The assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22nd in 1963 shocked, saddened, and bewildered American children. Girls and boys of all ages watched the funeral broadcast on television—including those who lived abroad during the 1960s. For many children, seeing their distraught parents and other adults in mourning undermined their sense of security. The meanings that Kennedy’s assassination had on a seven-year-old American girl can be gleaned from her elementary school essay.
Children’s cultural productions (whether written or drawn) present researchers with opportunities as well as obstacles to eliciting their understanding of past events. Even a handwritten source like this one cannot provide a thoroughly unmediated understanding of the assassination’s meanings to her. Although a descriptive source that recounts an occurrence, it is not necessarily free of partiality. (Consider, for instance, the ways in which she weaves the everyday lessons imparted by adults to children into her history.) In order to achieve an understanding of the past that is as precise as possible using a source like this, interrogate or "unpack" it by subjecting it to questions about authorship, audience, purpose, content, context, reliability, and meanings.
In what ways was this youngster struggling to make sense of the narrative of events surrounding the assignation? What events in her recounting of the past were based in fact and which were influenced by her imagination? What genres and rhetorical strategies familiar to a child might have influenced the narrative structure of her story? As with adults, reading informs writing. Also consider the issue of motivation. What difference might it have made if the child had been inspired to write this for herself rather than for to satisfy her teacher’s civic literacy assignment?
In 1960 Kennedy was elected. He is a very good president. One day as he was going home from some place with the governor and his wife and the driver, Kennedy was told someone would do something now or later if we went in a[n] open car. But Kennedy wanted to be with his people. Someone shot [from] the top of a house. He shot at the governor and Kennedy. He left the gun and ran down the stairs as quick as a mouse. A policeman tried to catch him but the man shot him dead.
Now everyone new. They rushed to get him to the hospital but it was to late. He was dead. Mrs. Kennedy flew back to Washington D.C. By then the man got into the movies. But the policemen got him because he was standing up
The man’s name was Oswald. They took him to a place to ask him questions. On their way back a man named Ruby shot Oswald dead. They got hold of the man and took him to prison.
A few days later was Kennedy’s funeral and Kennedy was buried.
Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell.