By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The last surviving member of the glamorous family called “America’s Camelot” was in Oxford on Thursday to sign “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.”
Caroline Kennedy’s visit was just a few days after the 50-year anniversary of one of the book’s subjects – the integration of the University of Mississippi, and the decision to send in federal troops to quell rioting.
The book contains some 265 hours of material taped after JFK installed covert recording equipment in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room “in an effort to preserve an accurate record of presidential decision-making in a highly charged atmosphere of conflicting viewpoints, strategies and tactics.”
Along with transcripts and audio CDs, the book reflects the tension of the changing times, both in civil rights issues and the fear of nuclear war.
Square Books’ east window also featured a dozen related books, from Caroline Kennedy’s “A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love” to her father’s “Profiles in Courage” and several biographies.
Caroline Kennedy, who wrote the foreword to “Listening In,” did not grant interviews, but some 400 people were eager to meet her.
“The Kennedy family was my era, and we all had great hope of a changing America,” said Rose Spears of Oxford. “Listening to the CDs and reading along with them has been really good. It kind of gives you an inside look at the stress, the strategy and the fact that they’re all human.”
Leah Shollenberger of Oxford was in fourth grade when President Kennedy was assassinated.
“I remember (Caroline) as a little child … and I’ve followed the family as a result,” she said. “I started reading the book (Wednesday). I’d always heard that Ross Barnett kind of dances around the subject, and that’s true, and President Kennedy pins him down pretty well. I like that.”
Garrison Gibbons of Jackson, a history-major sophomore at Ole Miss, has devoted several academic projects to the Kennedy presidency. From “Listening In” and its audio recordings, he added, he’s learned more about the parallels between JFK the president and JFK the man.
“The way he was presented on television is pretty much how he was in the Oval Office,” Gibbons said. “Even in the biggest of crises, it was surprising that he could be that relaxed, that charismatic, that energetic.”