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Listen to We Knew JFK: Unheard Stories from the Kennedy Archives on Friday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. on West Virginia Public Radio
Hosted by Robert MacNeil, We Knew JFK is a radio documentary in oral history form, built around the recorded recollections of people who knew Jack Kennedy personally.
Project History:We Knew JFK came into being when independent producer Steve Atlas stumbled, quite by chance, across an extraordinary collection of audio recordings deep in the stacks of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The recordings were one-on-one interviews, done half a century ago, with people who had known JFK personally. Supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, these oral histories were conceived by the family of the late President Kennedy shortly after his death, as a different kind of memorial — one that would be constructed not from marble but from personal recollections.
Over time, the collection far outstripped the family’s initial expectations. Today it numbers over 1200 interviews, and constitutes perhaps the most extensive oral history collection ever amassed on a single individual.
Voices: As in Studs Terkel’s work, the characters who tell the JFK story are a diverse and vivid lot. From the blue-collar Boston Irish and Italians who helped a young unknown first get elected to Congress, to the venerable figures of the Thousand Days, they are strange bedfellows in all but one crucial respect — somewhere along the way, they crossed paths with Jack Kennedy, and came away with indelible memories of what was, in nearly every instance, the most important experience of their lives.
Recorded in most cases within a few years or even months of the president’s death, the interviews evoke the Kennedy era with uncanny immediacy. Further, they are unexpectedly, sometimes startlingly, candid – to discourage self-censoring, interviewees were offered the option of sealing their conversations from public view for stipulated periods of time, in some instances for their lifetimes or longer. As many participants accepted the offer, much of the material remained classified for decades. Today, with a few exceptions, the embargos have expired — many of them only recently — making this trove of long buried material available to the public for the first time.
For photos of the storytellers and more information, visit the We Knew JFK website.