James McAuley Comments on Dallas, Texas, and President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination!

Dear Commons Community,

This week we will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963.  The media coverage of the commemoration has begun with programs and articles commenting on various aspects of this  tragic day.  In today’s New York TimesJames McAuley, a Dallas native and a Marshall scholar studying history at the University of Oxford, examines his hometown’s role in the assassination.  His opening is provocative:

“For 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. That’s because, for the self-styled “Big D,” grappling with the assassination means reckoning with its own legacy as the “city of hate,” the city that willed the death of the president.”

He goes on to describe:

“Dallas — with no river, port or natural resources of its own — has always fashioned itself as a city with no reason for being, a city that triumphed against all odds, a city that validates the sheer power of individual will and the particular ideology that champions it above all else. “Dallas,” the journalist Holland McCombs observed in Fortune in 1949, “doesn’t owe a damn thing to accident, nature or inevitability. It is what it is … because the men of Dallas damn well planned it that way.”

Those “men of Dallas” — men like my grandfather, oil men and corporate executives, self-made but self-segregated in a white-collar enclave in a decidedly blue-collar state — often loathed the federal government at least as much as, if not more than, they did the Soviet Union or Communist China. The country musician Jimmy Dale Gilmore said it best in his song about the city: “Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eye … a rich man who tends to believe in his own lies.”

For those men, Kennedy was a veritable enemy of the state, which is why a group of them would commission and circulate “Wanted for Treason” pamphlets before the president’s arrival and fund the presciently black-rimmed “Welcome Mr. Kennedy” advertisement that ran in The Dallas Morning News on the morning of Nov. 22. It’s no surprise that four separate confidants warned the president not to come to Dallas: an incident was well within the realm of imagination.

The wives of these men — socialites and homemakers, Junior Leaguers and ex-debutantes — were no different; in fact, they were possibly even more extreme.”

McAuley concludes:

“Dallas is not, of course, “the city that killed Kennedy.” Nor does the city in which the president arrived 50 years ago bear much resemblance to Dallas today, the heart of a vibrant metroplex of 6.7 million people, most of whom have moved from elsewhere and have little or no connection to 1963.

But without question, these memories — and the remnants of the environment of extreme hatred the city’s elite actively cultivated before the president’s visit — have left an indelible mark on Dallas, the kind of mark that would never be left on Memphis or Los Angeles, which were stages rather than actors in the 1968 assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

For the last 50 years, a collective culpability has quietly propelled the city to outshine its troubled past without ever actually engaging with it. …

…what the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald once called the “dark night of the soul,” on which the bright Texas sun has yet to rise. The far right of 1963 and the radicalism of my grandparents’ generation may have faded in recent years, they remain very much alive in Dallas. Look no further than the troop of gun-rights activists who appeared just days ago, armed and silent, outside a meeting of local mothers concerned about gun violence. If this is what counts as responsible civic dialogue, then Dallas has a long way still to go.”

I don’t have an insider’s knowledge of Dallas’s culture and mores to comment about its culpability in Kennedy’s assassination. My own remembrances from that day was a fanatic, Lee Harvey Oswald, was able to buy a $21.00 rifle and change the course of history by striking down our president in the prime of his life.  Oswald was a deeply troubled 24-year-old ex-Marine who was born in New Orleans, defected from the U.S., and lived in Russia for several years.  It is my sense that he could have chosen any number of places in which to commit his act.   Dallas did not kill Kennedy – a disturbed Lee Harvey Oswald did.



One comment

  1. I read that “dribble” that the misinformed James McAuley wrote on Dallas/JFK, Well all I can say is how wrong he was in his perception of one of the greatest cities ever, DALLAS! Hello! It was NOT the city of Dallas’ fault on the tragic assassination, as it was not Memphis’ fault on MLK or L.A.s fault with RFK……Etc…….Rodney Roberts, Orlando, FL