Memories from Buffalonians reflecting on the day JFK was shot dead

Nov 22, 2013

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was 50 years ago, November 22 1963. President Kennedy was shot while driving in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It is a day that is burned in the minds of a generation who remembers Kennedy as their president. WBFO's Eileen Buckley collected some of those memories from Buffalonians who remember the day JFK was shot.

JFK

A year before President
Kennedy was assassinated Kennedy came to Buffalo. In 1962  thousands gathered in Buffalo's Niagara Square to hear President John Kennedy speak after he appeared in the Pulaski Day Parade.

"I want to express my thanks to all of you for being generous enough to invite me to come to an occasion which has significance to this city," said Kennedy during his Buffalo visit.

President Kennedy's visit to Buffalo in 1962
Credit Photo from Forgotten Buffalo

President Kennedy spoke about Poland's fight for freedom on the steps of City Hall.

Former Buffalo radio newsman Ray Marks was just 18-years-old, but remembers Kennedy's historic visit.

"And the interesting thing, Eileen, that I'll never forget is that the President was on the steps of City Hall in Buffalo.  And keep in mind, people were very close to him, unlike today's climate of security, there was next to none back then," noted Marks. 

Ray Marks, former Buffalo radio news anchor.
Credit Photo by Jim Bush photography

"There were over 100,000 people in Niagara Square, and I recall the reporters saying that if you stood on the steps you could see, past the library downtown, way past Niagara Square -- all you would see was a sea of people", said Marks.  

But a year later, in 1963, a visit by Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy turned into one of America's most tragic days of the early 1960's.

"I remember teachers and staff in the building crying," recalled Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown during the recent visit of President Obama.
Credit WBFO News file photo

Mayor Brown was only 5-years-old when President Kennedy was shot.  But even as a young boy -- that day remains a very vivid memory for Brown who ended up in his own political career.

"I remember my grandfather coming to pick me up from school and bring me home.  I remember adult members of the family coming home from work and people in the house hold crying.  So it was a time of great upset, I know in the community, in my home and across the nation," said Mayor Brown.  

Many African Americans held high respect for Kennedy. 78-year-old  Reverend Eugene Pierce is with Buffalo's NAACP.  He was just a young man serving in the military at the time when he learned President Kennedy was assassinated.

78-year-old Reverend Eugene Pierce was a young man in the military when Kennedy was killed.
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

"I was a soldier station at Fort Pope, Louisiana when I received the sad news.  Not only was the president was killed -- but my Commander and Chief was killed at the same time, and it is tough on a soldier when, you tell a person the 'Commander and Chief' is now taken out of the picture. I remember when the president was shot," remembered Rev. Pierce.

Rev. Pierce noted how it created even more uncertainty for a struggling minority population fighting in the civil rights battle.

"Being a victim of discrimination in Mississippi, and the President, I had hoped that those days would be days in the past, and then to have him killed like that it caused me concern because I thought not only did we lose a President, a Commander and Chief, but now we've lost the opportunity for equality." 

A Buffalo woman, who now works as a  peaceful conflict resolution consultant with the Western New York Peace Center and Interfaith Peace Network, Victoria Ross was only 8-years-old when Kennedy was shot.

Victoria Ross is a peaceful conflict resolution consultant with the Western New York Peace Center and Interfaith Peace Network. She was only 8 when Kennedy was shot.
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

"And I was home from school, we came home from lunch and went back to school. When we got back to school we had heard Kennedy had been shot," said Ross. "So I was shocked, was so saddened. I was still a very little girl, but still to understand that somebody could do something so violent to someone so wonderful."

For both Ross and Rev. Pierce they believe President Kennedy -- if he were living to see the changes in for equality and peace -- he would be pleased.

Famous salute from John Kennedy, Jr. at his father's funeral procession.
Credit Google Image

"It was his (Kennedy) peace leaning and his budding non-violence and his integrity that caused his demise. So as a man, I think he would be thrilled at what is going on now and I think he would be a great power to what we are trying to do," noted Ross.

"I think the President (Kennedy) would say only two things matter in life, and that's an individuals charter and ability," said Rev. Pierce.