On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy—accompanied by his wife, and Vice President Johnson—undertook a two-day, five-city fund-raising trip to Texas. The trip was also likely intended as an attempt to help bring together a feuding Democratic Party in a state that was vital to Kennedy’s chances for reelection in 1964.
Although Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a liberal icon, had been confronted by highly agitated protesters a month earlier during a visit to Dallas—a city with a right-leaning press and the locus of much anti-Kennedy feeling—the president was warmly welcomed at his first two stops, San Antonio and Houston, as well as at Fort Worth, where the presidential party spent the night of November 21.
The next morning, after making a speech in a parking lot in front of the hotel in which he had stayed and then speaking again at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Kennedy and his party made a short flight to Dallas’s Love Field airport. (After Dallas, the final stop on the trip was scheduled to be Austin.) At the airport the president and first lady shook hands with members of a hospitable crowd before boarding the backseat of a customized open convertible to ride with Democratic Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife (who sat in jump seats in front of the Kennedys) to the president’s next stop, the Trade Mart, where Kennedy was scheduled to deliver another speech. An estimated 200,000 people lined the roughly 10-mile (16-km) route to the Trade Mart.
As the motorcade turned southwest on Elm Street and began traveling through Dealey Plaza on the edge of downtown Dallas, the president’s convertible passed the multistory Texas School Book Depository building. Moments later, at about 12:30 PM, shots rang out. A bullet pierced the base of the neck of the president, exited through his throat, and then likely (according to the Warren Report) passed through Governor Connally’s shoulder and wrist, ultimately hitting his thigh. Another bullet struck Kennedy in the head. The motorcade rushed to nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, reaching it quickly; however, doctors’ efforts were futile. Kennedy was officially declared dead at 1:00 PM; he was 46 years old. Connally survived his wounds.
Over the next hour, as a shocked country and world learned of Kennedy’s death, the drama of the pursuit and capture of his alleged assailant unfolded. Bullet casings were found near a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building overlooking the plaza; a rifle was discovered elsewhere on the sixth floor. An accounting of the building’s employees indicated that only two were missing: one was a man who had stepped outside to watch the motorcade and was barred by police from reentering the building, and the other was Oswald, who had been working there for about a month. Oswald had been seen on the sixth floor about a half hour before the shooting and had also been encountered in the building by its superintendent and a policeman just after the shooting. Law enforcement circulated a description of him. Meanwhile, Oswald made his way to the boardinghouse where he had been staying. Some 15 minutes after leaving the boardinghouse, he was confronted by a Dallas policeman, J.D. Tippit, who is thought to have believed that Oswald matched the description. Oswald shot and killed Tippit with a .38 revolver in the presence of a number of witnesses and was later seen entering the Texas Theatre, where at 1:50 PM he was apprehended by police.
Questioned by both law-enforcement officers and the press, Oswald protested his innocence, claiming that he was “a patsy.” He requested to be represented by (but was never able to contact) John Abt, the staff attorney of the Communist Party USA, who was well known for his defense of communists. After being held for two days and two nights, Oswald was being transferred from Dallas City Hall (which contained the headquarters and jail of the Dallas Police Department) to the county jail on the morning of November 24, an event broadcast live on television, when Jack Ruby—a familiar face around the police station and known to police who frequented his club—was able to enter the basement parking garage of City Hall. There he shot Oswald with a handgun as the cameras looked on. Ruby later said that he had shot Oswald to spare Jacqueline Kennedy from having to testify at Oswald’s trial. Oswald was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where previously Kennedy and now Oswald, too, died. Ruby would be tried, found guilty of murder (March 14, 1964), and sentenced to death; in October 1966, however, a Texas appeals court reversed the conviction, though Ruby died (January 3, 1967; also at Parkland) before a new trial could be held.
1. Oswald wasn’t arrested for JFK killing
In front of reporters, Jack Ruby killed Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Lee Harvey Oswald was actually arrested for fatally shooting a police officer, Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippitt, 45 minutes after killing Kennedy.
He denied killing either one and, as he was being transferred to county jail two days later, he was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby.
2. Assassinating the president wasn’t a federal crime in 1963
Kennedy, moments before he was assassinated.
Despite the assassinations of three U.S. presidents — Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley — killing or attempting to harm a president wasn’t a federal offense until 1965, two years after Kennedy’s death.
3. TV networks suspended shows for four days
The NBC News Bureau covers the assassination President of John F. Kennedy.
On November 22, 1963, at 12:40 p.m. CST — just 10 minutes after President Kennedy was shot — CBS broadcast the first nationwide TV news bulletin on the shooting.
After that, all three television networks — CBS, NBC, and ABC — interrupted their regular programming to cover the assassination for four straight days. The JFK assassination was the longest uninterrupted news event on television until the coverage of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
4. It led to the first and only time a woman swore in a US president
Judge Sarah Hughes swears in Lyndon Baines Johnson as president.
Hours after the assassination, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, an event captured in an iconic photograph. Federal Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath, the only woman ever to do so.
5. Oswald had tried to assassinate Kennedy foe
Then-retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker organized protests against the racial integration of University of Mississippi in September 1962.
Eight months before Oswald assassinated JFK, he tried to kill an outspoken anti-communist, former U.S. Army Gen. Edwin Walker.
After his resignation from the US Army in 1961, Walker became an outspoken critic of the Kennedy administration and actively opposed the move to racially integrate schools in the South. The Warren Commission, charged with investigating Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, found that Oswald had tried to shoot and kill Walker while the retired general was inside his home. Walker suffered minor injuries from bullet fragments.