The idea that, ever since the 1963 assassination here of President John F. Kennedy, the city of Dallas “has been struggling for redemption,” as commentator Lee Cullum put it, seemed to be at the heart of a symposium presented on Saturday, November 2, by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture in partnership with The Dallas Morning News.
The daylong gathering at the South Side Ballroom, titled “Understanding Tragedy: The Impact of the JFK Assassination on Dallas,” attracted about 500 attendees. They listened to a morning “plenary” session including the observations of more than 15 prominent writers and scholars, then to a luncheon presentation by New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright, who grew up in Dallas, followed by a conversation between Wright and Jim Lehrer, executive director of the PBS Newshour. Lehrer was a reporter for the The News and then the Dallas Times Herald from 1959 to 1966.
Later, attendees could choose among four “Focus Forums” and roundtables on ways the assassination affected journalism, religion, arts and the humanities, and politics. Participants in these individual discussions included former DMN reporter Hugh Aynesworth; author Bill Minutaglio; writer and editor Richard Rodriguez; Rev. Zan Holmes, pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church; Institute co-founder Dr. Gail Thomas; Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings; and Margaret Spellings, president of the George W. Bush Foundation.
During the morning plenary session, Dr. Larry Allums, the Institute’s executive director, said he hoped the day would be part of a “cleansing process” for the city. Thomas said Dallas has not wanted to “own the shadow of the assassination.” Then she added, “A friend told me, ‘Don’t talk about the darkness, the shame.’ That’s been our problem.” Another participant in the morning session, Dr. Frederick Turner of the University of Texas at Dallas, had a different view. He said that Dallas had accepted blame for Kennedy’s killing, because “in some way it matched something that Dallas acknowledged about itself.”
Photo credit: Jeanne Prejean