40th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination

Angles/Experts/Rare Documents
www.smu.edu/jfk

Hate mail. The President’s unspoken speech about American foreign policy in the Cold War. A Generation Y class debating the conspiracy theories. A city changed.

With the Dallas skyline clearly visible from its campus, Southern Methodist University shares both a history and proximity to the events of Nov. 22, 1963. For the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, the following are some story angles, experts available and a Web site, http://www.smu.edu/jfk, with rare archival material from the time:

“On the Trail of the Assassin(s)” -- Class Becomes Microcosm of JFK Controversy

Studying the JFK assassination at a campus just minutes away from Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository gives students a unique opportunity. In SMU Professor Tom Stone’s course, “On the Trail of the Assassin(s),” students are learning about the event through the lens of writers, artists and scholars who have used the tragedy to pursue their artistic and political ends. Students study the work of filmmaker Oliver Stone and Gerald Posner, author of Case Closed, and pour through government documents, several volumes of testimony and eyewitness accounts. At the end of the course, students must form their own opinion of the assassination, providing, in the words of Professor Stone, “An answer in the absence of the answer.”

Possible interviews:

  • Tom Stone, SMU senior lecturer in English, who has taught the class for 10 years.
  • Tom Knock, SMU associate professor of history, who is an expert on presidential and diplomatic history. He is the author of To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order and is currently writing a political biography on former U.S. Senator George McGovern.

SMU Students taking the class can be made available.

Reporters can observe the class by calling SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650. Class times are Monday/Wednesday/Friday at noon and 1 p.m. On Sunday, Oct. 26, the class will travel to Dealey Plaza to tour the grassy knoll.

Can an Entire City be Blamed for an Assassination?

In 1963, Dallas was known for its peculiar brand of right-wing extremism, says Darwin Payne, SMU professor emeritus of communications, who as a young newspaper reporter covered the assassination. Two incidents before the assassination seared this image into the national consciousness: During the 1960 presidential campaign, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson were nearly attacked by a screaming mob of Dallas residents outside a downtown hotel and later, only a month before the assassination, Democratic leader Adlai Stevenson was heckled loudly at a speech. This climate of extremism caused many Americans to blame the entire city for the president’s death, Payne says. Out of tragedy, however, rose a more moderate city leadership.

“The extreme right wingers were tolerated by the power brokers. After the assassination, city leaders wanted to moderate those tensions. At the time, Dallas had the nation’s most conservative congressman and the only Texas Republican in Congress, Bruce Alger. The power brokers ran then-mayor Earle Cabell against him and defeated him,” Payne says.

Documents chronicling this painful time are in SMU’s DeGolyer Library. They include the hate mail sent to former mayor Earl Cabell and the papers of retail magnate Stanley Marcus, who became a voice of moderation, helping the city heal its wounded pride. Much of this history can be viewed at www.smu.edu/jfk

Payne is publishing a biography on Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who swore in Lyndon Johnson as the nation’s 36th President on Air Force One. He also compiled the book, Reporting the Kennedy Assassination: Journalists Who Were There Recall Their Experiences, is the result of reunion of reporters organized by Payne in 1993.

Possible interviews:

  • Darwin Payne, SMU professor emeritus of communications, who as a young newspaper reporter covered the assassination and has written books on Dallas history.
  • Daniel Howard, SMU marketing professor in the Cox School of Business, who is an expert on consumer psychology.

Payne is available to review the archives with reporters by calling SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime: The Consumerism of Tragedy

Ford’s Theatre, Dealey Plaza, the Lorraine Motel and the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building. Once just real estate, today symbols of national pain. The more famous they are in eliciting memories, the more people flock to them. The site of the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy receives an estimated 2.2 million visitors a year. Why do scenes of national tragedy become tourist attractions? Daniel Howard, Cox professor of marketing in the Cox School of Business, says consumers have a better memory for negative information than positive information. Prolonged, repeated exposure over time to the details of a tragedy creates an unbreakable association between the event and the place. The result is a burning curiosity.

“Outside of Dallas, if you ask people what year the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl, most people couldn’t tell you. But when you ask them where President Kennedy was killed, they know it was Dallas,” Howard says. Negative information is also known as “top of mind recall,” or the first thing that comes to mind. With places where great tragedy occurred, Daniel says the exception always translates into perception.

