Within minutes of President John F. Kennedys assassination, the telephone operators at the Dallas Morning News were inundated with calls blaming publisher Ted Dealey, one of Kennedys harshest and most relentless critics, for the shooting.
By DAVID CONRADS
Special to The Star
I hope youre happy now, one angry caller was reported to have screamed into the receiver.
A few blocks away, at the headquarters of the Hunt Oil Co., FBI agents advised H.L. Hunt to take his family and leave town for a while. The enigmatic oil tycoon and political activist had spent millions of his vast fortune on virulent anti-Kennedy literature and radio broadcasts and supported the efforts of many anti-Kennedy groups.
While an entire city cant be blamed for the heinous act of one man, it can create an atmosphere of such toxic political extremism a culture of hate that violent, even murderous, notions can take root and flourish. Thats the idea explored by journalists Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis in Dallas 1963, a fascinating, month-by-month account of the political and social climate of Dallas between January 1960 and November 22, 1963.
Lee Harvey Oswald is among the large cast of characters, but the book is not about the assassination per se or the myriad conspiracy theories that have cropped up since. Its about the smog of political anger and hate that hung over the city in those years, when Dallas became the home base of numerous radical political groups and developed a national reputation as the epicenter of right-wing extremism.
While Dallas hardly had a monopoly on intolerance, the number of such groups that found their way to the city during that period is remarkable. Indeed, you almost need a spreadsheet to keep track of the many groups, their leaders and the things they were against: communism, Catholics, Kennedy, Martin Luther King, integration, Social Security, welfare, the progressive income tax, the U.N., the NAACP, even fluoridated water.
Many prominent public figures in Dallas, in addition to Dealey and Hunt, contributed to the politically charged atmosphere.
W.A. Criswell, a minister of the largest Baptist church in Dallas, gave fiery sermons on the evils of communism, liberals and integration.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Alger became a folk hero to his constituents when he delivered a tribute to Robert E. Lee on the floor of Congress on the occasion of the Confederate generals birthday. He never passed a single piece of legislation, though he introduced bills to privatize the federal government, withdraw from the U.N., break off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and other hopeless pieces of legislation.
The point man for much of the right-wing activity was Edwin A. Walker, a retired Army general whom Kennedy demoted for preaching rightist propaganda to troops under his command in Germany. Soon after, he resigned from the Army, moved to Dallas and briefly became a national figure.
His obsession with communism bordered on paranoia. He was convinced its ideology had infiltrated all strata of American society, including the highest levels of government, and even angrily denounced Mad magazine for what he saw as its subversive influence on schoolchildren.
For all the animosity and vitriol in Dallas at the time, there was another side and other important figures who make appearances in Dallas 1963.
H. Rhett James was a black preacher who worked tirelessly to integrate schools, lunch counters and public facilities in Dallas. Juanita Craft headed the youth council of the local NAACP and was active in the civil rights movement. Stanley Marcus, co-founder of Neiman Marcus, the luxury department store, founded the Dallas Council on World Affairs, served as state chair for the United Nations Day in Texas and did much to bring art, culture and enlightenment to his hometown.
A month before Kennedys visit, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been physically assaulted by a protest mob following a speech in Dallas, and there was grave concern over what the presidents reception there might be. Numerous people advised Kennedy to give Dallas a pass during his swing through Texas, arguing that the city was too volatile and dangerous.
But when he and his wife stepped off Air Force One on that fateful day, a cheering crowd of thousands was gathered behind the chain-link fence to greet them, many more thousands lined the motorcade route and nearly a quarter of a million jubilant people jammed into downtown Dallas to get a firsthand look at the president and first lady.
Too bad for the city that the haters have gotten so much more attention than the adoring crowds.
A Kennedy bookshelf
The 50th anniversary of that fateful and fatal moment Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas has prompted a surge of new books on President John F. Kennedy, the assassination and related topics:
Camelots Court: Inside the Kennedy White House, by Robert Dallek (Harper). This portrait of Kennedys circle of advisers brings to light the influences that shaped a presidency.
JFK, Conservative, by Ira Stoll (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Stoll argues that Kennedy was more of a conservative than a liberal after examining Kennedys political beliefs and record.
The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, by Larry J. Sabato (Bloomsbury). Intrigued by Kennedys transformation into a mythic figure, Sabato explores not only the Kennedy presidency but how his legacy has continued.
Five Days in November, by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin (Gallery Books). Secret Service Agent Hill, present at Kennedys assassination, compiles photographs while giving his account of the presidents death and the days following it.
The Letters of John F. Kennedy, edited by Martin W. Sandler (Bloomsbury). Sandler compiles hundreds of letters to and from Kennedy, including exchanges from such figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Nikita Khrushchev and Eleanor Roosevelt.
End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by James L. Swanson (William Morrow). Swanson explores the days before, during and after Kennedys assassination.
Rose Kennedys Family Album: From the Fitzgerald Kennedy Private Collection, 1878-1946, by Caroline Kennedy (Grand Central Publishing). The presidents daughter compiled photographs chronicling the Kennedy family from the late 19th century until 1946.
Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy (Yale University Press). A new exhibition and this catalog, produced by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, re-creates an art show that hung in the Kennedys hotel room in Fort Worth on Nov. 21, 1963: a Monet, a Van Gogh, a Thomas Eakins and more.
Elaina Smith, The Star
David Conrads, a former Kansas Citian, is a writer and editor in Fort Worth, Texas.