Tuesday, June 25, 2024 Jun 25, 2024
84° F Dallas, TX


How has an entire city come to bear the blame for the crime of one man?

ON NOVEMBER 4 1960, FOUR DAYS before the general election, vice presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson came to town. It was Republican Tag Day in Dallas, and the downtown lunch crowd was being canvassed by three hundred women in red, white, and blue. They were Dallas congressman Bruce Alger’s women. Many of them were in the junior league, and they looked disarmingly girlish in their patriotic outfits and their red coif hats with ribbons streaming down the back. They were passing out literature for the Nixon-Lodge campaign. It was chilly, and some of them wore their minks.

Johnson had spoken earlier that morning in Arlington, and as he entered Dallas a city policeman pulled over his Lincoln to warn him of a “little disturbance” awaiting him at the Baker Hotel, where the Johnsons traditionally stayed. Commerce Street in front of the hotel was filling up with tag girls, who had now transformed themselves into an eager mob, complete with placards that Alger had stored in the Baker overnight. The cop advised Senator Johnson to use the hotel’s Akard Street entrance to avoid the demonstration.

Several women spotted the Johnsons arriving and rushed over to surround their car. As Lady Bird was stepping out, one of the pickets impulsively snatched Mrs. Johnson’s gloves from her hands and threw them in the gutter. Lady Bird went white. It was still a time when incivility was rare in politics, when public figures felt safe in crowds. No one, perhaps not even the tag girls themselves, was prepared to understand the ferocity and the anger of these apparently happy and well-cared-for women.

Johnson rushed Lady Bird into the lobby of the Baker, which was packed with jeering tag girls. As he entered the elevator Johnson turned and said, “You ought to be glad you live in a country where you have the legal right to boo and hiss at a man who is running for the vice presidency of the United States.” There was an instant of silence, then a voice in the back of the crowd yelled, “Louder and funnier, Lyndon.”

The demonstrators on Commerce Street waited with placards and catcalls. Most of them were carrying Nixon-Lodge and “Tower for Senate” signs {one of the peculiarities of that election being that Johnson was entered in both races, thanks to a special dispensation from the Texas Legislature). “Think once and scratch Lyndon twice,” said one sign. Also: “LBJ traitor, Judas Johnson,” and “Let’s ground Lady Bird.” The Johnsons moved inside a small capsule of personal distance that grew smaller and threatened to collapse entirely under the crush of protesters. In retrospect it was that violation of private space that heralded our new, tragic political era. Years later, as president, Johnson would become accustomed to seeing hateful signs with his name on them; indeed, he would know the fury of the public as few men ever have, but in I960 it was something new, something unheard of.

What was more surprising was that the sign carriers and catcallers were well-groomed women from the finest homes in the city. And yet, as the Johnsons waded into Commerce Street, the women in red, white, and blue began to curse them, and to spit. (Later, some members of the “Mink Coat Mob,” as they came to be known, claimed that they were not spitting, exactly, they were frothing.)

Why? What accounted for the hostility- or to use her word, indignation-of the fashionable and affluent Dallas Woman? In part she was simply a prisoner of her age: a woman of unfocused ambition, intensely competitive but unemployed (the working wife was still a signal of economic desperation), lonely at home and given to causes. She may have been financially secure, but she was deeply troubled by some unfathomable fear that her castle was built of sand and the coming tide would wash her away. She named the tide International Communism or Creeping Socialism. She worried about the “missile gap” and the spread of Communism. Moreover, people in her own country were talking enthusiastically about social change-Kennedy was already speaking of “the revolutionary Sixties’-and the Dallas Woman knew those changes would come at her expense. She worried about the erosion of liberty caused by recent Supreme Court decisions (often delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was the Creeping Socialist personified). The Court was taking rights away from the Dallas Woman and awarding them to pornographers, criminals, atheists, Communists, and Negroes. The Dallas Woman felt herself to be under attack at home and abroad.

Now she was striking back.

Lyndon Johnson made his way through the placards with his wife practically buried under his arm. Lyndon, of course, loomed over the tag girls, his huge hound-dog face visible even at the farthest reaches of the crowd, but Lady Bird was on their level, and she could see the rage in their faces. She started to answer one of the insults, but Johnson put his hand over her mouth and guided her into the lobby of the Adolphus, “Let’s just let them do all the hollerin,1” he said.

They were waiting there, the tag girls and the hangers-on, but also press photographers and television cameras. John Tower, Johnson’s senatorial opponent, was lurking in the stairwell, waiting for a chance to spring into Johnson’s path with a list of political charges, but Tower, despite his name, is a diminutive man and was easily shoved aside by the crush of women.

Even in that mob it would have been a short walk to the elevators if Johnson had bulled his way through. But instead of pressing ahead, Johnson did something quite surprising. He slowed down. He moved with excruciating slowness through the chanting mob and the rain of spit. For thirty minutes Johnson and his wife withstood the harangue of the crowd, as the senator stared into the television cameras with a martyr’s embarrassed smile.

It was the most triumphant half hour of Johnson’s career, because that evening on the television news millions of Americans met the new Lyndon Johnson. They suddenly understood him exactly as he understood himself. He was a liberal-in the Southern context. Overnight he became an acceptable candidate to big-city Northern Democrats who had automatically hated him and to traditional Democrats everywhere who had not (they now admitted) seen past the corn-pone mannerisms of LBJ to the winking FDR inside him.

That evening, watching the news, thousands of Texans and millions of Americans decided how to vote. Although Nixon carried Dallas by a larger margin than any other city in the country, Texas went for Kennedy-Johnson. (Johnson also beat Tower in the senatorial election, although Tower would win the subsequent special election.) It was the closest election in history, and it was decided that day in the lobby of the Adolphus Hotel. People said afterward that they were not voting for Kennedy so much as they were voting against Dallas.

Against us. Until then, Dallas had had very little national identity, but now we found ourselves with a new municipal image: a city of angry parvenus, smug, doctrinaire, belligerent-a city with a taste for political violence. We were shocked to see ourselves portrayed this way, but it had little effect on the way we thought of ourselves.

Until the Adolphus incident, my mother had been coy about how she was going to vote. We teased her that she was falling for the Kennedy sex appeal, but she insisted that it was his mind she admired. She had read Profiles in Courage, which had won Kennedy a Pulitzer Prize. And yet the notion of voting for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket was a heresy in her circle, so Mother was, until that moment, undecided. She and I watched the news together that night-she with horror, because the faces in the mob were familiar to her. They were the same faces she saw at her luncheons and bridge clubs. These were the women she aspired to know and emulate, for they were all Dallas Women, all fashionable, sophisticated, and financially well off, but they were also. Mother saw now, terrified, uncertain, and filled with hate. I remember her cry as we watched the humiliation at the Adolphus: “Shame! Shame!”

