Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy Dealey Plaza in 2013

By DAVID FLICK Staff Writer dflick@dallasnews.com
Published: 30 October 2011 11:38 PM

For the past few months, officials at the adjacent Sixth Floor Museum have been quietly at work, trying to ensure that what those cameras capture won’t embarrass the city.

For one thing, they have been conducting a campaign to raise $2.2 million to complete the restoration of Dealey Plaza in time for the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

And to avoid the carnival atmosphere that has often prevailed at previous anniversaries on the plaza, museum officials are planning to take over commemoration activities there.

“We have reserved Dealey Plaza for that date,” said Nicola Longford, the museum’s executive director. “I think, for the 50th anniversary, we have an opportunity to offer a dignified, appropriate event for the city of Dallas.”

That has not always been the case.

Many people assume the annual gatherings at the plaza — which have attracted hundreds and, in some years, thousands of spectators — have had some official sanction. But the museum’s decision actually reverses a hands-off policy by both the museum and the city of Dallas that has lasted decades.

Only once before, when the plaza was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark district in 1993, has there been an official ceremony commemorating the assassination.

Museum and city officials have said in the past that by avoiding such events, they were honoring the Kennedy family’s wishes that the anniversary receive no official recognition in Dallas.

In the organizational vacuum that resulted, ordinary people who came to the plaza to quietly honor the slain president found activities there often dominated by conspiracy theorists, performance artists and assorted publicity-seekers.

Critics charged that on what should be a solemn day, a circus atmosphere has sometimes prevailed on the plaza.

“I don’t think we know yet what will take place. It may be simply a moment of silence,” Longford said of the 50th anniversary commemoration. “It will absolutely not be a festival. It will be a dignified and appropriate commemoration.”

Museum officials have been working with some of the city’s cultural institutions to help commemorate the event, but Longford said such talks were in the early stages and declined to elaborate.

She said museum officials contacted the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, chaired by Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, about the decision to conduct an official commemoration in Dealey Plaza.

Longford declined to characterize the reaction, but added, “I don’t think the Kennedy family has changed their stand.”

In response to a request for comment by The Dallas Morning News, a foundation spokesman emailed a brief statement that officials of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Kennedy Library Foundation were still in the early stages of planning, “but how others choose to mark the anniversary will be up to them.”

Among those supporting the museum’s takeover of the ceremonies — perhaps surprisingly — is Debra Conway, president of JFKLancer, the organization that for most of the past two decades has held the speaking permit for the plaza on the anniversary.

“I’m kind of glad,” she said of the museum’s plans. “I don’t think a lot of those things that have happened will happen when the museum takes over. I think they’ll have a ceremony that won’t get out of hand.”
Conway describes her Southlake-based organization as a clearinghouse for information on the JFK assassination and other topics.

She acknowledges that representatives affiliated with her group have used the commemorations to espouse conspiracy theories. But she said the comments were respectful, and she blamed any inappropriate behavior on other participants.

Despite having reserved the plaza, she said, her group has had no power to enforce who speaks.

“We’ve tried to stop them and they ignore us,” she said.
Museum officials are hoping that the fundraising drive to upgrade Dealey Plaza will also help project a better image of the city.

“When they broadcast from the plaza, we don’t want Dallas to be embarrassed by what they see in the background,” Longford said.
The work was envisioned as the second phase in the restoration of the plaza, which has deteriorated over the decades. The $500,000 to complete the first phase came from a 2003 bond issue.

Phase I restored the fountains and peristyles along Houston Street, the most visible part of the plaza. The partial restoration may have worked too well, according to Willis Winters, assistant director of capital projects for the Dallas Park and Recreation Department.

“Phase II was never included in the 2006 bond program, probably because what we did in 2003 looked so good,” he said.

The city has pledged to kick in $750,000 for the second phase, which will improve paving, lighting, irrigation and signs, and — in the most visible change — will restore the pergolas on top of the grassy knoll.

Phillip Jones, CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, said JFK assassination anniversaries have always posed a challenge to people trying to draw visitors to the region.

The assassination is among the darkest days in the city’s history. On the other hand, there is no doubting that Dealey Plaza is a major tourist draw.

“I think it’s a balancing act,” he said. “I think the Sixth Floor Museum can celebrate the life of the president, but we’ll have to be very selective on how we promote it.”

The 50th anniversary will also mark a kind of watershed, he said. After five decades, the death of President John F. Kennedy is passing from being a personal memory to becoming a purely historical event.

“One of the things we need to do is to educate the younger generation,” Jones said. “I think it allows us to position ourselves as a new city, very different from what it was 50 years ago.

“There’s an opportunity there we haven’t had in a while.”


Over the next two years, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will:

•Oversee a $2.2 million campaign to finish the restoration of Dealey Plaza.

•Plan details of the 50th anniversary commemoration on Nov. 22, 2013.

•Discuss the participation of major Dallas cultural institutions.
Other efforts

•Officials at Love Field, where Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One, are planning to have a historical panel about the event erected by spring 2013.

