The Sun Shines Down on Texas: November 1963

It was lunchtime at the Smoot household.

After prayer, the Reverend R.M. Smoot and his family sat to enjoy their lunch in a quiet house where family discussions took priority over the background noise of television. However, according to the reverend’s daughter, Betty Miller, family time was harshly interrupted by the blaring sound of a phone ringing on that Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963.

“My father answered the phone,” Betty Miller said in a 1963 article of The Slatonite. “I saw him turn white. He managed to tell us what had happened.”

Miller said that for the first time, she saw her father cry.

In another part of town, Conroy Bain was working at the Bain Auto Store, and tried his best to focus on the task at hand, helping a customer. On that Friday, however, his thoughts were not of weekend plans or paycheck earnings. A tear formed as he tried maintaining his composure and his thoughts kept drifting to that tragic event – the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

A Final Image of JFK

“One couldn’t help but feel – and hope – that there had been a mistake,” Bill Ball reported in The Slatonite on November 28, 1963 about the events that took place in downtown Dallas earlier that week.

“I’m sorry,” Bain told the customer, “but I just can’t seem to keep my wits after a terrible thing like this.” Bain unashamedly mourned. “We have lost a great man,” he said through tears as he stared out the window onto a beautiful sunny autumn afternoon in Slaton, after the prior four days of rain.

All else was average in Slaton of ’63.

The year began with its annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet, followed by a particularly warm February, and transitioned into a pleasant spring.

On Saturday, March 30th of that year, Tyrone Pawell of Evans High School, waited for the results from a panel of judges for a story he had written in the Story telling competition.

He wasn’t alone in his wait.

Annie Spencer and Velma Clayton, in their Sunday bests, waited for the essays they had carefully crafted in their English classes to be judged as well.

Six other schools competed in the same district as Evans, an all black school in Slaton, in the District League Academic Meet. The winners of the meet would advance to the state finals at Prairie View A&M University.

When the results were announced, Pawell was at the top of the list and also in first place were the winning essays of Annie Spencer and Velma Clayton. However, they weren’t the only students who excelled at the academic meet; Lena Franus Smith took a first place in senior spelling along with Velma Clayton, and Richard Kelly. Georgia Hicks won first place in typing.

After celebrating their district win, the students of Evans High School participated in their usual pomp and circumstance affair of graduation, not knowing that, within two years, the blue and gold gowns of the Evans Wolverines would be traded in for the traditional red gowns of Slaton High School.

The newly integrated pool at the County Park was filled with children from all over the community almost every afternoon, weather permitting, that summer.

As June made way to July, the Fourth of July celebrations in that same park was honored with a patriotic flyover of supersonic jets.

“A flyover of 16 supersonic T-88 Talon Jet Trainers will include Slaton on a swing made July 4th over 12 South Plains Cities,” The Slatonite reported. “The Slaton flight will occur at 9:47 am.”

The rest of the summer, like many other small communities, the talk of the town turned toward the pitches, strikes, and homeruns as the sounds of cheers and the shattering cracks of baseball bats filled the summer air as the Slaton Babe Ruth League All-Stars went up to bat.

On July 18, 1963, The Slatonite reported, “The Slaton Babe Ruth League All-Stars defeated Levelland Tuesday night in district play to the tune of 5-4.”

The next week the town cheered on their little hometown heroes in defeating their rival, Post.

However, the team’s season soon ended after a devastating loss in Tahoka before a large Slaton cheering section.

“The championship game came Saturday evening on the heels of two days of wins for the locals,” The Slatonite reported in late July of that year. “The final encounter, pitting Slaton against Tahoka in a tight squeaker that ended 3-1 favoring the Lynn County boys.”

Even a small national news item that affected Slaton greatly, took a side note to the pleasant summer. In June of 1963, The Slatonite reported that the House of Representatives voted to eliminate the Bracero Program. It was the program that had, for a decade, legally imported Mexican Nationals to work in various agricultural ventures.

However, as summer became fall, and the sounds of baseball bats cracking to loud hometown Slaton cheers faded, the autumn winds had turned and cold rains flooded the town.

In November, before Thanksgiving, the storms had become somewhat violent and even hail, unusual in autumn, had accompanied the rains. For a town whose livelihood depended on agriculture, the rain and hail were not welcomed during, what was forcast to be, a plentiful harvest.

Mid-autumn, of ’63, the small town murmur and chatter of the delinquent rains halted.

The sun shone and for the people of the town, it was a very pleasant Friday afternoon on November 22, 1963. A scent of rain lingered and the air remained humid, but as televisions were tuned to live news broadcasts and the townspeople paused, they all solemnly watched as John F. Kennedy, their president, was rushed away in a chaotic downtown Dallas scene.

All knew, after that moment, that nothing would be average again.

“It is a terrible thing,” Albert Findley said to The Slatonite. “It is overwhelming to think, too,” his skin glistened in the sun on the town square as he spoke gently, calmly. “To think that President Kennedy visited enemy country without being harmed and then [was] assassinated right here in Texas.”

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About slatontx

The ramblings of one of the few remaining small town newspaper reporters left in the world!
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