For 50 years, Dallas has lived under the shadow of a martyred president.
Nov. 22, 1963, is one of those dates that have been etched in the American psyche, matched only by Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001. The events of Nov. 24, 1963, in Dallas perhaps did more to fuel 50 years of conspiracy theories than anything that occurred on that fateful weekend. The nation watched in numbing disbelief as Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald at point-blank range surrounded by Dallas police.
For myriad reasons, Oswald became more than the garden-variety assassin. He stood pathetically above or below the likes of Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, Arthur Bremer, Squeaky Fromme, Sara Jane More or John Hinckley.
Dallas was merely the place where the assassination occurred; Oswald was not native to the city. Politically, he was not aligned with those who would have opposed Kennedy on his trip to Dallas for political reasons.
Despite any delusions that Oswald may have held, his arms were too short, shoulders too narrow to hold the magnitude of the moment. The city of Dallas had to stand proxy.
Because of Oswald, Dallas was the place where the inconceivable was possible. Before J.R. Ewing became a pop culture icon, Dallas was a euphemism for unfathomable shock. It was the place that Kennedy, on the morning of his assassination, referred to as "nut country."
Has any other city been so aligned with a single tragedy as Dallas and the Kennedy assassination?
For five decades we have simultaneously overanalyzed and oversimplified the tragic events of Dallas. Every conspiracy theory has been unable to date to change the overarching narrative, flawed as it may be, provided by the Warren Commission.
In 50 years the country has taken the meandering road through myriad conspiracy theories, having the assassination defined largely by an Oliver Stone movie, to the present-day¿, in which a healthy majority (61percent) still believe others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved, according to a recent Gallup poll. This percentage, however, is the lowest in nearly 50 years.
Having been in Dallas during the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, I realized the city has methodically risen from the ashes of tragedy to one of possibility. It was a surreal experience to follow the path that Oswald took after leaving the Book Depository Building from the room he rented at 1026 N. Beckley to 10th and Patton, where he shot Officer J.D. Tippit, to the Texas Theater, where he was arrested.
It would have been understandable if the Book Depository Building were torn down, as some desired in the early 1970s. But it stands defiantly, not merely as a commemoration for the assassination, but also as an ongoing tribute to the life and legacy of JFK.
Many were concerned that Dallas' commemoration of Nov. 22 would place too much emphasis on JFK's death than, say, remembering his birth on May 29.
Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, was a seminal moment for the nation. It was not only the loss of a young and charismatic president, but also a moment of arrested development that for five decades has been medicated by cynicism and distrust.
Its importance will naturally decline, as fewer people will be alive to say: "I remember it (the JFK assassination) like it were yesterday."
But Dallas did itself and the nation proud. And in doing so, it went a long way in exorcising its own demons.
Through years of planning, city officials did an extraordinary job to strike the right balance between acknowledging the golden anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in American history and putting in motion the steps, inspired by the Kennedy legacy, to also look to the future.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.