By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star
Meridian attorney Joe Clay Hamilton was 35 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas around noon 50 years ago today.
While some people old enough to remember recall vividly where they were when they first heard that Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza, Hamilton said he was unsure.
"I think I was in the elevator in the Threefoot building when somebody told me about it," Hamilton said. "I was absolutely shocked. Everybody was shocked."
For Hamilton those days succeeding Kennedy's assassination "was such a rush of things," with the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson as Kennedy's successor, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and his death at the hands of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
The front page of the Nov. 23, 1963 edition of The Meridian Star — the day after Kennedy's assassination — was devoted mainly to that topic.
Stripped across the top of the paper, the banner headline from that day reads: "Nation Mourns Death of Kennedy: Johnson Takes Over As President."
The following are excerpts from articles printed in The Meridian Star that day:
• "I'll Do My Best, New Chief Tells Sorrowful U.S."
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Lyndon B. Johnson flew back to a stunned, grieving capital of the nation Friday night to pick up the reigns of government dropped by the lifeless hands of John F. Kennedy. "I'll do my best," the new President said. "That is all I can do. I ask for your help, and God's."
• "Sad Moment when Big Jet Comes To Halt. Dead President Returns To Capital"
WASHINGTON (AP) — A dead President returned Friday night to a capital stunned and saddened. At 6:03 p.m. the big Air Force I, a jet plane of the group that had carried John F. Kennedy on so many triumphal trips, rolled to a stop at the Andrews Air Force Base 15 miles from the White House. It was a sadly dramatic moment.
• "Sniper Who Killed The President Was Calculating; He Had To Be"
DALLAS, Tex. (AP) — The shots that killed the President of the United States Friday and wounded Texas' Gov. John Connally came from a pre-selected spot, with a clear view of the motorcade. And there was evidence the gunman sat and calmly gnawed fried chicken, waiting for the moment to shoot. Police had one suspect, a man with ties to the scene of the shooting. But Lee H. Oswald, 24, after two hours of questioning held fast to this contention: I didn't do it.
Another article was titled "Newsman Tells Story of President's Death" and was written in first person by Dallas Times Herald reporter Bob Jackson who recounted hearing three shots and looking up at the Texas School Book Depository.
"… I saw a rifle being pulled back in the window," Jackson wrote. "It might have been resting on the window sill. I didn't see a man. I didn't even see if it had a scope on it."
There was a chronology of the final hours of Kennedy's life; a story with quotes from Mississippi leaders expressing remorse over the president's death. Sen. John C. Stennis told The Star he was "shocked, grieved and stunned" over the president's death. "His untimely death is a tragic loss to the nation and to the world," Stennis is quoted as saying.
There was an announcement that the Meridian Junior Miss Pageant would be postponed a week due to the president's assassination and another that the Christmas parade would go on despite the nation's loss since it was "for the children."
Of the 13 news articles on the front page of The Star that day, only two had no reference the president's death. One article states that an inch of rain had fallen overnight and the other states that then Meridian City Councilman Hugh Glover "turned a Meridian Police Department patrol car into a private taxi for several minutes" after having a cruiser pick him up from Holiday Inn No. 1 to transport him home.
At the bottom of the front page of The Meridian Star that day was an editorial titled "A Great Tragedy" that while denouncing Kennedy's assassination, pointed out that he was not well liked by all at the time.
"President Kennedy's liberal program — which included sweeping civil rights legislation — was disliked by many, hated by countless others," the editorial states. "But this was not sufficient reason to kill. In this country, we endeavor to vote such a man out of office and replace him with another more to our liking. This newspaper did not agree with most of the Kennedy policies, but at no time did we we surmise that the President might be assassinated. These things should not occur in a nation of free men."
Hamilton recalls those sentiments.
"Kennedy was unpopular," Hamilton said. "The only one who was more disliked more than Kennedy was Harry Truman. I liked Harry Truman and I caught heck."
There is one more thing Hamilton recalls from that time — questions surrounding Kennedy's death that are still debated by some today. Some people felt then that Oswald didn't act alone; that he was part of a bigger plot. Others questioned if he was the shooter at all. Some, Hamilton said, believed that Johnson had something to do with Kennedy's death.
"There was a lot of controversy over his death," Hamilton said. "That was the topic of conversation for a long time."