Thursday, May 31, 2012

The 21 Club

A high-powered committee of Dallas  philanthropists and community 
leaders has begun the sensitive job of planning events to commemorate 
the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Ruth Sharp Altshuler will serve as chairwoman of the committee, which 
was formed by Mayor Mike Rawlings. The 21-member group held its first 
meeting at Dallas City Hall on Tuesday.

“We started by introducing ourselves, and many members shared where they 
were on Nov. 22, 1963, and what it meant to them,” Rawlings said. “There 
were several moments when there were a lot of tears in the room.”

The committee’s formation means that Rawlings and longtime Dallas civic 
leaders have rejected the idea of letting the 50th anniversary come and 
go without official recognition or sanctioned events.

Previous anniversaries have been informal and low key. Tourists gathered 
at Dealey Plaza, scene of the assassination, usually to observe a moment 
of silence at 12:30 p.m., the time that shots rang out on Nov. 22, 1963, 
and forever changed Dallas and American history. News organizations have 
observed the anniversaries with stories, and the Sixth Floor Museum has 
unveiled exhibits during some key anniversaries.

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, much of the world 
appeared to be looking for a scapegoat. Civic leaders believed the city 
of Dallas was miscast in the role of villain, considering the fact that 
Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed gunman, was from Fort Worth and had 
lived in Dallas only a short while.

So city leaders historically avoided planning any events around the 
anniversaries because of the lingering stain on the city.

The committee’s formation indicates that the 50th anniversary, still 18 
months away, will be different. Finally, enough distance between the 
past and present exists that Dallas leaders have become comfortable 
enough to emerge into the clear light of history.

“This is a part of our history and it will never go away,” said Lindalyn 
Adams, a committee member and historic preservation advocate who worked 
to create the Sixth Floor Museum during the 1980s.

Committee members contacted Wednesday by The Dallas Morning News 
declined to comment on their first meeting. Instead, they agreed to let 
Rawlings be their spokesman. He said they talked about two things: the 
objective of the 50th-anniversary commemoration and how to craft the 
overall tone.

“The objective is to send the simple message to all that are outside the 
city, throughout the world, that the citizens of Dallas honor the life 
and legacy of JFK,” Rawlings said. “Tone is very important: serious, 
respectful, understated. We want it to be very classy.”

A central question is what role Dealey Plaza will play in the commemoration.

The Sixth Floor Museum, which explores JFK’s life and death, has 
obtained a special activity permit from the city of Dallas that appears 
to give it control of Dealey Plaza from Monday, Nov. 18, to Sunday, Nov. 24.

JFK assassination researchers — critics call them conspiracy theorists — 
typically gather at Dealey Plaza to spin their version of events to 
tourists on anniversaries, and they fear that the museum might use its 
permit to bar them from the site.

“We feel it’s an important location in the city and we want to make sure 
it reflects the epitome of respect and solemnity on that day,” Rawlings 
said. “There will probably be something that happens there on that day, 
but that is as far as we’ve gotten.”

The committee’s composition suggests that Nov. 22, 2013, will be packed 
with multi-ethnic events, spiritual observances and artistic presentations.

Tourist and convention bureau strategists work hard to attract visitors 
to Dallas year-round, attempting to fill hotel rooms and restaurants. 
But Rawlings said the city will not attempt to promote the commemoration.

“We want to ensure there is zero commercialization of this event,” he said.

AT A GLANCE: The committee

The committee appointed to plan the 50th-anniversary commemoration of 
the JFK assassination:

Ruth Sharp Altshuler, philanthropist, committee chairwoman

Mayor Mike Rawlings, committee spokesman

Cappy McGarr, businessman and board member of the Kennedy Center for the 
Performing Arts

Lew Blackburn, president of the Dallas ISD board of trustees

Blaine Nelson, chairman of the board of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Zan Holmes, pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church

Kevin Farrell, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas

Ken Menges, attorney and Sixth Floor Museum board chairman

Deedie Rose, philanthropist

Erle Nye, retired utility executive and civic leader

Anita Martinez, arts patron and former City Council member

Margot Perot, philanthropist and wife of businessman Ross Perot

Linda Custard, philanthropist and women’s health advocate

Bobby Lyle, businessman and philanthropist

Lindalyn Adams, civic leader and historic preservation advocate

Terdema Ussery, president of the Dallas Mavericks

Caren Prothro, civic leader and philanthropist

Linda McFarland, civic leader and philanthropist

Jeanne Phillips, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic 
Cooperation and Development; spokeswoman for businessman Ray Hunt

Rick Ortiz, president of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Adelfa Callejo, attorney and Hispanic civil rights activist

SOURCES: Mayor Mike Rawlings; Dallas Morning News research

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