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‘Dallas 1963’ draws you in

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“Dallas 1963” by Bill Minutaglio and Steve L. Davis (Twelve 2013), $28, 373 pages.


Let’s say you want to stir up a little something.

Start with three cups of quiet collaboration. Add in a dash of rumor; a teaspoon each of anti-Semitism, segregation and Red Scare; and a tablespoon of divisive politics. Stir in money — lots of it — and bake in a 10-gallon hat for 3½ years.

This recipe yields heated arguments and mouthfuls of hate.

And as you’ll see in the new book “Dallas 1963” by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, that’s a recipe for changing history.

When the holiday cards arrived at the homes of Dallas’ “most influential residents,” there was confusion — and consternation.

Signed “Best — Jack,” the cards featured then-Sen. John Kennedy and his family on the front. The subtle, assumed message was that Kennedy would run for president, which concerned Dallas’ powerbrokers, including the world’s richest man, a minister, and a newspaperman.

It was January 1960. Dallas had been steadfastly ignoring Brown v. Board of Education and other unpopular Washington edicts; a liberal Democrat in office was unthinkable. No, the city’s powerful firmly supported Nixon for the upcoming election.

But best-laid plans can be changed by the smallest events. When a Texas politician gathered protesters for a Dallas appearance by Lyndon Johnson just before the election, violence erupted and national cameras captured normally-genteel women spitting at the vice presidential candidate and his frightened wife. Horrified on-the-fence voters nationwide cast their ballots accordingly.

But “hatred” for Kennedy wasn’t limited to Dallas .

Southerners widely detested his stance on race relations. Conservatives feared his Catholicism would make him “more devoted to the pope than to the American Constitution.” 

But Kennedy was determined to run again for office.  He and the Democrats knew, however, that winning Texas in the 1964 election had to start in Dallas so they sent Adlai Stevenson there in October 1963, to pave the way. But after witnessing riots and being spat upon, Stevenson “privately” questioned Kennedy’s plans to visit Dallas .

In light of recent events in Washington , I found “Dallas 1963” to be doubly interesting: deep political divisiveness; dicey overseas relations; and a president who wants social change, causing accusations of lack of concern for the country’s well-being.

Sound familiar?

But why was JFK assassinated in Dallas, of all places?  The authors answer that question, as they take a look at the emotions, beliefs, and social mores of the times.

This narrative starts in 1960 and ends with a bullet — and even though we know what happened, getting to that last point is squirmy. My heart pounded. For fans of politics, history, or anyone desiring to somehow mark this inauspicious anniversary, “Dallas 1963” has the ingredients for a very absorbing read.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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“Dallas 1963” by Bill Minutaglio and Steve L. Davis (Twelve 2013), $28, 373 pages.