"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."
"Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy
On Friday, November 22, 1963, at precisely 12:30 p.m., the 35th President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. A couple of days later the man accused of killing the President, Lee Harvey Oswald, was also shot and killed, not long after he had also killed police officer J.D. Tippit. He was shot by a local night club owner, Jack Ruby, during a routine prisoner transfer, and the event was caught on a live national television broadcast. These events greatly affected the United States, both historically and politically, and they have been recounted time and time again. Books and articles have been written on the events, both scholarly and conspiratorial, but these texts have only ever paid scant attention to how the assassination of the President of the United States and the slaying of his killer, just a few days later, among other killings, affected the local population of Dallas itself. How did the local population of Dallas react, immediately, to these historically tragic events that unfolded in their midst? One of best places to begin one's search is the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. For the purpose of brevity, this project will be limited to excerpts from the Dallas Morning News up to one month prior and seven days after the event in question and will not include excerpts from any other news periodical sources. It is looking for a brief image of the response of the local population of Dallas. Anything else would turn out a project worthy of a dissertation.
Considering the fact that President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas, someone who was not well read on Dallas' history might assume that the people of Dallas did not like the man. If this same person were then to begin doing some effective research on the issue, they would quickly find that this was just simply not true. Consider an article written on November 4, 1963, entitled “Citizens Council May Handle Visit.” This article talked about the benefits of the Dallas Citizens Council hosting the President’s visit. The Council consisted of persons from both major political parties but was intent upon hosting a congenial nonpartisan affair. It recognized that there were political issues involved with the visit but also knew that such things should not get in the way of the city of Dallas hosting the President of the United States of America. (Mike Quinn, “Citizens Council May Handle Visit,” Dallas Morning News, 04 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.)
There was another article published a few days later that also said a lot. The article entitled, “Mrs. Kennedy Coming to State with President,” talked about the benefits of Mrs. Kennedy coming along on the trip with the President, and about how this would be her first political trip since his election. Dallas did not want disappoint the First Lady. (John Mashek, “Mrs. Kennedy Coming to State with President,” Dallas Morning News, 07 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.) Consider next an article written just over a week later. Entitled, “JFK Due Dallas Motorcade;” the article discussed exactly what the title suggested. The Dallas Citizens Council and other local organizations were going to give the President his own little parade through the city. The article also discussed the expensive luncheon that was to be held for the President at Dallas Trade Mart’s Grand Courtyard. The Dallas Citizens Council was not taking any chances, and they were certainly not going to spare any expense in making sure that the President received a warm welcome in Dallas. (Carl Freund, “JFK Due Dallas Motorcade,” Dallas Morning News, 16 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.)
The previous articles show that the city of Dallas was highly anticipating a Presidential visit to their city. On the day of the President’s visit, November 22, 1963, another couple of articles were published that showed that despite this enthusiasm, the people of Dallas recognized very well the political complications of such a visit. At the time that President Kennedy came to Dallas, as is well known, cities throughout the South were in the midst of strong pushes by the Civil Rights Movement. Dallas was not unaffected by this. In the article entitled, “Love Field Braces for Thousands,” the fact that the airport was going to be crowded with welcomers was a problem, but it was more of a problem for the police that some of those welcomers would be protesting the President’s stand on integration. They said, “Anyone found scattering leaflets would face prosecution for violating ‘litter bug’ ordinances.” Though this would be a violation of their right to peaceably assemble and speech, the city was looking to ensure that the President's visit went of as smoothly as possible. (Carl Freund, “Love Field Braces for Thousands,” Dallas Morning News, 22 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.)
