Mayor of Dallas Mike Rawlings and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough paid tribute to our nation’s 35th President today during “The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy” at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. The solemn and dignified public commemoration was held on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in downtown Dallas.
“We honor the life, legacy and leadership of the man who called us to think not of our own interests, but of our country’s,” said Rawlings. “We pay tribute to an ‘idealist without illusions’ who helped build a more just and equal world … We stand in awe of a dreamer who challenged us – literally – to reach for the moon, though he himself would not live to see us achieve that goal.”
McCullough, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, quoted from JFK’s speeches and remembered him as a brilliant orator whose words inspired a generation to improve society.
“His words changed lives, changed history,” McCullough said. “He talked of all that needed to be done, of so much that mattered – equal opportunity, unity of purpose, education, the life of the mind and spirit, art, poetry, service to one’s country, the courage to move forward into the future, the cause of peace on earth … He was ambitious to make it a better world, and so were we.”
Held before more than 5,000 Kennedy admirers from Dallas and around the globe, “The 50th” honored the late President with music performed by the 60-member U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club. Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas gave the opening invocation and prayers were also offered by Rev. Zan W. Holmes Jr., Pastor Emeritus of the St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church of Dallas.
The President’s death was marked by a tolling of the bells and a moment of silence at 12:30 p.m. A planned flyover salute by the Centex Unit of the Commemorative Air Force was cancelled due to weather-related problems.
The first designated event the city of Dallas has ever held in Kennedy’s memory, “The 50th” also gave Mayor Rawlings the chance to speak about how Dallas has changed since the tragedy and how Kennedy’s legacy has inspired its citizens.
“These five decades have seen us turn civic heartbreak into hard work. They’ve seen us go from youthful invincibility to existential vulnerability, towards greater maturity as a city and a community,” Rawlings said.
“Today, because of the hard work of many people, Dallas is a different city. I believe the “New Frontier” did not end that day on our Texas Frontier. And I’d hope that President Kennedy would be pleased with our humble efforts toward fulfilling our country’s highest calling: that of providing the opportunity for all citizens to exercise those inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Rawlings said.
Hundreds of media members from around the world covered the event from a two-story press riser facing the stage. All three major U.S. broadcast networks covered the commemoration from a special location on the Commerce Street Plaza area, opposite the grassy knoll. The event was also streamed live online at www.50thHonoringJohnFKennedy.com.
“The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy” was free and open to the public, with some 5,000 tickets distributed by a random allocation process. Thousands who couldn’t get tickets watched the event on large LED video screens throughout Dallas at AT&T Plaza at American Airlines Center, Annette Strauss Square and the JFK Memorial at Founders Plaza. The event was paid for by private donations raised by individuals and foundations.
President Kennedy’s death left an immeasurable impact on anyone old enough to remember the tragic events of Nov. 22, 1963. But “The 50th” also taught younger Americans about the President’s legacy. The entire eighth grade class at Kennedy-Curry Middle School in Dallas attended the memorial after taking part in an essay-writing contest about the legacy of our nation’s 35th president.
“We want younger generations to know about President Kennedy’s vision and his important place in history,” said Ruth Collins Altshuler, Chairwoman of the 25-member committee who organized “The 50th.” The committee was made up of a broad cross-section of leaders from the Dallas business and philanthropic communities.
“I’m honored to help the city of Dallas remember a great president who inspired so many people and who continues to inspire new generations to make the world a better place,” said Altshuler.