THERE WAS. IN FACT, A CHIP OF DEFIANCE ON THE CITY’S shoulder, encouraged by The Dallas Morning News. The News bills itself as the oldest business institution in the state, having been founded in 1842 when Texas was still a republic and Dallas little more than a presumption. Under George B. Dealey the News had been a progressive newspaper, leading the scourge that drove the Ku Klux Klan out of Dallas at a time when that organization controlled nearly every elective office in town. The name Dealey would become famous because of the fan-shaped park directly across the street from the Texas School Book Depository known as Dealey Plaza, with a bronze statue of the publisher beholding the now magnificent skyline of downtown Dallas. Many citizens believe it is perfectly appropriate that Dealey’s name should be tied so irrevocably to the assassination, even though it is his son they blame.

E.M. (“Ted”) Dealey succeeded his father as publisher of the News, and in his hands it became the most strident, redbaiting daily paper in the country, excepting only occasionally William Loeb’s Union Leader in Manchester, New Hampshire. Dealey was a crackpot on the subject of free enterprise; he even attributed the high rate of traffic fatalities in Texas to “the same human qualities that made America great-willingness to risk. driving energy, rugged individualism.” Like many intensely conservative people, Dealey found his paragon in the movies and politics of John Wayne. Indeed, reading the News each morning was like watching a big-screen brawl in a saloon, in which the newspaper’s editorials flattened the “socialists” (read: Democrats), the “Judicial Kremlin” (the U.S. Supreme Court), and virtually every representative of the federal government whose views differed from those of Ted Dealey. Immediately after the election, the News’s principal object of contempt became John Kennedy, whom the paper described on various occasions as a crook, a Communist sympathizer, a thief, and “fifty times a fool.”

Ted Dealey went to the White House in the fall of 1961 with a group of Texas publishers to meet the man he had maligned so frequently in his newspaper. He used the occasion to attack Kennedy in person. He accused the president and his administration of being weak sisters (a favorite Dealey phrase, with its hint of homosexuality). “We can annihilate Russia and should make that clear to the Soviet government,” Dealey advised. To the embarrassment of his colleagues in the room, he added. “We need a man on horseback to lead this nation, and many people in Texas and the Southwest think you are riding on Caroline’s tricycle.’”

That was typical Dealey guff: abusive, personal, and absurd. Dealey reported in his paper on this exchange with the president, although he failed to include the president’s response: “Wars are easier to talk about than they are to fight,” Kennedy told him. “I’m just as tough as you are, and I didn’t get elected president by arriving at soft judgments.”

Afterward, James F. Chambers, the editor of the Dallas Times Herald, the evening paper, told the president that Dealey was speak ing only for himself, not for the other Texans in the room. Kennedy responded with a snap of wit: “I’m sure the people of Dallas are glad when afternoon comes.”

Despite the Kennedy-bashing popularized by the News, the Kennedy celebrity was overpowering. There was nothing to compare with it, except perhaps the Lindbergh phenomenon in my parents’ youth, and the rise of Elvis in my own. Celebrity itself was rather new to us. My parents did not speak in personal terms about public figures; certainly they never discussed Eisenhower’s hair or Mamie’s dresses. We didn’t know them very well. However, by the time the Kennedys came onstage we were deeply into the television age. It was like adding a gene for vicarious living. We could see into people’s lives. We could peek into the Oval Office and see Caroline and John John crawling under the president’s desk. There was Jack talking politics with Bobby (they didn’t even notice us; we were invisible). Jackie took us on a tour of the White House and showed us her bedroom. We knew the Kennedys in the same way we knew the Nelsons, the Ricardos, and the Cleavers.

Eisenhower was a hero, not a celebrity; he did not have “charisma”-a word we were still struggling to define. It had something to do with an excess of vitality, and it was powered by sex. Kennedy obviously had a larger life than the rest of us; he was not only president, he was a star. He threatened the natural balance. He suggested that a person could rise out of our ant-colony democracy and acquire a superlife. It’s no wonder the young were drawn to such a man.

I can remember a photograph of the new president as he came out of the water on the beach at Santa Monica. In the picture he was being mobbed by women, and he was grinning. It was the photograph of a sexual idol, slim, muscular, potent. But it seemed strange and a little blasphemous to see a president’s body.

Daddy had his own dark thoughts about Kennedy. As a younger man he had had political ambitions of his own. Like Kennedy, he was a war hero; like Kennedy, he hoped to trade his wartime glory for public office. Kennedy was a young congressman from Massachusetts when my father made arrangements for him to speak in Oklahoma, at the Ponca City Chamber of Commerce, which my father chaired. Clearly there were advantages in an alliance between my father and this young political star. My father was expected to supply whatever the congressman needed, and what he needed was an ample and varied supply of Oklahoma women-no, not dinner dates, my father was instructed, just sexual companions. It was the moment my father’s own political aspirations died. He saw then the secret appetites of the public man, and he understood how his own appetite for power might lead him to violate his vows to God. He did not even go to hear Kennedy speak.

In Dallas, however, he had reached a grudging accommodation with Kennedy’s presidency. He was a different man than he had been as a young Oklahoma banker. He had witnessed political power and the aggrandizement of wealth at close quarters. He was not so easily shocked. He had come to understand men whose needs were greater than his own, men who made promises only to themselves.

He had voted for Nixon, because he believed Republicans were good for business and business was good for the country, and he stayed suspicious of Kennedy despite the tax cut, investment credits, and liberalized depreciation-all hallmarks of a conservative administration bent on pleasing businessmen like my father.

But like most Americans, my father was affected by Kennedy’s youth and intense maleness. The world since the end of the war had been led by white-haired men-Adenauer, de Gaulle, Nehru, MacMillan, Khrushchev, Mao Tse-tung, Chiang Kai-shek-men of another time, born, as Kennedy reminded us, in another century, Kennedy made them all seem decrepit. His vitality became a national challenge. He didn’t sit, he rocked, and rocking chairs became an instant fad. “He Eats Up News. Books at 1,200 Words a Minute,” we read in Life, and soon I was taking a speed-reading course. My father refused to go on one of the fifty-mile hikes the Kennedys were popularizing-he’d had enough of hiking in the infantry-but he believed in the moral value of fitness. Kennedy phrases began to creep into his vocabulary. We did things “with vigor” now, and when I’d ask him a question he’d preface his response with “Let me say this about that.” Kennedy hated wearing hats, so my father, like every other man in the country, gave up wearing them. Everything Kennedy did or thought or wore or didn’t wear had an immediate and penetrating effect on our lives.

