“Dallas 1963” by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis (Twelve, 384 pages, in stores)
“City of hate.” That's how Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis describe Dallas in the years leading up to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The president was derided in executive board rooms, church sanctuaries, the city's leading newspaper and elsewhere.
What inspired the tirades? Well, Kennedy was the first Catholic president. He was a Yankee and spoke with a New England accent. His proposals for racial tolerance enraged many in the deeply segregationist city, where he was called a socialist, communist and a strong supporter of the United Nations.
People accused him of wanting to turn the country over to the pope or the Soviet Union. What's more, he was a Democrat.
The Dallas elite wanted their city to be known for its wealth, sophistication and high fashion, not for the slums existing in the shadows of its towering skyscrapers. The Dallas Citizens Council, made up of the rich and powerful, was nearly unanimous in its extreme right-wing views.
During the 1960 presidential race, Texas oilman H.L. Hunt spent lavishly to try to make Richard M. Nixon the nation's chief executive, but Kennedy prevailed. Ted Dealey, Dallas Morning News publisher, exhausted a river of ink trying to discredit Kennedy, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Edwin A. “Ted” Walker opposed the president on nearly every front. (Strangely enough, before assassinating Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald had tried to kill Walker, firing a shot at him from across the street.)
That isn't to say that Kennedy was without Dallas supporters. Stanley Marcus, of the Neiman Marcus department store empire, worried that Dallas was cultivating such a radical image, but he rarely dared speak out. The moneyed set responded to his occasional comments by turning in their Neiman Marcus credit cards, threatening his business.
Still, Marcus was among Kennedy's Dallas friends who appealed to him not to come to town. After all, Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife came under ambush when they visited Dallas a few years before. Earlier in the fall of 1963, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was hit with a sign when he was in Dallas to deliver a speech. Stevenson, too, told Kennedy to avoid the city — but the president refused to be perceived as a coward.
The book doesn't dwell on Oswald or on conspiracy theories. The authors accept that Oswald acted alone.
At times, the authors seem to go too far in re-creating private conversations among the Kennedy family, dramatizations that may rely on poetic license. That's not a minor quibble, as it wobbles the foundations of the story.
Davis, who was born the year of the assassination, is curator of the Wittlif Collections at Texas State University, San Marcos, and is the author of two acclaimed books on culture: “Texas Literary Outlaws” and “J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind.”
Minutaglio has written “First Son: George W. Bush & the Bush Family Dynasty,” among several others. He teaches at the University of Texas in Austin.
Their book is finely researched and more interesting than one might imagine. Aside from some of the dialogue, it is history writing at its best and an excellent study of the psychology of hate.
Dennie Hall, for The Oklahoman