November 22, 1963. Fifty years ago. I was in fifth grade, a time that simultaneously now seems a million years ago and just yesterday. For my fifth grade self, looking back fifty years was impossible. A time before my parents were born? Unimaginable!
But those of us old enough to remember the events of that day know that fifty years can pass in the blink of an eye. Perhaps in part because we can track the passage of those years so easily. Everything that happened over those years–around the world, in our own culture, and in our own families–has been written about, photographed, and filmed; our lives have been turned into novels and made into movies and TV shows. Every detail has been studied and analyzed.
As this Voice of America article notes, the news reports of JFK’s assassination and the events that followed gave validity to TV news, still a relatively new and untrusted news source at the time. And because of the unprecedented TV coverage, the sweet picture of little John-John’s brave salute and the horrific image of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald live on camera have been burned into our brains. Many more images followed over the decades: Vietnam, Woodstock, civil rights demonstrations, Kent State, the moon landing, the shuttle explosion, 9-11.
People who were young adults at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination are in their 70s and 80s now. If they want to write their life stories, they have access to so many images, films, and written words that can help transport them back to that other time and place. This was not so a few generations back. I can remember sitting with my grandmother and looking at her scrapbook that held the usual ephemera for her day–small black & white photographs, a few invitations and letters, school reports, yellowed newspaper clippings–that sort of thing. It told an abbreviated story of her life, nothing like what my generation could compile.
And now imagine what a young woman from today will have to work with when she decides to record her stories thirty, forty, or fifty years from now. Not only will she have an abundance of public media resources to draw on, but, thanks to social media, she will have the minutiae of her own day-to-day life–possibly even a photo of what she had for dinner on November 22, 2013! Will that make her generation more or less likely to want to look back and preserve their personal histories? Only time will tell.
But it seems we are in a golden age right now, a perfect time to capture the memories of the past five or six decades, with a plethora of information to jog memories and supply background detail. A good place to begin might be with the question, “Where were you when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated?”
~APH: Life, Stories, People~
About today’s contributor: D. Fran Morley is a freelance writer and personal historian in Fairhope, Alabama, on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. She is content editor for the Association of Personal Historians.
Photo of presidential motorcade from the Warren Commission Report and in the public domain. Used via Wikimedia Commons