Monday, September 29, 2014


        Two hundred years ago tonight, a Maryland lawyer stood aboard the HMS Tonnant and in the dawn’s early light, witnessed one of the most inspiring events in American history.  His name was Francis Scott Key.  Key’s thoughts and impressions of the perilous fight against Fort McHenry led to his writing of a poem, which was set to music and became our National Anthem.

Francis Scott Key was born on August 21, 1779 to Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy (Charlton) and Captain John Ross Key at the family plantation Terra Rubra in what was Frederick County, Maryland. 

His father, John Ross Key, was a lawyer, a judge and an officer in the Continental Army. His great-grandparents on his father's side were Philip Key and Susanna Barton Gardiner, both of whom were born in London and immigrated to Maryland in 1726.

Key studied law at St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland. He married Mary Tayloe Lloyd on January 1, 1802. The couple would go on to have 11 children. By 1805, Key had set up his legal practice in Georgetown, part of Washington, D.C.

During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner and dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, as the guests of three British officers: Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross. 

Skinner and Key were there to negotiate the release of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland who had been arrested after putting rowdy stragglers under citizen's arrest. Skinner, 

Key and Beanes were not allowed to return to their own sloop because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and with the British intent to attack Baltimore. As a result of this, Key was unable to do anything but watch the bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on the night of September 13–14, 1814.

At dawn, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. On the way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, "Defence of Fort M'Henry", which he published in the Patriot on September 20, 1814. 

He intended to fit it to the rhythms of composer John Stafford Smith's "To Anacreon in Heaven",  a popular tune Key had already used as a setting for his 1805 song "When the Warrior Returns," celebrating U.S. heroes of the First Barbary War. It has become better known as "The Star-Spangled Banner". 

Under this name, the song was adopted as the American national anthem, first by an Executive Order from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (which had little effect beyond requiring military bands to play it) and then by a Congressional resolution in 1931, signed by President Herbert Hoover.

In 1832, Key served as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman. Key was appointed as a United States District Attorney, serving from 1833 to 1841. In 1835, Key prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President of the United States Andrew Jackson.

Key was a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa. Key, a slave-owner himself, used his position to suppress opponents of slavery. In 1833, he indicted Benjamin Lundy, editor of the anti-slavery publication, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, and his printer, William Greer, for libel after Lundy publishing an article that declared, 

While an active legal defender of slavery, Key was considered a decent master. He emancipated seven slaves from his own household and was sometimes publicly critical of slavery's cruelties. He often helped blacks bring cases to the circuit court.

In 1843, Key died at the home of his daughter Elizabeth Howard in Baltimore from pleurisy and was initially interred in Old Saint Paul's Cemetery in the vault of John Eager Howard. In 1866, his body was moved to his family plot in Frederick at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

The Key Monument Association erected a memorial in 1898 and the remains of both Francis Scott Key and his wife, Mary Tayloe Lloyd, were placed in a crypt in the base of the monument.

Though Key had written poetry from time to time, often with heavily religious themes, these works were not collected and published until 14 years after his death. Two of Key's religious poems were used as Christian hymns, "Before the Lord We Bow" and "Lord, with Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee." From 1818 until his death, Key was associated with the American Bible Society.

In 1806, Key's sister, Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, married Roger B. Taney, who would later become Chief Justice of the United States. In 1846, his daughter Alice married U.S. Senator George H. Pendleton. In 1859, Key's son Philip Barton Key II was shot and killed by Daniel Sickles – a U.S. Congressman who would serve as a general in the American Civil War – after he discovered that Philip Barton Key was having an affair with his wife. Sickles was acquitted in the first use of the temporary insanity defense.  In 1861, Key's grandson Francis Key Howard was imprisoned in Fort McHenry with the Mayor of Baltimore George William Brown and other locals deemed pro-South. Key was a distant cousin and the namesake of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. 