The next article entitled, “President’s Visit Seen Widening State Democratic Split,” did a lot to show that Dallas recognized, very acutely, the political issues that the President’s visit caused at the state level, as well as, the local level. The President was not just coming to Dallas. He was going to visit cities across the state. The most interesting thing he had to face during his visit was the congressional race in Texas US Congressional District 10. Jake Pickle, a former political aide to then Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, was in the midst of a run-off election with the Republican candidate for that seat, Jim Dobbs. What was the President to do? Supporting Pickle would alienate the liberal members of his party, and not supporting him would alienate the party faithful in Texas, a state that the President had only one by a very narrow margin in his bid for the Presidency. The leaders of Dallas did not want this political issue playing any role in the President's ability to enjoy his visit to Dallas.(Allen Duckworth, “President’s Visit Seen Widening State Democratic Split,” Dallas Morning News, 22 November 1963, Sec. 1, 12.)
Together, these articles painted a picture of a city that despite the well understood political ramifications of the visit, was prepared to give its President a warm welcome. They also showed that Dallas was concerned about its image. They did not want to be the city that made the President’s visit to Texas a poor experience, and they certainly did not want to see the President of the United States meet his end on their streets or watch as his killer was murdered in their city on a live national broadcast. Nothing said this more clearly than the story of local police secretary Margie Barnes, in the article, “Invitations Thrills Police Secretary.” Ms. Barnes was invited to President Kennedy’s luncheon that was to be held at Dallas Trade Mart’s Grand Courtyard after his tour through the city. She received the invitation at work and was very excited. She did not understand why she had been ‘singled out’ to attend such an exclusive event, but made it very clear that she was happy about it when she made such statements as, “What can I say? I am so surprised,” and “…I’m going to be there, you better believe that.” (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Invitation Thrills Police Secretary,” Dallas Morning News, 22 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.)
Of course, just a few hours after Ms. Barnes’ comments were printed in the paper, shots rang out in Dealey Plaza and not long after that President Kennedy was dead, J.D. Tippit had been shot, and just two days later, Lee Harvey Oswald got shot in Dallas on national television. One can imagine that no one would react well to such events. To understand how the people of Dallas reacted to the events, one needs to split the people of Dallas into two groups, the ‘general citizenry’ and the ‘local elites,’ i.e. local workers, and other non-elites versus the local law enforcement, big business leaders, and city government officials. So far, the focus has been on events that would have been organized by the local elite. Now, it would be good to shift to the general citizenry.
The ‘general citizenry’ of Dallas were understandably shocked, angry, and very mournful that such things had happened in their city. In an article entitled, “Shocked Disbelief Shows On Faces at Hospital,” one got a clear sense of the shock that was felt by the people of the city of Dallas. As people sat outside the room where President Kennedy was being attended, their faces were marred with frowns of disbelief, and they were making comments like the one made by an unidentified local man, “This is a tragic day for Dallas. Oh, this is a tragic day.” (Lewis Harris, “Shocked Disbelief Shows on Faces at Hospital,” Dallas Morning News, 23 November 1963, Sec. 1, 2.) In another article entitled, “City Still Stunned After JFK’s Death,” local union member Allan Maley further reflected the shock that people felt when he commented, “The thing that keeps going over in my mind is that the President would probably have been safer in Berlin or Moscow than he was in Dallas.” He further pushed the point home when he stated, “It has taken years to get Dallas into this shape, and I fear that it will take years for Dallas to recover.” (Dallas News Staff Writer, “City Still Stunned After JFK’s Death,” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec. 1, 6.)
In an article entitled, “‘Why Did It Happen Here?’ Residents of Dallas Ask,” one got the sense of the anger felt by the people. In her anger, one woman, a local African-American housekeeper, commented, “It was fate, that’s all.” Another man, interviewed on the streets of Downtown Dallas by a Dallas News reporter, made the comment, “What a town…I’ve lived here three months, but I’m going to look for a job someplace else.” Another man commented that he, “…never thought we had those kind of nuts in Texas.” Another man, who was interviewed on a local radio broadcast, was angry about criticisms that were being hurled at Dallas from around the country. He expressed his anger at recent events as well as these criticisms when he asked the question, “How can anybody blame a million people for the action of one?” (Larry Grove, “’Why Did It Happen Here? Residents of Dallas Ask,’” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec. 1, 6.)
