He Was There: Chronicling Dallas and the 20th Century

As a journalist, Darwin Payne has kept his finger on the pulse of history -- as an eyewitness and its recorder. Through numerous books, the professor of journalism in the Center for Communication Arts has chronicled the 20th century in Dallas, particularly the Kennedy assassination.

Payne's latest research on the subject, compiled with former SMU Assistant Professor Laura Hlavach, appears in Reporting the Kennedy Assassination: Journalists Who Were There Recall Their Experiences (Three Forks Press, 1996). Interviews with those who covered the events as they unfolded reinforced what Payne, then a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald, always has felt about the assassination: "Many people believe in a conspiracy theory. Most people who were involved in covering it or working it believe there was no conspiracy." His long interest in the press angle on the Kennedy assassination began in 1970, when he published a monograph, The Press Corps and the Kennedy Assassination, for the Association for Education in Journalism.

"As a journalist, I've always been interested in the origin of a story," Payne says. "Journalism is like writing the first rough draft of history. Through books, I get to do a more thorough job of exploring the background of a story."

Although Texas is a perennial favorite topic among Texans, Payne has discovered a ready audience for Dallas history among the city's citizens. He has written Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century (1994) and Dallas: An Illustrated History (1982) and edited Sketches of a Growing Town: Episodes and People of Dallas from Early Times to Recent Days, written by his students in a Master's of Liberal Arts course in 1991.

A book published by SMU Press in 1985, Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East, won Payne several awards, including the Texas Institute of Letters Award. Wister was the author of one of the definitive Western novels, The Virginian.

Payne is working on two new projects about Dallas -- Reaching a Dream: How Dallas and Fort Worth Came Together and Built the World's Busiest Airport, with Associate Communications Professor Kathy Fitzpatrick, and Lawyers and Dallas: A History of the Dallas Bar Association and the Legal Profession. For the latter book, the Dallas Bar Foundation gave him a grant to write a history about the legal profession in Dallas.

Payne, who joined SMU in 1971, earned a Bachelor's of Journalism degree and a Ph.D. in American civilization from the University of Texas-Austin and a Master's degree in history from SMU.