Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #39: A Year to Remember

“After De La’s arrest things were fairly quiet in the summer and fall of 1963. The Negroes continued to come to the Courthouse to register but there were no more marches, and it was hoped that the worst was over. Then on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. A short time later the new President Lyndon Johnson told Congress that ‘No memorial or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought.’

“On the day that Kennedy was shot in Dallas I was watching the soap opera As The World Turns on television. Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman for the evening news, broke in between 12:30 and one o’clock and said the president had been shot. We watched in horror as they gave all the details and a short time later announced that he had died.

“Cathy and Mary Carol came in from school terribly upset by the news that had swiftly spread through the schools. They were even more upset by the reaction of some of the kids who cheered when it was announced. I realized then how much influence we all had on the children with our comments about the Kennedys during the Ole Miss crisis and the civil rights marches. I was at least glad that mine disapproved of the cheering and were certainly saddened by the news.

“That was on a Friday, and for the next four days we stayed glued to the television and had it on on Sunday when Jack Ruby shot Oswalt. We watched the funeral and cried with little John John, who was three, saluted the casket. It was a distressing, sad time, and though I didn’t like some of the things he was pushing because of the way we would be affected I admired President Kennedy in many ways. I think the country would have been much better off with him than with Lyndon Johnson as president.

“At the year’s end we reflected on the events of the year and wondered what the coming year would bring to our town. With the possibility of a Civil Rights Bill being passed in Congress, a likely one we knew that there were many hard times ahead but little did we know how disturbing they would be.”

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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2 Responses to Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #39: A Year to Remember

  1. Nancy Webb Phillips says:

    I remember very clearly that day at North Greenwood Elementary School when my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Carpenter, entered our classroom after going to the office to get some test papers. She didn’t have the tests! She had a funny look on her face. She told us that our president had been shot, and several boys in the room cheered. I thought she was going to throttle them right then and there. She just stood there and told them that she knew some of our parents didn’t care for him, but he WAS our president, and that we should have respect. My family was also glued to the tv that weekend. I learned a lot about history weekend. My dad kept saying it was “history in the making”.

    • sec040121 says:

      Nancy,Thanks for your memories of that day. I was just down the hall (Wing C, I think it was called) in Shan Simpson’s room. (My mother was so relieved when I didn’t get Mrs. Carpenter, because Cathy had had a rough year with her…..Good teacher, but so stern!) Anyhow, Gary Shute’s mother brought in a portable radio, told us the news, and it seemed to me that everyone in the class except me and a girl named Sandra Crumby (who I think was almost 13) began cheering and clapping. I was horrified and scared, and went up and told Miss Simpson. She was trying not to cry herself, but I don’t recall if she said anything to our celebrating classmates. We had an hour or so until school let out and I remember two things: The sky turned black as night and there was lightning, and I was just sure my parents did not know the big news and I must get home to tell them.My other memory, besides the non-stop TV coverage, was of my sister screaming on Sunday morning when Ruby shot Oswald. All the rest of us were in the kitchen and she was sitting in Daddy’s chair in the bedroom watching the transfer of Oswald from one jail to the next. She saw Ruby step forward and shoot Oswald in the abdomen and just went completely to pieces. A sad, sad weekend.

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