Although many of the local Key/Kea family, which hails from Emanuel County will claim kin to the legendary lawyer, one former Dublin resident and her descendants are bona fide close relatives.   Phoebe Douglas, the mother-in- law of Capt.  Hardy B. Smith was related to Key through the Charlton family as her first cousin, once removed, making all descendants of Ella Few Douglas Smith and Mary Frances Wolfe  somewhat related to the author of the “Star Spangled Banner.” 


Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Saturday, July 12, 2014



           On this 4th of July week, we turn our thoughts to people like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the main authors of the Declaration of Independence, and how they changed the history of the United States and the world.  But, I suggest, just for a moment or two, let us turn our thoughts to William French, Robert Parke, Thomas Parke, Alice Parke, Thomas Ford  and Robert White.  You may ask yourselves and rightfully so, who are these people and why am I writing about them and America’s birthday?  And, what do these New England Yankees have to do with the history of East Central Georgia? 

Their story begins nearly some four centuries ago in the English colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts. All of them,  members of the gentry of England, played important roles, not in the founding of the United States in 1776, but in the two centuries which followed.

For you see, if these people or their children had never made the trip across the Atlantic, the Wright Brothers would have never made that first flight at Kitty Hawk, there would be no Disney World and Dorothy would have never gone over the rainbow to see the Wizard of Oz.

William French, one of the first to settle in Billerica, Massachusetts, was a tailor by trade. He arrived in Boston about the “Defence” in 1635.   French’s first wife and mother of his children, died in 1669.  Elizabeth French could rightfully be called “the mother of the great inventors.” For without her, there would have never been Mickey Mouse, Disney World and the Morse Code. Through their descendants, Elizabeth and William were the ancestors of Eli Whitney - the inventor of the cotton gin,  Samuel F.B. Morse - a world famous portrait painter and the developer of the Morse Code for telegraphy; Charles Goodyear - the inventor of vulcanized rubber tires; Walt Disney - founder of the Disney Corporation and a pioneer cartoon and movie maker; and both Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and the man Democrats love to hate, Vice President Dick Cheney.


Eli Whitney

                                                                  Samuel F.B. Morse

                                                                    Charles Goodyear

                               George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney

Robert White and his wife Bridget Allgar, both natives of Essex, England, never made it to New England, but many of their children did.  Their list of descendants ranks near the top of the number and variety of notable Americans.  Without their progeny, there would have no Latter Day Saints Church in America as we know it, no flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and possibly a much longer Civil War in America and possibly no Civil War at all as among the White’s descendants was one John Brown, (left)  whose actions ignited the abolitionist movement in the years before the war. 

Among their descendants, the Whites count four presidents, Millard Fillmore, U.S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and Gerald Ford, along with authors Emily Dickinson and O. Henry (William S. Porter,) the pioneering plane pilots, Wilbur and Orville Wright, entertainers Donny and Marie Osmond and their brothers along with the queen of television comedy, Lucille Ball, and the princess of child actors, Shirley Temple.  Among other notable descendants are NFL Hall of Famer and three time Super Bowl winning quarterback Steve Young  and Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints in America.  One could speculate that had U.S. Grant had not continued to pommel Robert E. Lee’s army as his predecessors had not done after Union victories, that the Civil War would have lasted many more years or ended in a draw.  One could also argue that had the Whites not been born, Millard Fillmore would not be regarded as the country’s worst president.  There’s still time for that undesirable title to be earned. 

Grover Cleveland


                          Millard Fillmore             

Gerald Ford

O. Henry 

Emily Dickinson

Donny & Marie Osmond

Joseph Smith

Lucille Ball

Shirley Temple 

Steve Young

Without Thomas Ford and his wife, Princess Diana Spencer would have never married Prince Charles and ensuing mania would have never been spread over television, newspapers and magazines.  One might could speculate that Charles may have never married and the monarchy of Great Britain in the 21st Century would have been radically different.

