John F. Kennedy Library Releases Letters to Jackie After Assassination

01/15/2014 at 09:00 AM EST

John F. Kennedy Library Releases Letters to Jackie After Assassination
President John F. Kennedy's motorcade travels through Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963
Newseum/AP
A series of condolence messages sent after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963, was released Tuesday from the personal papers of his widow, including a letter from the mother of one of four girls killed in the bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama during the civil rights movement.

The mail released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston comes from the personal papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The series contains approximately 22,000 letters, telegrams and cards from people around the world.

One of the letters was sent by Maxine McNair, the mother of Denise McNair, who was 11 when she was killed in the September 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The bombing occurred as Birmingham's schools were being racially integrated for the first time and came to symbolize the depth of racial hatred in the South. The event was later seen as helping to spur the passage of civil rights laws.

In her letter, Maxine McNair likens her shock when she heard about the president's assassination with the shock she felt when her daughter was killed.

"When the tragic news came across the air waves, again my heart said, 'It isn't true, It didn't happen,' " Maxine McNair wrote to Mrs. Kennedy in the letter, sent five months after her daughter was killed.

She tells Mrs. Kennedy that she and her husband are praying for her and her children.

"Isn't it strange how people with so much to give to the world are taken? That's God's will however, and not for us to questions," she wrote.

Unlike the condolence mail in the library's John F. Kennedy papers, the newly released documents were managed by Mrs. Kennedy's personal secretaries because they required special handling or included requests for charity, Mass cards, photographs or other wishes.



Each piece includes an outgoing response from Mrs. Kennedy's office.

The collection also includes a photograph of a young boy named Kennedy in Nigeria holding a picture of the president and a letter form a French teacher describing memorial tributes made by her students.

A 10-year-old girl from Louisiana wrote Mrs. Kennedy and invited her to visit. "I think your [sic] the nicest lady in the whole world," she wrote. "I mean it, too."

The collection is only accessible by visiting the library, and is not available online.

The personal papers of Mrs. Kennedy were donated to the library by Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr.



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