Dallas and its Historic Connection to the Religious Right
Minutaglio is currently a professor of writing at the University of Texas. He is an expert on race issues and tends to describe Dallas in the early sixties as a center for Jim Crow advocacy. He ties together Dallas events in historical perspectives I have not found before. I was not aware that just before the election of JFK there was an embarrassing event in Dallas that impacted the nation. LBJ and Lady Bird had come to Dallas to promote electing the Democratic ticket. They were set upon by a famous crowd of so- called mink coat women. Wealthy Dallas women screamed insults at Johnson and his wife. Lady Bird was spit on and feared for her life at the hands of an angry mob. Johnson lamented it was not safe to walk down the street with your lady it appears. The scene was filmed and broadcast around the nation happening just before the election. Millions saw and were horrified at the scenes and some experts claim it caused many fence sitting electors to turn toward the Kennedy/Johnson ticket. Nixon attributed the loss of Texas to a far right congressman in the GOP who became a huge embarrassment. The Congressman represented the Dallas area.
Dallas Morning News publisher Ted Dealey is another case in point. The editor was a staunch supporter of far right ideology. He was a segregationist and believed JFK was a socialist. There is an historic encounter between Kennedy and Dealey at the Whitehouse. Dealey's accusations against JFK were so extreme even far right editors in the nation take the editor to task for his harsh language he used in the presence of the President. Dealey believed integration was a Communist plot. He editorialized that Brown vs. the Board of Education was wrongly decided by the court. Segregated schools were best for the nation. Dallas was the last major city in the nation to finally integrate public schools. After the reprimand by some editors over what Dealey said in D.C., he sent a note to his bureau chief in the city. It said, "Regards to you and all the other folks in nigger town."
The city of Dallas embraced the Joseph McCarthy movement. Many of its leading citizens were John Birch Society members. Robert Morris, the famous attorney who was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy was invited to become President of Dallas University. When James Meredith, a Korean War veteran who was black, tried to enroll in Ole Miss, the Dallas paper drew grave affection from its readers by condemning the plot by the Kennedys to inflict their views on the South. An early forerunner to Russ Limbaugh, Dan Smoot enjoys a daily program sponsored by Dallasite H.L. Hunt and his fortune. Smoot often warns listeners that Kennedy's drive toward a one world government is a threat to national security. He notes something must be done to stop Kennedy. The book helps set the groundwork for understanding the climate in Dallas at this time.
Prior to the fateful journey of JFK to Dallas, months before the visit, Adlai Stevenson has a scary visit to the city. A prominent Jewish family from Dallas had invited Stevenson to speak about the United Nations. Stevenson was ambassador to the U.N. at the time. He is set upon by angry protestors, spit upon, and hit on the head by a lady swinging an anti- Stevenson sign. He fears for his life and is angered by such a volatile and ignorant representation of the city population. He warns Kennedy not to go to Dallas thinking it not safe for him to be there. City fathers are embarrassed by the Stevenson events much like they were the assaulting of Lady Bird. There is a growing fear the city will lose business because vendors will find the citizens in the city too extreme. Stevenson is called a traitor by the angry mob. Meanwhile, segregationist governor George Wallace visits Dallas and finds a receptive audience.
The famous ad taken out in the Dallas Morning News is another example of the city climate. The Hunt family and John Birch Society members purchase a full page ad attacking Kennedy and advocating he is wanted for treason for several events listed in the ad. The ad is bordered by ink that is used in death notices. It is the famous ad JFK showed Jackie and told her they were headed into nut country. Editor Dealey approved the ad, even though there was a growing fear that something might happen to Kennedy after what happened to Stevenson. Racial tensions were so hostile in Dallas, when Kennedy came to town, his staff refused to allow their Black member of the administration to come with the team. I now have a better understanding of why Johnson was so terrified after Kennedy is shot.
After the Dallas visit the presidential team was to travel to Austin for a final speech. LBJ had all ready planned on what to say when he introduced the President. The event, that never took place, had Johnson introducing the President with these words, "And thank God, Mr. President, that you came out of Dallas alive." Immediately after the assassination the Dallas police office is flooded with phone calls from distraught and weeping women. The women are sobbing that they are sure their husband killed the President.
Upon hearing about the loss of his President, Kennedy's senior aid Timothy Reardon, exploded with these words. "Three years ago you assaulted Senator Johnson. Last month, you spit on and broke a sign over the head of Governor Stevenson. And today, you killed our president...What kind of people are you? ...You can take your stinking city and your stinking state and secede from the union..."
