Dallas was an unusually dangerous place in the months preceding President John F. Kennedy’s November 1963 visit there. That month the Department of Defense had sent Kennedy aide Ken O’Donnell a confidential, comprehensive report on the city noting its population had recently surged to 747,000 residents primarily because of newcomers coming from rural Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. These transplant Southerners had sharpened what was already a politically and socially conservative climate. The report went on, “Dallas’s political conservatism stems from a fundamentalist religious training and years of conditioning,” William Manchester reported in “The Death of a President.” In the early 1960s, “the maturity of independent oil wealth” and recent industrialization had made the city’s climate “overtly active” and “politically militant.”
The result was a city with no requirement for firearms registration, no firearms control at all, and up till Nov. 22, 1963, a toll of 110 murders — 72 percent by gunfire. Those closest to the scene didn’t hesitate to warn Kennedy. A Dallas woman wrote Kennedy’s press aide: “Don’t let the President come down here. I’m worried about him. I think something terrible will happen to him.” U.S. Attorney H. Barefoot Sanders, the vice president’s contact in Dallas, told Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s aide the city’s political climate made the trip “inadvisable.”
But it was Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas who likely served the most clear-cut warning, Manchester wrote. The junior senator had himself felt the glow of Dallas’ hatred a year earlier when during one of his re-election campaigns he’d been the target of attacks in the Dallas Morning News, owned by radical conservative Ted Dealey. Fulbright readily admitted being afraid of Dallas and its past of political violence. Indeed, he’d turned down several invitations to visit friends there, wrote Manchester, who interviewed Fulbright in 1965. On Oct. 3, 1963, Fulbright and Kennedy spent the better part of a day together, flying to Little Rock and then to Heber Springs for the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam. During the trip and the following luncheon, Fulbright repeatedly told Kennedy Dallas was a “a very dangerous place,” adding “I wouldn’t go there” and “Don’t you go.”
Fulbright was not the only Arkansan, or person with Arkansas ties, who played roles in the events before and after the Kennedy assassination. Below are some others:
Arkansas connection: Long-time editor at the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith.
Job in November 1963: As a 27-year-old police reporter at the Fort Worth Press, Mosely was assigned to cover JFK’s arrival in Fort Worth on Nov. 21 and his speech for a rally in front of the Hotel Texas the following morning.
“My assignment on the morning of the 22nd was to get a quote from JFK that nobody else had. I figured he had to speak at this political breakfast and I figured he might have to go to the men’s room … unfortunately he didn’t have to go.” So Moseley repositioned himself in a place he knew Kennedy couldn’t avoid as he left the hotel to go to the rally.
Moseley got between two glass doors that led to the parking lot and the area where he was scheduled to give a speech in front of 10,000 people standing in a drizzling rain. As Kennedy walked through, “I grabbed his coattail,” Moseley recalled. “The Secret Service grabbed me, they pulled me, I pulled him. He read my press credentials and laughed. He said ‘Moseley, let go of my coat and you can follow me anywhere. C’mon.’”
“I guess I was probably the last reporter to physically grab a president of the United States.”
Moseley’s account of Kennedy’s last day wound up in a special, free version of the Press released that Saturday. Given an hour to complete it, he pounded out an “emotional story of small, seemingly unimportant events as the clock relentlessly ticked down to Kennedy’s rendezvous with death” he wrote decades later. “I completed the lengthy article in 45 minutes … . The story moved around the world. I’m told that more than 40 million people in this country alone read it.”
Three days later, Moseley was assigned to cover the funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald, who’d been shot by Jack Ruby on Sunday morning. The location of Oswald’s planned burial on Monday afternoon had been originally concealed by the authorities, but Moseley said his editor was able to sniff out the locale — Shannon Rose Hill cemetery in Fort Worth. He was hurriedly conscripted as one of six reporters to grab the casket and carry it up a hill to the chapel. Then it hit him: He was likely carrying the body of the man who’d killed the U.S. president. “Almost automatically, I wish I hadn’t done it,” he recalled. “I felt bad.”
