I wanted to update readers who might be interested in the prospective release of “Intersection with History”. My memoir describing my family’s unique experiences in Fort Worth, Texas on November 22, 1963 has for some time been “coming soon”.
This book centers upon a couple of things that happened that day, primarily one involving my brother. Then an 11-year old singer in the Texas Boys Choir, he shook hands with President Kennedy as his entourage left the ballroom of Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas on his way to Dallas. Kennedy was dead within an hour of that handshake.
Now, my brother has joined the president; John Lafayette Livingston passed away of heart failure on March 1, 2017, in his residence, in Galveston, Texas. He was 65 years old.
Until that day, my excuses for the delay in publishing the memoir had to do with the anxiety the events of that day have always caused my brother. Yes, even in his advancing age, even more than fifty years after they happened.
I told him, not so long before his passing, that I was considering rewriting the entire thing, adding to the existing memoir a tandem historical fiction piece. He didn’t seem to care one way or another. I decided then that I will do just that. First, though, I’ll publish the memoir.
John never wanted to see any drafts of any portions of the book, not even the chapter specifically devoted to him. I feel compelled to post that chapter here now, after his passing, as a remembrance of, if not a tribute to him:
My brother is four years older than I, making him eleven years old on the day of the assassination. He is the oldest of three siblings, and I am the youngest. To this day, he continues to be uncomfortable discussing the events of November 22, 1963. If anyone wants to badly enough, it’s pretty easy to find out exactly who he is. It would also be very easy for me to identify him, to print his name, to give readers the opportunity to say you knew him or you know who he is. Out of respect for my brother and his wishes, I will not name him here; I’ll just tell you about “my brother”.
I can’t answer why he wants to remain completely anonymous. I suppose the reason he’s so reluctant is his own business; it’s certainly none of mine. I admit I tried, but could never figure it out. There’s nothing clandestine or covert, nothing nefarious or evil, I can assure you. As far as I know, he is following the lead of our mother, and would like to be remembered for any number of things besides their place in the events on a day shrouded in tragedy.
I know that he is not the missing link that would solve the decades-long mystery haunting conspiracy theorists worldwide. Like many others, and arguably many of his age, a lot of things happened in the years since that could affect his ability to remember, and maybe even his desire to. He turned 20 in 1972 – you can do the math, and then consider the culture of many of his age in the sixties and seventies.
Yes, that makes anything I relate here from him identifiable as hearsay. The reason it isn’t worth throwing out as such is that video evidence exists, and there are witnesses of his most important contributions to this story. I’ll just pass on what he tells me was his experience of that day, and add my own memories of what my interaction with him was at the time.
The Fort Worth-based Texas Boys Choir is and has been since 1946, a world-class and world-renowned choir of young men in the North Texas region. Well-put on its website, the Texas Boys Choir is, “Dedicated to fostering the vocal talents of gifted young men”, and states further their mission, “To develop personal excellence and to inspire a lifelong passion for choral artistry.” This group has toured the world for many years, made dozens of recordings on a variety of labels, and performed for Popes, kings, and various heads of state. This explains why they were asked to perform for President Kennedy and his entourage at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast held in his honor at the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth on Friday morning, November 22nd.
My brother was a member of the Texas Boys Choir that day, and as part, sang for the president.
I remember the excitement in our family when we learned the choir had been asked to sing for the president, although I can’t tell you how far in advance that was. Given that the trip from Washington was not planned so far ahead, I can’t imagine there was much prior notice for the boys and their families. I remember my brother attending the long practices, working at home to get ready, and how enthusiastic about it he was.
He was gone long before I woke up that morning. I know my mother would have had to take him very early wherever he needed to meet the choir, but I don’t recall where that place would have been. I recall she was already back home when I got up. I’m relatively sure she would have taken him to the central Fort Worth location that was the choir’s practice hall. I remember vividly the large interior of that building, but I couldn’t place it on a map today.
In recent years when my brother and I discussed that Friday in 1963, he had little memory of the morning. He thought he met the choir at a customary gathering spot in the pre-dawn darkness before boarding a bus. There was little recollection of the choir departing the place my mother dropped him off and traveling a short ride to the hotel. He remembered that it was raining and described how all the boys were warming up their voices long before heading into the hall where the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce would be welcoming the presidential party. He believes they were warming up either in the parking garage or an unused meeting area.
Regardless, he recalled going into the ballroom and setting up as choirs do, on risers overlooking the audience. He remembered the president entering the ballroom to a great fanfare, and how after some opening ceremonies and the invocation, everyone both in the crowd and on the dais got settled. At an appointed moment, the choir was introduced and began singing, “The Eyes of Texas”.
Only fifty years after the fact did I become aware that a local television channel was broadcasting live coverage of the president’s appearance that morning. They were on the air inside the hall, anticipating the president’s arrival. They knew his staff was anxious to keep to the tight schedule the entire trip was wound around. The cameras broke away while my brother, the choir, and the seated breakfast guests waited for the presidential party inside. Kennedy surprised many, including his staff, with his impromptu trip outside in the rain, walking across the street from the hotel with Vice President Johnson and others.
He would speak to the damp but enthusiastic crowd gathered there before continuing on to the ballroom in what is the Hilton Fort Worth at this writing. Whether or not my mother or anyone else we knew were watching this broadcast live at the time, I don’t know; I never heard anyone talk about it. I can assure you there was no television in my second-grade classroom, or anywhere within Ridglea West Elementary that I ever of. Knowing that her oldest son was about to sing for the President of the United States, and that she might see him on television, I’d say it’s a very good bet that my housewife mother was watching. Again, I just never heard it discussed.