Dallas had an embarrassing connection to the Klan until city businessmen advocated they distance the citizens from the organization.....fearing it would harm business. Future Supreme Court Judge Thurgood Marshal was once chased by the chief of police in Dallas with his police gun drawn swearing at Marshal telling the civil rights leader to get out of town. The author notes the disdain for FDR and his new deal in this Texas city. Economic advisors in Dallas believed the New Deal was Socialism and one step closer to Communism.
There were many right wing organizations in the city. Typical of gatherings is the one mentioned by the author that drew a huge crowd. It hosts a visiting tape from Ronald Reagan. Reagan notes that the progressive income tax was spawned by Karl Marx. There were even circles in Dallas where the far right was accused of being Communist.
W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church is featured in the book. Criswell's noted link to hard right politics and segregation are well known among historians. Minutagilo places Criswell in the power structure that fuels the anti-Kennedy sentiment in the area. Criswell's famous sermon denouncing the election of a Catholic President is mentioned as laying a type of local hysteria regarding the Kennedy Presidency. After the assassination, Criswell preaches a sermon blaming Communism for the slaying. He never mentions the fact that one of his members will leave town to escape the hostility of grieving citizens. It is the member who is blamed for creating a climate that led to the death of the young President. Criswell teams up with a church member who is known as the wealthiest man in the world. His name is H.L. Hunt. Dr. Criswell baptized the older Hunt into his church. The author notes that Hunt never ceased his womanizing nor habitual gambling after joining the church. At his funeral, Criswell called Hunt "Mr. Golden heart." Criswell was well known for his segregationist views. He once boasted he would not allow blacks to join his church. Hunt was welcome, but black folks better apply to another congregation. Speaking of integrationists Criswell said, "They are not our folks. They are not our kind. They don`t belong to the same world in which we live...There are people who are trying to force upon us a situation and a thing that is a denial of all that we believe in." JFK actually went to Houston to respond to Criswell's sermon attacking Kennedy that was mailed out to every church in Texas. The funding for the project came from Hunt money. When Kennedy went to Houston to respond to accusations he would be controlled by the Vatican, Criswell was not present. The Baptist preacher said he would like to have come but had an important meeting with Nixon. Criswell noted if Kennedy is a sorry Catholic he should get out of the church. If he is a good Catholic he should not be President.
Dallas Morning News publisher Dealey, Dr. Criswell and Richard Nixon were all close to one another. The connection of these three men in a solidly Democratic state is a symbol of the politics of Dallas. It was different. It is home to the farthest to the right Congressman in the nation at this time. The Sunday morning sermon Criswell preaches before Kennedy comes to town is insightful. Criswell preaches a sermon glorifying Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Criswell notes his church is like the Confederacy. Fighting to preserve all that is grand in the nation. To Criswell, Kennedy represents a far left agenda and Civil Rights that is a direct assault on Christian values. Another prominent member of Criswell's church is head of Texans for Nixon.
Any story about Dallas and the Religious Right has to contain something about H.L. Hunt. Hunt published a book named Alpaca. In the book the author wrote about a utopian society where wealthy men had more voting power than the middle class. Poor people were not allowed to participate in this ideal society. Right wing organizations often came to town seeking the blessing or money from H.L. Exposure from his radio programs provided an audience and revenue for right seeking politicians and authors. The author noted Hunt hated black people. He was particularly offended that a black person carried as much voting power as he did.
Hunt was an early opponent of government medical programs. He hated Medicare thinking it would create government death panels. A reminder of right wing warnings about Obama care being devised to liquidate older citizens. Hunt warned that Medicare would make the President a medical czar with life-death choices delegated to the commander in chief.
To me the books most intriguing story is the legacy of the notorious General Edwin A. Walker. His epic life story almost appears too hard to believe. Walker, a decorated World War II General, also served in the Korean conflict. Walker later on gets into hot water with Presidents because of his involvement in right wing politics. Walker starts accusing everyone of being Communists. He even doubts the credentials of President Eisenhower. Walker has his command taken from him because he refuses to back off of his McCarthy-like activities.
* Walker, a Texan, enters into the American pop culture scene by activities in Little Rock. Central High school, an all white school, is forced by the courts to admit black students. Arkansas Governor Fawbush refused a court order to allow black students to attend Central. He surrounds Little Rock with state national guard troops to protect his prize. Eisenhower intercedes and sends in Federal troops to force the decree from the court onto the state. General Walker is solicited to be in charge of the federal troops. Walker hates this job and believes it beneath him to force the high school to bring in Black students. Walker is an advocate for segregation and resents being forced to uphold something he despises.....integration.
