DALLAS - On November 22, 1963 in Dallas, an assassin's bullets killed President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. On the 50th anniversary of his death, the city that is linked to the tragedy hosted a ceremony honoring the president's life and legacy. The Sixth Floor Museum, formerly the Texas School Book Depository, is where Lee Harvey Oswald fired his deadly shots.
Though she was a young girl, November 22nd, 1963 has always been a dark moment for Carol Chazdon. “For years after the assassination, whenever I would see the numbers 22 even together and see the words Dallas, it all jumped out at me in red in some way and invoked a lot of scary images, and for a long time I thought I would never come here.”
That kind of reaction prompted city leaders, in the past, to avoid the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, says Sixth Floor Museum Associate Curator Stephen Fagin.
“I call it this journey from assassination to commemoration because it's about the city stepping away from this fear and anger and frustration, and embracing this as a defining moment in American history, which affected not only Dallas but the nation and the world,” said Fagin.
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The mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, completed that journey in a speech to the thousands gathered in cold and wet Dealey Plaza to mark the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.
“While the past is never in the past, this was a lifetime ago. Now, today, we the people of Dallas, honor the life, leadership and legacy of the man,” said Rawlings.
Planners were careful to craft the ceremony as a tribute to the president, which appealed to Dallas resident Miguel Andrews. “I came here to commemorate the good things JFK did for society.”
Andrews was a young boy living in Mexico City when President Kennedy came to visit in 1962. He showed photos of his father standing next to the president. Andrews said that experience, and Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon, were inspiring.
“To amass the will of the people to do something for a common cause, which they labeled it as the Space Race, but what we got from that was immeasurable,” said Andrews.
“I think his legacy is that much stronger because it was cut so short, and he was never ever able to see what he set in motion,” said Chazdon.
Despite Chazdon’s lifelong dread of Dallas, she said the commemoration has done much to change her feelings. “I think it's been very thoughtfully planned. I think it was very just and appropriate and I didn’t want to go anywhere else, I wanted to be here, I really wanted to be a part of this.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, would you join me in a moment of silence to honor the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy,” said Rawlings.
Long after the bells stop ringing in Dallas, people will continue to visit the place where Kennedy died, a place that was the site of chaos and confusion 50 years ago, now a place for reflection and remembrance of a young president’s life cut short.