Days prior to the President’s arrival on November 22, 1963, thousands of posters and leaflets were distributed around Dallas by members of the John Birch Society. That morning, three local businessmen had taken out a full-page “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas” ad in the Dallas Morning News, accusing him of being both a communist sympathizer as well as anti-Christian. When an aide showed President Kennedy the ad and flyer on the 13-minute flight from Fort Worth to Dallas, he is said to have shaken his head in disgust and remarked “We’re going into nut country now.” The President had a little more than one hour to live.
Recently, as I listened to a few of Donald Trump’s supporters discussing his statements on “seeing hundreds and perhaps thousands of Muslims cheering in the streets of Jersey City when the towers fell,” I thought of a conversation with my father. At the time of the shooting, Dad was a 30-year-old priest and principal of an Episcopal Church and mission school in an inner city Dallas community.
For me, two things still stand out from that conversation almost thirty years later. Number one is Dad’s pained recollection of making communion visits on the evening of the assassination and witnessing celebrations in the streets of downtown Dallas outside bars and related establishments. One bar was even offering free drinks.
The second is this statement by him: “If the President was going to be killed anywhere in America, then Dallas would have either been at the top of the list or damn near. The racial hostility was just that thick in Dallas.”
I think it is safe to say that those celebrating in the streets of Dallas on the evening of that historic day were not Muslims. Rather, they were white, southern, racist, self-proclaimed Christians, many of whom were in church less than 48 hours later lustily singing Christian hymns of the church. No doubt they also called themselves proud Americans.
Indeed, the acts of bigotry by proud Americans who justify their racism and hide behind the veil of religion did not begin nor end with the events of November 22, 1963. For example, religion was used to justify slavery. In March 2014, Fred Ancona, Imperial Wizard of the Traditional American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, stated, “We don’t hate people because of their race. We are a Christian organization.” On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylan Roof murdered nine people during Bible study at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Just as we should not condemn any race or ethnicity for the actions of a few, nor should an entire religion be condemned because of the actions of some. Do I believe that there were some Muslims celebrating on 9/11? Absolutely. However, I also believe that the vast majority of Muslims worldwide were in pain as was I. Similarly, I do believe that the majority of Dallas residents mourned the killing of the President. Only a few did not.
Austin R. Cooper, Jr., Principal, Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc., Washington, D.C.