* It is hard to make up stories like this, but truth is stranger than faction. Believed to be a champion for Civil Rights, Walker only does the job as commanded by the President. A president he does not like. Walker moves to Dallas which is a home base to right wing propaganda. He likes Hunt's programs and hates the Kennedys.
* Walker volunteers to go to Ole Miss where James Meredith is seeking to enter the school as its first Black student. Not only does Walker vocalize his disgust at the attempt by Meredith, he even helps instigate events that some believe turn into the bloody riots that erupted there. Armed men from around the nation travel to Mississippi to support Walker and participate in the violence at Oxford. He hates the Kennedys and believes they are using integration to force socialism and ultimately Communism on Americans. Walker led some of his volunteers to beat up an Episcopalian priest who happens to be in Oxford in support of Meredith. Newsmen and other citizens are also beaten in the riot.
* Walker has a noted following in Dallas and holds several rallies. He decides to seek the Presidency and wants to unseat JFK. His hatred of the Kennedys is notorious and his rallies are notorious for inflammatory statements. He tries to be elected governor of Texas but does not finish very high among the Democrat candidates in the race. Avid South Carolina segregationist, Senator Strom Thurmond, works with Walker and promotes his agenda. Walker even travels to Mississippi to visit imprisoned Klan member, Byron Beckwith. Beckwith is the man accused of gunning down Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers. Beckwith is the man played by James Wood in the film starring Alec Baldwin titled Ghosts Over Mississippi. Governor Barnett is the leader of the segregation movement in Mississippi. Even the right wing governor wants to distance himself from Walker who is known for his extremist statements.
* By now the reader might be wondering if this legendary historical figure's story is believable. It gets even more bazaar. After the riot in Mississippi, Walker jumps in a car with Texas segregationist politician J. Evetts Haley to travel back to Dallas. The Kennedys find out Walker was connected to the violence and seek to file charges against the general. Walker ends up in Parkland Hospital in Dallas to undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is fit to stand trial. This, of course, is the same hospital that in a few years in the same week will be the place Kennedy and Oswald will be pronounced dead. The Kennedy family is so incensed at the vile statements they find leveled at them by Walker, they rejoice in the chance to take him to court over what happened in the tragic episode in Mississippi.
* During these times Walker hooks up with the founder of the modern Religious Right,
Reverend Billy Hargis. Hargis and Walker share a common bond in the fear of Communism, hatred of Democrats, and the belief that integration is a plot devised by Communists to destroy America.
* Walker and his friends have connections to extremist statements. One interesting story was the event he traveled to and reporters asked him to comment on the recommended reading he had proposed for the nation. It was discovered Walker was promoting or denouncing books he had never even read. With this discovery about his scholarship, some in the nation started backing away from the general.
* When Walker heard that Kennedy was coming to town he decided to leave. He feared that if anything happened to JFK he would be the one blamed for the tragedy. He left town to be in New Orleans with a notorious racist named Judge Perez. Perez claimed Negroes were animals right out of the jungle. He even tried to harass and punish white parents who sent their children to integrated schools. After the discovery of the assassination Walker asked all the people on board the airplane he was flying on to sign a document stating he was with them during the murder of the President.
* There is another ironic twist to his story. He is the general Oswald attempted to kill. Oswald walked up on Walker's house in the dark. Standing in the alley, he fired the same weapon used to kill Kennedy at Walker. That's right, he tried to kill the arch enemy of JFK. If this makes no sense, it is just Oswald, he tended to make little sense in his actions. The bullet just missed Walker and grazed his arm. As fate would have it, Oswald hit his target with the President, but missed his attempt on a man who was the enemy of Kennedy. On the day of the assassination, Walker had journeyed to Louisiana to speak at a White Citizen's Council rally. He was asked, when news got out about of the President's death, if he was going to cancel his speaking engagement. He responded, "Hell no."
* Walker shared another bond with Hargis. His sexual attraction to men. Several men spend the night at the home of the general, who never married. The last public record we have of Walker's newsworthy actions was his arrest twice for soliciting sex from undercover male police officers.
I had often wondered about who the man was that Oswald tried to kill before he shot Kennedy. Readers who are interested in the Religious Right need to pick up Dallas 1963. It more than adequately defines the building blocks of the modern movement. The epic event that defined a period of history in Dallas 1963.
Dallas and its Historic Connection to the Religious Right | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)
Dallas and its Historic Connection to the Religious Right | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)