2012-09-25 04:23:20 UTC
By SCOTT K. PARKS The Dallas Morning News
Published: 03 March 2012 10:55 PM
Editorial: 50th anniversary of JFK assassination deserves a silent
Fort Worth plans JFK Tribute to honor president’s final morning
The question hangs heavy in the air as if Dallas were still reeling
from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
What should the city do to officially observe the 50th anniversary
coming up in November 2013?
“This is very important — unbelievably important — as to our place on
the world stage,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said recently. “We can’t
get out of our skis on this.”
With the event still more than 20 months away, a community group led
by the Sixth Floor Museum is working behind the scenes to plan the
first official commemoration built around the date of the
assassination. They’re calling it A Day of Remembrance: The Life and
Legacy of JFK.
The planners know that many Dallasites, especially the older ones who
lived through the tragedy, prefer to let the anniversaries pass
without official fanfare. To them, remembering calls up painful
memories of a time when the world unfairly tarred Dallas as “The City
of Hate” and “The City that killed Kennedy.”
Nothing is set, and task force members say a lot of civic, business
and political leaders will be involved in decisions about what happens
on Nov. 22, 2013.
“What we are talking about is the politics of memory,” said Jim
Hollifield, an SMU political science professor and task force member.
“Remembering is a very political thing. It’s an intensely emotional
Typically, Nov. 22 comes and goes in Dallas without much notice.
Sixth Floor Museum traffic increases, and more tourists than usual
gather in nearby Dealey Plaza for a spontaneous moment of silence at
12:30 p.m., the approximate time that JFK was assassinated as his
motorcade traveled down Elm Street. The museum might unveil a new
exhibit, and the news media marks the anniversary with brief stories.
But next year will be different, according to historians. The 50th
anniversary of a calamitous event is a bridge between older
generations and younger generations who might not even know that an
American president was murdered in Dallas.
Publishers will launch new books on JFK and the assassination, and
those books inevitably will explore what Dallas was like in 1963 and
what it’s like today. And, undoubtedly, international media will focus
on the event.
“To think that the 50th anniversary can be ignored is Pollyannaish and
infantile,” said Dr. Edward Linenthal, a history professor at Indiana
University-Bloomington and a consultant for the Sixth Floor Museum.
“In a way, the desire to forget becomes part of the evidence of the
horrific power of the event itself,” Linenthal said. “One appropriate
way that you can bring a sense of justifiable pride in your city is a
remembrance ceremony of great integrity.”
Open for debate?
Robert Dallek, a nationally known presidential historian, told The
Dallas Morning News that the 50th anniversary is the perfect occasion
to debate whether Lee Harvey Oswald was simply a misguided soul who
killed JFK by himself or whether the murder was a conspiracy involving
multiple gunmen and sinister forces such as the Mafia or the CIA.
“The one thought I have is that the people in Dallas would want to
focus on the issue of this enduring concern about there being a
conspiracy,” said Dallek, who wrote An Unfinished Life: John F.
When Dallek’s biography was published in 2003, a Gallup poll reported
that 75 percent of the American public believed in one of the many
conspiracy theories about JFK’s death. The poll results probably
wouldn’t be much different today, Dallek said.
“I think the city of Dallas would be well-served by accepting and
supporting the proposition that Oswald was the only killer,” he said.
“If they do some kind of forum, it should definitely be orchestrated
by the Sixth Floor Museum.”
But Dallek lives in Washington, D.C., and not in Dallas.
Task force members visibly cringe when confronted with the idea of
holding a symposium that might delve into entry wounds, exit wounds
and other gory details surrounding the assassination. They worry about
what Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter, and other members of the
Kennedy family might think about such a program.
“We don’t want Dallas to be ashamed and embarrassed when the media
spotlight descends on us in November 2013,” said Nicola Longford,
executive director of the Sixth Floor Museum and a task force member.
“I think that whatever is done in Dallas needs to be solemn,
respectful and put his death into context without reliving the details
of what happened,” Longford concluded.
Plans to consider
Interviews with task force members and others involved in the 50th
anniversary planning reveal the following ideas under consideration:
The commissioning of an original piece of music to be unveiled at one
of downtown Dallas’ theaters for the performing arts.
The commissioning of a piece, or pieces, of visual art by the Nasher
Sculpture Center and/or the Dallas Museum of Art.
A symposium on how broadcast television and satellite communications
carried news of the assassination and its aftermath around the world.
When Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald on live television,
it forever changed the media landscape.
A program highlighting how Dallas has changed during the 50 years
between 1963 and 2013.
The unveiling of a new exhibit at Love Field commemorating the
transfer of power that occurred when vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
took the presidential oath of office inside Air Force One as it
prepared to leave Dallas after the assassination.
One of the thorniest issues confronting the task force is what use to
make of Dealey Plaza, which always has been the public gathering spot
for tourists, mourners and assassination researchers.
The Sixth Floor Museum has obtained a special activity permit that
appears to give it control of Dealey Plaza from Monday, Nov. 18,
through Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. The permit troubles Robert Groden and
other assassination researchers.
Over the years, Groden and the Sixth Floor Museum have clashed like
angry neighbors. He fears the museum will ban him from Dealey Plaza
during the anniversary week and try to control what happens there.
“The museum wants to be the only game in town, but I plan to be at the
same place I am every year — up on the grassy knoll fighting for the
truth,” he said. “What the city could do during the 50th. anniversary
is fund the travel for experts on the Kennedy case and hold a formal
meeting for them to talk on the case.”
Longford, the Sixth Floor Museum executive, said last week that the
task force has made no decision about whether to use Dealey Plaza.
Asked why she obtained the permit to use Dealey Plaza, she replied,
“Just to be proactive and make sure the space is committed. The
direction as of now is not to hold any event in Dealey Plaza.”
‘A tricky issue’
José Antonio Bowen, dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, is among
those involved in discussions about what to do for the 50th
anniversary. A visual artist “who works on this subject” has been
approached to participate in the project, Bowen said, declining to
name the artist.
“This is a chance to say we are a great art city, but it’s a tricky
issue,” he said. “It’s about how people feel. We don't want anyone to
think we are taking advantage of the event for the purposes of
advertising or hyping the city.”
Bowen has lived in Dallas for six years and only recently has been
exposed to the walking-on-eggshells nature of discussions about the
50th anniversary planning.
“There is enough hesitation that somebody will have to take the reins
and say, ‘Here’s what’s gonna happen.’”
In fact, Dallas has never embraced “the A word.” The Kennedy Memorial
two blocks from Dealey Plaza doesn’t mention the assassination. The
plaque designating Dealey Plaza as a National Historic Landmark is
only feet away from the spot on Elm Street where the fatal shots
killed JFK. But it does not mention the assassination.
Lindalyn Adams, a longtime Dallasite who has devoted much of her life
to preserving local history, remembers when she used to avert her eyes
to avoid seeing the Texas School Book Depository when she drove
through Dealey Plaza.
“I just would not look there,” she said recently. “So many in Dallas
did not want to preserve that building.”
Later, Adams became the public face of the movement to create the
Sixth Floor Museum, which opened in 1989.
“This is a part of our history, and it will never go away,” she said.
How should Dallas commemorate the 50th anniversary? Send your ideas to
Scott Parks at sparks@ dallasnews.com. We may use them in a story
about the anniversary plans.