Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
By Stuart Nulman
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis (12 Books, $31)
After reading “Dallas 1963”, the impression I got was that 50 years ago, this major metropolis in northeastern Texas was not just built on cattle and oil wells, but also on extreme right wing conservative politics, racism, violence and an intense hatred for anything or anyone that smacked of liberalism.
And the latter extended to then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy. His brinkmanship manoeuvring that averted a nuclear showdown during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the eventual signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Russians made him a perfect target for all those angry, hate-filled right wingers in Dallas.
Basically, it meant that Kennedy, who went to Dallas on November 22, 1963 as an early campaign stop for the upcoming 1964 presidential election, was doomed from the moment he arrived there.
From the more than one hundred books that are being released this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination, as well as salute John F. Kennedy’s life and legacy, this jewel explores the city and its people during the three-year period between Kennedy’s election and his violent, untimely death. And the portrait drawn of Dallas in this book is not a pretty picture.
The Dallas of the early 1960s was a city that was vehemently anti-Kennedy. As well, it became the breeding ground for a variety of fringe political groups whose sole purpose was to preserve the city’s conservative values, not to mention try anything to unseat Kennedy in 1964. These groups ranged from the John Birch Society, to the Dallas Citizens Council, to the National Indignation Convention.
What makes “Dallas 1963” such a riveting, yet sometimes unsettling, read are the dramatis personae who permeate this dangerous breeding ground. There’s reclusive, eccentric oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, who preached his own utopian vision of his home state and the world through his cheaply-produced, privately published novels and his radio show “Life Line”, which gained a sizeable listenership; there’s Republican Congressman Bruce Alger, who organized a mob of well to do Dallas women that were dubbed the “Mink Coat Mob”, which swarmed and assaulted Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson during a campaign stop in Dallas during the 1960 election; there’s Ted Dealy, publisher of “The Dallas Morning News”, whose paper was reactionary and was not afraid to severely criticize anything and everything about the Kennedy administration (and during a White House visit by newspaper publishers in 1961, was not afraid to direct those criticisms in Kennedy’s face, much to the anger of the president); and there’s disgraced U.S. Army General Edwin A. Walker (who led the battalion of the 101st Airborne during the difficult integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957), whose bitter disillusionment of his country in general and Kennedy in particular led to an audacious personal campaign that cultivated a growing following in Dallas that made him a somewhat serious contender for the presidency in 1964. Some saw him as a saviour from Kennedy; others saw him as just a plain kook. One person from the latter category tried to assassinate Walker at his Dallas home, but the bullet missed him by inches; that potential assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald.
Authors Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis have done an excellent job researching and reporting on how reactionary the city of Dallas and its citizens were to the point where many of Kennedy’s advisors pleaded with him not to go to the city during his Texas tour, fearing that it would not be safe for him to be there (the violent attack on U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson during a speech there in late October of 1963 was one vivid example of how violent that kind of hatred could be).
These days, Dallas is a progressive, cosmopolitan city. However, they can’t forget the burden of history that it has to permanently carry because of its dark past that led to the tragic events of November 22, 1963 (which is evident with the transformation of the Texas School Book Depository as a museum dedicated to the Kennedy assassination). “Dallas 1963” is a compelling story of how and why the city of Dallas inherited this painful burden.
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.