The evidence that the people of Dallas were mournful of the loss of their President is, without question, both positive and voluminous. In an article entitled, “Grieved Turn Drab Building Into Dallas Shrine to JFK,” one can easily picture the image of Dealey Plaza being turned into a massive memorial to the President. The area around the Texas Book Depository Building was covered with wreaths and flowers, some with cards, dedicated to the President’s memory. Statements on the cards said things like, “In Memory of our Beloved President,” “We are so sorry,” and “We grieve.” (Carlos Conde, “Grieved Turn Drab Building Into Dallas Shrine to JFK,” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec 1, 10.) One got an even greater sense of the people of Dallas’ mournful state in an article entitled, “Churches Schedule Memorial Services.” In this article, Dr. Luther Holcomb, Executive Director of the Greater Dallas Council of Churches, put a call out to all local churches to hold memorial services to honor the memory of President John F. Kennedy. The response to this call was immense. To name just a few, Congregation Shearith Israel, Temple Emanu-El, and Salem Baptist Church all scheduled memorial services at various times on Monday, the day that the President’s funeral was scheduled to be held in Washington, DC. A local elite put out a call and the general citizenry responded in droves. (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Churches Schedule Memorial Services,” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec. 1, 10.)
An article entitled, “Dallas Cancels Many Functions,” offered an even greater perspective into the nature of the people of Dallas’ mournful spirit. On the day before, they day of, and the day after the President’s funeral, many local organizations had meetings planned. One can be sure that these were events planned days and even weeks in advance, but these organizations cancelled their events outright, to pay respect to President Kennedy. The Dallas Woman’s Forum cancelled their Current Affairs Tea, when one can strongly assume that they had some major current affairs to talk about. The Marianne Scruggs Garden Club cancelled their Monday meeting. The Dallas Pistol and Revolver Club cancelled its Sunday matches, and the Oak Cliff and Dallas Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star cancelled their Tuesday Night meetings. (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Dallas Cancels Many Functions,” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec. 1, 10.)
While the ‘general citizenry’ responded with shock, anger, and mourning to the death of President Kennedy, their reactions to the death of Lee Harvey Oswald were mixed. Some people were gathered outside the county jail to catch a glimpse of Oswald, who was also facing charges for the murder of local police officer, J.D. Tippit, as he was escorted from his cell by the local police. (Lewis Harris, “Policeman’s Family Not Forgotten,” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec. 1, 11.) He never exited the building alive. Sometime after he was supposed to exit the building, a radio bulletin announced that Oswald had been shot. Immediately, the crowd in the area broke out in a spontaneous jubilant cheer. Later as people realized the gruesome nature of what had just happened, and as they realized that what had just happened was caught on national television, their mood altered to one of regret. (Associated Press, “Majority Condemns Slaying of Oswald,” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 3.) In an article entitled, “Reactions to Oswald Death Differ,” a local woman was quoted on the event as saying, “He deserved to die, but he should have been tried and sent to the chair,” and then asked, “What will the world think of Dallas?” The woman’s husband just simply responded by asking, “When is this all going to end?” (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Reactions to Oswald Death Differ,” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 8.)
It is necessary to categorize the people of Dallas into the ‘general citizenry’ and the ‘local elites’ because the two groups were not required to deal with the same set of circumstances after the events took place. The general citizenry could resume their normal lives, despite the recent events, without feeling the immediate political recoil that was felt by local elites, who were required to deal with these issues. As a result of the intense reaction of the general citizenry to the murders of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and J.D. Tippit, and amidst a great deal of national and international criticism, the local elites had to bear a great deal of burden and subsequently, had to find a way to respond to these feelings that showed these people that Dallas was not a bad place.
National criticism of Dallas was very powerful. In an article entitled, “Officials Rapped In Oswald Death,” the former Governor of California, Goodwin Knight, was particularly harsh. He blamed Dallas officials for the tragedy and was quoted as saying, “This is a crime of the century, yet because of the carelessness of these officials in Dallas, the American people will now forever be denied the whole truth of the assassination.” (Los Angeles, CA, UPI, “Officials Rapped In Oswald Death,” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 6.) Another article entitled, “Feelings in Fort Worth; Dallas Scarred for Life,” did not do much for Dallas either. One man was quoted as asking, “How many more killings is Dallas going to be able to take?” (Eddie S. Hughes, “Feelings in Fort Worth; Dallas Scarred for Life,” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 7.) Also, in an article entitled, “Voice of American Chief Explains ‘Far Right’ Tag,” a broadcast of ‘Voice of America,’ out of Washington DC, described Dallas as the “scene of the extreme right-wing movement.” (John Mashek, “Voice of American Chief Explains ‘Far Right’ Tag,” Dallas Morning News, 28 November 1963, Sec. 1, 5.)
International criticism of Dallas officials did not fail in its intensity, either. In an article entitled, “Europe’s Press Indicts Dallas Police Conduct,” several international news outlets were critical of Dallas officials. The London Daily Express stated, “The disgrace of Dallas is complete; they have been criticized in the Kennedy shooting and now they have let the No. 1 suspect be shot down while in their custody.” The London Daily Telegraph reported that its correspondent “walked down the stairs to the basement of the police station unchecked. If anyone had wanted to silence Oswald the police could not have helped them more.” The London Daily Mail declared that the Dallas polices’ “security measures were extremely lax.” (London, UPI, “Europe’s Press Indicts Dallas Police Conduct,” Dallas Morning News, 26 November 1963, Sec. 1, 27.) Yet further criticisms, in an article entitled, “European Press Doubts Entire Truth Revealed,” coming out of places like France, Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union questioned the Dallas polices’ investigative procedures, and felt that Dallas’ handling of the whole affair left the world with a great big question mark resting over the whole ordeal. (London, UPI, “European Press Doubts Entire Truth Revealed,” Dallas Morning News, 27 November 1963, Sec. 1, 2.)
What this says about the reaction of Dallas’ local elites to the recent killings is that they were not just responding to the killings. They were also responding to the powerful outpour of emotion from the general citizenry, itself, and national and international criticism. The local elites’ response began before the death of J.D. Tippit and Oswald’s murder and began by making sure that it was clear that Lee Harvey Oswald’s actions were not indicative of the people of Dallas. In an article entitled, “‘Act of Maniac’ Not Tied to City: Cabell,” the mayor of Dallas, Earl Cabell made this notion abundantly clear when he said, “I challenge anyone who says this reflects the character of the people of Dallas. This was the horrible action of a mentally deranged person. I just cannot conceive yet that it happened.” (Francis Raffeto, “‘Act of Maniac’ Not Tied to City: Cabell,” Dallas Morning News, 23 November 1963, Sec. 1, 5.)
The local elites also sought to show that they too felt the pains and sorrows of the President’s death. In an article entitled, “‘Situation Intensifies City Grief,’” the Chamber of Commerce was quoted saying, “This community’s burden of grief, over the slaying of President Kennedy, is intensified by fate’s decree that it should happen at this time and place.” (Dallas News Staff Writer, “‘Situation Intensifies City Grief,’” Dallas Morning News, 24 November 1963, Sec. 1, 4.) In another article entitled, “Monument Proposal Advanced by Cabell,” one can see that the local elites, and this was after Oswald’s death, also sought to show that they were mournful by offering ideas on how to commemorate the late President Kennedy. Mayor Pro Tem Carie Watch suggested developing a local area into a memorial that would be labeled The President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Plaza. Mayor Cabell presented yet another plan in which Dallas officials would help fund a memorial to be placed in Washington DC. (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Monument Proposal Advance by Cabell,” Dallas Morning News, 27 November 1963, Sec. 1, 9.)
After detaching Oswald from the city of Dallas, and expressing their regret at recent events, the local elites sought to redirect all the emotions that had come out of the President’s assassination. They sought to direct this emotion at both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby and blame them both for the whole affair. At first, of course, Oswald was the only target, but after Ruby killed Oswald, Ruby was a target, as well. The first thing that they did was to make Oswald out to be the most viscous person possible. In an article entitled, “President Slain in Dallas,” they first declared him to be a Pro-Communist, which in the 1960s was an automatic minus for a person. They then described the event in intimate detail, and described the murder of J.D. Tippit, which Oswald had committed after the assassination. (Dallas News Staff Writer, “President Slain in Dallas,” Dallas Morning News, 23 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1-2.) The local elites also sought to make Oswald look inept, like the average criminal, someone who would be low and evil enough to commit such a crime as assassinating the President of the United States. In an article entitled, “Oswald Planned to Ride by Scene,” Oswald was made out to be just that. Who would ever be dumb, arrogant, or evil enough to return to the scene of such a dastardly deed? According to the article, Lee Harvey Oswald would. (Hugh Aynesworth and Larry Grove, “Oswald Planned to Ride by Scene, 28 November 1963, Dallas Morning News, Sec. 1, 21.)
After the death of Lee Harvey Oswald, local elites brought in his killer, Jack Ruby. In an article entitled, “Night Club Man Takes Role of An Executioner,” Ruby was labeled as a sneak, and just what the article’s title suggested, an executioner. (James Ewell, “Night Club Man Takes Role of An Executioner,” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 3.) In an article entitled, “Club Owner Sought ‘Class,’” Ruby was played off as a man that was emotionally disturbed and violent, and who possessed low self-esteem. He was a sinful entertainer who was not afraid to dabble in illegal affairs if it brought him gain. (Tony Zoppi, “Club Owner Sought ‘Class,’” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 7.) In another article entitled, “Chicago Police Knew Ruby As Union Organizer, Gambler,” local elites sought to tie Ruby to the mob, workplace rabble rousers, and gambling. Police Captain Louis Caparelli of Chicago said that he knew Ruby as “a loiterer in the Maxwell District, a notorious neighborhood of the toughest mobsters of Chicago.” Ruby was someone to hate. He did not live a clean upstanding lifestyle. The local elites sought to use him to replace Oswald as the target of blame and intense emotion after he killed Oswald. (George Bliss, “Chicago Police Knew Ruby As Union Organizer, Gambler,” Dallas Morning News, 27 November 1963, Sec. 1, 8.)
Next, local elites sought to combat criticisms from national and international forces by showing that in the cases of the President’s assassination, and Oswald’s death, they had done all that they could to prevent any possible tragedies. They also sought to show that they would continue to do so. In an article entitled, “Complete Coverage Impossible Task,” it was argued that Dallas officials, despite worries about a possible assassination attempt, had done all that they could to secure the President’s trip through the city and prevent any problems. They had arranged the route to minimize exposure to possible assassin’s vantage points, they had called out four hundred local police officers, a third of the city’s active force, to help protect the President, and they had worked closely with the Secret Service, giving the President’s body guards their complete cooperation. Police Chief Jesse Curry was quoted as saying this very thing, “We let the Secret Service call the shots. Wherever they wanted men, we put them. They asked for a certain number of men and we all hoped and prayed it would never happen. We designed our plans to seal off the most obvious places an assassin might choose.” (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Complete Coverage Impossible Task,” Dallas Morning News, 27 November 1963, Sec. 1, 2.)
As regards the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, in an article entitled, “Police Did Everything Possible,” Sheriff Bill Decker argued that he and the Dallas police had done everything that they could to protect Oswald. He was well guarded and the plan was to place him in an armored vehicle to shield him from possible shooters. Despite this, his defense of the city was quite clear when he said, “It boils down to this: If somebody wants to commit a cold-blooded murder and you don’t know he intends to do it, it is almost impossible to stop it.” Essentially, the argument was, what else could they have done? (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Police Did Everything Possible,” Dallas Morning News, 25 November 1963, Sec. 1, 6.) To show further that the police department intended to continue to do its best, the article, “Detectives Shield Prisoner During Quick City Transfer,” was written. This article pointed out that Ruby was transported in heavily armored and covered vehicles and that the detectives had shielded him with their own bodies. They had no intentions of allowing a repeat of what Ruby was accused of doing. This point was made clear when a detective waiving a shotgun pushed a Dallas News reporter aside saying, “Step back. Don’t get to close.” (Carl Freund, “Detectives Shield Prisoner During Quick City Transfer,” Dallas Morning News, 26 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.)
