Past Times

Shock of the Kennedy assassination hit Raleigh

November 21, 2013 

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death inevitably leads people to recall how that day affected them. The day following the assassination, news reporters in Raleigh gathered people’s emotions while they were still fresh.

Disbelief. Then that began to drain away and the word became shock.

Mrs. Maria Ursano, cashier in Honaker’s Luncheonette, said, “I can’t explain . . . It’s like somebody in my family is dead . . . It’s in my heart.”

In the restaurant the news fragments continued to come over the radio. People paused before they paid their checks. Their faces seemed to reflect a deep preoccupation with the words of the announcers.

On Fayetteville Street, little groups stood for moments and then disappeared. Then came the confirmed reports that the President was actually dead.

“He’s dead.” With the words, a man’s lips tightened. Then he nodded further confirmation. “Yes . . . it’s official.”

High schools suspended activity as students listened to the news in stunned, unbelieving silence.

Raleigh residents drove their automobiles with radios on, and slower than usual.

Around the City the word most often used to express the feeling about the president’s death was “shock.” Many women were crying as they answered their telephones.

“The whole city of Raleigh is shocked and saddened that such a thing could happen,” said Mayor Jim Reid. “In our system of government, we just don’t consider such a possibility. There will be a period of mourning in Raleigh for many days to come, be it formal or not.”

Former mayor W. G. Enloe recalled that he had presided when President Kennedy made a campaign speech in Raleigh at the Reynolds Coliseum. “All of us felt like we knew him,” Enloe stated. “I can’t help but remember his fine address when he said we should ask what we could do for our country – not what our country could do for us . . . he gave his life for his convictions.”

“Our way of life is to settle with ballots, not bullets,” Enloe added. “It was a tragic thing . . .”

Said City Manager W. H. Carper: “I think the real feeling for the moment is of terrible shock and sadness, emptiness . . . You can’t feel angry and sad at the same time. The anger of the whole nation will really be felt later . . .”

Police Chief Tom Davis commented, “It was a terrible, cowardly thing, a real tragedy for his family, our country and the entire free world . . .”

Mrs. Edythe S. Wrenn, City Court clerk said, “It was a terrible deed. I’ve never been so shocked in my life concerning a national tragedy.”

Said bail bondsman S. W. Porter: “One of the most tragic things that ever happened. Regardless of what some people may have thought about him, he was our leader.”

Miss Bernadette Hoyle ... said, “The saddest thing I have ever seen was when I happened to look out of my office window after hearing the news and saw the lowering of the American flag over the Capitol.”

“It must have been a Cuban or a Communist – no American would have done such a terrible thing,” said Mrs. E. H. Parker ....

In the Education Building, workers stood in the halls in small knots.

In the downtown Branch Banking & Trust Co., Mrs. Eddy Buchanan a teller, said she was stunned by the news. “I still can’t believe it,” she said. The bank force was clustered around a small radio.

Everywhere the mood was reminiscent of 1945 when the news of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death was broadcast. But this time there was violence....

Mrs. Josephine Moses, an elevator operator in Wake County Courthouse, said “I feel shocked . . I really hate it.”

Attorney Charles Blanchard said, “It’s the severest blow I’ve had in a long time.”

Mrs. Archie Wilson, receptionist in a hair stylist establishment on South Salisbury Street, said, “I got real weak . . . I just don’t know how I feel . . . It’s just such a shock to the body and mind.”

Wake County Republican Chairman Peter Moore described the President’s death as “awful, terrible, the worst thing I’ve ever heard. Our prayers are with the President and his family and with Gov. Connally and his family.”

At Sacred Heart Cathedral at Hillsboro and McDowell Streets, the doors of the Cathedral were opened wide and the lights turned on. Eight or 10 women with bowed heads knelt before the altar. The N&O 11/23/1963

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/pasttimes.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service