Without Thomas Ford and his wife, the face of World War II would have been completely different.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have never had his fireside chats, the country may have been delayed in coming out of the Great Depression, and it is possible that the Axis powers may have won the war.   

Thomas  Parke,  his wife Dorothy Thompson Parke, his father Robert and  her mother Alice T. Parke, were directly responsible for four of the silver screen’s greatest actors.  For without them, their would have never been two of Hollywood’s greatest couples Bogey and Bacall and Tracy and Hepburn, who individually and collectively appeared in many of the  greatest movies of all time.   You would have never loved “The Wizard of Oz.”

Dorothy’s mother, Alice Freeman Thompson, may have been the most prestigious and prolific ancestress in American history.  Through her first husband John Thompson, Alice,  who married later remarried Robert Parke (father of Thomas) was the ancestor of President Warren Harding, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Union Army commander, George B. McLellan, author Louisa May Alcott, activist and nurse Dorothea Dix,  chef Julia Child, actors  Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn and Lee Remick. Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee,  Spanish American War Admiral Thomas Dewey, Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, aviation pioneer Samuel Langley, Secretary of State Henry Stimson, actor Robert Lansing, not to mention the spouses of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Harvey Firestone, Gen. George Patton, philanthropist Paul Mellon, General Billy Mitchell father of the modern bomber, television journalist Edward R. Murrow, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., agricultural industrialist and inventor Cyrus McCormick, women’s activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, singer Enrico Caruso, actor John Barrymore, inventor and painter Samuel Morse, actor Rudolph Valentino, boxing champion Gene Tunney and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

George B. Mc:Lellan

Louisa May Alcott 

Warren Harding 

Nelson Rockefeller 

Humphrey Bogart - Lauren Bacall 

Spencer Tracy - Katherine Hepburn

Dorethea Dix

Julia Child

Lee Remick

Ben Bradlee, Editor Washington Post - Watergate

Admiral Thomas Dewey 

                               Wizard of Oz Cast - Conceived by L. Frank Baum

The ancestry of the Wright Brothers (left)  is particularly interesting in the fact that it took Robert White, Thomas Ford and their wives to procreate descendants for these two men to have made the first heavier than air flight.

John Alden and William Bradford, leading passengers of the Mayflower, which landed at Plymouth Rock were famous for their arrival in America.  But without these men taking a calculated risk and leaving their homes in England behind them, there would have been no Dirty Harry movies, no Playboy magazine and no Webster’s dictionary.  Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge would have never lived in the White House.  Nor would have Dick Van Dyke or Raquel Welch been icons of television and movies in the 1960s. 

So as you see, these grandfathers and grandmothers, neither of whom had any particular fame or lasting achievements during their 17th Century lives, were responsible for forming the history of our country and the history of our world.  Between these men and women, they were the ancestors of at least ten presidents,  many pioneering inventors, great authors, outstanding athletes and iconic entertainers. This impressive list does not include those who haven’t been able to complete their family trees back to the early 1600s.

So if you will allow me, I will beg your leave to allow me to remind each of you  that we are all put on this Earth for a purpose and that purpose is to build and not to destroy.  It doesn’t matter from whom you are descended. You can’t wait on your descendants to accomplish great deeds. The time is always right to serve your community and your country.  When you leave this world, you can take solace in the fact that you left it a far better place than when you got here.  Who knows? Your descendants can cure cancer and heart disease, walk on the moons of Saturn, travel at the speed of light  or bring everlasting peace to this ever battling world.  

As for me, I take no particular pride in that I descend from all of these early settlers of New England and their parents.  I do rejoice in the fact that they and we are integral part of the greater family of Americans, who work far better when we work togther and often.
On this 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,  I do thank the Frenches, Whites, Parkes and Fords.  For without all of them being in this world, I would not be writing about Dublin and Laurens County, the home I will always love and for the enduring gifts they gave to us. 

