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Dallas JFK memorial

The legacy of John F. Kennedy in Dallas

Dallas JFK memorial

The JFK Memorial in Dallas features a cenotaph, or “open tomb,” that honours the spirit of the assassinated president. The 50th anniversary of his death is on Friday. (Waheeda Harris/Vacay.ca)

Story by Waheeda Harris
Vacay.ca Senior Writer

dallas museum of art

Robert Rauschenberg’s immense JFK-inspired mural is displayed at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Waheeda Harris/Vacay.cay)

DALLAS, TEXAS — At the Dallas Museum of Art, a massive Robert Rauschenberg collage titled Skyway will catch any visitor’s eye – a bold combination of colours and arresting pop culture images are a brief summary of the early 1960s and one man: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

As president, Kennedy’s popularity grew beyond the borders of the United States, with the world swept into a love affair with the youngest man ever elected president and his wife, Jackie, who became an instant style icon.

“Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends” – JFK

Canadians were just as enthralled with the Kennedy fever and when the president came north in May 1961, 50,000 Ottawa residents lined the street to greet him. Invited to address Parliament, Kennedy spoke about the relationship of Canada and the United States: “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies.”

Fifty years ago the city of Dallas was excited for a visit from the 35th president of the United States and his wife. Already working on getting re-elected, Kennedy was on a whistle-stop tour through Texas, driving into downtown Dallas to greet residents.

But instead of a luncheon with dignitaries, Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and the country and the world went into shock. In modern-day Dallas, home to one of the largest arts districts in the United States, and an urban centre that welcomes travellers from around the world, it’s a legacy that will be commemorated this week on November 22 with the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK.

For visitors to Dallas, there are several places to learn and remember Kennedy, starting with the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. A simple cenotaph designed by Philip Johnson and dedicated in 1970 by the City of Dallas, the white cement walls appear to float while surrounding a stone plaque engraved with Kennedy’s name in gold. No matter what time during the day, the solitary structure is a place for quiet contemplation and reflection.

The memorial is a block from the Dealey Plaza Historic District, a downtown park and now a National Historic Landmark District. It’s home to two notorious places: the “grassy knoll,” where some conspiracy theorists believe a hidden gunman fired shots that killed Kennedy and the Texas School Book Depository, the building where Lee Harvey Oswald stood on its sixth floor and shot JFK.

A chance to walk in Kennedy’s footsteps

The Texas School Book Depository is now a Dallas County Administration Building and is home to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which opened in 1989. The museum’s main collection offers a detailed visual account of Kennedy’s assassination through 40,000 items including photos, videos, news reports, political artifacts and personal recollections from journalists, politicians and Dallas residents.

The museum also reveals the social and political history of America in the early 1960s, what happened on November 22, 1963, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and his murder by Jack Ruby and the resulting investigations of the Warren Commission. The museum showcases the facts as well as addresses the multitude of conspiracy theories that continue to surround the death of Kennedy.

For Dallas, labelled a city of hate after that day, a local group wanted to overcome that memory in relation to the Kennedy anniversary. The result is the Dallas Love Project, a partnership between a non-profit art group, 29 Pieces, and 120 community groups to post 30,000 works of art along the former motorcade route. Since September 21, every Saturday art by Dallas residents of all ages has been added to the giant gallery, to send messages of love, hope, beauty and inspiration.

As Dallas commemorates this unforgettable day in American history, the one thing visitors won’t see any longer is a white X painted on the road at Dealey Plaza to mark the spot where Kennedy was assassinated. Removed this week due to road construction, Dallas wants to focus the world’s attention on the legacy of JFK, not on the last moment of his life in their city.


More About Dallas

Visiting Dallas: The Dallas Museum of Art is open daily (and offers free admission to visitors), as is the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza and the Dallas Love Project. The entry fee to the Sixth Floor Museum is $16 (US) for adults and is open Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm and Monday noon-6 pm.

Related Links

Visit Dallas Website: http://www.visitdallas.com/
Dallas Museum of Art: http://www.dallasmuseumofart.org/
President Kennedy speech to Parliament: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8136
JFK Memorial Plaza: http://www.jfk.org/go/about/history-of-the-john-f-kennedy-memorial-plaza
Dealey Plaza: http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=2164&ResourceType=
Sixth Floor Museum: http://www.jfk.org/
Dallas Love Project: http://dallasloveproject.is/


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A Toronto-based freelance journalist since the beginning of the millennium, Waheeda has been lucky enough to visit every continent. She's always happy to travel, especially when she can swim in the sea, taste locally-made cuisine and spend an afternoon in an art gallery.

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