Is Dallas still a 'City of Hate'? A filmmaker reflects 60 years after JFK's assassination
Nov. 22, 2023 is the 60th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.
Fifty years after that fateful day, local filmmaker Quin Mathews released his documentary about the shooting, "City of Hate: Dallas and the Assassination." In it, he explores what Dallas was like before JFK's death and how the tragedy impacted the city.
Next Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, and to mark the event, the J. Erik Johnson Central Library will screen Mathews’ film Saturday at 1 p.m.
Mathews spoke with KERA's Bekah Morr about how Dallas has changed since that day in November 1963.
The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You were at Dallas Love Field when the Kennedys arrived in Dallas in 1963. What was the atmosphere like? What was the energy when they landed in Dallas?
Well, you have to put it in the context of there was a lot of apprehension in Dallas. I was a child. I was 13 years old. I was still in elementary school, and even so, I was aware that there was a lot of antipathy to Kennedy. Dallas Police Chief Jesse Currie went on television. I remember watching him and he was telling people to mind their manners and, you know, we will arrest you if you do something untoward when the president comes.
So in that kind of environment, I went to Love Field with a friend and his father and the crowd was very enthusiastic. It was very crowded. A police officer told Charlie Ball, the father of my friend, 'you can't get close to him here, but go down that way by that fence.' And we went over there. There was no crowd at all. We saw the president get off the plane from a distance and you could recognize him. That was really exciting.
Then all of a sudden, this mass of people started rushing, almost running, across the cars in the parking lot toward our direction. I didn't know the president was coming, and then here came his car. And, you know, I wasn't much farther than our distance, maybe maybe six or eight feet, because he was sitting on our side of the car. He came up and I was a total geek waving my arm like crazy so much that my friend Chuck Ball looked at me and said something like, 'you look like an idiot,' which I'm sure I did. I just wanted Kennedy to know that he was welcomed here.
Was that because you had the sense that maybe he wouldn't feel welcome when he came to Dallas because of the political climate at the time?
Absolutely. You're correct. There was a lot of anti-Kennedy sentiment. I'm not saying it was dominant, but it was loud enough to dominate. I thought he was possibly in for a rough welcome and it was so exciting to see how warm the crowd was and how excited they were to see the Kennedys.
Did it feel vitriolic in Dallas? Even ahead of the Kennedys’ visit, in the late 50s, early 60s. Was there a sense that this 'city of hate' designation was already starting to form?
Yes. You know, we didn't call it that. I got the title 'City of Hate' from a letter that was written to Mayor Earl Campbell, one of dozens of letters that had the same sentiment. Yeah, I was aware of it. When Adlai Stevenson, the United Nations ambassador, was confronted, shouted down and then hit in Dallas, it ran on the CBS Evening News with Cronkite the next night. And so the spotlight was on Dallas, definitely a year before that.
So what changed? Or has anything changed? Was there a shift after the assassination where people realized that maybe they were taking things a little too far?
Well, I'm going to tell you, from my perspective — I went from loving my city, my hometown, to hating it that day. I hated Dallas. I wanted to leave. When my father came home from work, I said, ’we have to leave. We have to leave. We can't live here anymore.' And you know, he was very rational person, sort of calmed me down. But we beat ourselves up in Dallas. Definitely.
We were also defensive. We didn't kill him. You know, we don't know whether we had an influence on the assassin or not. Possibly, yes. But yeah, it went on for years. I mean, that's when being from Dallas became a stigma.
Was it a true reflection of the city? I think it was a reflection that Dallas did not want to confront things before the assassination and after the assassination. We've never really confronted, why did people call Dallas the City of Hate?
The Sixth Floor Museum, which is a wonderful historical museum — there was a lot of opposition to building a museum or even maintaining the building. I think that opposition continues. When they got Philip Johnson, the architect who designed the Kennedy Memorial, they didn't put it near Dealey Plaza. They put it like two blocks away, so it was hidden. Dallas was not confronting its past and its history.
Are we still seeing these kinds of things today creating this idea that Dallas is a city of hate, or are we trying in any way, shape or form to kind of overcome that negative perception? And I think it's Texas as a whole, not only Dallas. I think we as Texans kind of have this label that we're very politically charged, if you will.
Yeah, and it's unfair in a way. I don't think Dallas was a city filled with hate. I just think hate did exist. And I don't think Texas is a state filled with hate, but it does exist and it makes noise. I think there is a connection between what we would call the hate or let's say, extreme, loud, apparently dominating political thought that may have not been dominating 60 years ago to today, in that it's not a majority of people.
I think this is a city and state of good people. But we've had January 6th rioters come from this area, mainly Collin County. Not picking on Collin County, it's just probably more similar to what Dallas was 60 years ago than the rest of Dallas. We've had the shooter in El Paso at the Walmart who picked off 23 people, aiming at Hispanics. He was from here. He was from Collin County. We had a Dallas man who went after Asian people at the outlet mall in Allen.
So let's just assume for a moment that Oswald was the assassin — I think he was, but I don't get into that in this documentary — but whoever the assassin was, was he influenced by his surroundings? Did he see an opportunity to make a name for himself because of the surroundings? Did the shooter who went to the Allen Mall, did he see an opportunity because of an undercurrent of hate? I don't think you can dismiss that. Bad things can happen in the right political environment and I think that environment continues in different ways, not just in Dallas.
But I'm very proud of Dallas. I'm proud of our diversity, our open-mindedness. I think there's a good heart in Dallas.
Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.
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