President John F. Kennedy died 44 years ago today. Five year anniversaries tend to get more attention.
High school U.S. history students have been alive less than half the time since the assassination. To them it is ancient history, even more than the Vietnam War. Teachers need to find ways to make the history stick even in years that are not multiples of 5.
- Photo: President Kennedy greets a crowd in Ft. Worth, Texas, on November 22, 1963, a few hours before his death. Photo credit: REUTERS/JFK Library/The White House/Cecil Stoughton/Handout (see below, blog post from Baltimore Sun)
A new film offers some aid. “Oswald’s Ghost” had it’s world premiere at the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, the place where Lee Oswald was arrested. Restoration of the theater is not complete, but it is far enough along to host events.
The movie is in severely limited release prior to a January 14, 2008 premier on PBS stations. Director Robert Stone places the assassination in history and tells some of the effects on America, rather than dwelling on facts or controversies around the shooting. The movie got a good review from the Dallas Morning News:
“Nobody had stepped back and told the story of the debate itself,” he says.
“How did these ideas come about? Who propagated them and why were they so widely believed? And what had they done to this country? Seventy percent of Americans still believe the government was involved in the Kennedy assassination or has worked to cover it up. And that’s had a huge impact.”
In the end, a seemingly disparate chorus of voices – including the late Norman Mailer – accomplish the filmmaker’s objective.
As he says, Oswald’s Ghost is “a way of explaining the ’60s. We’re not arguing anymore about what happened in Dealey Plaza. It’s an argument about explaining what came after … and how did everything go so wrong.”
With luck, it will be on DVD for classroom use by early February.
Dallas’s PBS outlet, KERA, is showing another locally-produced film this week that I have found useful in the classroom, focusing on the news coverage that day, JFK: Breaking the News. For slightly more adult teachers, there is the fun of finding news people in their infant careers, people like Robert McNeil then of NBC, Peter Jennings, and then-local Dallas reporters Jim Lehrer and Dan Rather, and Fort Worth reporter Bob Schieffer. Few other one-day events have produced such a stable of news greats — the Kennedy assassination spurred the careers of more new people than any other event with the possible exception of World War II. Jane Pauley narrates the story.
There is a webcam view of Dealey Plaza from the Texas Book Depository Building — the cam claims to be from the 6th floor window from which Oswald shot, but it looks like the top of the building to me.
The Kennedy assassination kicked the wind out of America. In many ways it was the event that triggered 1968, perhaps the worst single year in American history.
44 years, and we still don’t know the full set of ramifications of the events of that day. Historians keep chipping away.