On the way up the hill, Moseley lost it a little. He yelled for the casket to be tilted to confirm a body was actually in it. Up till this point, Moseley had barely gotten in any sleep in three nights and the tension was starting to eat at him. He decided he didn’t trust the authorities’ word that Oswald was in the casket since they had already tried to deceive the reporters regarding the burial site. “Nobody trusted anybody much,” he recalled.
Oswald’s family — his mother, brother, two young daughters and widow — had been kept under protective custody of the Secret Service at the nearby Inn of the Six Flags, Arlington, Texas. They arrived not long before the body was lowered into the gravesite and learned the minister who’d agreed to have chapel services never showed up. A local reverend volunteered to give a short, ad hoc eulogy.
Then “the family members crumpled clods of earth and threw it on the casket,” Moseley recalled. “As the family was walking back to the government vehicles, Marina, Oswald’s wife, was carrying their young daughter. And the little girl looked back at the grave and waved blew a kiss and said ‘Goodbye, papa.’
“That’s what I wrote my story about the next day in the Press. Here was the most hated man in the world at that particular time — I’m sure — but to a child, somebody cared about him. He was ‘papa.’ ”
Moseley retired as editor in 2001 and still lives in the Fort Smith area.
Maurice N. “Nick” McDonald
Arkansas connection: Native of Camden. Spent much of his childhood in El Dorado.
Job in November 1963: Dallas policeman.
The morning of Nov. 22 began like so many others for Nick McDonald and his locker mate at Dallas’ Oak Cliff substation, Officer J.D. Tippit. Like always, they shot the bull as they changed into their uniforms; Tippit was easy like that, light-hearted and amiable, as ready to crack a joke as take one. Soon, Tippit left on his one-man patrol for his regular District 78 in the southernmost part of the city. McDonald, age 35 and an eight-year veteran on the force, spent the next few hours on his normal patrol until a series of calls temporarily sent his world into a tailspin.
The first one alerted him to a shooting in the presidential limo. He rushed to Dealey Plaza, where he heard two dispatches: At 1 p.m., the president was announced dead; at 1:16 p.m., the governor was announced in critical condition. Then, suddenly, an unfamiliar voice hit the police radio airwaves: “A policeman has just been shot! He is lying in the street and looks like he is dead. I am a citizen using his radio.”
Police dispatcher: “Where are you?”
“We are at Tenth and Patton. This is car number 10!”
“I was stunned, dumbfounded, and shocked. I felt the blood drain from my body and a cold chill ran up my spine. I knew that J.D. Tippit was driving car number 10,” McDonald wrote in his autobiography “Oswald and I.”
McDonald asked his supervisor to be assigned to the hunt for Tippit’s unknown assailant and as he raced to the scene, his radio crackled: “Be on the lookout for a white male, in his twenties, five feet six inches, one hundred-sixty pounds, wearing a light colored jacket or shirt, dark trousers, slender build, armed with a pistol. Last seen running south from Tenth and Patton.” A few minutes later, another report: A suspicious person had run into the Texas Theatre and was hiding in the balcony. McDonald was mere blocks away.
McDonald entered the theater through the back, where a witness pointed him in the direction of the suspect. Peering through exit curtains, McDonald saw him seated in the rear of the main floor, three rows from the partition of the lobby, second chair from the right center aisle. He, like the 10 to 15 other patrons at this double-bill Friday matinee showing of the “Cry of Battle” and “War is Hell,” was nonchalantly staring at the screen.
McDonald went with a deceptive tact, slowly starting to walk in the suspect’s direction but all the while acting more concerned with searching the other men in the audience. He slowly approached his area, keeping the suspect in the corner of his eye, until at the last second he quickly turned and stepped into his aisle yelling “Get on your feet!” The suspect’s hands were empty, folded in his lap. “He stood slowly facing the movie screen. Turning his head to me, we were face-to-face. I stared directly into his eyes. In attempting to conceal his guilt, his expression changed to surprise and innocence like that of a child.” The suspect started raising his hands — it appeared he had given up — and McDonald reached toward his waist for a weapons check. Then suddenly, the suspect balled his left fist and rocked McDonald between the eyes.
