Fifty years ago today an assassin’s bullet ended the life of President John F. Kennedy as his limousine passed admiring crowds in Dallas.
For the first time, Dallas officially marked that moment today with a midday ceremony at Dealey Plaza.
But what was the commemoration meant to achieve?
In the final hours before the event, crews tested the sound system at Dealey Plaza. They nailed non-skid fabric to the platforms where 5,000 dignitaries and randomly selected members of the public sat.
The BBC’s Mark Mardell was among the hundreds of foreign journalists checking out the location for his network’s live broadcast. He says that 50 years after his death, President Kennedy is still a mythic figure in Britain.
“When Kennedy died it sent shockwaves around the world and there are many people in Britain who remember that,” he said. “One of my brother-in-laws is named John after JFK. … There’s a fascination with America with American politics in Britain and Kennedy still seems to be for many a bright beacon of hope.”
Conveying Kennedy’s message of hope is one of the goals for the committee that’s been planning this observance for a year and a half.
Committee member Terdema Ussery, who’s CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, believed that came through when historian David McCollough read from the speech President Kennedy was supposed to deliver in Dallas the day he was killed.
“We would like the world to hear the speech the president would have given,” Ussery said before the midday ceremony. “I think when the speech is read it’s going to be shocking in terms of how relevant his words which were written 50 years ago today. … When you hear the president’s words, he was so aspirational and so optimistic about the days ahead.”
The 90-minute observance also included the ringing of church bells and a moment of silence at 12:30 p.m., the time of the fatal shooting.
Kennedy was a Navy veteran and there was a performance by the Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has said he wanted his speech to reflect what Dallas has learned from the most tragic event in its history.
Ussery says the city wants to make sure people never forget.
“I think one of the things we want to do is make sure people never forget,” he said. “That’s why there’s going to be a permanent monument that’s going to be placed down at Dealey Plaza that commemorates the president in a beautiful way.”
Ussery says the unveiling of that plaque and every aspect of the ceremony was discussed with members of the Kennedy family.
“They did not want to be here,” he said. “But it was important for us to get sign off from them. We wanted to make sure they were comfortable with what we’re doing the tone, the content and context.”
Ussery says this is Dallas’ chance to go beyond the shame it’s felt as the city where the promise of a beloved president was cut short.
It’s the chance to show Dallas has grown and become more inclusive.
A city that can look to the future because it’s acknowledged the past.