Happy Birthday America!


Saturday, January 4, 2014


As years normally go, this year flew by way too fast. Too many friends left this world.  On this Christmas Eve, I am thankful for them and many more things as well. 

I am thankful for those who take charge and give back, for old photographs and new visions, for losing weight and gaining jobs.

We lost a lot of fine Southern gentlemen in 2013.  State Senator Hugh Gillis moved on up to the golden dome of Heaven on New Years Day.  Gillis was one of the longest serving state senators in Georgia history. Two days later, my fellow historian, Milo Smith, Jr., left his earthly home to visit his beloved heavenly family. A week later, Curtis Beall, the oldest living male UGA cheerleader, a Semper Fi Marine, and an agricultural leader also died.

We lost a true friend and the epitome of compassionate judge when Judge William M. Towson died.  Judge Towson served longer than anyone as Judge of Laurens Superior Court.  The stands of Bush Perry Field will always be a little emptier after Perry Edge, a long time Irish baseball booster,  passed away. His spirit will be sitting by the Irish dugout for years to come.  

I am grateful for the patriotic dedication of Louise Purvis, one of the last Gold Star mothers, who rarely missed a Memorial Day or Veterans Day service at the VA Hospital following the death of her son Jimmy Bedgood in Vietnam.  And here's a toast to the late Patricia Belcher, who in her last years became the "Crazy Old Lady" in the commercials for Pitts Toyota.    Mrs. Belcher was anything but that, she was one of the most caring and kind women I have ever known. 

I am grateful for the simply fantastic photography of the late Irene Claxton, whose lifetime of magnificent images will soon be available for the world to see and enjoy. 

Then there was my hard working friend, Buddy Williams. Buddy worked for thousands of hours every year and counted at least that many friends.  That's why they called him "Buddy."

The man who taught us, "It's Nice To Be Nice" has moved on.  Duggan Weaver's endless stories and works of community spirit are gone, but the memories of his smile and public deeds of charity will never leave our minds.

And here's to the late realtor Robert Hill, who accompanied me to my first World Series game in 1991.  The Braves won on the last play of the game.  It would be the only time I would see the Braves win a World Series game in person. 

And, for the craftsmanship of the late Deonard Sanders, whose artistic carpentry schools are rapidly disappearing.  

We lost another Vietnam vet in 2013.  "Tee" Holmes, whose impish grin endeared him to a league of friends in his nearly 70 years, left us all too soon.  Without "Tee," our world will always be a little bit sadder. 
This past year was sadder for those of our friends and family have left this Earth.  But, it was  much richer you see for the gifts they gave to you and me.

And, I am grateful for the life of Montrose's Jeralean Kurtz Talley, who turned 114 years old this year. She hasn't left this world yet.  Mrs. Talley is the oldest person in the world outside of Japan.  

I am thankful when I hear a Jim Croce song on the radio. If you ask  yourself who is Jim Croce, then you are part of a generation who missed the greatest music of all time.
A big hand goes to the wheel chair ramp guys of the Dublin Civitan Club, who give up their evenings to build ramps for those who can't leave or enter their own home without help.  
I salute my good friend Pete Tyre, who serendipitously found himself as a medic in Vietnam, quietly and compassionately saving many lives along the way.   

I am grateful for the opportunity to commemorate with 15,000 others General George Pickett's failed grand and glorious charge at Gettysburg, 150 years later to the moment on the same ground.  For the opportunity to watch the play, "The Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island on the same exact spot where the first American colonists came in 1587 and to walk on the exact spot where Orville and Wilbur Wright led humanity into powered flight.

I am grateful for those who give with no expectation of any reward, those who serve with no hope of recognition and those who have the ability and desire to help others and do so.

I am grateful for the smell of daffodils on a early spring morning, the smell of fresh rain drops on a hot July evening, the aroma of fat lightered smoke floating the brown autumn countryside and the smell of evergreen in the early winter.  

