MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – With Friday, November 20th, marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, people across the country and the Tennessee Valley are reflecting back on that day.
And they’re also reminiscing about Kennedy as a person, especially if they were lucky enough to meet him in person.
Kennedy visited the Tennessee Valley twice during the 1960’s.
During the second visit, on May 18, 1963, Kennedy spoke at the Redstone Arsenal Airfield.
Rankin Sneed, a 68-year-old attorney living in Madison County, was 18 years old at the time.
Sneed said he remembers being caught up in what he called the “Kennedy mystique.”
So when Sneed had a chance to hear Kennedy speak, he didn’t miss it.
In fact, after Kennedy’s speech Sneed got out of the crowd and went to another area so he was sure he would get to shake the president’s hand.
“When he came through the barricade there, I just walked up to him and said ‘I’m Arnold Sneed’, he recalled. ‘I’m Arnold Rankin Sneed. I’m a senior at Butler High School,’ and shook hands with him. He said, ‘That’s fine. You a Democrat?’ ‘I am,” Sneed said back to the President.
“It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Sneed. “I gave him my card. He stuck my card in his pocket. It was a thrill for me. It was inspirational. I was a Southern boy growing up here and here was a man.. a man of the world… somebody that you really wanted to be like. “
Sneed has two copies of a photograph someone snapped of the moment. He said the exchange with Kennedy lasted maybe a minute, but had a profound effect on him.
Sneed said it made him want to learn more, know more and a be a better person.
After Sneed’s brief encounter with Kennedy, Sneed wrote to Kennedy and received a letter back from Kennedy’s longtime secretary, Evelyn Lincoln.
Sneed later went on to the University of Alabama, to pursue a degree in political science and that’s where he was when he learned Kennedy had been shot.
“I was walking to class at the university of alabama and an old friend of mine from high school came up in tears and said ‘the president’s been shot’, of course classes stopped,” said Sneed. “I guess you think in terms of what might have been and what damage that did to the psyche of the country.”
He said he became secluded and dropped out of the university for a while.
That was, in part, because of the reaction from some people around him. He explained that not everyone was crying or even sad to learn of the death of Kennedy.
“He was not liked in the South,” Sneed said. “He was a progressive eastern liberal. For people like me he was inspirational and there were a lot of folks like me and there were a lot who weren’t.
Sneed became quiet and then said, “There were people who were celebrating. That left a great deal of anger and sadness in me. And I think at the time, I went into seclusion for a while because it just caused a tremendous feeling of loneliness and desperation, of hopelessness for the country.
Sneed said he believes the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers would have been spared if Kennedy had lived because he would not have supported our involvement in the Vietnam war. He suggested that Kennedy’s legacy is what he could have done for the country, even in the area of civil rights, since he did not support segregation.