President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy ride...

President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy ride in a motorcade before he was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Credit: AP

There are only a few instances that I can remember where I was and/or what I was doing when an occurrence happened.

It was not yet the end of the day during Miss Brunson's ninth-grade English class in junior high school, Nov. 22, 1963. I was 14 years old. Midway through the class period, one of Miss Brunson's peers beckoned her to the door. When she returned and stood before the class, she was visibly disturbed, upset and tearful, and instructed us to return to our homeroom class for dismissal from school.

She stated that the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated.

Maybe the day President Kennedy was shot is so memorable to me because he is the only president that I've seen up close and who I remember had even bothered to campaign in the depressed area of Harlem before his election. While a presidential candidate, he and his wife, Jackie, rode up Seventh Avenue in a procession passing my block at 118th Street in an open convertible.

Our neighborhood junior high was within walking distance of everyone's home and on that day he was killed, we all sadly, quietly and quickly made our way home. We were in a state of shock and disbelief.

I'm not sure how everyone else felt internally, but as I walked the four blocks home past the sitting park, known then as Dewey Square, I was also in fear. The gray overcast sky was appropriate for the dismal event that had plagued the day. The cloudiness reminded me of the black and white pictures of Russia that I had always seen in books and the way that I envisioned Russia to look on any given day.

During that time in the '60s, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union's ruler, was not the best of friends with the United States. In determining who could do such a horrendous thing -- assassinate this young, intelligent, charismatic and handsome president of ours -- my thoughts during what seemed to be my longest walk home laid responsibility for this terrible act on the Russians.

Yes, I concluded, the Russians must have done this. My fear continued to escalate as I walked by the benches of Dewey Square, unusually vacant for this time of day. In my young mind clouded with additional fear, I further rationalized that everyone had left the park to take cover as we had practiced many times in civil defense drills at school in the event of a nuclear/military attack. I looked toward the gray sky to see if any bomber planes were approaching and quickened my pace to walk the next two blocks to seek cover at home.

The day progressed at home in front of the television set listening for details of the assassination. Little did I know that this was the introduction of events that would acclimate me to subsequent atrocities on U.S. soil that were to occur in my lifetime -- the assassinations of other prominent figures -- Malcolm X; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and presidential candidate Sen. Robert Kennedy, the brother of the president. Let's not forget 9/11 and the attack on the World Trade Center; numerous school killings and other attempted political assassinations.

How hurt I was to learn that day, 52 years ago, that indeed, it wasn't even the Russian enemy who had done such a dastardly deed to the leader of the free world. It was Lee Harvey Oswald, who was born in this country. He was supposed to be one of us.

Deborah L. Davis,

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