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Covering Kennedy

Covering KennedyForty years ago, Tufts graduate Herbert Black boarded a plane for Dallas to report the biggest story of his career – the assassination of the president. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Boston [01.02.04] Like many Americans, Herbert Black remembers exactly where he was when he learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot. The medical editor for The Boston Globe, Black was rushed to Texas to write about the president's recovery. But before the plane touched down in Dallas, the 1933 Tufts graduate knew he'd be covering the biggest story of his career - the assassination of the president.

"The afternoon of the 22nd of November, 1963, I was standing in the wire room at The Boston Globe," Black - now 91 years old - told the Maine Times Record. "All of a sudden, the bell started ringing wildly from the telegraph machine."

The president, reported the telegraph, had been shot. Black was immediately dispatched to Dallas to write a "hospital story" about Kennedy's recovery.

"I didn't even stop to grab a clean shirt or anything else," I grabbed a plane for Dallas," he told the newspaper. "At first, we didn't know he was dead, and we thought it was possible he would go into the hospital and we would do a story while he recovered."

Shortly after boarding the plane, the Tufts graduate and a colleague from the Globe were told that Kennedy had died.

"There was great emotion," he said. "We realized he was dead. It was a sad day for everyone."

Despite his emotions, Black knew he had a major story to write.

"He headed straight for Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy was taken after being shot," reported the Times Record.

The emergency room doctors told him that they knew Kennedy was dead when he arrived, but after seeing a distraught Jackie Kennedy, they performed several procedures anyway.

"They felt so sorry for her, looking at this young woman standing there covered in blood," Black told the newspaper. "They made believe to do a tracheotomy on [Kennedy] because they felt so sorry for her. They made her feel better that they were trying to do something."

After filing his story, the Tufts graduate went to a local Unitarian church. He remembers the minister repeatedly telling his congregation that the shooting was the act of just one person. "Don't be mad at the people of Dallas," he pleaded.

While the assassination was a very difficult story to cover, Black says he is proud of his work from that day.

"Black still beams with pride when he remembers the compliments [the Parkland doctors] gave him," reported the newspaper. "Not long after the tragedy shook the nation, Black was at an American Cancer Society meeting when one of the doctors told everyone present that Black's story of what happened in the hospital after Kennedy was shot was the most accurate ever told."

Like many people, Black has heard a lot of conspiracy theories about Kennedy's assassination. The only chance for the truth, the Tufts graduate says, vanished when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald two days after Kennedy's death.

"He thought he would be a hero," Black told the Times Record. "He did the people quite a disservice by shooting Oswald; we never got his testimony."

In much the same way, Americans never got to see Kennedy's full potential as a president.

"He was never a good senator," said Black, who interviewed Kennedy while working as a political reporter for the Globe. "But he was becoming a good president. He was getting to be an excellent president."

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