Writers on Kennedy

What we think about when we think about JFK

Harold McMillan
Harold McMillan
Photo by Andrew Shapter

'Some of That Hope Died'

I was in the first grade at Sand Flat Elementary School. In my memory, the day is sunny and warm. It was lunchtime and all of the kids were outside on the playground, swinging, playing softball and basketball, playing in the deep sand under the building, just hanging out. Some of the older kids were saying that "A.C." had forgotten to ring the bell to end recess – we were getting a special bonus, more time to play outside.

Writers on Kennedy

The teachers had been listening to the news. Eventually, A.C., the principal, rang the bell and brought us all inside for a short assembly. Always a stoic, very well-composed man, he seemed emotionally shaken, sad, troubled. Mrs. Wade and Mrs. Howard, the other two teachers, had tears in their eyes. "President Kennedy has been shot and has died. ... School is out for the rest of the day. Gather your things and head to the bus."

Kennedy's death was significant even for me and the 50 other little black kids at Sand Flat School. Sand Flat School – the "Colored School" in Emory, Texas – was a three-classroom Rosenwald School. A.C., my dad, was superintendent, principal, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher, basketball and track coach, bus driver, and head cook. Our textbooks were hand-me-downs from the "White School." This was long after Brown v. Board of Education (1954), but that was our reality in Emory.

The Kennedy brothers were going to fix all of this and make America do the right thing. That's what the grown folks had been saying. Among black folks, in the Emory of 1963, when John F. Kennedy died, some of that hope died with him.

Harold McMillan is a professional musician and a live-music and event producer, with Kenny Dorham's Backyard, the Historic Victory Grill, and DiverseArts Culture Works.

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