Thousands of books, one valid explanation
Forty-thousand books. That’s one guess at the number of titles dedicated to our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as well as reporting and conspiracy theories surrounding his assassination. Friday, of course, marks the 50th anniversary of that dark day in Dallas, one that threw a wet blanket over the country’s psyche and made North Texans the ire of many around the nation.
Our copy of “Dallas 1963,” by Steven Davis and Bill Minutaglio, rises above these also-rans as a legitimate piece of historical narrative, describing the atmosphere in what was Texas’ leading city for months heading into that fateful day. At the office, we have received unsolicited copies of one piece of self-published dreck that claims, as have others, Lyndon Baines Johnson was behind it all. I suppose they figure as the paper nearest the home of LBJ, we anticipate these conspiratorial tomes.
But no. My family’s only gripe with LBJ was that he courted my grandmother at Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University). For that reason my grandfather rarely spoke well of him. Others around these parts surely have their differences with him as well, whether rooted in policy disagreements or personality conflicts of the strong-willed politician.
Attorney Paul Plunket spoke to Fredericksburg Rotary Club on Monday, and when details about the shooting were being described, the room was as quiet as a library. Plunket is a retired senior vice president for Oncor Electric, and is now vice chair of the Finance Commission of Texas. He is a longtime photography enthusiast and he showed pictures on a projection screen of people he had captured — the solemn, the angry and the just plain weird (a man carrying a sign comparing the grassy knoll and 9/11 as government-led conspiracies).
JFK and LBJ both draw extreme reactions in many quarters. “Dallas 1963” states that the city harbored more than its share of those who accused JFK of treason because they disagreed with him politically. The conservative Dallas Morning News ran its share of anti-Kennedy stories and advertising. These examples only scratch the surface, yet provided a setting that concerned Texas Gov. John Connally for even being seen with Kennedy.
Yet applause along the motorcade route assuaged those fears. Plunket said that Nellie Connally, wife of the governor, told the president, “The people of Dallas sure do love you.”
The president’s final words were, “They sure do.”
A musician friend I performed with in the late ’80s — name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy Sherrick — grew up in Washington, D.C., in a very Catholic household. I remember him saying his family had three pictures on the wall: Jesus, the Pope and J.F.K. While a Catholic president would not be such a big deal by today’s standards, back then it was. It was another milestone, like the one this country reached in 2008 when it elected its first chief executive of color.
Still, here in the American south, the Massachusetts liberal president was not held in high esteem. My father remembers small-town smatterings of applause when they announced at the evening’s football game that the president had been assassinated. Similar occurrences likely were repeated around the southern U.S.
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