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Winthrop class studies JFK assassination on 50th anniversary

Some Winthrop University students will travel to Dallas this weekend to continue their studies about an event that shocked the world in 1963 and has led to multiple conspiracy theories: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The students are part of English professor Bryan Ghent’s critical thinking, reading and writing course – a required course for most Winthrop students.

Ghent is challenging his class to take their critical-thinking skills to a new level in studying the assassination and drawing their own conclusions about who killed Kennedy and why – something investigative authors, historians and other Americans have not come to a consensus on.

Many in the class are passionate about their opinions of what happened on Nov. 22, 1963 – the day Kennedy was shot while riding in his motorcade through Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas.

Ghent encourages participation in classroom debate about arguments made in the required reading – a hefty 1,200 pages – of Jim Marrs’ “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy” and Gerald Posner’s “Case Closed.”

In many ways, the students’ interest in the assassination is inspired by Ghent’s own passion.

On Halloween, he arrived to teach dressed similarly to Kennedy on the day he was shot.

Jennifer Sandler – Ghent’s wife and Winthrop’s study-abroad coordinator – was in costume too, wearing a pink double-breasted dress suit resembling the one Jacqueline Kennedy wore the day of the assassination. Sandler’s outfit was a lucky thrift store find, and the couple made a pink pillbox-style hat.

Sandler is going with Ghent and his class to Dallas.

The trip’s timing corresponds with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination.

A 10-month investigation by the Warren Commission – appointed in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president who was sworn into office the day Kennedy was killed – found that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shot from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Since then, several groups have both supported the findings and challenged them.

The assigned reading in Ghent’s class included support for both the “official” account of what happened and the conspiracy theories developed later.

The class is divided in opinions about the assassination, the reliability of the Warren Commission and the believability of several conspiracy theories.

In class recently, Ghent guided the discussion as students debated the credibility of some witnesses whose testimony was crucial for authorities trying to piece together the crime scene.

Part of the Winthrop course requires students to write an argumentative or persuasive paper. In Ghent’s class, students can choose which aspect of the event to write about, topics as diverse as Oswald’s prior U.S. military experience and the way law enforcement responded to the killing.

In Dallas, the class will see what has been dubbed Oswald’s “sniper’s nest,” as part of a visit to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza.

And they’ll hear from Bill and Gayle Newman and their sons, Clayton and Bill. The Newmans are considered the closest eyewitnesses to the shooting.

About 15 minutes after Kennedy’s assassination, the couple went on live TV in Dallas to be interviewed with their sons, then ages 2 and 4.

At the bottom of a small hill in Dealy Plaza – often referred to as the “grassy knoll” – the Newmans quickly dropped to the ground, covering their sons, after Kennedy was shot in his limousine not far away. News photographers stood beside the family, snapping pictures that would soon become an iconic part of a historical record that still has some inexplicable details.

The Newmans’ appearance at the Dallas museum on Saturday is a part of a “Living History” series about the assassination.

The Winthrop students also will visit the grassy knoll – a central element of many conspiracy theories. Many witnesses felt certain the bullets that killed Kennedy came from the direction of the grassy knoll, not the book depository building where Oswald was said to have been.

The students will stand along the parade route at several places where recorded witnesses were at the moment Kennedy was shot.

The in-person experience in Dealy Plaza, Ghent said, will help students visualize what happened.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068
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