People were stirred up. Like Roosevelt, Kennedy had reached into the symbolic regions of our brains, where fantasies play. Soon after his inauguration the mail to the White House increased by 50 percent, but the proportion of letters from lunatics increased 300 percent. He was a magnet for dangerous emotions. He was too strong, too attractive, too sexy, too potent as a father, too beguiling as a husband, too promising as a son, too many things to too many people. All lines of power concentrated in his hands. He was not only president, the leader of the free world, he was also Prince Jack of Hollywood, he held the reins of the Eastern Establishment, he was the darling of the intellectuals, he even (we later learned) shared a mistress with a Mafia godfather. He was simply the most powerful figure we had ever seen.

Our family was under the spell of Camelot like everyone else, and yet, like nearly everyone else, we felt ourselves to be outside its gates. Camelot was an American court where the rich, the glamorous, and the powerful congratulated each other. It was a pantheon of celebrity. In Kennedy’s Camelot there was nothing surprising about having Marilyn Monroe sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in Madison Square Garden-and also become his lover. Marilyn was the self-appointed prize of ultimate celebrity; she had already given herself in marriage to Arthur Miller, our most celebrated playwright, and Joe DiMaggio, our most famous sports hero, and given herself sexually to numerous other cultural icons, possibly including Albert Einstein. Fame was a great adventure for her, but she suffered the consequences. A few months after the president’s birthday, Marilyn would be dead, ostensibly a suicide. “When you’re famous you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way. It stirs up envy, fame does,” Marilyn said shortly before her death. “You’re always running into people’s unconscious.”

IN THE FALL OF 1962 PRES-ident Kennedy and Mississippi governor Ross Barnett were racing off over that citadel of resistance to social change, the University of Mississippi. An Air Force veteran named James Meredith had applied for admission as “an American-Mississippi-Negro citizen” and was turned away on four occasions. The campus swelled up with angry segregationists, many of them carrying guns, some undergraduates wearing Confederate uniforms, everyone giddy with excitement over the battle to come. In the middle of this riotous crowd was General Edwin Walker.

Five years before, when President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to desegregate Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, he had placed General Walker in charge. It was the most distinguished act of Walker’s career. Later he was relieved of his command in Germany when he was discovered to be proselytizing his troops with right-wing literature. Walker resigned his commission and moved to Dallas, where he expected his politics to be more welcome. Newsweek placed him on the cover in 1961 as a symbol of the emerging radical right. Like conservative Dallas Congressman Bruce Alger, he became a darling of the conservative Dallas housewife. He drew many of them into the local chapter of the John Birch Society. In return they helped to make him one of the city’s most prominent citizens-notable enough, at least in the mind of another citizen. Lee Harvey Oswald, to be worth assassinating.

Walker did have a certain appeal (his military rectitude and air of command recalled General Douglas MacArthur, and with his Southern dignity of manner he would have been well cast as a Confederate cavalry officer), but he played only a brief role in the events of the moment. In a few years he would be virtually forgotten-an eccentric but, to some newsmen, rather dear old biddy, who twice surfaced from obscurity in the Seventies when he was arrested on misdemeanor homosexual offenses.

On March 10, 1963, while Walker was out of town, Lee Oswald went to the general’s home on Turtle Creek Boulevard and snapped some photos. He also made sketches of the placement of the windows in the house. Two days later he sent a money order to a mail-order sporting goods company in Chicago for $21.45, along with a coupon he had clipped from American Rifleman magazine. It was payment for an antiquated Italian rifle known as a Mannlicher-Car-cano. The weapon came with a four-power telescopic sight.

One month later Walker was back in town, seated at his desk, working on his income tax return. It was 9 p.m.; his head was in the sight of Oswald’s rifle, 120 feet away.

Walker thought that a firecracker suddenly exploded directly above him. He turned and saw a hole in the window frame and realized that he was covered with bits of glass and a pale wash of plaster. The police hypothesized that Walker had moved his head at the last moment. Walker disagreed. In his opinion the light in the room had flooded out the window frame from the assassin’s perspective. The bullet had struck the sash and been deflected. In the morning Walker showed the damaged window to newsmen and wryly remarked, “And the Kennedys say there is no internal threat to our freedom.”

I’ve often wondered what scale in Oswald’s mind would give General Walker and President Kennedy equal weight. To me this first assassination attempt is the strongest evidence against a conspiracy, although one could argue that by demonstrating his willingness to kill. Oswald certified himself as a real assassin to-whomever. But a person would have had to have been in Dallas, looking at the world through our own provincial lens, to have seen General Walker as anything other than a local crackpot. Oswald told his wife, Marina, that he shot at Walker because he was a fascist. “If someone had killed Hitler in time, many lives would have been saved.” Only in Dallas could Walker have been seen as a figure of such importance. He wasn’t even that notable in Texas. He had run for governor in 1962 and finished last in a field of six. To the world at large, Walker was just another right-wing Dallas fanatic, a curiosity.

Oswald did not make any further attempts on General Walker’s life, but he did follow the general’s activities in the city. Walker was now partly martyred and riding high. When United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson announced that he would come to Dallas to speak on United Nations Day, October 24, 1963, it was a dare that Walker couldn’t ignore.

Some right-wingers persuaded Governor John Connally to declare October 23 “U.S. Day,” and they promoted it into a small event. Bumper stickers around town said “U.S. Day or United Nations Day-There Must Be A Choice” and “You Cannot Ride Both Horses.” The night before Stevenson was to speak there, General Walker rented the Dallas Memorial Auditorium for a U.S. Day rally. Oswald went to hear Walker’s talk.

There were twelve hundred of Dallas’s most radical citizens in the auditorium that night-Birchers, Minutemen. Christian Crusaders, and members of the National Indignation Convention, which had been founded in Dallas to protest the training of Yugoslavian pilots at a nearby air force base. The NIC was at that point the fastest-growing right-wing organization in the country, according to Newsweek. Walker reminded his audience that the United Nations was an instrument of the worldwide Communist conspiracy, and that on the following night they would have the opportunity to make the rest of the world know that Dallas was one place where the people weren’t fooled. Walker proposed to have a welcoming party for Adlai Stevenson.

