December 20, 2018

In Memoriam: Nancy Cheney

Museum Chief Executive Officer Nicola Longford stands next to Nancy Cheney during a special event in 2005.
Museum Chief Executive Officer Nicola Longford is shown here with Nancy Cheney in 2005.

By Stephen Fagin, Curator

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza has lost a dear friend and an important part of early institutional history with the passing of Nancy Goff Cheney. A founding board member of the Dallas County Historical Foundation (which later became The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza), Nancy served a vital role as the Dallas County Historical Foundation’s direct conduit and liaison to the Kennedy family during the critical development of The Sixth Floor exhibit in the mid 1980s.

Cheney’s first encounter with John F. Kennedy took place when the young senator visited Dallas on the 1960 presidential campaign trail; three years later she and one of her daughters, Allison, watched the presidential motorcade pass by on the day of the assassination. In 1979 Allison was responsible for introducing her mother to the Kennedy family after meeting Senator Edward Kennedy at the University of Oklahoma. The Cheney family helped open Ted Kennedy’s Dallas campaign office, and Allison worked on Kennedy’s staff during his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980. At the Democratic Convention in New York City that year, the senator invited the family to visit his campaign suite at the Waldorf Astoria.

After learning of Nancy Cheney’s connection to the Kennedy family, Lindalyn Adams, a local preservation activist who was spearheading The Sixth Floor Project, briefed her on the plan to open a historical exhibition on the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository building and asked if Nancy would consider passing along information about the Dallas endeavor to Senator Kennedy. Initially, Cheney was hesitant to approach the late president’s brother about the exhibit, but out of respect for Adams, she agreed to tour the space and learn more about it. The experience changed her mind, and she immediately agreed to speak with Senator Kennedy in his Washington office.

According to Cheney’s oral history with the Museum, when she nervously broached the subject of The Sixth Floor exhibit with Ted Kennedy in his private office, the senator’s face “turned the color of a [white] sheet.” She explained that hundreds of thousands of individuals visited Dealey Plaza every year in memory of the late president with flowers and prayers, wondering “why Dallas hasn’t done something at this place to honor the president.” When she finished her presentation, Kennedy replied, “Nancy, I have all the confidence in the world in you, and if you say it’s going to be all right, I know that it will be.”

This group photo features (from left to right): Visitors Center architect Jim Hendricks, Sixth Floor exhibit designers Barbara Charles and Bob Staples, and Nancy Cheney (on the right) commemorating The Sixth Floor Museum’s 20th anniversary in February 2009.
From left, Jim Hendricks, architect of the Museum’s Visitors Center, and Sixth Floor exhibit designers Barbara Charles and Bob Staples joined Nancy Cheney to commemorate the Museum’s 20th anniversary in February 2009.

After that meeting, Cheney regularly briefed Melody Miller, the senator’s senior aide, who compiled a file for Kennedy’s perusal. Before returning to Dallas, Cheney also briefed Senator Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Stephen Smith, who volunteered to inform Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis about the planned exhibit in Dallas. When Cheney returned home, she accepted a position on the foundation’s board, and, feeling a sense of great personal responsibility because of the faith that the Kennedys had placed in her, decided “to take a very active role in the planning of the exhibit.”

In the years since the 1989 opening of The Sixth Floor, Nancy Cheney remained a good friend to our institution and a familiar face at exhibit openings and programs. Her presence here will be missed. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is grateful for her many contributions to our institutional history, and we offer our sincere condolences to her friends and family members.

September 26, 2018

Conflicting Conclusions Program to Feature Key Members of Warren Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations

Logo for The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

DALLAS, TX – September 26, 2018: The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is presenting an unprecedented event on Monday, October 29. Conflicting Conclusions: The Government Assassination Investigations will provide unique firsthand insights into the Warren Commission (1964) and the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979) reports, the two key government investigations into the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The Museum is honored to host a conversation between Howard P. Willens, Assistant Counsel on the staff of the Warren Commission, and G. Robert Blakey, Chief Counsel and Staff Director for the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations. The October 29 program will mark the first time these two highly respected members of the legal profession will sit down together to publicly discuss the context of these investigations which were conducted 15 years apart, including their findings and why questions remain still today.

“As the intense subjects of discussion and debate that continue today, these government investigations reflect the evolution of the memory and mood of the nation, from a desire for closure in the immediate aftermath of the assassination to heightened cynicism and mistrust of the government more than a decade later,” said Nicola Longford, Chief Executive Officer of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. “It is apropos that this conversation takes place at The Sixth Floor Museum, as the Museum strives to be a haven for differing perspectives, ongoing discourse and a shared journey of scholarship and discovery. The combined hearings and exhibits of these two investigations provide invaluable resources to inspire new generations of researchers toward a continued study of the Kennedy assassination.”

