Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Dallas comes to terms with JFK's murder

By Julian Read
updated 9:12 AM EST, Wed November 13, 2013
Postcards of historic moments in the last days of the JFK presidency are on sale at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
Postcards of historic moments in the last days of the JFK presidency are on sale at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julian Read: Since the JFK assassination in 1963, Dallas has changed
  • He says Dallas was targeted as "a city of hate" that brought about JFK's murder
  • Read: Dallas has avoided acknowledging the assassination over the years
  • Read: This year, city hosts JFK tributes marking 50th anniversary of his death

Editor's note: Julian Read was national media representative for Texas Gov. John B. Connally, riding on the White House press corps bus in Dallas on November 22, 1963. A nationally prominent Texan corporate communications and public affairs counselor, he is author of "JFK's Final Hours in Texas: An Eyewitness Remembers the Tragedy and Its Aftermath." Julian Read will appear on "Piers Morgan Live," tonight at 9 ET.

(CNN) -- It's a shame that Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy can't experience the transformation of Dallas and Texas from the dark days of John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 to the outpouring of tribute to him taking shape as the 50th anniversary approaches.

People have debated for decades since that tragic day whether Dallas was "a city of hate" that brought about his murder. Certainly some factors contributed to that perception: Then-vice presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Ladybird, were spat on during the 1960 presidential campaign, and U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was struck during a speaking appearance only weeks before the presidential visit. The latter episode resulted in a Time magazine headline: "A City Disgraced."

Julian Read
Julian Read

Regardless of the validity or fairness of the accusation, the consequences were swift and brutal. The die of public opinion had been cast. For years, the city would endure a bitter stigma. It took long, agonizing decades for Dallas to deal with that burden. Today's observers will find it hard to conceive the harshness of scorn that ensued.

Because I was a witness to the assassination from the White House press bus in the motorcade, I still remember vividly the shock and heartbreak of the moment, and the bitterness afterward.

Mayor Earle Cabell received death threats from strangers.

 JFK\'s official schedule, distributed by the White House before his trip to Dallas between November 20-22, 1963.\n
JFK's official schedule, distributed by the White House before his trip to Dallas between November 20-22, 1963.

Dallas businessmen were bodily thrown out of New York taxicabs.

A direct mail businesswoman was forced to change her mailing address to Arlington, a nearby community, after orders plummeted.

Then, encouraging signs of recovery began to appear. On the political front, Erik Jonsson was drafted to become mayor, and forged an ambitious "Goals for Dallas" agenda to refocus and move the city out of its malaise. His strong leadership is credited for Dallas being named an All American City seven years later.

Beyond the lofty civic initiatives, the city's image was bolstered by two unexpected sources. One was the spectacular performance of quarterback Roger Staubach, which led to the Dallas Cowboys being called "America's Team." The other was worldwide fascination with "Dallas," the TV soap opera so popular that a Dallas reporter remembers a well-educated British interviewee asking whether he knew the Ewings, the mythical TV show family.

Despite the benefit of these distractions from JFK's death, the city resisted coming to grips with the historical reality that rocked the world. Most Dallasites preferred to forget. The local Press Club, which stages an annual review of news highlights of the preceding year, did not include a single word about the assassination in its show the next spring. Many advocated bulldozing the School Book Depository.

Kennedy family photos released
Kerry reignites JFK conspiracy theories

County of Dallas engineer Judson Shook Jr. saved the building by engineering its purchase and rehabilitation, providing space for a fitting memorial. Preservationist Lindalyn Adams and her allies helped realize that goal. After years of fits and starts, the Sixth Floor Museum opened its doors in 1989, and today is home to authoritative historical archives surrounding the Kennedy tragedy, including more than 1,100 oral histories.

Fifty years after the trauma it suffered, Dallas is a vibrant city that boasts a host of Fortune 500 companies, an active arts scene and a growing population and economy. But until now, the city itself never has officially come to peace with the event.

Dallas has set a tone of quiet dignity and grace to observe the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's death on Friday, November 22.

Mayor Mike Rawlings adopted an enlightened pre-emptive strategy more than a year ago to marginalize would-be sensationalists and conspiracy mongers who might seek to dominate the milestone. Thus, more than 1,000 journalists from around the world will experience a simple one-hour ceremony to honor the memory of President John F. Kennedy in an address by noted historian David McCullough. More than 5,000 attendees who won standing-room-only free admission will view proceedings within a secured area of Dealey Plaza, site of the assassination.

Next door, the Sixth Floor Museum will offer its vast resources, along with a series of special programs, to the tide of journalists, researchers and the general public expected to descend on the city.

The city's initiative has led to the organic rise of other notable gestures across Texas in the weeks ahead. At nearby Fort Worth, an eight-foot bronze statue of Kennedy stands in JFK Tribute Plaza, the site where Kennedy spoke to thousands in a misting rain hours before he was killed. A few miles west of downtown, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art will show fine art that had hung in the Kennedys' suite at the Hilton Hotel Texas the night before his death. The Fort Worth Public Library and the University of Texas Library at nearby Arlington both offer extensive exhibitions of photographs from JFK visits to Fort Worth and Dallas.

To the south, the LBJ Library in Austin offers exhibits on the assassination, Johnson's ascension to the presidency and his tenure as the nation's new leader. Visitors can hear Lady Bird Johnson's tape-recorded diary from several days surrounding the tragedy. Sixty miles to the west of Austin, the LBJ Ranch offers free admission to the Texas White House of the 1960s.

Although Dallas and Texas never can erase the heartbreak of that day in 1963, this mosaic of honor should touch the hearts of those who mourn the passing of JFK, and help the nation and the world finally come to peace with that tragic time in our history.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Read.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT