For Dallas, a Day of Reflection

Today in my hometown of Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings will lead a solemn and dignified commemoration of the life of John F. Kennedy. David McCullough will be the only other speaker. It is the first official ceremony the City of Dallas has held on November 22 in the half century since the former President's tragic death at Dealey Plaza. And it is welcome.

I know something about all this. My great-grandfather was G.B. Dealey, who was honored by the City of Dallas in 1935 by the naming of Dealey Plaza—recognizing his civic leadership over the course of the 50 years since he established “The Dallas Morning News.” Dealey had put the company in financial peril in the early 1920s by taking on the Ku Klux Klan and inciting an advertiser boycott that lasted nearly three years. By all accounts, he was one of the most distinguished newspaper publishers in America.

It is profoundly ironic that the most dynamic president of the twentieth century was killed in a place celebrating the accomplishments of a man who personified civic virtue. And that one of G.B. Dealey's sons, Ted, would steer the News far to the political right on its editorial page, stoking the emotions of a coterie of arch conservatives in our city. This kind of edge was hardly unique, however, and remains present today in the United States and all parts of the world, often manifested in Internet vitriol.

The behavior of this minority in 1963 stamped the perception of Dallas for decades, even though reality was otherwise. Yes, our city bears responsibility for tolerating political extremism in the early 1960s, and we've coped with the deepest form of regret and ambivalence for five decades. But Dallas has become a city of great diversity and in many ways is emblematic of our country's future.

History is a complex of high-mindedness, sinister intent, happenchance, and circumstance. Lee Harvey Oswald, an avowed Marxist, surely did not come to Dallas because of right-wing politics. But his actions on November 22, 1963, changed America's course and left Dallas grasping for answers. Since then, the city's leaders have found ways to educate our citizens and visitors from around the world about the events of that day, and we've invested emotional energy, time, and resources to build a community that strives to meet President Kennedy's admonishment to ask what we can do for our country. Of that, we can be and are proud.


Robert Decherd ’73, a former Crimson president, served for 26 years as CEO of A. H. Belo Corporation, parent company of “The Dallas Morning News” and other media organizations.