For old memories remembered and new thrilling experiences, I am grateful.

For educators, who strap on their bent, but not broken, hearts every day or for as many days as the politicians will allow them to teach.  I will be grateful for the politicians when they finally learn that education is the most important thing in our country.  Speaking of education, I am grateful for the new Career Academies.  Finally someone in Atlanta realizes that technical education is critical in our ever increasingly technological world.  

For those who hold on to hope, keep their faith and try to love one another right now. For heroes, those who give all of themselves to others just when they need it most. For those who are simply grateful for what they have, I am grateful. 

To my readers in print and to the third of a million times people who have read my articles online  in the last five years, I say a great big thank you.  My greatest compliment is from those who cut out my articles and keep them to share with others or read over again.  My greatest joy is when I can make some one laugh or think back and smile and yes, even cry with the words I have been blessed to write. 

And, on this Christmas Eve, may I repeat the sounding joy that  I am grateful for the wonders of His love.  May your Christmases be merry and bright and the days of your lives be filled with goodness and everlasting light. 

And to my wife and best friend Kathy, my kids, Vicki, Scotty and Mandy, and our dogs, Bertie, Charlie, Sugar, Winston, Maggie and Emma, our cats Kit Kat and Tiger, and all of my friends, my life is much more wonderful with you in it. 


Remembering the Day Innocence Died In America

It was just after two o’clock  on a cool, cloudy, Friday afternoon when we heard the news.

“President John F. Kennedy has been shot and he is dead.”

For a generation of young Americans, the killing of President John F. Kennedy just two blocks north of U.S. Highway 80 in Dallas changed our lives forever.  Adults, teachers, parents and even battle hardened veterans, were crying.  The innocent children could not understand why.   Sadly, there were those who were taught to hate who cheered and  reveled as the sorrowful sobbed all around them.

The events of the “Four Dark Days” unfolded on televisions across the county and around the country as families and friends gathered around their black and white sets to see what was going to happen next.  As it happened, history happened right before everyone’s eyes.   

Nearly everyone alive over the age of 55 remembers where they were when they heard the news. What you are about to read are the memories of a sampling of local school students, now in their late 50s and 60s.  Many remember that Friday autumn afternoon fifty years ago,  as if it were yesterday.   You can read the numbness in their words, the pain in their tears, and the sorrow in their souls - the sorrow of the innocents. 


Three gun shots rang out in Dealey Plaza at 1:30 EST.  Within minutes, the news of the shooting spread rapidly across the nation.  School principals across the county received the word that the President had been shot.  Thirty minutes later the news came that the President had died.  It then became their task to notify the students of the tragedy.  

Angie Bedingfield Alford was playing on the playground of Cadwell Elementary School when her teachers,  Paulina Shaluta and Mrs. Grace Bedingfield,  came outside to tell us: “It felt very surreal. My mother was devastated. We stayed glued to our black and white TV in the days that followed,” Alford recalled.

At Moore Street School, Principal Sally Horne spoke over the intercom telling the students the news. Vicki Adams Blizzard distinctly remembers, “It was after 2:00 when our principal, came over the intercom and announced the news about President Kennedy. It was  a cloudy November day right before Thanksgiving break. School let out early. I remember going home and watching television, stunned and saddened.”  

Renee Fraser put her head on her desk and cried.  After school was let out early, she kept on crying.  Like nearly everyone in the country, Renee and her family were glued to their television sets for the next four days. 

Cheryl Belcher still remembers when the announcement came over the speakers, “Everyone gasped and stood still. It was quiet in the hall full of kids. I think we were all shocked and afraid of what it might mean for our country. It made me realize how fast things can change. It also made me realize our country is vulnerable, even with all the protection our country has.” 


For many school students, the assassination left an indelible mark on their memories.  For many students, it was the first time that they had ever seen their teachers and principals crying, even the tough football coaches had tears in their eyes.