Finally, the local elites sought to show that they had people supporting them in their efforts to show the world that Dallas was a good place and that recent events did not, in any way reflect upon them or the ‘general citizenry’ of Dallas. In an article entitled, “Sympathy Sent, Visitor Says Dallas Unjustly Stricken,” frequent Dallas visitor, John Dimick, defended Dallas and hailed its contributions to art and culture stating, “A young and vigorous youth has been unfairly and unjustly stricken, your city of Dallas.” (John Dimick, “Sympathy Sent, Visitor Says Dallas Unjustly Stricken,” Dallas Morning News, 26 November 1963, Sec. 1, 1.) In an article entitled, “Dallas Cases Discussed by Seattle Police Chief,” the Seattle Police Chief, Frank Ramon, defended Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry when he said, “Curry was faced with the biggest case a department can have, the murder of the President of the United States, and he handled in competently.” (Seattle, WA, UPI, “Dallas Cases Discussed by Seattle Chief,” Dallas Morning News, 26 November 1963, Sec. 1, 19.)
Dallas also received support from Chicago and Kentucky. An editorial published in the Chicago Daily Tribune and sent to the Dallas Morning News via the editor of the Tribune, Don Maxwell, entitled, “Chicago Paper Defends Dallas Against Charges,” argued that Dallas should not be held accountable for recent events. The author of the article argued that Dallas officials could not have possibly defended against all possible problems and that given all the circumstances, they had performed admirably after the shootings of both President Kennedy and his accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. (Don Maxwell, Editor, Chicago Daily Tribune, “Chicago Paper Defends Dallas Against Charges,” Dallas Morning News, 26 November 1963, Sec. 1, 3.) Senator Thurston B. Morton of Kentucky also defended the city of Dallas saying that the President’s memory would not be served by “letting wrongly placed recrimination overcome good sense…” (Dallas News Staff Writer, “Sen. Morton Defends Dallas – and the U.S.,” Dallas Morning News, 27 November 1963, Sec. 1, 2.)
The immediate reaction of the people of Dallas to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the shootings of Lee Harvey Oswald, and J.D. Tippit were, thus, intense and filled with emotion. The general citizenry and local elites had spent weeks anticipating and preparing for the President’s arrival, so it is understandable that they were stricken with shock, overcome with anger, and very mournful. The local elites, however, had much more to deal with. They had to react to the general citizenry’s reaction, and they had to react to criticisms from around the country and around the world. There’s was a job that very few would envy, given what they had just gone through. They had very little time to accept what had happened. They had to help their city move on, and seeking to make sense of everything that was unfolding, they sought people to blame and heap the totality of their and the general citizenry’s emotions upon. They found easy targets in Oswald and Ruby. They also sought support from others around the country and found it in friends from Seattle to Washington DC.
It would seem, though, that the people of Dallas, as a whole, made it through the first week after the shootings, despite being overwhelmed and stretched to their limits, in one piece. Aside from the related shootings after the assassination, there were not any reports of social unrest, and businesses, local schools, and other organizations quickly returned to normal operations after the honorary closings that were announced. This assumption, however, is made on the basis of only one week’s worth of newspaper articles. That limit should be noted.
What then of the people of Dallas’ long term reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy and the other shootings? In his article, “The Assassination and Dallas Politics: Changes to Continuity,” local Dallas historian, Dr. Robert B. Fairbanks, did a great job answering this question. According to Fairbanks, the long term reaction of the people of Dallas was three fold. First, the local business leadership united behind the Citizens Charter Association (CCA), after years of squabbling had damaged their ability to affect local politics. Second, it galvanized citizens to embrace a public interest that focused on city growth and development, and third, it led to the people of Dallas rejecting the extremist politics of ultra-conservative politicians like Republican Congressman Bruce Alger. This can too be divided into the reaction of the local elites and the reaction of the general citizenry.
