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- EXCERPT -
It had, of course, been a long time coming, and perhaps because of my concern with the upcoming trial, or perhaps because of my age, summer and the planned demonstration seemed a long way off. I was not particularly concerned with current events beyond the requirement of my U.S. History class to bring in a current event story every Friday, which I typically satisfied by picking up a discarded newspaper on my way to school and tearing out an article from the Leesburg Telegraph, a minimal effort that also satisfied my teacher Mr. Greenleaf, who was more interested in the progress of the football team than in his students’ understanding of history. But as oblivious and self-absorbed as I was, even I sensed that the rally and all that it implied had been a long time coming. News of protests, demonstrations, and confrontations reached Leesburg nearly every day. When I recall those days, I realize that world and national events were steadily becoming more and more prominent parts of life in Leesburg. The change was slow, but also inexorable. But like many teenagers absorbed in matters more mundane and solipsistic, much of what was going on simply escaped my attention.
I suppose the outside world began to noticeably intrude on our small town, or at least as far as I was concerned, when I was a freshman at Brossard High. We were sitting in our algebra class, the first class after lunch, most of us chatting or horsing around while waiting for Mr. Blanchard to finish his cigarette in the storage closet in the back of the room. Blanchard emerged in a cloud of blue smoke just as the intercom crackled to life. After a moment of silence, the principal, Mr. Maycomb relayed the incredible news: “Today the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed as he rode in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas.” I remember Mr. Maycomb’s voice, unsteady and cracking; I don’t remember the rest of his announcement; and will never forget the thick, unbroken silence that engulfed our classroom and the surreal feeling that overrode everything for the remainder of that day and the three days that followed.
I didn’t realize it then, but that tragic day in November of 1963 was certainly the beginning of the end of Leesburg’s isolated, sleepy existence.
In the years following the assassination, reports of violence, protest, war, and civil unrest throughout the country interrupted the placid days in Leesburg, where these events had little observable effect; where they were absently absorbed much the same way as the meaning of a huge mural passed each day to and from work. There were bombings in Birmingham, rallies in Washington, beatings and murders in Alabama and Mississippi, federal troops supporting integration in Arkansas and Georgia, riots in Los Angeles and Newark, protests on college campuses spreading into various towns and cities across the country. Civil rights, voter rights, black power, white power, segregation, integration, the war, the draft -- all that and more trickled into Leesburg after that stunning day in 1963. In retrospect, all of it seemed to say: “It’s been a long time coming.”