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Chapel Hill on the day President Kennedy Died

by Charly Mann

Chapel Hill in the early 1960s was an intellectually stimulating and exciting place for me to spend my last two years of adolescence and my first year as a teenager. I felt I was part of the new generation that President Kennedy had talked about in his 1961 inaugural address when he said, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.... [who are] unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world."

President Kenndey at UNC
President Kennedy at Kenan Stadium October 12, 1961

On November 22nd ,1963 I was 13 and in the eighth grade. I had returned home early for Thanksgiving break from a private school I was attending in Asheville because my views on civil rights led to me being bullied by a large group of upper classmen at the school. On that Friday at about 12:30 I walked up to Kemps Record Store from my house, which was about four miles away. Sometime around 1:30 someone came into the store and said the President was dead. In many ways the world has not been the same since those words were spoken. Not only was one man's life cut short, but the optimism and hope of an entire generation was extinguished. For the next ten minutes the few customers in Kemp's were silent until someone turned on a radio, and it was confirmed that the President had been assassinated. I walked out of the store a little numb and not knowing what to do next.

Downtown gathers for news on Kennedy's Death
A crowd gathers in hushed silence to listen to news about the Kennedy assassination in front of Harry's in Chapel Hill about 2 PM on November 22, 1963

I was first in dismay, then shock, and it took me many hours to come to terms with this terrible news. I remember the first thing I thought when I got out onto the downtown sidewalk was that his successor would be the vice-president. I tried to remember his full name, and recalled it was Lyndon Baines Johnson. I immediately thought that from now on everyone would use the letters LBJ when talking about him like they had used the initials JFK for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Saddness on hearing about Kennedy's Death
Shock and sorrow as news about Kennedy's death reaches Chapel Hill

A few minutes later a bell at South Building began ringing. Soon after that the bells at the Bell Tower began tolling a mournful sound that sent chills down my spine. I walked solemnly through the campus to the Scuttlebutt to buy a large 5 cent root beer. I then walked back to Franklin Street. Everything in town was quiet except for the bell tower tolling in the distance, and there was little activity on campus or the sidewalks of downtown. In front of the Post Office I noticed that the flag had already been lowered to half mast. As I walked down the block I saw small crowds of people standing at the entry to many stores watching black-and-white televisions that had been placed near the front.

Contemplating the Death of President Kennedy
A UNC Chapel Hill student contemplates the death of President Kennedy on the afternoon of November 22, 1963

I remember that as I walked by Huggins Hardware they had a radio on, and an announcement was made by the broadcaster that the UNC-Duke football game kickoff would be on Saturday at 1 PM. I could not believe someone was even talking about football. (The next day the Presidents of UNC and Duke agreed to postpone the game until the following week.) I recognized one of my Dad's students in front of Sloan's Drug Store, and he said that most of the people who were downtown had come to see the annual BEAT DUKE Parade, but that it had just been canceled.

As I returned home through campus at about 4:30 PM, I could hear a bugler blowing taps somewhere in the distance. One queer thing I will always remember is that I did not see a single car driving on Raleigh Street, Cameron Avenue, Country Club Road, or Gimghoul on my walk home, and this was late on a Friday afternoon when most people would usually be coming home from work.

Flag Lowered after Kennedy's death
Flag lowering in Polk Place soon after death of President Kennedy is announced

In the somber quiet of the afternoon, I thought back to President Kennedy's visit to Chapel Hill almost two years earlier on October 12, 1961 and how I had thought then how easy it would have been for someone to kill the President.

Sorrow expressed at death of President Kennedy
A man leans in sorrow beside a tree on the UNC campus after hearing the news of President Kennedy's death

When I got home and told my father how quiet the campus and town had been he told me that all afternoon and evening classes at the University had been canceled, as well as classes scheduled for Saturday morning.

Flag Lowering after Kennedy's assassination
UNC cadets prepare to lower the flag on UNC campus to half mast shortly after death of President Kennedy is announced

One more thing I remember about that time was that a performance by the New Christy Minstrels, then one of the most popular singing groups in America, scheduled for Saturday night at Memorial Hall was canceled.

President John F Kennedy Comes To Chapel Hill in 1961



Ivory Bill      11:37 PM Fri 1/2/2015

I was a third grader at Glenwood the day JFK was shot. School for the lower grades ended at 2:30, but the busses left at 3, so we had playground time for 30 minutes. About ten minutes in, Mrs. Vedder caled us together, brought us into the classroom and gave us the news. It hit me especially hard; I was politically aware even at that age. I remember being to stunned to cry. The bus driver demanded silence on the bus and he got it. I stayed glued to the TV all weekend and made a scrapbook fro N&amp;O and NYT clippings. I still pull it out and read the clippings and my written comments.<br \><br \>I found your site by googling for the text of JFK&#39;s 1961 speech at Kenan. I made my Dad get me out of school (and he cancelled his classes that day) to be there. I am convinced that 11/22/1963 was the beginning of my political cynicism.<br \><br \>This is a wonderful blog. I am likely to become a regular, if that&#39;s ok with you. Living in Texas (not Austin), I miss the &quot;Southern Part of Heaven.&quot;<br \><br \>Thank you for your wonderful post.<br \><br \>srk<br \>

Bill A      4:06 PM Mon 12/31/2012

Charlie, <br \>While you and I did not know each other during my days as a Carolina undergrad in the early 60s, we were likely no more than 200 feet apart on the early afternoon of 11/22/63. I was returning from working a lunch shift at the downtown cafeteria where I bussed tables. Had just stepped over the stone wall across from Kemp&#39;s that bordered the campus when I heard of the assassination. A sad day for our country and moment in time burned into my memory.