“People remember Dallas as the place where President Kennedy was killed because not many American presidents are assassinated anywhere. The exception is the perception,” he says.

Possible interviews:

  • Daniel Howard, SMU professor of marketing in the Cox School of Business, who is an expert on consumer psychology.

For interviews, reporters can call SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650.

A Mile-Long Rose Garden in Dealey Plaza

Like downtown Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11, Dealey Plaza has become synonymous with great national tragedy. After the assassination, city leaders grappled with how or whether to memorialize the location. Suggestions ranged from blowing up Dealey Plaza to planting a mile-long rose garden. Other suggestions included establishing a Kennedy prize similar to the Nobel Prize or starting a fund for emergency medicine research at Parkland. Today Dealy Plaza attracts more than 100 people daily and the School Book Depository, a museum to the JFK legacy, has been visited by more than 500,000 people since it opened in 1989. To view the original suggestions and see the plans for Dealey Plaza, go to http://www.smu.edu/jfk

Possible interviews:

  • Glenn Linden, SMU professor of history, who served on the board of directors planning the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza.
  • Darwin Payne, SMU professor emeritus of communications, who as a young newspaper reporter covered the assassination for the Dallas Times Herald.

For interviews, reporters can call SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650.

JFK Memories from the Files of Retail Magnate Stanley Marcus

In the fashion world, Stanley Marcus was known as a man of taste and style. In Dallas he was revered for his leadership, especially after the JFK tragedy. In the aftermath of the assassination, Marcus helped the city to restore its wounded pride. He became a leading voice for political moderation and racial unity. The Stanley Marcus Collection, housed in SMU’s DeGolyer Library (www.smu.edu/jfk), chronicles his impact on Dallas and his memories of JFK. Documents include his papers back to 1950. Besides the JFK assassination, topics range from the anti-communism movement in Dallas to the civil rights movement. The overall scope of the collection will provide researchers with information on various fields from the fashion industry to the Dallas history, including such items as:

A specially bound and printed copy of the “Unspoken Speech of John F. Kennedy,” which called for the U.S. to stay the course in Vietnam. Marcus sent the bound version as a gift to Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson.

Letters to and from Marcus about his testimony in a change of venue hearing for Jack Ruby. Some Marcus letters are accompanied by returned Neiman-Marcus credit cards.

“Marcus was one of dozens of Dallasites subpoenaed by Ruby’s Defense Attorney Melvin Belli,” Payne says. “He had no choice but to testify. His opinion was that a change of venue was appropriate, which I think was correct. So, he was not on a bandwagon to change the venue. People were just eager to jump on him because he testified that he thought Ruby could have a fair trial elsewhere.”

Hundreds of letters sent to Marcus in response to his editorial “What’s Right About Dallas.”

“Intended for the citizens of Dallas, this editorial was significant because of who Marcus was,” Payne says. “He was a liberal who wanted to come to the city’s defense over its extremist reputation. In this editorial, Marcus said that Dallas was a place of harmony and goodwill, but he also pointed out the things that needed correcting, such as the political extremism. Others had written similar editorials, but they didn’t strike the right tone, and were criticized for it.”

Hate mail sent to the city in the weeks after the assassination.

One such letter reads: “What disgusts us above all, is the disrespect shown by your city to the Office of the President, not only the killing itself. If you would have been an actual foreign country, you would have been burnt to the ground!”

Documents from the fundraising committee to build a Kennedy Memorial in Dallas. The result is the simple Kennedy Memorial at Dealey Plaza dedicated in 1970 and designed by Phillip Johnson.

Private media tours of the exhibit can be arranged with SMU Professors Darwin Payne and Tom Knock available to give context to many of the items in the Marcus Collection.

Where Were You When Kennedy Was Shot?: The Class of 1964

SMU alumni are available to talk about their recollections, including the student body president who represented the university at the funeral and the editor of the student newspaper who was invited to the last speech.

Other SMU Presidential Experts

  • Knock is an expert on presidential and diplomatic history. He is the author of To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order and is currently writing a political biography on former U.S. Senator George McGovern.
  • Professor Harold W. Stanley, Geurin-Pettus Distinguished Chair in American Politics and Political Economy, is an expert in American national politics and electoral change in the South.
  • Professor Cal Jillson, SMU professor of political science, who has an expertise in presidential politics and American history.

For interviews, call SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650.


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