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Local author reflects on JFK assassination's 50th anniversary

Former Parkview High history teacher Larry Sneed, who wrote a book that’s described as an oral history of the Kennedy assassination, said the 50th anniversary will be the last major milestone of the event that defined a generation.


Larry Sneed, a former Parkview High history teacher who wrote the book "No More Silence," an oral history of the Kennedy assassination, said this year's 50th anniversary will be the final major milestone for an event that defined a generation. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

Larry Sneed, a former Parkview High history teacher who wrote the book "No More Silence," an oral history of the Kennedy assassination, said this year's 50th anniversary will be the final major milestone for an event that defined a generation. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Larry Sneed, a former Parkview High history teacher, has collected thousands of books and collectibles about the Kennedy assassination in the basement of his home in Social Circle. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Larry Sneed holds up an original copy of The Dallas Morning News the day after Lee Harvey Oswald was shot. It's one of about 800 original newspapers from around the country that Sneed owns about the Kennedy assassination. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

SOCIAL CIRCLE — Larry Sneed spent 10 years, usually summer visits to Dallas, researching and writing an oral history of the John F. Kennedy assassination. But one of his favorite times was a Friday night in the office of an assistant district attorney chewing Copenhagen tobacco.

Sneed, a retired history teacher from Gwinnett County Public Schools, mostly at Parkview High, knows the JFK assassination as well as anyone around. His basement is proof.

Sneed’s Kennedy library includes 1,500 books about the assassination itself, and close to 5,000 indirectly related to the Kennedy family. He has 450 tabloid magazines that feature loud headlines of conspiracy theories. And in his garage, there are 800 newspapers from around the country that include coverage of the assassination and the immediate aftermath.

“It is an obsession,” Sneed admits.

One of those thousands of books is “No More Silence: An Oral History of the Assassination of President Kennedy,” which Sneed wrote and was published in 1998. Sneed interviewed dozens of eye witnesses who were in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, and 49 made it into the book about a subject he called the defining moment of his generation.

“This likely will be the last big anniversary any of us will remember,” he said. “First of all, with the 50th anniversary, most of these people who were in Dallas as police officers or eye witnesses will be long gone by 25 years from now for the 75th anniversary. … It’s very important that people reflect on the life of President Kennedy. And not only that, but the impact the assassination had on the nation at the time.”

Sneed was interviewed for part of a JFK assassination program, “Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 hours to live” that will air at 10 p.m. on Friday on The History Channel.

Parkview High social studies teacher Regina Loveridge invited Sneed to visit her students on Wednesday to discuss the book and assassination. Loveridge said Sneed had a story for nearly every question the students asked.

“He’s considered an expert all over the country,” said Loveridge, who used to be a team teacher alongside Sneed. “He’s like an encyclopedia about JFK.”

A full-fledged history buff, Sneed also has collections of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, the Bobby Kennedy shooting, George Wallace shooting and Civil War pictures line the staircase to his basement.

But the JFK assassination collection dwarfs those.

“So much of Kennedy was style over substance,” Sneed said. “People liked what they saw. He was really the first president to utilize television to his advantage. (Dwight D.) Eisenhower was on TV, but Eisenhower was old and grandfatherly-like, and Harry Truman was there in the beginning. Kennedy did, and he knew how to use the press, and we’ve seen the vast majority of presidents since then use the press as much as possible.”

Sneed began work on the book because he wanted to do intensive research on a manageable topic, and because he was 15-years-old when Kennedy was shot, and figured it was just four days in Dallas, it would be a snap.

“Once you get into it, it’s like a labyrinth,” Sneed said. “You go from one corner to another and one culprit to another. It gets rather complicated.”

While Sneed believes 75 percent of all the books about the JFK assassination are conspiracy-related, he’s not in that group. Sneed believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and the subject is popular because people love a mystery.

As he researched the book, making 12 trips to Dallas, Sneed said he became friends and stayed in the homes of several police and law enforcement officials who were eye witnesses or central figures in the assassination and investigation of Oswald and Jack Ruby, who shot Oswald.

“It was a real interesting experience; haven’t made a whole lot of money off it,” Sneed said. “I’d venture to say some of the best times in my life were spent in Dallas. I still have a few friends out there that I interviewed.”

One of his favorite experiences was interviewing Bill Alexander, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Ruby, on that Friday night when they sat in Alexander’s office spitting Copenhagen.

“He’s one of the neatest guys out there,” Sneed said.

Only 11 people of the 49 interviews that made it into the book remain alive, but many of Sneed’s interviewees knew one another, were neighbors, or in one case, brother-in-laws. Paul Bentley, a police detective, helped Sneed secure an interview with Bentley’s brother-in-law, L.C. Graves, another police detective, who was on the left side of Oswald when he was shot by Ruby.

Graves initially delayed and avoided any interview with Sneed until Sneed interview Bentley, who assured Graves that Sneed was all right after all.

“Dallas was the biggest small town in America, everybody knew everybody,” Sneed said. “I’d be 20 miles off from somewhere, (someone would say) ‘I lived next door to him.’ The only way you learned these things was to actually be there, because you wouldn’t learn these things in books. They would tell you things you didn’t see elsewhere.”

Video

Larry Sneed discusses book on JFK assassination

Former Parkview High history teacher Larry Sneed, who wrote a book that’s described as an oral history of the Kennedy assassination, said the 50th anniversary will be the last major milestone of the event that defined a generation.

Former Parkview High history teacher Larry Sneed, who wrote a book that’s described as an oral history of the Kennedy assassination, said the 50th anniversary will be the last major milestone of the event that defined a generation.