DANVERS — Dan Russ lived in Dallas for about three decades before coming to New England 11 years ago, So he brings a special perspective to reflections on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In fact, Russ, a Danvers resident, recently moderated a forum on how the tragedy of Nov. 22, 1963, affected the city of Dallas from a religious perspective. Russ is the director of the Center for Christian Studies and academic dean at Gordon College.
Russ did not live in Dallas at the time of JFK’s assassination; he was a ninth-grader in Indiana at the time.
“I was in one of my classes, and it came over the intercom that Kennedy had been shot, and we all thought it was a joke,” Russ said. “And many people laughed, and those who didn’t like Kennedy said cruel things.
“Then, a few minutes later, it came on that he died, and suddenly, it was like a ton of bricks. It was amazing how all that smart-aleck talk about Kennedy suddenly just died down. And then, of course, most of us were glued to the television for the next three days and also the next day got to see Lee Harvey Oswald get assassinated, murdered, himself. That was part of the tragedy of Dallas, too.”
In classical literature, a sad and horrible event is tragic only when it’s given meaning, Russ said, and meaning only comes through reflection. As far as he can tell, some in Dallas were deeply affected by Kennedy’s assassination, but others wanted to move on from it.
A friend who was there at the time told him that many professional business people tried not to travel, “because basically Dallas had become known as the City of Hate.”
The sentiment in Dallas was that “this has nothing to do with us. It happened to happen here,” he said. There was resistance to memorializing the assassination.
“Those who wanted to create the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, which is the memorial to Kennedy ... that was fought by some of the city fathers who didn’t want that celebrated. ... I think there was a significant percentage in the city who said, ‘Let’s move on. It happened, it was sad, it was terrible.’”
One of the unintended consequences of the Kennedy assassination was that Vice President Lyndon Johnson became president, and among his legacies was civil rights legislation and the Great Society.
Since Dallas is a particularly religious city, this alone had a great impact, Russ said.
“The church community had to look at its segregation in ways we hadn’t before,” Russ said. “It was the emergence of more diverse leaders in Dallas.”
By talking about religion, one can reflect on how the tragedy shaped the city spiritually, Russ said.
“Basically, we are trying to say, what does this do to the spirit and a soul of a people,” he said, “not just what does this do to their image or to the political structures or to the cultural artifacts.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.