon Baines Johnson, racism, civil rights, etc., etc. I have not yet been able to arrange a field trip to the 6th Floor Museum during the week, but I still hope to do that some time.
The assassination and the rumors of conspiracies that have swirled for years offer a good opportunity to discuss the methods and tools of historians, and just how we know what we claim to know about history. It’s a good opportunity to discuss how science can be used to increase our knowledge of history, and it’s a great way to introduce kids to the sort of skepticism that keeps all academic inquiry honest.
How is the day commemorated in Dealey Plaza, the site of the attack? Generally there are no formal activities, though often a wreath is placed there or at the JFK memorial a block away. Tourists come. Vendors try to sell them stuff.
One of the oddest sets of vendors for any historical site, I think, is the “newspaper” hawkers who sell tabloids touting favorite conspiracy ideas. The Dallas Morning News featured a page 1 story on this strange business, on the Sunday prior to the anniversary. Vendors dodge cops because they are unlicensed — which also means that technically they cannot sell the papers, but must ask for donations.
Another key milestone is close to passing: Only one member of the Dallas Police Department remains who was on duty that day. Again, The Dallas Morning News carried the story. Sgt. Graham H. Pierce is not yet retired, but with 43 years on the force, he will be retiring soon.
History sources pass continually. Who will capture their stories for posterity? A class might make a year-long project of interviewing such a man, preparing a document to give him at retirement, to reside in local libraries, and to provide the grist for future historians looking into whatever wild conspiracy claims might be made in the next decade, or century.