Lady Bird Marked JFK's Death with Audio Diary Entry

This week marks the 43rd anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. It's an event typically remembered by the iconic video recording. But there's another perspective of the killing that's equally powerful: an entry from an audio diary of Lady Bird Johnson. The recording is included in the exhibit Eyewitness, at the National Archives.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

(Soundbite of audio diary)

Ms. LADY BIRD JOHNSON (Former First Lady): We pulled up to a building. I looked up and saw it said hospital.

ELLIOTT: The voice of Lady Bird Johnson from an audio diary recorded 43 years ago this month. It all began so beautifully, she says, recalling the events of November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy's motorcade made its way through cheering crowds in Dallas only to be stopped short by gunfire. Lady Bird and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were two cars behind the president when the shots rang out.

(Soundbite of audio diary)

Ms. JOHNSON: As we ground to a halt, we were still the third car. A Secret Service man began to pull, lead, guide, hustle us out. I cast one last look back over my shoulder and saw a bundle of pink, just like a drift blossom lying in the backseat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the president's body.

ELLIOTT: Mrs. Johnson's diary entry is part of a Washington, D.C. exhibit called Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives. Most Americans can recall the vivid television images from that day, but Mrs. Johnson's diary gives a more intimate view of history. Curator Stacey Bredhoff says Lady Bird Johnson's detail is poetic.

Ms. STACEY BREDHOFF (Curator): The way she expresses herself is so poignant, and it just tears your heart out. You know, you get a real sense of the human tragedy of what happened.

(Soundbite of audio diary)

Ms. JOHNSON: Suddenly I found myself face-to-face with Jackie in a small hall. I think it was right outside the operating room. You always think of her, or somebody like her, as being insulated, protected, sort of on Olympus. She was quite alone. I don't think I ever saw anybody so much alone in my life.

ELLIOTT: The first entry in Lady Bird Johnson's audio diary, a diary she continued to record during her years as First Lady.

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