Founded in the mid-1930s to offer candidates for local elections that would support local business interests, by the early 1960s, the CCA, an engine of the local elites, had gotten to the point where, in 1963, it chose to refrain from offering a candidate for mayor in the next mayoral election. After the assassination, however, when Mayor Earle Cabell resigned to run for Congress, the CCA, who still controlled City Council, united behind J. Eirk Jonnson, the then head of the Dallas Citizens Council, (DCC). United behind this new mayor, business and political leaders also pushed a new planning effort for Dallas, called the Goals for Dallas, in which they solicited the suggestions of local citizens to help push community wide efforts at improving the city. (Robert B. Fairbanks, "The Assassination and Dallas Politics: Changes to Continuity,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, 9 (Fall, 1998), pp.14-17, 19-21.)
As regards the long term reaction of the general citizenry of Dallas to the events of late November, 1963, it is very simple. They went to the poles in the next congressional election and offered Republican Congressman Bruce Alger a resounding defeat, electing instead, more moderate, former Mayor Earle Cabell, who was running for Congress against Alger, on the Democratic ticket. Bruce Alger was the type of Republican that is a dime a dozen now. He was against federal intervention in local affairs, and he believed in as little public spending as possible, going so far as to reject bills that offered free lunches to public school children. He also did very little to appeal to the people when, in an article entitled, “Alger Expresses Doubts on ‘Emotional Appeal,’” he was quoted making an extremely cold sounding statement after the President’s assassination, which really showed how much he stood in opposition to the times. He said, “The tragic events of the past few days will not be forgotten, but…..the country must move forward. Some of us will continue to oppose the encroachments on the freedoms of the individual by big government.” (Washington Bureau of the News, “Alger Expresses Doubts on ‘Emotional Appeal,’” Dallas Morning News, 28 November 1963, Sec 1, 18.) This included him opposing Civil Rights legislation. (Dallas Public Library Archives, Bruce Alger Collection, “Biographical Note.”)
To conclude, the immediate reaction of the general citizenry of Dallas was one of intense emotion, in which shock, anger, and mourning were all expressed. For the local elites, their immediate reaction was one of self defense, in which they sought to sooth the emotions of the general citizenry, by identifying with their pain. Furthermore, they sought someone to blame, and found the assassin and his killer both easy targets, and finally, they sought to defend themselves and the city against national and international criticism. In the long term, the local elites’ reaction was one of conciliation and cooperation, after years of squabbling that had made it very difficult for them to control city government. The general citizenry’s long term reaction was to defeat a Congressman who they felt was not representative of their feelings on the issues, and who they felt was far too extreme for their tastes at the time.
This period of conciliation, cooperation, and moderation was brief. The city of Dallas was still a Southern city, and was facing many of the same issues that other Southern cities were facing. By the 1970s, this period of political calm that had come over Dallas had dissipated. Despite the limited time frame of these reactions, in that the long term, in this case, was only about a year, the good character of the people of Dallas was shown very well. In a time of great need, the city’s local elites rose to the occasion and led their people through an extremely rough time, despite continuing to encounter resistance to their efforts to press their interests. As for the general citizenry of Dallas, they showed a great deal of maturity. In a time when their emotions were pushed to their outer limits and could easily have made them burst into fits of violence, they instead controlled themselves. They maintained their composure and took their issues to the ballot box. They ousted the political extremism of Bruce Alger, whose political ideals were assuredly not good for their image considering what had just happened in their city. What is most important, though, is that they exercised true political force by using the vote to defeat extremism rather than by resorting to violence. (Robert B. Fairbanks, "The Assassination and Dallas Politics: Changes to Continuity,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, 9 (Fall, 1998), pp. 21-26.)