Everyone knew that Stevenson was facing a hostile reception. The Dallas Times Herald published a cartoon on the eve of Stevenson’s visit, showing Lyndon Baines Johnson telling the quaking ambassador to “Be Brave.” Stevenson stood hand in hand with the Kennedy boys and with Earl Warren as the most hated men in Dallas, with the difference that while the people who hated Warren and the Kennedys claimed to admire the institutions they represented, they simply couldn’t tolerate the United Nations. It stood for one-worldism, which was nothing more than Communism. It stood for talk, not action. It was a forum for anti-American complaints, which we didn’t care to hear. The Texas Legislature passed a bill that year making the display of the UN flag a crime. Nearly every car in the city with an “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper sticker boasted its companion, “Get us out of the UN.”

There was, in addition, something intensely personal about the hatred of Stevenson. He was the last word in eggheads, Mr. Humpty-Dumpty himself. His urbanity didn’t wash in Dallas, where intellectual charm was suspect (if you took the trouble to be witty, you probably didn’t have it where it counted). Adlai Stevenson was the original weak sister.

He arrived to find the auditorium surrounded by pickets. Among them, perhaps, was Lee Harvey Oswald, who claimed later that he had attended the speech {others thought they saw him holding a sign). Of the two thousand people inside, many of them were supporters of General Walker, and they had brought Halloween noisemakers and placards that had been stored in Walker’s house overnight. When Stevenson stood up to speak, the auditorium erupted with tooting, clanging, ratcheting sounds. Protesters paraded up and down the aisles carrying miniature American and Confederate flags. One man screamed, again and again, “Kennedy will get his reward in hell! And Stevenson is going to die! His heart will stop, stop, stop! And he will burn, burn, burn!”

For the majority of the audience, both the ardent Stevenson supporters and those uncommitted citizens who only wanted to hear him speak, it was the most embarrassing public display they had ever attended. Already Dallasites had begun to grow concerned with their city’s image, and that night for the first time an aroused sense of civic protectiveness began to assert itself. The majority cheered Stevenson and several times gave him a standing ovation, despite the taunts and jeers. They did what they could to police the disrupters in the audience. When Frank McGeehee, a beefy garageman who was the founder of the National Indignation Convention, stood up and began a loud tirade, a small elderly man approached him and tried to push him back into his seat. Police officers finally ejected McGeehee. Above the ruckus, Adlai Stevenson coolly observed, “For my part, I believe in the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of ignorance.”

Yes, we were shocked by the Stevenson incident. The city’s leaders wired an apology, the City Council adopted an antiharassment ordinance, and Mayor Earl Cabell spoke out against the far right. On the other hand, Bruce Alger contended that the city had no reason to feel disgraced; the protesters had only proved that Dallas was “proud, courageous, and truly the home of the brave.” General Walker hung the American flag upside down outside his Turtle Creek home, signaling distress at the city’s apology to Stevenson. “Adlai got what was coming to him,” he told reporters.

Since much of the world would hold the political atmosphere of Dallas responsible for the president’s assassination, it is interesting to discover how closely attuned Oswald was to the events of the moment. He was everywhere, a political gadfly. He was incredibly exotic in Dallas-a man who called himself a Marxist, who actually had defected to the Soviet Union, but who lived now in Oak Cliff with a Russian wife. He thought of himself as a Communist spy. He wrote a letter to Communist Party headquarters in New York describing General Walker’s speech. “As you see, political friction between ’left’ and ’right’ is very great here.” He proposed to infiltrate the American Civil Liberties Union. “Could you advise me as to the general view that we had on the ACLU and to what degree, if any, I should attempt to highten [sic] its progressive tendencies?”

The night after the Stevenson riot, the ACLU met at Southern Methodist University. It was a small meeting, as any gathering of Dallas liberals was bound to be. Someone made the statement in the flow of discussion that just because a man was a Bircher didn’t mean he was an anti-Semite. “I disagree, with that,” said a voice, and Lee Harvey Oswald stood up. He explained that he had attended General Walker’s rally and had heard a number of anti-Semitic as well as anti-Catholic remarks. People who heard Oswald speak that night had varying reactions to him. The Reverend Byrd Helligas, the associate pastor of the First Unitarian Church, thought Oswald “erudite.” A woman found him too sarcastic. Michael Paine, a research engineer and a Quaker who knew Oswald slightly and who had brought him to the meeting, thought his companion had spoken “loud and clear and coherently.”

Afterward, a Dallas couple who had learned about Oswald’s background cornered him and grilled him about politics. The man recalled: “I said to [Oswald], ’I know that you have communistic tendencies.’ He interjected, ’I am a Marxist.’ It left me with the impression that it was decidedly different. Of course, Stalinist, Communist, Marxist-to me he’s a Commie.”

Oswald was utterly out of place in Dallas. The biggest surprise of the assassination was the evidence that the president had been shot by a leftist, In Dallas? It was unusual to meet even a liberal Democrat. Oswald once related that he had become interested in Marxism when a woman on a street corner handed him a brochure protesting the recent execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. That was in 1954, the year of the Army-McCarthy hearings, the peak of the Red Scare in America. The country was terrorizing itself with its obsessive fears of Communism. Congress was considering extending its witch hunt into the classrooms and the churches. And yet Communism as a real political force was already extinct in America, a phantom. At that point fifteen-year-old Lee Oswald in New Orleans decided to give form to the fears: he would become a Communist, the national enemy. He would become a Rosenberg.

Psychologists would say he had joined a pseudocommunity, one that existed only in his mind. Oswald told acquaintances that he was looking everywhere for a Communist cell to join; he also wrote letters to the Socialist Party. But even after he defected to Russia, he testified to the solitariness of his political beliefs in a letter to his brother, Robert; “I have been a pro-Communist for years and yet I have never met a Communist.”

He had an admirable feeling for the underdog. In highly segregated New Orleans he once provoked a fight when he chose to sit in the Negro section of a city bus. A group. of white boys attacked him. “People who saw the fight said that Lee seemed unafraid ” Robert Oswald has written. “His fists flew in all directions, but he was outnumbered; and thoroughly beaten up.”

Oswald eventually fled to Russia, married a pharmacist, then returned to the United States and settled in the city where he was most likely to be feared, despised, and persecuted. Like many villains, he fantasized about being widely loved. He told his wife, Marina, that he would be president himself in twenty years, when he would be forty-three, the same age as Kennedy was when he was elected. And yet few people loved Oswald. “Everybody hated him,” Marina said after the assassination, “even in Russia.” In Oswald’s mind, hate was superior to indifference; he wanted people to feel strongly about him. In Dallas, they certainly would.