One week after the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson established The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. Chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren, this prestigious investigative body, commonly known as the Warren Commission, presented its Final Report to President Johnson on September 24, 1964, concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and finding no evidence of a conspiracy.

Following a wave of critical literature by independent researchers about the assassination investigation, amplified by the skepticism and social unrest of the 1960s and the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, public trust in the Warren Commission Report significantly dropped.

In 1975, the Abraham Zapruder film that captured the assassination was broadcast for the first time on network television, leading to increased interest in the circumstances surrounding the death of President Kennedy. Further fueled by revelations that government agencies had withheld information from the Warren Commission, in September 1976, the U.S. House of Representatives established the Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While several scientific studies commissioned by the House Select Committee corroborated some findings of the Warren Commission and they concurred that Oswald killed President Kennedy, acoustical analysis of a Dallas police dictabelt recording led the Committee to conclude in their Final Report issued in 1979 that the President “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

Conflicting Conclusions: The Government Assassination Investigations will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 29 on the Museum’s seventh floor. Program tickets are $25, and are available for advance purchase at jfk.org.

About Howard P. Willens

An attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department in 1963, Howard P. Willens served as Assistant Counsel on the staff of the Warren Commission. He is the author of History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (2013).

About G. Robert Blakey

A longtime law professor at Notre Dame and Cornell Law School, G. Robert Blakey was appointed Chief Counsel and Staff Director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations from 1977 to 1979. He is co-author of The Plot to Kill President Kennedy (1981).

 

Contact Information

Laurie Ivy
Marketing and Communications Manager
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
lauriei@jfk.org
Direct: 214.389.3046

About the Museum

Mission Statement: The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy; interprets the Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza; and presents contemporary culture within the context of presidential history.

Vision Statement: To be an impartial, multi-generational destination and forum for exploring the memory and effects of the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, through sharing his legacy and its impact on an ever-changing global society.

Located at 411 Elm Street in downtown Dallas, the Museum is open Monday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Audio guides for the permanent exhibit are included with admission and available in eight languages, including ASL. For more information, visit jfk.org or call 214.747.6660.

Admission: $16 Adult, $14 Senior, $13 Youth (children aged 5 and under are free).

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June 28, 2018

Rebel Spirits: The Local Story

By Stephen Fagin, Curator

The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy impacted millions around the globe, bookending for many a five-year period of violence and social unrest that began with the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Although Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy are not often associated with the Dallas/Fort Worth area, which remains so intrinsically linked to the assassination of President Kennedy after nearly fifty-five years, the lives—and deaths—of these extraordinary leaders touched the local community in unique and profound ways.

Robert Kennedy never came to North Texas after his brother’s tragic death in 1963. However, while serving as counsel to the Senate Labor Rackets Investigating Committee in 1959, Robert Kennedy spoke in Dallas at a conference of the Texas Junior Bar Association. It was his only known visit to the city.

In 1959, Dr. King visited Fort Worth and spoke to a crowd of 400 at the Majestic Theater. King’s only speech in Fort Worth was one block away from where President Kennedy would deliver his last speech at the Hotel Texas four years later. Speaking invitations brought Dr. King to Dallas four times between June 1957 and September 1966. His earliest visit, before a crowd of more than 10,000, took place at Memorial Auditorium—the same venue where Senator John F. Kennedy would speak to local supporters three years later during the 1960 presidential campaign. Dr. King also spoke at the Texas State Fair Music Hall and at Southern Methodist University, where he concluded his remarks to a standing-room-only audience by quoting the same spiritual he cited during the March on Washington: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.”

Following their assassinations in 1968, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were mourned by the local community in large and small ways. Three days after King was assassinated, an interfaith memorial service was held in his memory at the Peoples Baptist Church in Dallas on April 7, 1968. Attended by thousands, the program featured many of the same speakers who had paid tribute to President Kennedy in 1963, including Mayor J. Erik Jonsson, Rabbi Levi Olan and Reverend Louis Saunders, who had performed Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral services in Fort Worth. Prior to this official interfaith service, a group of approximately 300 marched around El Centro College in downtown Dallas in memory of Dr. King.

In Fort Worth, a wave of emotional shock and sorrow spurred concerned civic leaders to create a committee for coordinating city agencies in a unified effort to address race relations. Memorial observances were held at Texas Christian University where 300 students and faculty eulogized Dr. King and established a scholarship for an African American student in his honor. On Palm Sunday, April 7, approximately 2,000 gathered for a citywide memorial service held in the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum at TCU.

Reporting from Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated, United Press International reporter Louis Cassels briefly turned his thoughts toward Dallas, noting that the Memphis community was experiencing firsthand how Dallas felt following the death of President Kennedy. Acknowledging that “it could happen anywhere,” Cassels wrote that “it takes just one hate-filled man with a rifle to plunge a nation into tragedy and a city into shame—as Dallas learned before Memphis.”