The blow momentarily knocked McDonald back, but he was able to pull it together quickly enough to slow the suspect as he grabbed a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver from his waist and started to raise it to McDonald’s chest. In a flash, McDonald jammed the skin between his left thumb and forefinger under the pistol’s firing pin as the suspect pulled the trigger. “Bracing myself, I stood rigid, waiting for the bullet to penetrate my chest. Somehow, the miracle of my strength impeded the action of the cylinder and the hammer.”
Within seconds, McDonald punched the suspect over his left eye and knocked him back into his seat, where he was able to wrest the gun away. For a moment, as he pushed the muzzle into the suspect’s stomach, McDonald considered firing but decided fatal force was no longer necessary. Besides, “I was also afraid that if I did shoot him the bullet might go through him, through the back of the seat and hit one of the officers who had come to my aid.”
They handcuffed the suspect and led him to daylight. On their way out, “I heard him using obscenities and making accusations of police brutality. He was saying, ‘That policeman hit me! Don’t hit me anymore! Why am I being arrested? I haven’t done anything!’” McDonald sat in the silent, empty theater, nose and lips bloody, tiny drops of blood trickling from a four-inch cut on his left cheek. He tried to regain composure. It wasn’t until later, at police headquarters, he learned the suspect’s name was Lee Harvey Oswald.
After leaving the theater, McDonald passed Tenth and Patton where his lockermate had been shot. He saw Tippit’s drying blood pooled in the street. “This was too much; I was trying to hold back the tears as I drove to headquarters, but I was too sad and had that terrible, empty, remorseful feeling. I felt I knew what our whole country was experiencing at that very moment.”
McDonald and his wife, Rose, retired in 1980 and moved to Hot Springs. Nick McDonald died in 2005.
Here’s a link to the original police report he signed.
Arkansas connection: North Little Rock native, longtime commercial and video film business owner in Little Rock.
Job in 1963: Photographer for United Press International news agency and Dallas Times-Herald
The 24-year-old Allen was one of the first wire service photographers to be assigned to Dallas’ Dealey Plaza after JFK was shot in his limo there. He “started making pictures at the grassy mound and the outside of the Texas School Book Depository where some suspicious transients were standing,” Bob McCord wrote for the Arkansas Times. “ ‘We later learned that at that time Lee Harvey Oswald [a depository employee], was still in the building’ … . Hours later, when the police had searched the building and found Oswald’s rifle, Allen and other journalists were allowed to go inside up to the sixth floor, where he made pictures that went around the world of the window where Oswald had fired his rifle.”
Allen, who knew Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, took photos of Ruby’s apartment the day he shot Oswald. That assignment led to him becoming ensnared in an offshoot “conspiracy” that caused him to fear for his life, he told SYNC.
Allen is retired and today lives in Little Rock.
Liz Carpenter never lived in Arkansas, but her and her husband’s name were well known to Arkansans in this era. She and her husband, Leslie Carpenter, were Texas political journalists who moved to Washington D.C. in the early 1940s and founded the Carpenter News Bureau, which provided a wire service for 18 newspaper clients in the South and Southwest, including the Arkansas Gazette. At one point, the couple primarily worked for the Gazette and Tulsa Tribune.
In 1960, Carpenter was recruited by then U.S. Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson to help with his vice presidential campaign. At the same time, Arkansan Willie Allen was working in Austin. They had known each other from the political circuit and Carpenter trusted Allen enough to give him exclusive access to Johnson in 1960-61 and, occasionally, a first-hand glimpse of how much the new president and vice president despised each other. Allen recalled being on the scene one day when Kennedy arrived at Johnson’s Texas ranch to go deer hunting with him. “He got out the back of the limousine, and LBJ went up to shake his hand. He said ‘Good to see you, Jack.’ And [Kennedy] said, ‘Good to see you, if you’d take off that damn cowboy hat.’ So that’s pretty much an indication of what he considered LBJ was — a cowboy, and that was about it.”
Carpenter was four or five cars down from President Kennedy in the motorcade on that fateful day in Dallas. Later, on Air Force One, she penned the first words President Johnson would read to the nation following the assassination. Around this time, her husband was working on an article about Johnson that would appear on the front page of the Nov. 23 issue of the Gazette. Liz Carpenter died in 2010.