Like General Walker, Lee Harvey Oswald was drawn to the volatile, violent politics of the new world. Such men always appear in the midst of social hysteria. Dallas would excuse itself because the assassin was not right-wing-we were enormously relieved when we heard about Oswald’s Marxism-and yet the atmosphere of fanaticism beckoned to chaotic and suggestible individuals and drew them near.

IN NOVEMBER 1963 THE COVER OF LIFE magazine showed Senator Barry Gold-water with his horse, Sunny. “The Arizonan Rides East.” said the headline. The month before. Time magazine conducted a state-by-state survey and predicted a “breathlessly close contest” between Kennedy and Goldwater in 1964, It would be Ted Dealey’s dream come true, a political showdown between the old America and the new. Was Barry Goldwater the man on horseback who would ride out of the West and take control-in our name?

Goldwater was idolized in Dallas. He would come to town and preach against welfare. Social Security, collective bargaining, and public housing. ’The inescapable byproduct of such operations,” he said, “has been the weakening of the individual personality and of self-reliance.” That was the creed of the new world. He took our breath away by saying things in public that even reactionaries only muttered in private. Barry Goldwater’s solution to the war in Vietnam, which was suddenly becoming a nuisance, was to “drop a low-yield nuclear bomb on the Chinese supply lines.” As for the Russians, “let’s lob one into the men’s room of the Kremlin.” I was secretly thrilled when he said that “the country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and float it out to sea.” It was the first time anyone had touched that nerve. We were just beginning to realize the depth of our resentment against the bureaucracy, the media, and the dominating institutions of that part of the country.

Goldwater would not have won the 1964 election, even if Kennedy had been alive to contest it. The new world was not yet strong enough, but it was growing, expanding, extending itself. What was happening in Dallas was spreading throughout the South and the West. New forces were arising. Ronald Reagan, whose political career began with his nomination of Goldwater at the 1964 convention, would capture the California governor’s office by a million-vote majority two years later. George Wallace electrified the South in the spring of 1963, when he stood on the steps of the Alabama statehouse to take the oath for his first term as governor, and cried out, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”

In Texas the ancient coalition that constituted the Democratic Party was being pulled apart. John Tower had become the first modern Republican to win statewide office, which he did with the help of the liberals. (They thought he’d be easier to beat next time around than his conservative-Democrat opponent.) The state’s other senator, the liberal Ralph Yarborough, was engaged in a quarrel with conservative governor John Connally, which was splitting the party into warring factions. Connally himself was having second thoughts about supporting the national Democratic ticket in 1964, even though his mentor, Lyndon Johnson, was on it. But perhaps Kennedy could hold them all together through one more election if he would just come to Texas. And bring his wife, Yarborough advised.

Crowds in San Antonio, Houston, and Fort Worth met the president with enthusiasm, but those receptions were eclipsed in the press by the rift between the party leaders. In Fort Worth, Kennedy had to order Yarborough to ride in the motorcade with Vice President Johnson. In every other respect the trip was a big success. Kennedy was in great form, the audiences were enchanted, and his wife’s presence gave the trip an air of glamour and high occasion. The president joked in Fort Worth on the morning of his death, “A few years ago 1 introduced myself as the man who accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris. I’m getting somewhat the same sensation as I travel around Texas. Nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear. ..” He was irresistible, completely winning.

He left behind him an administration that was nearly paralyzed. His thousand days in power had been a complete failure in domestic matters. Spending for social welfare had risen less rapidly than it had during the Eisenhower years. His social agenda was blocked in Congress by Southern committee chairmen who were willing to bring all government to a halt over the single issue of civil rights. The signal accomplishments of his presidency were a tax cut, the test-ban treaty, and a military buildup that was proportionally larger than the one Ronald Reagan would initiate two decades later.

Despite his reputation as a liberal, even in Texas we were beginning to understand that John F. Kennedy was a conservative president. “The business record of this president,” Lyndon Johnson planned to say that afternoon, “is written in the terms of our highest gross national product, highest personal income, highest employment, highest corporate profits in history. If that record- plus the tax cut, plus liberalized depreciation, plus investment credits, plus trade expansion-is ’anti-business,’ then it is time we rewrite the dictionary.”

Dallas was next. Although crowds everywhere else in Texas had been large and responsive, there was still concern on the part of the Texas politicians with the Kennedy entourage about what might happen there. After Dallas, the Kennedys would fly on to Austin. According to Stanley Marcus, Lyndon Johnson was going to conclude his welcoming speech the following night with the remark “And thank God, Mr. President, that you came out of Dallas alive.”

After his breakfast speech in Fort Worth, Kennedy was given a copy of The Dallas Morning News, which contained front-page articles about the spats among the Texas Democrats, and a full-page, black-bordered advertisement inside the front section. “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas,” it read, “A city so disgraced by a recent Liberal smear attempt that its citizens have just elected two more Conservative Americans to public office… A city that will continue to grow and prosper despite efforts by you and your administration to penalize it for its nonconformity to ’New Frontierism.’” The ad included twelve rhetorical questions that accused the president of going soft on Communism and betraying American allies. It was signed by Bernard Weissman. chairman of the “American Fact-Finding Committee,” a completely fictitious entity. Weissman turned out to be a member of a right-wing coterie formed by three American servicemen who had recently been stationed in Germany. Like Oswald and General Walker, the members of the group had gravitated to Dallas.

Kennedy read the advertisement and handed it to his wife. “We’re really in nut country now,” he said.

AN INVENTORY OF MYSELF ON THE day the world changed: I was sixteen, a hormonal volcano. Like all romantic virgins I was interested only in sex and death, but was untouched by either. I hated my innocence and viewed myself as unfortunate for having lived a happy life. I had felt neither grief nor ecstasy, only years of pubescent anxiety and shallow, unmerited happiness.

We were middle class-already that term sounded like a death sentence for the soul. I saw my life as being essentially frivolous. Insulated from need, unfamiliar with injustice. I longed for tragedy and consequence. I wanted something to happen. I think the fevered politics of Dallas was fueled partly by this same emotion, which was a type of fear. We were afraid something would happen. We were afraid nothing would happen.

