'Chickens come home to roost': Black reactions to JFK's death in 1963

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“[President Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,” Malcolm X said in response to a question about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. “Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad.”

Following backlash Malcolm X received for his comments, the Civil Rights leader clarified his original statement on air:


While Malcolm X’s response was not well received, many prominent black figures of the time expressed sadness and concern following the president’s assassination.

Myrlie Evers, wife of slain Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers, recalled the day, saying:

I recall vividly that time because I had gone to a local hairdresser to have my hair shampooed and curled. The news came on over the radio. We didn’t have a TV in that establishment. We were all stunned beyond belief, those of us in that building, and the tears began to flow. The moans and the screams. And I remember someone saying, “What are we going to do?”

“What are we going to do?” And they were referring to Negroes, as we were called at that time, and that our friend was gone and what would happen to us after that.

And that was it. Tears and sobs and wondering why and wondering what was going to happen next. And pained because the young people in some of the high schools were shouting and cheering and laughing, and on the radio stations in Jackson (Mississippi), people were singing songs—”Dixie,” over and over and over. And that was just like rubbing salt into a wound. It is very painful to think about it even now.

In remembrance of JFK’s assassination 50 years later, theGrio put together a slideshow of reactions from prominent black figures in 1963.

Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals