Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Dallas comes to terms with JFK's murder

By Julian Read
November 13, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT