Dallas still defined by Kennedy’s assassination in 1963
JFK’s ambition went unfulfilled – yet he managed to inspire a generation
Fifty years on, many residents of Dallas want to forget, not remember, Kennedy’s death.
Still trying to shed the “city of hate” label tagged on to Dallas in the aftermath of Kennedy’s murder, local artists, students and community groups have organised the Dallas Love Project, a collection of 20,000 pieces of art expressing unconditional love turning walls across the city into “galleries of love”.
Children’s paintings adorn spaces in buildings around the city, but all the focus of the visitors to the city is on Dealey Plaza, the scene of Kennedy’s assassination a half-century ago.
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Throngs of tourists and reporters have converged on the plaza as media trucks and tents and newly erected stands surround the scene of one the most famous events of 20th-century American history to commemorate the 50th anniversary, a moment that changed American politics and culture.
Adorned by tattoos of John F Kennedy, his wife Jackie and slain brother Robert, Jeff Gold (59) has travelled to Dealey Plaza from his home in Los Angeles just as he did for the 40th anniversary.
“I am dedicated to Kennedy and I have always found him to be an inspiration,” said Gold. “We don’t have royalty in this country . . . it is the closest we can get to looking up to somebody.”
Locals have a different view. Waiting for a tram a few blocks away from the large crowds at the plaza, George Segien (62) says there is a “lack of empathy” among Dallas residents.
“It is not something that they really want to remember being famous for,” he said. “It is not one of your prouder moments having a president dying in your back yard.”
Americans prefer to remember Kennedy for his potential than for his accomplishments – a charismatic, youthful leader whose promise was cut short in a deranged moment at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald, a psychologically troubled young man with a hatred of capitalism and a wish to be famous.
Congressman Joe Kennedy, the only member of the Kennedy family now in political office, said that his great-uncle “challenged all of us to achieve a better and bigger future for our country”.
The blizzard of conspiracy theories following his death spawned a wave of anti-government sentiment that was further stirred by the racial violence against the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and Watergate political scandal of the Nixon presidency that marked a dark decade after Kennedy’s murder.
Bob Schieffer, the veteran CBS newsman who was a young reporter in Texas at the time of Kennedy’s assassination, says one reason for the “endless debate” in all the conspiracy theories is because people find it hard to believe that “a total loser” like Oswald could have taken down the president.
John F Kennedy’s ambition went unfulfilled and, in the time he served, he fell short of greatness, yet he inspired a generation. Historians rank him as an average president, yet the public eulogise him along with Lincoln and Roosevelt as one of America’s greatest presidents, overlooking his limitations.