My family lived in the largest house on a modest block in East Dallas. My father loved houses; he preferred them solid and roomy, and always with a fireplace. There were five of us, counting my parents, me, and my sisters, Kathleen and Rosalind, both younger than I. We owned a 1959 Chevrolet station wagon and, until that summer, a 1956 Ford sedan, solid black, standard transmission, which 1 had nearly destroyed in drag races on Gaston Avenue. After I ruined the clutch, my father sold the Ford and bought a secondhand six-cylinder Dodge Dart with a push-button automatic transmission, which could barely gain enough speed to navigate in traffic.

My high school was named after Wood-row Wilson, a devout internationalist who would have been held in the same regard as Adlai Stevenson were he not long and safely dead. If you walked down the hallway of Woodrow Wilson High School in November 1963, you would see kids dressed as they were nearly everywhere in the United States at that time-boys in madras shirts, slacks (blue jeans were forbidden), girls in woolen shifts or pleated skirts, both sexes wearing white socks and penny loafers. To dress differently would invite comment, which no one cared to do. The constituency of my school was middle- to lower-class whites. The only Negroes were the kitchen help. One of the few notable alumni (he didn’t graduate) was Richard Speck, who would soon inaugurate a new age of mass murder by killing nine nursing students in Chicago. We still began each morning with the Pledge of Allegiance, but this was the first year that we no longer prayed before class. The Supreme Court declared prayer in public schools unconstitutional in the summer of 1963, a decision that infuriated the zealots in the community, We were often reminded that no one could prevent us from praying secretly, and that silent prayer was a small but worthwhile rebellion.

The Bomb always had been a part of my life; it was arguably the reason I was even alive. The first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, almost exactly two years before I was born. My father was a captain in the infantry then. When the war ended in Europe he prepared for the invasion of Japan. It would have been the bloodiest invasion in history; the Army calculated as many as two million casualties. Later, my father went to Japan with the Occupation, and when he learned of the impregnable defenses of Tokyo harbor, he became convinced that the atomic bomb saved his life, That was an association my father passed on to me. When I was old enough to see the films of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the thought that never left my mind was: three hundred thousand Japanese dead, but I am alive.

And so whenever the civil defense sirens interrupted my school days with their apocalyptic howls, I folded my papers neatly and filed into the hallway and squatted in front of the lockers with my head between rny knees and my hands on the back of my neck, like everyone else, but my thoughts were complex and vaguely guilty. Three hundred thousand Japanese-had they ever really existed? Or was life nothing more than a dream played out in the theater of my mind, which invented details of reality-the smell of wax in the hallway, the scuff marks on my shoes, the discomfort of enforced silence, the presence of “others”? There is really no end to the rationalizing power of the teen-aged solipsist.

In those days we did not know if we would survive from month to month. We spoke about “brinkmanship,” and the metaphor buried in that term was that we were a crew of Spanish explorers who feared we might finally sail off the end of the earth. The difference between us and the Spaniards was that our atomic brink really existed. The chances of a nuclear exchange were increasing every year, so that growing old, or even growing up, seemed unlikely. Even if we missed the apocalypse, our bones were already saturated with radioactivity from all the testing in the atmosphere; we might be doomed already to ugly deaths from cancer. The most popular book in the country in 1961 was a Defense Department publication titled The Family Fallout Shelter. Kennedy wrote a letter to the readers of Life magazine urging us to build shelters in our homes to supplement the government shelters already under construction. Everyone was thinking about large questions and What Is to Be Done? Did we really want to survive in a postnuclear world?

As in every other town in the country, we imagined our city was on the Kremlin’s first-strike list. It was a strange kind of civic pride that would not permit a nuclear war without our immediate destruction.

We still believed that God was on our side-it wasn’t a joke then. We believed in the forces of light and the forces of darkness. My parents’ generation had seen America rise out of the Depression to become the liberator of Europe and the dominant power in the world. The sins of the Nazi empire reinforced our own belief that we were the defender of the faith. We saved civilization. As our reward, God gave us the Bomb.

But by 1963 we had the feeling that God had turned away from us. The idea of a magic nation that ruled the earth died in 1957, when the Russians sent up Sputnik. Suddenly America was second-best and in decline. Kennedy was supposed to change that with his breathless challenges. He said we would meet any burden, pay any price to secure liberty, but the Bay of Pigs had made him look incompetent and even morally wrong. Were we really the same nation that had liberated Europe? He said we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, but we couldn’t get our own rockets off the pad. Was this the same country that built the Bomb? Where was American know-how? Now the only scientists we believed in were the Germans we had rounded up after the war We thought of ourselves as a people that believed in justice, but in our own country we had just begun to notice poverty and institutional racism. Abroad, we were squandering the great asset of our history, our revolutionary heritage: now our corporate conglomerates dominated the world markets and represented repression and the status quo. Before, we could count on our luck and industry and our infallible conscience; these were divine trusts. Somewhere, somehow, we must have betrayed them in God’s eyes- in Hiroshima, perhaps. We had lost faith in ourselves, and why not? Hadn’t God?

Now we had to fend for ourselves. We were learning what it was like to live in the world of men, without God’s blessing. There was a spirit of panic in the press and in Congress. What to do, what to do? Work harder. Americans were too soft, especially the young. We had to be firmed up, educated, made tough and vigorous-like Kennedy.

IADMIRED KENNEDYS EDUCATION AND polish, his fabulous reading speed, his war record, his fitness-although sometimes his qualities seemed too good, either fake or superhuman. There were always rumors about his health. During the I960 campaign, John Connally claimed that Kennedy was suffering from Addison’s disease and might not survive his presidency, if elected. We all knew about his bad back, but there were rumors that he was a virtual cripple, another FDR. And yet there he was, playing touch football in Hyannisport and swimming in the White House pool.

My father wondered about Kennedy’s war record. He didn’t question the president’s courage, but his judgment. It was true Kennedy had saved the life of one of his men on PT-109, on a mission in which Kennedy was supposed to torpedo a Japanese destroyer. Instead, the lumbering destroyer managed to slice the speedy FT boat in half, killing two crewmen. Apparently, Kennedy had failed to notice the ship until it was bearing down on top of him. “Our reaction to the 109 thing had always been that we were kind of ashamed of our performance,” admitted one of the crew, Barney Ross. “I had always thought it was a disaster.”

Was this heroism? Or just luck-that Kennedy was still alive and not brought before a court-martial? The Navy rejected his application for a Silver Star, and it wasn’t until a friend of the Kennedy family, James Forrestal, became secretary of the Navy, that Kennedy received a life-saving award. To my father, it seemed that Kennedy’s vaunted war record was neither heroic nor lucky, it was just a function of privilege. I later came to feel the same way about Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, which actually was written by Kennedy’s speechwriters and Jacqueline Kennedy’s former history professor.

