Outpouring by Dallasites after the Kennedys landed at Love Field – in contrast to the ‘City of Hate’ label. From the Kennedy Gallery
- KERA Radio report:
- Dallas Morning News story
- Online report:
Almost immediately after President Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, Dallas was labeled the City of Hate. The label stuck. Debbie Landa is the co-owner of a Dallas gallery. She recalls moving here in 1965 and friends were horrified. They said “Oh, that’s a horrible city. They killed Kennedy.”
Artist Karen Blessen wants to overturn that label. She and her organization, 29 Pieces, have developed the Dallas Love Project. She’s gotten more than 50 schools, businesses and arts groups to help make poster-sized artworks, some 20,000 of them. Each will feature a quotation about love from such figures as Martin Luther King. Starting September 21, these will be put up in storefront windows and on lawns along the route Kennedy’s motorcade took from Love Field to downtown Dallas — Mockingbird to Lemmon Avenue to Turtle Creek/Cedar Springs to Elm.
The project’s goal, she says, is “to get this message out into the world that, while Dallas may have been given this label as a city of hate, that just isn’t accurate. There are many people here who embody all the high qualities of a human being.”
While other cities have suffered assassinations, not everyone there was blamed for the violence. But Bill Minutaglio says the City of Hate label stuck because, in effect, Dallas was already known as an angry city even before the assassination. The November 22nd shooting followed a series of events that made Dallas a national center for anti-Kennedy, anti-liberal rage. Minutaglio is a former Dallas Morning News reporter who has co-written a history called Dallas 1963 (below). It’s being released in October.
“Dallas,” Minutaglio explains, “was a deregulated, crazy, over-the-top, all-things-are-possible, Manifest-Destiny, Wild West kinda town, and people who wanted to know about right-wing extremism in America were attracted to Dallas for that reason.”
Conservative, political fringe groups like the John Birch Society certainly existed elsewhere in America. But in Dallas, Minutaglio says, they found a welcoming establishment — as a result, many began moving here, such as General Edwin Walker, who briefly became a leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party’s hard-line anti-Communist and anti-Kennedy wing. The country’s wealthiest man — oilman H. L. Hunt — lived in Dallas and financed a radio network that broadcast anti-Kennedy diatribes. Dallas’ leading clergyman, First Baptist pastor W. A. Criswell, was an ardent segregationist as well as a prominent anti-Catholic speaker and a national spearhead for the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist convention. Ted Dealey of The Dallas Morning News, the city’s most prominent publisher, railed against Kennedy as being weak in the face of the Soviet threat and caused a public outcry when he insulted Kennedy during a White House luncheon, comparing him to daughter Caroline riding a tricycle.
Add to this environment such public embarrassments as the well-to-do crowd of Dallasites who spat on Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird when the then-vice-presidential candidate campaigned here in 1960. Only a month before Kennedy’s arrival, United States ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson was hit during a melee after he gave an address in Dallas. It’s little wonder several of Kennedy’s aides advised him not even to come here.
The irony, of course, is that ultimately, Kennedy was shot by a loner who espoused a confused mix of Marxist-Leninist ideas — so confused, he’d joined the Marines, defected to the Soviet Union, then defected back yet still denounced Kennedy’s efforts against Castro during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But in the end, it didn’t matter who actually shot the president. In the public mind, the uproars and hard-edged political outbursts had shaped Dallas’ angry, conservative image.
Then, on the night before November 22nd, flyers appeared around town. Designed like ‘wanted posters,’ they accused Kennedy of treason.
Blessen and her partners have been contacting storeowners and coordinating students, volunteers and professional artists to help track where each artwork will go. The project already has more than enough artworks to cover the motorcade route. The rest will be exhibited in 10-15 other locations all over the city.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of spreadsheets we’ve generated,” she says with a laugh.
But will these grassroots messages really have any effect — on Dallas or on Dallasites? Blessen believes they will. 20,000 messages of love throughout a city? It’s like advertising, she says. She also believes the project has already benefited the people directly involved.
Greg Colgan works for an aviation consulting firm. He and his wife volunteered to create artworks for the Love Project. They spent six hours listening to Blessen and thinking about messages of peace and love. Colgan says it was like a meditational exercise, taking time out from one’s hectic life to consider something more than the next email.
Initially, Colgan says he was nervous. “Between art and meditation and sacred passages, I just consider myself ignorant. That was the interesting experience — is pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And coming out of that, you know, as corny as it sounds, to find a little bit of peace.”