First African-American news anchor for a Dallas television station, Iola Johnson Remembers JFK

Iola Johnson

It was around noon on Friday and we were heading home after going downtown to shop. We simply had to have hats to be properly attired for a funeral later that afternoon. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny, warm day, but nothing out of the ordinary for late November in southern Arizona.

Despite the perfect weather, there was a sense of gloom in the car. There was very little conversation as we drove along listening to the radio, when a voice interrupted the music with a special bulletin. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.

It was unbelievable. It must be a mistake. No one would want to hurt our young, good looking and much beloved president. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was an American hero. My mother, my sister and I all broke into tears.

At home we turned on our Sylvania Silver Screen TV and watched and continued crying.

Then came the worst possible news, President Kennedy was dead. Hearing that, my whole world came to a abrupt halt.

Prior to hearing about the assassination, I was already in a mild state of shock. One of my class mates had been killed in an automobile accident. I had never before know a young person to die and I was not quite sure how to deal with her death.

We were glued to the television, but pulled ourselves away to attend the funeral that afternoon. Then it was right back to the non-stop coverage. One shocking story after another, a new president sworn in, a Dallas policeman killed, the assassin arrested and paraded before cameras. Then live as we watched, Jack Ruby shoots and kills the assassin. Finally, the funeral.

Like most African-Americans, I recognized President Kennedy’s humanity and compassion for the oppressed and had high hopes for what he would do to aid our cause. My heart sank when I heard the news and I had an overwhelming feeling of loss and fear. I had been filled with such hope when JFK was elected, then in an instant it was gone. My hopes and dreams seemed to die with our young president.

Such a horrible tragedy was not suppose to befall such a young leader, one so full of promise. It seemed like the end to our hopes and dreams for a better, more equitable future.

My mother told us that we would have to worked even harder now that President Kennedy was dead.

I had always been a political junkie! I wanted to be a freedom rider, but was too young. I watched political conventions on television from gavel to gavel as a child and considered the things my two sisters watched on TV trivial.

All the talk of a conspiracy by the Russians, Cubans and many here at home, made me want to know more about politics and how the system worked. I had a double major in political science and journalism in college.

Watch “JFK 50: A Texas Tribute”, streamed LIVE on ktxdtv.com; Friday, November 22nd from 7am-7pm CST  (UTC-6 Hours). This special 12 hour broadcast will feature rare video of President Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, live interviews with people who have first-hand connections to some of the darkest days in our country’s history, and live coverage of the observance in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza celebrating the remarkable life, legacy, and leadership of our 35th President. Follow the conversation about the broadcast on social media by following our twitter page at www.twitter.com/JFK50Texas and liking our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/JFK50Texas.

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