Kennedy had spent thirteen years in the House and Senate without passing a single important piece of legislation. And yet even before his election to the presidency, people were comparing him with Franklin Roosevelt, with the young Churchill, with various movie stars, with Lindbergh. I felt the heat of his glamour; you couldn’t miss it-he was so smart, so polished, he was blessed. But there was something else about him, something about his type, that put me off. Everything was too easy for him.

The final question we all hated to ask was whether Kennedy was rightfully president. Immediately after the 1960 election there were charges it had been stolen. The Republican National Committee received 135,000 complaints of voting irregularities, such as the South Texas county with 86 registered voters, which cast 24 votes for Nixon and 147 for Kennedy. Around Lyndon Johnson there had always hung charges of voting theft, going back to his 1948 election against former governor Coke Stevenson, which Johnson won in a runoff by 87 votes. By 1960, Johnson controlled the Democratic Party apparatus in Texas as no one ever had. In the presidential election, according to the New York Herald Tribune, there were 100,000 votes counted in Texas for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket that had never been cast in the first place (the Democrats carried the state by only 46,000 votes). In Illinois, Mayor Richard Daley held back the vote tallies for his machine-controlled city of Chicago until the downstate Republican vote had come in. At that point, according to Theodore White, who was watching the vote in Hyannisport with Kennedy’s campaign aides, the election was over-Daley would make sure of that. In fact, Richard Daley was the first person to call John F. Kennedy “Mr. President,” which he had done several hours before.

I have wondered at times how the country might have been different if Nixon had won the election-which, fairly counted, he probably would have. So much sadness is buried in Kennedy’s presidency. He led us into the Bay of Pigs. He got us into Vietnam. Nixon might have made the same mistakes as Kennedy; it was Richard Nixon, after all, who originally proposed the invasion of Cuba. One future mistake of his own Nixon would not have made was Watergate, which was partly motivated, in my view, by his paranoia that the stolen election of 1960 might happen again.

And, of course, Kennedy would be alive. It seems to me that almost anything would be worth that single fact. What I have come to hate about Kennedy is the myth that replaced him, a myth he largely created, and yet it is the man himself, full of grace and humor, I love and miss. What a different country we might have had. What a different person I might have been.

IN THE MORNING I WENT OUT TO GET the News and found on our doorstep a flier that looked like a wanted poster in the post office. It was John Kennedy, full face and profile, and the flier said that he was WANTED FOR TREASON. Below that his crimes were listed:

1. Betraying the Constitution (which he swore to uphold): He is turning the sovereignty of the U.S. over to the Communist controlled United Nations. He is betraying our friends (Cuba, Katanga, Portugal) and befriending our enemies (Russia. Yugoslavia, Poland).

2. He has been WRONG on innumerable issues affecting the security of the U.S. (United Nations-Berlin Wall-Missile Removal-Cuba-Wheat Deals-Test Ban Treaty, etc.).

3. He has been lax in enforcing Com munist registration laws.

4. He has given support and encourage ment to the Communist inspired racial riots.

5. He has illegally invaded a sovereign state with Federal troops.

6. He has consistently appointed anti- Christians to Federal office; Upholds the Supreme Court in its anti-Christian rulings. Aliens and known Communists abound in Federal offices.

7. He has been caught in fantastic LIES to the American people (including per sonal ones, like his previous marriage and divorce).

I brought the flier in with the paper and read it on the way to the breakfast table. I had heard most of it before-who hadn’t? It was the same old right-wing tirade, except for the charge of Kennedy’s “previous marriage and divorce,” which was new to me. I was already running late to school, so I didn’t read the News that morning, but later in the day one of my first instincts would be to save the paper (as did many other people in Dallas, including eight-year-old John Hin-ckiey, Jr.). It was November 22, 1963.

My sister Kathleen recalls seeing that date written on a blackboard several days before-she had a school assignment due that day-and feeling an instantaneous surge of horror, a buzz, almost an electrical shock. There were other premonitory currents in the city. Later, the guilt we felt for Kennedy’s death would have less to do with his assassination by a man only slightly associated with our city than it would have to do with our own feelings of anticipation. Something would happen- something. We expected to be disgraced. It had happened with Lyndon Johnson, it had happened with Stevenson, it would happen again. There was a low-grade thrill in the city such as there might be in a movie audience when a gunfight is about to occur-it was that kind of secondary excitement, not the fear that someone would really die, but an expectation that something dramatic would appear to happen, that we would see it or hear about it, certainly talk about it later, but that it would pass with no harm done. Political theater, in other words.

My father was one of the city leaders invited to the Trade Mart for Kennedy’s luncheon speech, He had gone there with his friend Jack Evans, who would later serve as mayor. As they were driving down Irving Boulevard they saw Air Force One just above them, approaching Love Field. It was 11:40 a.m. They remarked on the close timing of these presidential occasions, and how brief they were; Kennedy would be here and gone in a couple of hours.

Although schools were let out in Houston and San Antonio when the president’s motorcade passed through, in Dallas we could be excused only in the custody of a parent. So like most of my classmates I was in school when it happened. It was right after lunch. I was in Algebra. Mr. Irvin Hill was describing a parabola on the blackboard when the three tones came over the public-address system and the principal started to speak. We knew something was wrong before he said a word. There was a choked pause. We could hear a radio playing in the background.

“The president has been shot.”

It was only a fraction of a moment before he gave us details and then played the radio commentary into the PA for the remainder of the hour. But in that instant the world we knew shattered and collapsed. It happened-the something we had been waiting for. It happened! We were dazed and excited. We turned in our chairs and looked into each other’s faces, finding grins of astonishment. Later, when reports appeared about Dallas schoolchildren laughing at the news, I wondered if I hadn’t laughed myself. It was such a release of anxiety. At that point in my life I knew no more about the nature of tragedy than a blind man knows about the color blue. All I knew was that life could change, it had changed at last. Hadn’t we known? Hadn’t we been scared of exactly this? We asked ourselves these questions with our eyes, looking for some fixed response to (his new flood of circumstance. We were giddy and frightened, and as for me I was grateful for the loss of innocence.

Meanwhile, in the Trade Mart, my father and the other guests waited and waited and began to grow impatient. Finally the first course was served. Then J. Erik Jonsson, president of the Citizens Council, arose and said in a quavering voice that there had been an “accident”-he wasn’t more specific. “The president has been hit,” someone reported. My father supposed there had been a rowdy demonstration of some sort.

