This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of a truly tragic event in American history — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To commemorate this anniversary, the Briscoe Center is publishing Julian Read’s memoir, JFK’s Final Hours in Texas: An Eyewitness Remembers the Tragedy and Its Aftermath.
I know Julian as a fixture in the world of Texas politics and public affairs, and also as a passionate advocate for historical preservation. He’s been a stalwart supporter of the Briscoe Center, serving on our advisory council, and I’m proud to say his papers are part of our holdings.
Julian was press secretary for Texas Governor John Connally, who was critically injured in the presidential limousine alongside Kennedy. Read rushed to Parkland Hospital, where he found the First Lady and Nellie Connally outside the trauma rooms. Mrs. Connally relayed to Read what had occurred in the limousine; information he used in his press briefings that day. There are plenty of Texans with their own stories to tell of that November in Dallas, but few with that sort of inside seat to the crisis.
In late October the center co-hosted with the LBJ Library, “Personal Perspectives of November 22, 1963” — a panel discussion in which Julian participated along with Ben Barnes, Sid Davis, and Larry Temple. Panelists shared their memories and experiences of that day while Neal Spelce, another member of our advisory council, moderated the conversation.
Many of those who attended the event have their own recollections of the assassination. Like many of my generation, Kennedy was the first candidate who inspired my political awareness. I was a high school student when the Dallas school district granted permission for us to leave class and see the presidential motorcade. I was stranded at home with car trouble and therefore joined millions in watching Walter Cronkite’s news coverage of events.
I later had the good fortune to call Walter Cronkite a close friend. “It took us ten minutes to get a camera into the studio and warmed up,” Walter told me in an interview I conducted in 1990 when I was working with him on his memoir. “Meanwhile, we were only doing audio with a slide of the CBS logo on the screen.”
Cronkite’s papers, also at the Briscoe Center, include logs and transcripts of CBS’s live coverage. They are joined at the center by the collections of photographers and politicians present in Dallas on the day of the assassination. All these collections are open to scholars, students, and members of the public who wish to enrich their academic understanding and personal remembrance of these events. The same will be true for other collections next year when a happier anniversary is commemorated — the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History