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As 50th anniversary approaches, Dallas’ nerves still raw about JFK assassination


The following ran in the March 3, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. Professors Jose Bowen and Jim Hollifield provided expertise for this story.

March 16, 2012

By Scott K. Parks

The question hangs heavy in the air as if Dallas were still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

What should the city do to officially observe the 50th anniversary coming up in November 2013?

 “This is very important — unbelievably important — as to our place on the world stage,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said recently. “We can’t get out of our skis on this.”

With the event still more than 20 months away, a community group led by the Sixth Floor Museum is working behind the scenes to plan the first official commemoration built around the date of the assassination. They’re calling it  A Day of Remembrance: The Life and Legacy of JFK.

The planners know that many Dallasites, especially the older ones who lived through the tragedy, prefer to let the anniversaries pass without official fanfare. To them, remembering calls up painful memories of a time when the world unfairly tarred Dallas as “The City of Hate” and “The City that killed Kennedy.”

Nothing is set, and task force members say a lot of civic, business and political leaders will be involved in decisions about what happens on Nov. 22, 2013.

“What we are talking about is the politics of memory,” said Jim Hollifield, an SMU political science professor and task force member. “Remembering is a very political thing. It’s an intensely emotional thing.”

Typically, Nov. 22 comes and goes in Dallas without much notice....

José Antonio Bowen, dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, is among those involved in discussions about what to do for the 50th anniversary. A visual artist “who works on this subject” has been approached to participate in the project, Bowen said, declining to name the artist.

“This is a chance to say we are a great art city, but it’s a tricky issue,” he said. “It’s about how people feel. We don’t want anyone to think we are taking advantage of the event for the purposes of advertising or hyping the city.”

Bowen has lived in Dallas for six years and only recently has been exposed to the walking-on-eggshells nature of discussions about the 50th anniversary planning.

“There is enough hesitation that somebody will have to take the reins and say, ‘Here’s what’s gonna happen.’”...