Dallas: 50 Years of Progress Since JFK's Killing
As the city of Dallas prepares to honor slain president John F. Kennedy, the mood across the city is expectedly solemn. But just as one event a half century ago brought shame to the city, the 50 years since has seen Dallas change and grow in unexpected ways.
On November 22, the nation's eyes will focus on Dealey Plaza, where the legacy of Kennedy’s death will be analyzed as much as the legacy of his policy. And though the architecture within the plaza, where Kennedy was assassinated, hasn’t changed much in five decades, it only takes a few minutes in the Texas sun to see just how much the culture has shifted in and around the city itself. The stereotypical Texas façade, it seems, is just that.
For a city once roiling with racism and xenophobia, the anniversary now forces a bit of introspection. Dallas has aged at the same rate as the rest of the South, yet this metropolis has progressed more than many of its neighbors. Just one of a handful of cities within Texas that voted for President Obama last year, it’s difficult to remember that mere years after Kennedy’s death, thousands were still marching through the streets in downtown demanding that everyone, black and white, have equal access to voting.
If there’s one indicator of change that stands above all others, it's that of the three-time elected sheriff of Dallas County. Sheriff Lupe Valdez surprised the nation and ushered in a new era within Dallas, doing so as an out, lesbian latina nine years ago, and now three elections running.
In an interview given to the GA Voice before her grand marshal appearance at Atlanta Pride last month, Valdez spoke candidly about the change she’s personally witnessed since first elected in 2004.
“People hated my guts,” she said. “At that time, it was a big thing. Now it's not anymore. The first couple years, any media reports about me said I was 'Lupe Valdez, the lesbian sheriff.' That stopped about five years ago and I hope there will come a day when we don't have to brag about things like this.”
Though Dallas may not have to brag about its sheriff, it certainly has other things to brag about these days. Rob Emery, a native of Dallas since 1967, and one of the founding members of The Dallas Way, a group aimed at preserving the LGBT history of the city, says Dallas is not an inhospitable place anymore.
“Dallas has changed in many good ways since that terrible day in 1963, and the Dallas LGBT community has brought about much of this improvement," he says. "I've been empowered to see candidates run and win office in positions on the City Council, sheriff, and even the mayor's office. “I've been moved by the subtle change in personal relationships within the workplace, church, and family and social environments as LGBT visibility has increased, and non-gay citizens have grown to understand and support our progress toward equality; I've been amazed to see Dallas create the largest LGBT Church in America (The Cathedral of Hope), the largest Gay Men's Chorus in the world (The Turtle Creek Chorale), and the largest and most successful LGBT fundraiser in the nation (HRC's Black Tie Dinner)."
Dallas is now a great place to visit, Emery says, with a rich and varied gayborhood and a world-class arts district. Even though Dallas has changed immeasurably in 50 years, the city doesn't want to white-wash what happened at Dealey Plaza, Emery says.
"On November 22, Dallas will celebrate the life of JFK," he says. "We will celebrate his legacy, and pay tribute to his many positive contributions to our great country. We hope that, through peaceful contemplation and sincere reflection, Dallas might transcend any association with this terrible tragedy, and be remembered as a city that celebrates diversity, honors differences, and respects uniqueness.”