November 22 Illinois History Minute
It’s November 22nd, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
The late Illinois Senator Paul Simon, who was a state senator at the time of the assassination, had met then-Senator Kennedy briefly in 1956. Speaking in 1972 for an oral history interview, he remembered the shock that he and others felt on learning of the assassination.
“Well, it was a reaction of disbelief,” said Simon. “It just stuns you. And it hits you personally, because we all kind of knew Kennedy whether we knew him personally or not, because of television’s impact. It was like a death in the family for everyone”
The following Monday, the day of the Kennedy funeral, Simon was driving through Alton to attend an unrelated funeral. He remembers the city being devoid of traffic, which he says was the result of people businesses being closed and people staying home to watch the presidential funeral.
Simon, a collector of presidential autographs, said that a few days after the funeral, he received an autographed photo of President Kennedy, one that he had requested through a White House contact weeks earlier. He believed it may have been one of the last things he signed.
William Chamberlain was a judge at the time he was interviewed for the 1972 oral history project. But in 1963, he was an aide to Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. Chamberlain and Kerner were both attending the Midwest Governor’s Conference in Nebraska at the time of the Kennedy assassination. He remembered Kerner and Michigan Governor George Romney working together to engineer what would have been unthinkable under normal circumstances: the postponement of the Big Ten Conference championship football game between Illinois and Michigan State, which had been scheduled for the following day. The game was rescheduled for five days later.
Dale Coleman was news director at WICS-TV in Springfield at the time of the assassination. He remembered news of the assassination coming in during the noon hour, when the station was broadcasting a live local talk show. Coleman says he handed a news bulletin of the assassination to one of the hosts while he was on the air, and watched him turn, in his words, “pale as a ghost”.
Simon, Chamberlain and Coleman were all interviewed in 1972, along with other Illinoisans, for an oral history projects about Illinoisans’ memories of the 1963 Kennedy assassination conducted at Sangamon State University, now the University of Illinois at Springfield. Interviews are published online at http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/uis/id/4720