Dealey Plaza: The Front Door of Dallas

All Exhibits

Change of Focus

"A Tormented Town"

"We were categorized as a City of Hate… I dislike that phrase a lot because City of Hate was not only not descriptive of what we were, it was descriptive of the very thing we were not."

J. Erik Jonsson, civic leader and former mayor of Dallas
August 17, 1992
Oral History Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, Dallas’ pride in her civic center was in jeopardy. The proud cradle of the city’s history was suddenly transformed into a murder site recognized around the world.

Public opinion polls indicated that more than 80 percent of Americans had indicted "the people of Dallas" for the crime. Eighty-six percent of Dallas locals reported feeling shame that the event happened here. Joe M. Dealey, grandson of the community builder, expressed his heartfelt reaction to a reporter, "We are a tormented town." A state judge added: "The eyes of the world are upon us and they will be looking with a critical stare."

Robert Russell Collection

After the shooting, Dallas residents were harassed. Operators disconnected long-distance calls and restaurants refused service. In Pennsylvania, a gas station attendant threw a fistful of coins in a Texas driver’s face. In Detroit, a Dallas man was ejected from a cab, and in Europe, foreigners exclaimed when introduced to a Dallas history professor, "Oh, you’re from Dallas? That’s where they kill presidents."


"Please Forgive Us"

"When I got there, the whole place was covered with wreaths and cards and flowers. I was amazed. The knoll was covered with these wreaths, floral designs, and…I walked through this field of memories and read them... it was a very emotional, kind of wonderful, sad peace."

Ike Pappas
Former WNEW New York radio reporter
March 1, 1993
Oral History Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

By the next afternoon, Dallas citizens began to bring flowers to Dealey Plaza. Pinned on a spray of carnations, a card apologized:

We love You-
Please Forgive us-
The Ted Wilson Family

"God forgive us all," begged another.

A nine-year-old Dallas girl wrote in red crayon: "I’m sorry Caroline and John John. Forgive us."

Thousands of people passed the displays; guards were assigned to watch over the site. These acts marked Dealey Plaza’s transformation into a memorial to the fallen president.

Steve Watson, photographer

A Fitting Tribute

"The decent thing to do is let some time elapse."

J. Erik Jonsson
Civic leader and future mayor of Dallas
November 1963

Seven years passed before the Dallas community finally dedicated a memorial to JFK, but it was not in Dealey Plaza or the former Texas School Book Depository building. The monument, designed by Philip Johnson as a cenotaph—an open, empty tomb—was erected two blocks east of the assassination site in a new park called John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. A dedication ceremony was held on June 24, 1970.

It was the millions of visitors, not the community, who turned Dealey Plaza into a site of commemoration. After the tragedy, the park offered pedestrians a dramatic setting for quiet reflection.

For about 20 years, semiformal ceremonies marked the anniversary of the assassination in Dealey Plaza. After 1983, the city and county honored the Kennedy family’s request to encourage citizens to celebrate the President’s birthday on May 29, rather than his death. Still, people spontaneously gather in Dealey Plaza every year on November 22.