On Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot as he rode in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas; he died shortly thereafter. The thirty-fifth president was forty-six years old and had served less than three years in office. During that short time, Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, became immensely popular both at home and abroad.
For the next several days, stunned Americans gathered around their television sets as regular programming yielded to nonstop coverage of the assassination and funeral. From their living rooms they watched Mrs. Kennedy, still wearing her blood-stained suit, return to Washington with the president’s body.
Many witnessed the November 24 murder of Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Viewers also followed the saddled, but riderless, horse in the funeral cortege from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, where Kennedy lay in state. They saw the president’s young son step forward on his third birthday to salute as his father’s coffin was borne to Arlington National Cemetery.
Television played a significant role in Americans’ collective mourning. For the first time, the majority of citizens witnessed the ceremonies surrounding the death of a beloved leader, creating a shared experience of the tragedy. Even now, television programming maintains public memory of the assassination by transmitting vivid images from those difficult days to successive generations.
Despite the intimate experience of events surrounding the death of John F. Kennedy, the nation failed to achieve closure. Oswald never confessed, and the facts of the case remain mysterious. The Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone failed to satisfy the public. In 1976, the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Assassinations reopened the investigation of the murder. The Committee reported that Lee Harvey Oswald probably was part of a conspiracy that may have involved organized crime.
Interest in the assassination remains acute. Congress enacted the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act on October 26, 1992. Signed by President George H. W. Bush, the legislation opened most government records to the public and facilitated use by designating the National Archives and Records Administration sole repository of government files pertaining to the assassination.
- Search Today in History on the term Kennedy for additional features about John F. Kennedy. The feature for October 21 centers on the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, watched by six million viewers.
- Search the collection “I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations on the term John F. Kennedy to retrieve images and documents related to the president’s inauguration.
- See the Library’s John F. Kennedy Resource Guide to explore digital collections with items related to John F. Kennedy.
- The online exhibition Revelations from the Russian Archives provides new insight into a significant moment in the Kennedy presidency—the Cuban Missile Crisis.
- Search Congress.gov on the term Kennedy Records to retrieve Public Law 105-25, extending the 1992 President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. The Committee Report attached to this legislation provides background information about the original act.
- Visit the online guide to The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection available at the National Archives and Records Administration site.
- Visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum to find additional resources about John F. Kennedy and the Kennedy family.