President Barack Obama is coming to Dallas Tuesday to take part in an interfaith memorial service for the victims of last week’s shooting. Obama will be joined at the Meyerson Symphony Center by former President George W. Bush and other dignitaries.
For some in North Texas, last week’s shooting in Dallas brings to mind another dark moment in the city’s history.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says the Dallas memorial service is about unity. And it will be a bipartisan gathering: the current and former presidents will be joined by the vice president, both of the state’s senators, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a host of other elected leaders.
“We’re going to have people from both sides of the aisle, hopefully coming together, holding hands, saying thank you to our officers and more importantly paint a different future for us,” he said.
While Rawlings is looking to the future, it’s hard for Dallas to outlive its past, especially with a new tragedy opening old wounds. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Dallas was named the city of hate.
Rawlings says that label no longer fits.
“What I’ve been fascinated by is everybody’s pleasant surprise about Dallas,” Rawlings said. “They haven’t been here for so long, and they’ve understood how contemporary, how cosmopolitan, how progressive we have become as a city.”
“The acceptance, the working with people of all races and creeds, it’s just a different community,” says Hugh Aynesworth, who was reporting in Dallas 53 years ago when Kennedy was shot.
Another key difference Aynesworth sees between now and then: The government’s response. Back then, he says everyone from the district attorney and the mayor up to FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover bungled the response.
“Everybody made mistakes,” Aynesworth recalls. “Now this time, it’s horrible for the police department, but it’s not horrible for the city because they’ve handled everything right. The police chief was open with everything he could be, the mayor was superb, I thought, in his handling of it. It’s totally different.”
Still, Aynesworth says the vitriol directed by today’s Texas conservatives at Obama is not far off from the anger directed at Kennedy in 1963.
“People are vituperative, they’re mean, some of them are,” Aynesworth says. “And it’s politicians, more than anyone else. Right now you’ve got a governor and a lieutenant governor who’ve said terribly nasty things about the president.”
Aynesworth says he hopes that when the president calls for unity at the memorial service, people will take his words to heart.