Lynn      9:05 PM Mon 7/5/2010

I vividly remember this day in Chapel Hill too. My memories are terrible too.<br \><br \>I was in the 7th grade at Guy B. Phillips Junior High. We were all brought into the double room and the television was on. In black and white Walter Conkrite told us step by step what was going on and how the Vice President and the First Lady got on the airplane and how Lyndon B. Johnson was now the President. The whole school was silent as we listened to this news. <br \><br \>We were all just exactly the age to feel that we knew President Kennedy. We had seen him at the inauguration. He&#39;d challenged us to not ask what our country could do for us, but rather to ask ourselves what we could do for our country. At school, it had been President Kennedy who had gotten us to do the 50 yard dash. He was so handsome, his wife was so beautiful and his children were so cute. He was ours. He was young and seemingly fit. Our country was attacked when he was attacked. We were frightened. Something broke in all of us. I could just feel it though no one spoke.<br \><br \>My mother picked me up in front of the school. We drove in silence to our little rented house on Pittsboro Street. I watched out the window of the car. We went home. <br \><br \> I sat in the front of the house and watched as convertible cars filled with college kids came roaring by the house. They had confederate flags waving. They&#39;d made signs on sheets and In huge letters they had painted &quot;Yay! Kennedy&#39;s Dead!!!!&quot; They were honking their horns and shouting and sounded drunk with happiness. <br \><br \>This went on for about a half hour - maybe more - maybe less. When they stopped and the town was quiet I went to bed. It was still light out. <br \><br \>Even at that age I usually had a very difficult time falling asleep. My parents were refugees from Nazi Austria. I had horrible images in my head whenever I laid down to sleep. <br \><br \>But on the day that Kennedy was shot I went straight to sleep and did not wake up until very late the next day. <br \><br \>

Steve Norwood      4:20 PM Fri 2/19/2010

This was the defining day for me and my generation.Reading through this piece made it all come back to me. Chapel Hill had always been a happy place for me before that day, but this was a very sad day, and I do not remember another really happy one until I saw the first performance of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan three months later.

Henry Russell      10:11 AM Thu 2/18/2010

I love reading Chapel Hill Memories your writing and especially your photos and music really make your articles interesting and memorable. I was born twenty years after Kennedy&#39;s assassination, but this piece makes me really appreciate the impact it had.

Bob Jurgensen      7:05 PM Wed 2/17/2010

Hi Charly,<br \><br \>I too recall, vividly, the day Kennedy was assassinated - I can still recall the exact place and time: Guy Phillips Junior High School (8th grade also), about 1PM or so - sitting in, of all classes, Civic&#39;s class. The teacher was called into the hallway for a few seconds, then came back into the room with a beet red face, turned to us and said, choking back her words, that the President was dead. I can still see that blackboard, her face and the students around me, to this day... and I truly understand what people mean when they say you will always remember the exact place you were when you learned of Kennedy&#39;s death (and Martin Luther, the Moon Landing, 9-11). To this day, I think of it often.<br \><br \>School was dismissed shortly thereafter - and as I walked down Franklin St that afternoon, like you, it was ghostly and I recall standing near Jeff&#39;s, next to the Varsity, and seeing that panel truck from the Durham Morning Herald pull up and dump hundreds of bundles newspapers onto the sidewalk: &quot;KENNEDY SLAIN!&quot; as I recall, was the headline. I had that paper for many years, but somewhere between military service and my return to Chapel Hill four years later, it managed to disappear. <br \><br \>As always, your comments are so revealing for me - releasing memories long suppressed in my mind... thanks for all the dedicated and tireless efforts you contribute to this site; you cannot imagine the joy it brings to others to remember those &quot;good old days&quot; of Chapel Hill, back when times were far more innocent and life was much simpler. <br \><br \>Bob

Pete Nelson      2:15 PM Wed 2/17/2010

You have a lot of incredible photos on your site. Do have larger versions of them available for sale?

Tamara Jenkins      9:18 AM Wed 2/17/2010

The fact that not even the President of the United States was safe in America in 1963 despite having police and secret all around him was shocking to me then and still is today. <br \><br \>Humans are far too violent and I am ashamed to say that Americans are one of the most violent nations on earth. <br \>

Donna J      9:45 PM Tue 2/16/2010

Where in the world do you get these old photos from? Incredible.

Debbie Little      7:40 PM Tue 2/16/2010

This is such a poignant piece. I am always sad to relive the events of that day, but remembering it through your eyes and seeing Chapel Hill as it was then is extremely moving

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Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.



What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt



Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".



Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies


We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.





There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.



The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.





The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.





William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.



The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.



Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.



Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.



The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.



Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.



Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.



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