A Living Memorial: Students react to President Kennedy’s assassination

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Philippe Thibodeau Journal, 1963 November 22-25. BC.1994.117, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The music cut off abruptly in the dining hall. Students and faculty crowded around radios to hear the reports from Dallas. In Bapst Library’s auditorium, President Michael Walsh, S.J., led the campus in the rosary. He announced the news before the third mystery: President Kennedy was dead. R.O.T.C. cadets lowered the flag to half-mast. Professors cancelled classes, and clubs postponed events. Administrators called off the B.C.-B.U. football game, scheduled for the next day, to allow students to mourn the nation’s loss. Such was the campus scene described in the journal of freshman commuter student Philipe Thibodeau.

Kennedy speaks at the Centennial exercises just a few months before his assassination, 20 April 1963

Kennedy speaks at the Centennial exercises just a few months before his assassination. Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald) at Centennial Convocation at Boston College, 20 April 1963, Boston College Special Guests and Events Photographs, MS.1986.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The assassination sent shockwaves across the country, but, for Boston College students, the loss was a personal one. Only a few months earlier, the president attended the university’s Centennial exercises. He had stood on stage in Alumni Stadium, unmistakably young and full of life, and spoke about the university’s youth, inspiring history, and bright future. Neither he nor the students he addressed could know that his own future was tragically limited.

Kennedy was a Harvard man, but he had a long history at Boston College. An important center for Boston Irish Catholicism, it was a key political base for Kennedy during his years in Congress. Reports in The Heights show that students ardently supported Kennedy from his earliest days in public office. They elected him by a landslide in every mock election, delighted in his speeches at campus events, and rushed to his defense whenever his policies were questioned. As Time succinctly put it in 1963, “Boston College watered the roots that grew the first Irish-Catholic U.S. President.”

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In January 1964, The Heights announced donations to build a "Human Relations Library" in Kennedy's memory

The Heights announced donations to construct a “Human Relations Library” in Kennedy’s memory, though it was never built. The Heights, “Human Relations Library to be Kennedy Memorial,” 7 January 1964.

The President could thank his family for the fruitful relationship he enjoyed with students at Boston College. Since his grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald had attended the school for a month in 1879, the paths of the family and the university often intersected. In many ways, they walked the same path from local to national prestige. Therefore, one can certainly understand the feelings of “hurt, almost tearful sadness, indignation and disgust,” that came over the campus on November 22, 1963.

Immediately after the assassination, students began fundraising to establish a fitting on-campus tribute to the late president. A memorial committee decided that donations would support the construction of a new “Human Relations Library,” serving as a “living memorial” to Kennedy’s legacy.

The goal proved too ambitious, and students quietly set it aside by 1965. Still, the brief moment of spontaneous, collective student action reveals that the campus community experienced the nation’s loss deeply and personally.

  • Violet Caswell BC 2017, History & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
This entry was posted in B. C. History, Exhibits & Events, HS600 Posts, Student Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Living Memorial: Students react to President Kennedy’s assassination

  1. anonymous says:

    Extraordinary piece of historic writing by another fine BC student. Their legacy in Chestnut Hill will be brighter with this young lady in its midst.

    I look forward to more!

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