Modern Dallas coming to grips with Kennedy assassination

Providing expertise for this story about the JFK assassination were SMU Associate Professor of History Tom Knock; SMU Professor Emeritus of Communications and SMU centennial historian Darwin Payne; and Lindalyn Adams, a 1952 alumna of SMU who received the University's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1982.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
The Los Angeles Times

On Tuesday, a few of the faithful will make a pilgrimage to Dealey Plaza to mark the moment at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, when the Kennedy motorcade came gliding down Elm Street and shots rang out.

There will be no official ceremony. For most of the last 48 years, the city has let the anniversary slide past quietly, drawing no more attention to it than an aspiring actor would to a brutal facial scar.

That's all about to change.

Dallas officials and the Sixth Floor Museum — located in the former Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald fired upon President Kennedy — have announced plans for a large 50th anniversary event in 2013, and are raising $2.2 million in public and private money to restore Dealey Plaza. . .

Darwin Payne, then a reporter with The Dallas Times Herald, had run to Dealey Plaza to interview a teary Abraham Zapruder, who filmed his iconic footage of the assassination while standing at one of the pergolas, a spot that came to be known as Zapruder's Perch. Payne said many Dallasites felt guilty because they had ignored or condoned other conflicts leading up to the assassination, including an attack by conservative activists on U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson.

"We were defensive at first. Then the realization came — we let the extreme right wing go on too long. We let them do too much," said Payne, author of "Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century."

But in time, Payne said, "the attitude became, 'We have to be tolerant of other viewpoints and not allow extremists to run rampant.' "

Lindalyn Adams is among those whose attitudes toward the assassination evolved through the years. Adams, 81, recalls how her physician husband reported seeing a comatose Oswald being wheeled into an elevator at Parkland Hospital after he had been shot by Jack Ruby. Adams long had trouble visiting the book depository, even after she was chosen to lead the Dallas Historical Commission.

"I was down in the area all the time and had never wanted to even look in the direction of that notorious building," she said. "But I noticed how many people were visiting, at all hours."

Adams went on to champion the founding of the Sixth Floor Museum in 1989, in part because of the success of Ford's Theatre in Washington. Four years later, a ceremony was held on Nov. 22 to dedicate Dealey Plaza as a national historic landmark.

Tom Knock, an associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University, called the museum "a kind of penance" that, along with Oliver Stone's 1991 film "JFK," has "convinced a lot people that Dallas was not responsible" for the assassination, or at least, "did a lot to dim that memory."

Work at Dealy Plaza is scheduled to start no later than October 2012, and planners hope to finish the summer before the anniversary. Improvements include fixing up the pergolas, making the grassy knoll accessible to handicapped people and adding historical signs.

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