|Artist: Edsel M. Cramer|
Of all the memorabilia in my possession, two columns have always resonated with me more than all of the other articles and photographs put together. Both were written by Atlanta Constitution* editor and publisher Ralph McGill, who was en route to Nashville from New York when he heard the President had been shot. He stopped off at the Nashville Tennessean, sat down at a typewriter and pounded out the following column, which appeared in both papers the next day.
His own paper headlined it "Before We Begin to Mourn". Fifty years later, McGill's message is just as compelling and insightful as it was when published on November 23, 1963. My first thought when I re-read my worn and yellowed five cent copy was, "What have we as a nation learned, if anything?"
By one of those odd coincidences of history, the President was shot in the week of the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. This President, himself so soon to die by an assassin's bullet, reminded us that it is we, the living, who must dedicate ourselves to democracy and truth. . . .
The first suspect was a typical product of the factories of hate. He is American born and bred. That he is a psychopathically disturbed young man is evident from his actions and his record. He had served his country in the armed forces. He had quit his country for Russia. He had become disillusioned with communism. Back in his own native land he swung over to one of the pro-Castro groups.
There were other evidences of hate, bitter, deep and irrational. When news of the shooting came and later that of the death of the President, some of the Southern newspapers received anonymous cheering calls, saying, "So they shot the Negro lover. Good for whoever did it."
. . . . For some years now the more vocal extremists, left and right, have directly or indirectly encouraged violence and defiance of federal authority. This has included evangelists, heads of organizations dedicated to defying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against racial discrimination, and groups both anti-Semitic and anti-Negro. Some of their leaders have been careful to avoid open incitement of violence, but that their words and their own expression of hate directed at their government and their President inspired those whose disturbed minds tend toward criminal action is supported by evidence."
McGill then recalls the acts of violence that had occurred since the Little Rock riots - the night of rioting at Oxford, Miss., the sniper fire that killed an NAACP official, and the murder of four innocent children in the dynamiting of a Birmingham church.
" . . . . We have grown used to seeing in newspaper pictures and on television the hate-twisted faces of young men and women and adults crying out the most violent threats and expressing a virulence of venom against their country and its authority.
All of these are pieces of the mosaic of hate that has poisoned this country. . . . One can only wonder in what furnace this hate-distorted mind has been fired and one asks, too, how many men in our country are secretly planning violence and death. It has been increasingly plain that there are American men and women who no longer feel any love for their country. They have withdrawn in hate.
The extreme right and left of this country have revealed their minds to us in their literature, public utterances, and an anonymous flood of mail, filth and lies against and about the now dead President and our government.
In some instances great wealth in America is reported behind some of the more extreme organizations and their propaganda. They have preached that freedom is dying, seemingly because they could not dominate the government with their greedy dreams of power. These persons who at luncheons and cocktail parties have indulged in vulgar jokes and expressions of hate against the President, his wife, and their government as was done against Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt must also feel a small share of guilt.
*Now called the Atlanta Journal Constitution.