Watch a video of Liz Carpenter being interviewed on the assassination.
The following Arkansans were not in Dallas during Kennedy’s November, 1963 trip to Texas but nonetheless they have played roles in Kennedy’s legacy after the assassination.
Arkansas connection: As a U.S. Army major general, was in command of the 101st Airborne Division, the paratroopers sent by President Dwight Eisenhower to Little Rock Central High School in Sept. 1957.
Job in November 1963: Self-employed rabble rouser
Few individuals swing from one end of history to another in as short of time as Walker. In 1957, the native Texan’s job was to shepherd the president’s executive order enforcing the integration of Little Rock Central High. He helped make sure the Little Rock Nine students were protected from both from the vicious, racist mobs outside the school and spiteful students within it. Over the next five years, though, Walker became an outspoken critic of the U.S. government and extreme anti-communist. He conflated liberalism and socialism and came to view the federal government as an extension of a vast communist conspiracy. He chose to resign in November 1961 instead of waiting to retire. Going that route, he passed up retirement pay equal to $12,000 a year in 1961 dollars. To accept retirement benefits, he said, “would be a compromise with my principles.”
By the following fall, Walker was protesting the integration of Ole Miss and what he saw as an infringement of state rights. He spouted things like this: “This is the conspiracy of the crucifixion by anti-Christ conspirators of the Supreme Court in their denial of prayer and their betrayal of a nation.” Walker was ordered to undergo psychiatric testing and arrested on a federal warrant charging him with insurrection and seditious conspiracy (the charges were later dropped).
Walker made Dallas his headquarters for his anti-government movement. He founded a group which contributed to the extremist climate Dallas became increasingly known for in the early 1960s. Indeed, his group was one of two organizations, along with the Indignant White Citizen’s Council, that planned to protest during JFK’s visit. Apparently, though, those plans fell through as Walker traveled out of state on Nov. 21, 1963. He died in 1993.
Carter, a native of Rector, was a Secret Service agent who completed his advanced training in D.C. the day JFK died. Carter was assigned to President Lyndon Johnson during the four days of the funeral, and also accompanied the slain president’s body to the Capitol, the funeral and Arlington Cemetery. He was also assigned to the Warren Commission to investigate Lee Harvey Oswald’s psychological profile and personal history. He read ballistics reports, interviewed Jack Ruby and guarded the hotel room of the gunman’s widow, according to this recent interview in Tennessee.
Carter will is giving a talk about his Secret Service past and varied career since then at Oxford American’s South on Main restaurant at 5 p.m. Nov. 22.
Now a criminal justice professor at UALR, in the 1990s Montague was based in Washington D.C. working in various federal investigation capacities. From 1995 to 1997, he worked as a senior investigator in charge of the investigative unit of the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board. That independent federal agency, composed of about 30 people, focused on studying evidence related to Kennedy’s death in the wake of the controversial film “JFK.” The agency didn’t have a mandate to make a conclusion regarding a culprit but did have the legal authority “to determine what is or is not an assassination-related record,” Montague said.
Montague is writing about his experiences on the board in “The Eyes of the Investigator,” the working title of a book slated to publish by spring 2014. From Wednesday through Sunday this week, he will be in Dallas to speak at a conference of The Coalition on Political Assassinations. When asked whether the evidence he has seen supports Oswald as the lone culprit, Montague said he walked away from his JFK work in 1997 questioning how one person could have pulled off what was a very detailed and complicated killing. “I don’t understand that. I’m not trying to say that Oswald wasn’t involved. I’m just saying, ‘How could one person have done that?’”
When you consider the North Little Rock entrepreneur owns more photos (upwards of 200 million) than anyone, anywhere, it’s not too surprising to learn he also has one of the largest photo collections of JFK and his family in the world (more than 26,000). Last March, Rogers showcased some of these exclusive pictures at a JFK commemoration series and photo exhibition in downtown North Little Rock.
Check out video of “JFK at 50” in Argenta pictures