John Pike was in Coach Sapp's Health/PE class. The principal called all the teachers to the office. When Coach Sapp came back, he was crying. Edward Tanner remembered, “Coach Sapp told us what had happened and then he had to ask the few who were cheering to stop.”

Peggy Hood Pridgen, a 6th grader at Saxon Heights, remembered that suddenly all of the teachers gathered in hall, crying, whispering. “Finally Mrs. Garner announced, "President Kennedy has been assassinated. A brief moment of silence, Peggy remembered, “Then we clapped because we had no idea what that big word meant! We quickly learned from her face that wasn't the appropriate response.” 

Dublin Mayor Phil Best was in the 2nd grade in McRae, remembered his teacher crying as she rolled in a television so her students could watch history happening in front of their eyes.

Nan Barfoot’s most vivid memory of that day was the moment when her health teacher Evelyn Tanzine went out into the hall after a knock on the door.  “She came back, she was crying. She could hardly get the words out. ‘President Kennedy has been shot and he died.’ Holy cow! We all sat in stunned silence, you could've heard a pin drop,” Barfoot harked back to that day.  

Becky Stewart Meeks recalled, “I was in the 5th grade at East Laurens. Our principal broadcast the radio announcement over the intercom system. I remember a teacher from another classroom went running down the hall screaming.”

There was total silence in Mrs. Harris’ 7th grade class.   “Mrs. Harris read the announcement as she cried.  No one knew what to say or do,” Danny Hooks recalled. 


Rosemary Reinhardt Digby, a senior in high school at Dudley High School, recalled “I was walking back from lunch when one of my classmates told me the president had been shot. My first reaction was "what is the joke?" No joke. We went in the school library. I can still see Walter Cronkite's face when he announced the president was dead. I don't think any of us realized the impact of the death of a president. My Mother told me how she remembered the day Roosevelt died and how devastated everyone was. The same feeling we all had during that time.”

Elouise Franks  was ironing her husband’s clothes. “I had to stop for a while it was so unreal for this to happen - a real nightmare to me, she remembered.

Darlene Calvert Farrell remembers the still which  fell over everyone as if they had lost their best friend.

Candace Spicer Christian and her sister Heather were planning on going with their parents George and Barbara Spicer to celebrate their anniversary.  “I remember sitting in our den watching CBS. We did not go out to eat that night and I could not understand why. I remember my dad saying it was too sad a night for us to be celebrating,” Candace reflected.


Oscar Hammerstein, II in the opening verse of his song, You Have To Be Carefully Taught in the musical South Pacific wrote, “You have got to be taught to hate and to fear.”  Sadly the assassination of President Kennedy brought out the worst in those children who have been taught to hate others they disagreed with.   Although widely popular across the country, President Kennedy was hated by some Southerners. 

Tom Patterson was taking his post as a Hillcrest Elementary Safety Patrol guard. When the bell rang, kids streamed out of school. “The first to approach my beat was my younger brother Hunter, who said ‘President Kennedy got shot in Dallas. A fellow safety patrol kid reveled in the news because of the President’s compassion for the plight of African Americans. Hunter & I were both so shocked we didn't know what to say,” Patterson remembered.  Meanwhile, Tom and Hunter’s sister Calli walked home down the street to see her mother Alice sitting on the ottoman with her face in her hands, sobbing. “I was barely six and trying to understand why my mother was so sad about a man she didn't know dying. I knew something was terribly wrong,” Calli remembered. Pam Holmes heard a similar remark a Johnson Street School.  

Gail S Rogers, a 7th grader then, remembered when the news came over the intercom that the President had been shot. “In the midst of overwhelming sadness, one boy jumped up and yelled, ‘I’m glad someone shot him,” Gail recalled.   Stunned and sad, Gail loved the Kennedys and even named her first baby doll Caroline. 