“. . shot in the head, Governor Connally wounded.. “

My father overheard these words on a police radio as he passed by a motorcycle outside the Trade Mart. It was the first time he ever heard the term “grassy knoll.” Shocked, confused, he drove back to the bank and watched television with his tellers.

Some of the early details from the scene were off base. We heard that Vice President Johnson was shot too, that he was seen entering Parkland Hospital holding his arm. Who else? Were they killing everybody? I never paused to think who they were. It was Dallas, of course-faceless assassins but essentially Dallas pulling the many trig- i gers. I supposed we were in the middle of a . right-wing coup.

As we sat there, gazing crazily at each other and at the PA box on the wall. I finally noticed Mr. Hill and saw tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks. His chest began to heave, then he sobbed in great barks. Everyone was watching him now, studying him as if he had some simple formula for this new hypothesis, but his grief was a private thing, and he picked it up like the greatest burden he had ever lifted and carried it out of the room. As he left, I felt the first prodding overture of shame.

“The President is dead.”

IT WAS A SHOCK HOW MUCH THE WORLD hated us-and why? Oswald was only dimly a Dallasite-he was a Marxist and an atheist-you could scarcely call him a product of the city. He was, if anything, the Anti-Dallas, the summation of all we hated and feared. How could we be held responsible for him? And yet the world decided that Kennedy had died in enemy territory, that no matter who had killed him, we had willed him dead.

The truth is we had drawn closer to Kennedy even as the rest of the country grew disenchanted. The disgrace of the Bay of Pigs actually helped Kennedy in Dallas. My father admired the way the president shouldered the blame. The missile crisis in Cuba showed Dallas that Kennedy had learned the use of power; it also showed us the danger of Ted Dealey’s bluster. Kennedy was tough after all. We liked him. We wanted him to like us. When he came to Dallas we gave him the warmest reception he received in Texas. It was the perfect confrontation between Kennedy’s vaunted courage (walking into crowds, stopping the motorcade to shake hands) and our new willingness to make friends with him.

The crowds and the cheering were real responses. In fact the last words Kennedy heard in life were spoken by Nellie Connally. the governor’s wife, who turned and said. “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.” It was a true observation, but also history’s damnedest irony, for an instant later Jacqueline Kennedy had to respond, “They’ve killed my husband. I have his brains in my hand.”

She said they- meaning Dallas, an assumption the whole world shared.

Dallas killed Kennedy; we heard it again and again. Dallas was “a city of hate, the only city in which the president could have been shot”-this from our own Judge Sarah Hughes, who swore in Lyndon Johnson as president aboard Air Force One.

But Dallas had nothing to do with Kennedy’s death. The hatred directed at our city was retaliation for many previous grievances. The East hated us because we were part of the usurping West, liberals hated us because we were conservative, labor because we were antiunion, intellectuals because we were raw. minorities because we were predominantly and conspicuously white, atheists and agnostics because we were strident believers, the poor because we were rich, the old because we were new. There were few of the world’s constituencies we had failed to offend before the president came to our city, and hadn’t we compounded the offense again and again by boasting of these very qualities? In any case we were well silenced now.

Oh. we felt sorry for ourselves, all right. The city’s display of self-pity was another reason to hate us. The impression we gave was that Oswald’s real crime was not murder but libel-of our reputation, our good name. We were not penitent, we were outraged. We were the victims.

The final words of the speech the president would have delivered in the Trade Mart were the Psalmist’s injunction: “Except that the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” He had meant to be speaking of his generation of Americans, who were charged with keeping peace in the world. But, as my father thought. Kennedy might have been speaking of Dallas as well, because all the watchmen of our city had not been able to protect him from his killer. It seemed an awful prophecy for Dallas that, despite our piety, God had let it happen here.


“The climate was just unbelievable. It was very violent toward leaders in the National Democratic Party. Though I was treated courteously there myself, the people were just as passionate as any time in the McCarthy years. It was just unbelievable that a civilized people could have been whipped into that frenzy. I’ve spoken in thirty-eight of the states in this country and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

-Ralph Yarborough,

US. Senator, 1957-1971

“The city seemed to have attracted every loosely wound right-wing nut case in eighteen states. In addition to the Minute men, Minutewomen, and John Birchers already thronging the cocktail party circuit, more sinister free-lance troublemakers. . .of the right and the left, and some who seemed to flip both ways, like Lee Harvey Oswald. But the poison was also general and socially acceptable, as Klan loyalty had been in Dallas forty years earlier.”

-Jim Schutze, from

The Accommodation

“The real sin of Dallas leadership at this time was in not speaking out to tone down intemperate outbursts or disclaim them as a community stance. . .The famous ’oligarchy,’ as it was titled after the assassination, did not support any of the ultraconservative groups, even the Birch Society, but it could not seem to lift its eyes and discern the chaos inherent in such off-the-path actions. The oligarchy was too busy sticking a dollar sign on everything Dallas did.”

-A.C. Greene, from Dallas, USA

“There was at that time, and there still are, groups of extremists on both sides of the political issues, neither having more credibility than the other. There was a Bruce Alger crowd, but it was not the mainstream-not by a country mile.”

-Trammell Crow

“You will always have individuals who misinterpret events as they unfold. But no, Dallas was not a city of hate at all. Slapping Dallas with that label is something that I don’t buy at all.”

-S.M. Wright, pastor, Peoples Baptist Church, 1957-present

“No, Dallas wasn’t a city of hate, though there were pockets of hate at the time. There were groups of overzealous political activists-many of them well intentioned, many of them women-from fine homes and fine parts of town. But they didn’t really know what they were into or that they could be stirring up a lot of trouble.”

-James F. Clambers Jr.,

publisher, Dallas Times

Herald, 1960-1975

“I wouldn’t characterize it as hate. But there was a polarization of conservatives and liberals. There were very deep feelings on both sides that their position was the right one, and there was mistrust on both sides. But talk about hate-the hate was heaped upon us by the world.”

-Lindalyn Adams, president,

Dallas County Historical


“It’s true that those were the John Birch years. It was a time in which Dallas was growing and prospering, and large groups of people were enjoying, many for the first time, the fruits of prosperity. But in many ways, Dallas in the early Sixties was a harmonious place to live. We’ve always been strongly conservative, but the things people point to as our ’nuttiness’ were really not part of the city as a whole. Even when General Walker spoke at the Majestic that night-and I covered that speech as a reporter for the rimes Herald-he was not well received. Perhaps if he had been more forceful and articulate, he would have been dangerous.”

-John Scnoelkopf