Over the years, I’ve seen footage of the breakfast, and I have seen the choir’s performance and the president’s engaging reactions. Early in the 21st century, it is easy to find on the internet, as most things are. When I first see the Texas Boys Choir in that footage, I can immediately and clearly identify my brother. He’s to the left side, the second or third row back from the front, with tightly cut black hair, and singing with the same vigor he always has, and probably will until his final day.
The president is seen beaming a broad smile and clapping along with the crowd as the choir sings the familiar Texas anthem. Reports said he shared the fact he was thrilled with hearing their harmony. After breakfast was done and the speeches were finished, the president reportedly asked that the boys sing a second song for him before their departure. My brother didn’t recall what the song was, and watching the internet version of the coverage now, I’m not familiar with that song either. Whatever it was, it got the same appreciative applause as did their first song. Not long after the choir was finished, it was time for President Kennedy to leave the ballroom.
Then came the moment that ties my brother so closely to the history of this day: The footage inside the ballroom shows JFK clearly going out of his way to walk over to the boys. The president moves along in front of them, shaking hands and exchanging words. If there is footage showing uninterrupted the complete time the president moved through the entire choir, I missed it. I’ve only seen their cameras showing portions of his time talking with the young men. And, while I can clearly see my brother while they were singing, and I see him watching wide-eyed as the president headed in his direction toward the end of the riser, I’ve never been able to absolutely see that handshake. So, I’ve not personally seen visual proof that my brother shook Kennedy’s hand.
But you know what? A report in the newspaper USA Today fifty years afterwards is one source noting witnesses attested that the president shook hands with every boy in the choir. Beyond that, my brother says he did – and that’s good enough for me. Not seeing the actual evidence may very well have bothered me as a seven-year-old punk little brother. As an adult, I don’t need it.
A historical television special shows an interview of one of the other young singers as an adult remembering the president asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He relates having a short verbal exchange with Kennedy. Other boys surely had a similar experience, but I’m not familiar with any; my brother never made such a claim. If he’d actually had words with the president, he may have simply been too excited to realize it.
Later that day, I remember seeing my brother at home soon after my mother picked me up from school. He was loud and animated, but not about the news of the assassination. It was all related to his personal experience, going on and on about how he shook the president’s hand, and would “never wash his hand again”. He kept repeating it over and over. He told us how President Kennedy came over after he’d left the stage, relating how the man had stopped and shaken hands with the boys in the choir. My brother raved how he was one of them. He kept repeating the comment about never washing his hand again.
Being a typical little brother and seven years old, let’s just say I doubted he was telling the truth, and I certainly let him know that’s what I thought. When I first saw him after we got home, it was obvious he was aware about the death of the president and the wounding of the governor. But, he was so proudly focused on the fact that he shook the man’s hand such a short time before he died, that seemed to be all he could think about, or talk about.
Keep in mind that this was a time when handshakes meant something. Our father had always impressed upon us the importance of sharing a firm handshake with sincere eye contact. Whether or not you would shake someone’s hand carried as much significance as how you did it. There was a reason why politicians, like Kennedy, made an effort to shake hands with citizens. Maybe that still holds true today, but there are times I sense that many younger than myself don’t seem to feel that way now.
When my brother and I exchanged notes about this infamous day within the past few years, I found myself pressing for more details of his experience. After all, he had never given me much that I didn’t know already. He told me, “It’s not something I talk a whole lot about”. He said that he didn’t remember having any discussion with the president, just shaking hands and sharing the briefest of eye contact. He was unable to share anything more about how he got back to school or home. Neither could he tell me when or how he learned about the murder of the president. Perhaps it was just the simple excitement of an 11-year old that instantly fogged those memories. I just remember seeing my brother after I got home that day, and getting little more out of him than he was never going to wash his hand again. I remember thinking how gross that seemed.
After President Kennedy and his party left the hotel ballroom’s guests and the choir behind, the sun was shining bright outside when they got into their motorcade. Their cars pulled away to travel through a corridor of cheering and adoring crowds, through west Fort Worth and back to Carswell Air Force Base. There, Air Force One awaited.
Among those who had escorted the presidential party to the plane were Fort Worth Mayor Bayard Friedman and his wife, Cornelia. They remained on the tarmac to wave goodbye as the departing visitors boarded. The couple had remarked that even though they did not vote for Kennedy in 1960, after spending the day with Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, they were, “Totally captivated”.
Mrs. Friedman was aware, as were many, of the heavy presence of far-right anti-Kennedy conservatives in Dallas. It is reported that Mrs. Friedman recalled later that as the Kennedys entered Air Force One, she turned to her husband and said, “I hope they behave themselves in Dallas”.
With that, the Boeing 707 that was configured as Air Force One took off bound for Dallas, directly over Ridglea West Elementary School and my second-grade classroom. They would arrive less than 15 minutes later at Love Field, deplaning to visit several minutes with the crowd welcoming them there. Then began their Dallas motorcade from the airport and into downtown; into immortality; into history.
As adults, the most my brother and I probably ever talked about the events of that day happened around the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination. He remarked, “I never got over how strange it was, Mother being Oswald’s music teacher”. But then he added a footnote that seems odd to come from someone as reluctant to talk about the event as he. Combined with his reticence, it makes my brother’s perspective even more curious. It may even say a lot about how he viewed the way his life had transpired over those next fifty years: He said that being a part of the choir, singing for the president, and shaking his hand was, “The single most famous thing I’ve ever done in my life”.