Cassels was prophetic in the idea that violence could happen anywhere, as the assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles sadly proved just two months later, on June 5, 1968. Upon news of Robert Kennedy’s death, officials in Fort Worth set up a memorial fund to provide an avenue “for those who wanted to express their faith in the ideals of Kennedy.” In Dallas, Kennedy was memorialized at an interfaith service similar to that of Dr. King, as hundreds gathered at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral to pay their respects. Elsewhere in the community, the local chapter of sorority Theta Nu Sigma turned their scheduled Citizenship Award Banquet into a tribute to the late senator by specifically honoring African American activists. Jewel Williams, president of the organization, spoke for many in Dallas when she noted that “real mourning is a vital expression that moves people forward and pushes them into the challenges with which they live.”

These artifacts are on display as part of Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., a special temporary exhibit on the Museum’s seventh floor. Copies of the news clippings referenced above are also available for viewing at the Rebel Spirits exhibit. On view through September 3, 2018, Rebel Spirits is included with Museum general admission.

May 23, 2018

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza Announces Special Exhibit on Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

Logo for The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

DALLAS, TX – May 23, 2018:  The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will open a special temporary exhibit, Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The exhibition will close on Labor Day, September 3, 2018.

Over the course of five years, beginning with the 1963 death of President John F. Kennedy, three of the most important American leaders of the twentieth century were assassinated. This year marks fifty years since the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who died within two months of each other in the spring of 1968.

Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. showcases approximately 60 photographs that uncover the relationship between these historic figures, supplemented by a selection of artifacts from the Museum’s collections.

Robert F. Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968) and Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) were born worlds apart—culturally, geographically, racially, financially and politically—but by the time they were killed within months of each another in 1968, their worlds had come together. As their respective concerns expanded beyond civil rights and organized crime, their ties deepened to encompass shared interests in supporting the poor and opposing the war in Vietnam. This unprecedented exhibition explores the overlapping paths of their lives through images taken by some of the most renowned photojournalists of the era, including Bob Adelman, Danny Lyon, Henri Dauman, Jacques Lowe, Spider Martin, Steve Schapiro, Lawrence Schiller and Paul Schutzer.

“Senator Kennedy and Dr. King were instrumental in advancing the important work that was a pillar of President Kennedy’s agenda,” said Nicola Longford, chief executive officer of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. “These two American icons have had a lasting impact on the world. Fifty years ago, they helped shift the cultural mindset of the nation, and their quest to improve race relations and ensure civil rights for all is as relevant today as ever.”

Exhibition highlights include images of King and his son looking at the charred remains of a cross the Ku Klux Klan burned outside his Atlanta home in 1960, King’s mug shot after being indicted for the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott and Kennedy being swarmed by an adoring crowd during his 1968 presidential campaign.

The temporary exhibit will be located on the seventh floor of the Museum and is included with general admission.

 

Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. is based in part on the book The Promise and the Dream by David Margolick, published on April 4, 2018 by RosettaBooks.

In conjunction with Rebel Spirits, the Museum will offer a special public program at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 4, 2018, featuring a conversation with photojournalist/exhibit curator Lawrence Schiller and journalist/author David Margolick.

A limited number of interview time slots are available with Schiller and/or Margolick during the day on Monday, June 4. Advance notice is required; to request an interview, contact Laurie Ivy lauriei@jfk.org or 214-389-3046.

Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. was produced by Wiener Schiller Productions and is presented locally by The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The exhibition was curated by Lawrence Schiller with support from Getty Images.

 

About Lawrence Schiller

An accomplished journalist and photographer, Lawrence Schiller has documented major stories around the globe for Life, Look, Newsweek, Time and others. As an official photographer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign staff, Schiller captured iconic images of Senator Kennedy during the months prior to his assassination. Schiller also photographed Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas in November 1963 and collaborated with Norman Mailer for nearly 35 years.

About David Margolick

A longtime contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former editor at the New York Times, David Margolick writes about culture, the media and politics. Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired in part by Margolick’s newest book The Promise and the Dream, which was released on April 4, 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The book is available in the Museum’s bookstore and online at jfk.org.

Contact Information

Laurie Ivy
Marketing and Communications Manager
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
lauriei@jfk.org
Direct: 214.389.3046

 

About the Museum

Mission Statement: The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy; interprets the Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza; and presents contemporary culture within the context of presidential history.

Vision Statement: To be an impartial, multi-generational destination and forum for exploring the memory and effects of the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, through sharing his legacy and its impact on an ever-changing global society.

Located at 411 Elm Street in downtown Dallas, the Museum is open Monday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Audio guides for the permanent exhibit are included with admission and available in eight languages, including ASL. For more information, visit jfk.org or call 214.747.6660.

Admission: $16 Adult, $14 Senior, $13 Youth (children aged 5 and under are free). Entrance to Rebel Spirits is included with Museum admission.

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