ANGLES, EXPERTS, & RESOURCES
The following are suggested story angles and
experts concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For information and appointments with experts, contact the Office
of News and Communications at 214-768-7650 or by e-mail at
Courses Become Microcosm of JFK Controversy:
"On the Trail of the Assassin(s)" and
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 courses, "On the Trail of the Assassin(s)"
and "Making History," 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.
Expert and angle:
- Tom Stone, SMU senior lecturer in English, who has taught the courses for 18 years.
Kennedy and the Cold War
"Kennedy was a Cold War president. He managed the nearest thing to a full-scale nuclear war the world had ever seen: the Cuban Missile Crisis. He went eyeball-to-eyeball with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev over a divided Berlin. He oversaw significant combat deployments in Vietnam. His death saw American nuclear forces raised to one of their highest alert levels in history, while his successor, Texas’ own Lyndon B. Johnson, in time orchestrated the largest overseas military deployment since World War II to some minds, the only war America ever truly 'lost.' In short, the shocking events of November 1963 changed Dallas forever; they also directly affected events and decisions the world over."
Jeffrey A. Engel, founding director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History, is a prize-winning historian of American foreign policy and the presidency. He is available to discuss the way Kennedy’s life and death altered America’s engagement with the world, and more broadly American diplomatic and political history, and the men who occupied the Oval Office. Author and editor of seven books on American foreign policy, he has worked with President George H.W. Bush as editor of the latter’s
China Diary, and is currently writing Seeking Monsters to Destroy: American Language and War from Jefferson to Obama, and
When the World Seemed New: American Foreign Policy in the Age of George H.W. Bush.
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
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 Earle Cabell and the
papers of retail magnate Stanley Marcus, who became a voice of moderation,
helping the city heal its wounded pride.
has published 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.
Angles and experts:
- Darwin Payne, SMU professor emeritus of communications, who as a young newspaper reporter covered the assassination and has written books on Dallas history. He is available to
review the archives with reporters by calling SMU News and Communications
Returning to the Scene of the Crime: The Consumerism of Tragedy
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. Why do scenes of national tragedy become tourist attractions? Daniel Howard, professor of marketing in SMU's Cox School
of Business, says consumers have a better memory for negative information than positive information.
"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 generally remembered more readily than positive information
because in terms of human evolution it has survival value. 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.
Angles and experts:
- Daniel Howard, SMU professor of marketing in the Cox School of Business,
who is an expert on consumer psychology.
- Professor Dennis Simon, SMU associate professor of political science, teaches
a course on the American presidency and can address how the JFK assassination represented America's "first national funeral" -- more than 60 percent of the country at the time had TV sets and shared in the same images of the assassination and its aftermath.
- The Earle Cabell Collection in SMU's DeGolyer Library contains
documents pertaining to the assassination and its aftermath, including letters reflecting Dallas' negative image and suggesting a PR campaign to repair the city's image. (Cabell was Dallas mayor in 1963.)
- The Stanley Marcus Collection in SMU's DeGolyer Library houses letters, clippings, and other historical information relating to retail magnate Stanley Marcus' role in helping to rebuild Dallas' image, as well as Neiman Marcus' own struggles with negative reactions to the assassination and Marcus' civic activism.
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.
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 Dealey Plaza
attracts numerous visitors daily and the Sixth Floor Museum, a museum
to the JFK legacy, has been visited by more than 1 million people since it opened in 1989.
Angles and expert:
- Darwin Payne, SMU professor emeritus of communications, who as a young newspaper reporter covered the assassination for The Dallas Times Herald.
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, 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 United States 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
Hundreds of letters sent to Marcus in response to his editorial "What's Right With 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."
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.
Other SMU Presidential
- Professor Cal Jillson, SMU professor of political science, who has an expertise in presidential politics and American history.
- Professor Dennis Simon, SMU associate professor of political science, teaches a course on the American presidency and can discuss the JFK legacy.