Ask anyone of my generation where they were on Friday afternoon, November 22nd, 1963. Anyone! I’ll bet they have a quick and very specific reply. I was in the shower of Kingfisher Hall, a dorm in the Woodrow Wilson Center at the University of Oklahoma. It was the first semester of my Freshman year.
It had been a studio all-nighter, so I’d come back to the dorm for a quick shower before the Friday afternoon class. Standing with my forehead against the wall and the shower running down the center of my back, I heard a muffled voice from down the hall. I said “What!?!” and they repeated something I still couldn’t understand. Finally I turned the water off and asked again. This time it was perfectly clear: “The President has been shot,” and our lives were irrevocably altered. JFK was 47 years old, exactly a month and a day older than my father; I was eighteen and hadn’t yet voted in my first national election.
It’s difficult to describe just how somber the nation became–instantly. WKY, the Oklahoma City radio station dropped its top-40 format and played mostly Mozart for a week. Classes were disrupted to a degree, but the semester ended on time, if not with the same bravura that it might.
Those were interesting times. Among other speakers at OU while I was a student there were Louis I. Kahn, Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.), Paolo Soleri, and a host of the decade’s other architectural movers and shakers. But I also heard Timothy Leary (the guru of the “turn on, tune in, drop out” counterculture generation), as well as Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother, about six weeks before he, too, was assassinated.
The 1960s were difficult years for America: confronting the Soviet foothold in Cuba; the growing problem of Vietnam; the political chasm that opened wider at the ’68 Chicago Democratic convention. The issues were different then but the division of our people today seems remarkably similar.
I hoped that our country had grown up.