•A memorial garden honoring President John F. Kennedy is planned for the new Parkland Memorial Hospital, opening in 2014 or early 2015.

SOURCES: Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, City of Dallas Office of Aviation; Parkland Foundation

Regards, TOM BLACKWELL, PO Box 25403, Dallas, Texas 75225

The Dallas Way to Honor John F. Kennedy in November 2013: Silence Pesky Free Speech

By Jim Schutze
Mon., Oct. 31 2011 http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2011/10/the_dallas_way_to_honor_jfk_si.php

Dear John F. Kennedy Library Foundation:

Good move on blowing off the Sixth Floor Museum and executive director Nicola Longford regarding her plans for a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Kennedy assassination in Dealey Plaza. Believe me: You don't want to touch this gang with a 10-foot pole.

According to a story in this morning's Dallas Morning News, Longford and her assassination museum "are planning to take over commemoration activities" at Dealey Plaza in 2013. Their avowed aim, The News says, is to "avoid the carnival atmosphere that has often prevailed at previous anniversaries on the plaza."

Yeah. Let me tell you about that. There will be a hearing in federal court this Friday on another attempt to avoid a carnival atmosphere in Dealey Plaza -- that attempt being the city's decades-long goon-style campaign of intimidation against best-selling author Robert Groden. Groden has been hauled into court 81 times by his own count, including at least one tough session in jail, for the offense of selling books and tapes and speaking his mind about the assassination in Dealey Plaza.

More than 80 times the city has attempted to shut down Groden's exercise of free speech in Dealey Plaza. They have been tossed out of court by their own municipal judges every single time. Groden finally decided to sue in order in preserve the right of free speech and assembly for himself and all people in this very important place, a national landmark.

In The News story today, Longford is quoted as saying, "We have reserved Dealey Plaza for that date [November 22, 2013]. I think, for the 50th anniversary, we have an opportunity to offer a dignified, appropriate event for the city of Dallas."

So, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation: I ask you to think about this. What does that mean, "take over?" How do you "take over" a national landmark with the avowed aim of controlling speech there?

I spoke this morning with Groden's lawyer Bradley Kizzia, who said he had never heard of anyone taking over Dealey Plaza in order to prevent other people from coming there and doing whatever they want to do within the law.

"It's a federal national historic landmark," he said. "I doubt that that entity [the museum] can legally do that. They sure shouldn't be able to do that, to preclude the access of other citizens seeking to exercise their First Amendment right. That sounds very troubling to me."

I talked to Groden as well. He scoffed at the idea that the museum had even contacted you about participating. I'm sure you know who Mr. Groden is -- proprietor at one point of the world's most authoritative film and photographic library on the assassination. He told me he has contacted members of the Kennedy family in the past on various issues and that they have shown no interest in Dealey Plaza or what goes on there.

It sounds from the story in The News, that you, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, feel the same way. Longford is quoted as saying: "I don't think the Kennedy family has changed their stand."

No kidding. Why did she even ask? I have a call in to her about it, of course, but based on past behavior I would guess she will not return my call. So I am left to wonder what is it that she does not get about this situation?

Groden gets it. He understands that Dealey Plaza is not and will never be a memorial to the life of JFK, no matter what ludicrous efforts the Sixth Floor Museum may expend to create such an absurdly euphemistic, historically irresponsible impression.

It's where he was killed. That's what's important about Dealey Plaza. It was the scene of brutal catastrophe. What, we might ask, can be dignified about an assassination? JFK's murder here, even after half a century, is still an ongoing source of anger, confusion and anxiety in our nation. The only way for Dallas to even approach expiating its own role would be to stop trying to stifle debate in the place where it happened.

Let's talk about this whole thing of planning two years ahead to take over Dealey Plaza to make sure everything will be "dignified." I think you should put it in a certain context.

On June 13, 2010, Dallas Police arrested and jailed Groden. Groden alleges that the arrest came about at the request of Sixth Floor Museum security personnel. That's a fact at issue in the ongoing lawsuit. The museum has refused to comment when I have tried to ask them about it in the past.

But I ask you this, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation: Have you ever even been accused of getting authors thrown in jail? What is dignified, pray tell, about slapping the cuffs on a late-middle-aged scholar, tossing him the back seat of a cop car and hauling him off to the slammer? And by the way, when is the last time you tried to take over a prominent public space in order to control speech here?

A quarter century ago I interviewed the late Stanley Marcus about the assassination, and he told me he thought Dallas bore significant blame. He said the city's fault was for refusing to recognize the festering climate of extremism in its own backyard before the assassination. If anything, Longford's impulse to clamp down on freedom of expression on the anniversary is of a cloth with the same phenomenon Marcus described a half-century before. If someone were going to write a senior thesis about it at Harvard, he or she might even call it "Why Dallas Slept."

If I were you, I wouldn't come to Dealey Plaza until Dallas wakes up.

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