Some of the kids in Marcus Clements’ American History class at Adrian High School clapped as well.  Mary A. Lewis was walking to the Band Room in preparation for a music festival that evening when she heard a young boy yell, “The South Will Rise Again.”


For African-Americans, the death of John F. Kennedy was a double blow.  For the first time in American history, an American President was beginning to establish policies to create equal rights for African Americans.  

Phyllis E. Turner was watching TV while her mother, Mrs. Equilla Speight Edwards,  was outside hanging clothes on the line.  The program was interrupted when Walter Cronkite who made the announcement.  As if it was yesterday, Phyllis recalled, “When I heard the news, I ran out to the porch and yelled to my mother, "Mama! President Kennedy's dead! My mother dropped everything, ran inside the house, sat down on the bed and said sadly, "Lord, have mercy!"

Sharmen May Gowens was in her 4th Grade class  at Susie Dasher School. “Mrs. Cruise came back into the classroom and told us "Class, I have some bad news. President Kennedy has just been shot. I screamed out, ‘Shot?! Oh, NO!’ I started crying and so did the rest of the class. It was a sad, sad day,” said Gowens, who was so moved by the death of the president that she composed this memorial poem a few months later. 

Mr. Kennedy, I remember
That day in late November
I was told you were killed,
I knew it couldn't be "for real.”
I cried, cried and cried,
But on that day you died.
That day was very sad
For two children lost their dad.
November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three
Was when this country was sad, sad as could be.
You strove for the truth and right
With all your heart and all your might.
I will always remember you
As a man who was true
May God ever bless
This country to be a success.
While you lived, you did your part
You will always live in my heart.
May you forever rest in peace
For my love will never cease. 

                             Sharmen May Gowens


Some Laurens County residents were close to the scene at the time of the shooting.

Becky Wood  was living in Garland, a suburb of Dallas.  She turned down a chance to go to see the President and went to school that day.  “When the announcement came over the intercom, the room was completely quiet until the sobs began by teachers and students alike.  Even the slumber party we had planned was a solemn occasion. Somehow, it felt we lost more than a president that day,” Becky recalled. 

Rudy Collins  was in the 3rd grade in Dallas.  Her father, who worked at the Dallas Times Herald, came to pick her up.  He was crying. Rudy saved all the pictures in the magazine and papers. She still has them.  


There are some historians who divide the 20th Century into two parts, the time before the assassination and the time after that fateful day.  To many, the assassination represented the end of innocence of what was good and right in America. 

“ I think this event was the beginning of the end of innocence for my generation,” Kim Butler maintained.

Kay Middlebrooks Baeumel left school and jumped off the back porch as most Moore Street students always did.  She cried all the way to her home two blocks away. “ I can still remember it like it was yesterday,” Baeumel said.

Lorene Flanders was her 1st grade class at East Laurens when the announcement of the president's death came over the intercom. Her teacher, Miss Orlene Gilbert, began to cry.

“After a moment I went to her and told her that no one would shoot the president. I knew that the president's brother had something to do with the government, and I told Miss Gilbert that it must have meant that the president's brother had been shot. It was inconceivable that someone would shoot the president,” recalled Flanders, who kept telling her fellow students returning from recess that no one would shoot the president.”

Mary A. Lewis was preparing for a band festival that evening on the old football field. She remembered, “I was afraid of what would happen next. They told us the band festival would go on that night because the out of town bands had already left for Dublin. That night, the combined bands from Dublin (high school, and Junior High) and from the visiting town (can’t remember which one) played the national anthem. I cried.”

But the killing wasn’t over.  Mary and her family returned from Mass just in time to turn on the television to see the first live telecast of a murder, Jack Ruby’s shooting of the prime suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. 

“I held my baby brother in my lap for the funeral. I told him someday I would tell him that he saw it all. I watched, as young John Kennedy broke the nation’s heart with a salute. Then life went on,  but it never was the same again.” Mary lamented.