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 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT