DALLAS — A solemn ceremony will take place at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on Friday, near the street where an assassin's bullet took the life of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago. The commemoration has drawn people from around the world.
Standing at the corner of the former Texas School Book Depository Building, a TV reporter from Portugal notes that the plaque there refers to Lee Harvey Oswald as the alleged assassin of President Kennedy.
For many of the reporters who have come here from around the world, it is both Kennedy's legacy and continuing doubts about the official version of his assassination that hold interest. Nonetheless, the ceremony prepared by the city of Dallas will focus on the President’s legacy, not the conspiracy theories.
There will be church bells ringing, a moment of silence and readings of excerpts from the slain president's speeches by historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough.
For many years, Dallas was stigmatized by the Kennedy assassination, partly because of news reports at the time about right-wing groups that condemned the president's proposed civil rights legislation and other policy positions. Richie Gilbride, a writer affiliated with the Coalition of Political Assassinations, believes extremism may have played a role in what he says was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
"Dallas was a putrefying pile of hate in 1963. It was the perfect place to pull off a fundamentally evil, evil act," said Gilbride.
However, films and photos from the time of Kennedy's visit show huge crowds of people enthusiastically cheering the president as his limousine passed slowly through the streets. Bob Jackson was a photographer for a Dallas newspaper at the time, riding in the motorcade just a few cars behind Kennedy. He said that the national media gave Dallas a bad rap by claiming the city was engulfed in an ugly atmosphere promoted by extremists.
"The ugly atmosphere was a small group of people. [As for] the majority of people, all you had to do was ride in the motorcade coming downtown and see all the cheering people, not a bunch of protesters with signs and all that kind of stuff," remembered Jackson.
Kennedy is remembered in Dallas today with the Sixth-Floor Museum, situated in the building from which the assassin fired his rifle, and by the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, a few blocks away. The city has grown and changed dramatically since 1963. For many citizens who were born in the decades after the assassination, the event does not hold the same emotional significance that it does for those who lived through those dark days a half-century ago.