Miller Center

John F. Kennedy: Death of a President

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On November 22, 1963, the President and the First Lady journeyed to Dallas on a campaign trip. Accompanying the Kennedys in the motorcade through the city were Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie. As it moved through Dealey Plaza, the presidential limousine was fired upon. Governor Connally was wounded; President Kennedy who was hit twice, was killed. Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he died soon thereafter.

The shots had been fired from a nearby warehouse and some hours after the assassination, police arrested warehouse employee Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was a mysterious former Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union but then returned to the United States. Two days after the arrest, while being transferred to another jail, the suspect was himself slain by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. Ruby was tried and convicted of murder in Oswald's death. He died of cancer in January 1967, while awaiting a retrial in prison.

The dramatic course of events led many to wonder whether a conspiracy was afoot. A commission to investigate the assassination, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson and headed by Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren, determined that Oswald had acted alone. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that there were at least three shots fired, although it drew no other firm conclusions. It did affirm, though, that Oswald had fired all three shots, two of which hit Kennedy. A plethora of conspiracy theories about Kennedy's assassination have proved, nevertheless, an enduring phenomenon.

On November 24, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people filed pass Kennedy's coffin in the rotunda of the Capitol. Kennedy was buried the next day, in a state funeral at Arlington Cemetery. Representatives from ninety-two nations attended the services and an estimated one million people lined the streets of Washington, D.C., to observe the funeral procession. For many Americans, the murder of John F. Kennedy would remain one of the most wrenching public events of their lifetimes.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

David Coleman

Professor Coleman is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia and Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program, overseeing the John F. Kennedy project, at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. His writings include:

Real-World Nuclear Deterrence: The Making of International Strategy (Co-authored with Joseph Siracusa, Praeger Security International, 2006)

Depression to Cold War: A History of America from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan (Co-authored with Joseph Siracusa, Praeger Publishers, 2002)

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