CONSIDERING the tendency of the American people to look backwards in trying to make sense of their recent history, we may expect to see many retrospective stories about the terrible 50-years-ago event in the coming days.
Perhaps the most detailed and thoughtful account comes from the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, from where Lee Harvey Oswald aimed his assassin’s rifle.
The following account is extracted mostly from that material:
BY THE FALL of 1963, President John F. Kennedy and his political advisers were preparing for the next presidential campaign. Although he had not formally announced his candidacy, it was clear that President Kennedy was going to run and he seemed confident about his chances for re-election.
At the end of September, the president traveled west, speaking in nine different states in less than a week. The trip was meant to put a spotlight on natural resources and conservation efforts. But JFK also used it to sound out themes—such as education, national security, and world peace—for his run in 1964.
A month later, the president addressed Democratic gatherings in Boston and Philadelphia. Then, on November 12, he held the first important political planning session for the upcoming election year.
At the meeting JFK stressed the importance of winning Florida and Texas and talked about his plans to visit both states in the next two weeks. Mrs. Kennedy would accompany him on the swing through Texas, which would be her first extended public appearance since the loss of their baby, Patrick, in August.
On November 21, the president and First Lady departed on Air Force One for the two-day, five-city tour of Texas.
PRESIDENT KENNEDY was aware that a feud among party leaders in Texas could jeopardize his chances of carrying the state in 1964, and one of his aims for the trip was to bring Democrats together.
He also knew that a relatively small but vocal group of extremists was contributing to the political tensions in Texas and would likely make its presence felt—particularly in Dallas, where U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson had been physically attacked a month earlier after making a speech there.
Nonetheless, JFK seemed to relish the prospect of leaving Washington, getting out among the people and into the political fray.
The first stop was San Antonio. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor John B. Connally, and Senator Ralph W. Yarborough led the welcoming party.
Continuing on to Houston, he addressed a Latin American citizens’ organization and spoke at a testimonial dinner for Congressman Albert Thomas before ending the day in Fort Worth.
A light rain was falling on Friday morning, November 22, but a crowd of several thousand stood in the parking lot outside the Texas Hotel where the Kennedys had spent the night. A platform was set up and the president, wearing no protection against the weather, came out to make some brief remarks.
“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” he began, “and I appreciate your being here this morning. Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes longer, but, of course, she looks better than we do when she does it.” He went on to talk about the nation’s need for being “second to none” in defense and in space, for continued growth in the economy and “the willingness of citizens of the United States to assume the burdens of leadership.”
The warmth of the audience response was palpable as the president reached out to shake hands amidst a sea of smiling faces.
Back inside the hotel the president spoke at a breakfast of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, focusing on military preparedness. “We are still the keystone in the arch of freedom,” he said. “We will continue to do…our duty, and the people of Texas will be in the lead.”
TWO DAYS after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in downtown Dallas, newsmen and police officers lined the walls in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters to watch what was supposed to be a routine prisoner transfer of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald from the city jail to the Dallas County Jail. It turned out to be anything but routine.
Nightclub operator Jack Ruby, as the whole world was to learn, thought he would be hailed as a hero for fatally shooting Oswald.
Through the years many have questioned whether so small a person as Oswald could bring down the leader of the free world. But there has never been any real evidence to show that Oswald was anything but a lone assassin.