In Dealey Plaza on Friday, during the city's observance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings gave the following speech.
Below is the copy of his speech, which can also be watched in the video player above.
Remarks by Mayor of Dallas Michael S. Rawlings
Dallas, Texas, November 22, 2013
A new era dawned and another waned a half century ago when hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas. We watched the nightmarish reality that in our front yard our President had been taken from us, taken from his family, taken from the world.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency – his life and yes, his death – seemed to mythologically usher in the next fifty years to come. What ensued was five decades filled with other tragedies, turmoil, and great triumphs.
We were all very young… our lives, our hopes and dreams in front of us. Dallas was very young as well, barely a century old. And given the nature of youth we all felt invincible.
Well, it seems that we all grew up that day, city and citizens, and suddenly we had to step up to trying to live up to the challenges of the words and visions of a beloved, yet now late president.
Our collective hearts were broken.
Like so many of us who were too young to fully comprehend, I remember being called into the school gymnasium, told the terrible news, and told to go home. Stunned civic leaders at the Trade Mart luncheon awaited a president who would never arrive. Crowds prayed outside Parkland Hospital. Traffic stopped in cities as the news spread from car to car. And the world grieved with us as word went forth.
Newspapers reported that flags were lowered to half-staff around the globe. Germans on both sides of the Berlin Wall placed lit candles in their windows. And in Africa, an eight-year-old Nigerian girl, awoken in the middle of the night with the news, proceeded to recite the entire Inaugural Address from memory, as her father wept.
While the past is never in the past, that was a lifetime ago. Now, today, we, the people of Dallas, honor the life, legacy and leadership of the man who called us to think not of our own interests, but of our country’s.
We give thanks for his life and service. We offer our condolences to his family – to his daughter, Caroline, especially – on this difficult day. We pay tribute to an “idealist without illusions,” who helped build a more just and equal world. We salute a Commander-in-Chief who stared down a nuclear threat to our country. We praise a writer who profiled true courage … and modeled it himself. We applaud a visionary who created a corps of young Americans to promote peace around the globe. We stand in awe of a dreamer who challenged us – literally – to reach for the moon, though he himself would not live to see us achieve that goal.
But other goals were even tougher – have taken longer to reach – and we, the United States, still struggle towards some even as we speak. As do we, here in Dallas.
But we are fortified by the knowledge that we have always had big goals and big aspirations in our city. Set by founding fathers like John Neely Bryan and George Dealey, the namesake of this plaza. Re-energized by Mayor Erik Jonsson, who led Dallas in the post-assassination years.
These five decades have seen us turn civic heartbreak into hard work. They’ve seen us go from youthful invincibility to existential vulnerability, towards greater maturity as a city and a community.
In a radio address on the one-year anniversary of the assassination, Levi Olan, the late rabbi of Temple-Emanu-El and one of our city’s greatest spiritual leaders, gave voice to Dallas’ communal pain unleashed on that day.
Rabbi Olan said, Quote … “Contrary to the impassioned judgment of that horrible moment, the city is not guilty of the crime.”
But in “those awesome days following the assassination … the most powerful searchlight man possesses was focused on this city… Every flaw, every raw spot, every wrinkle, and every uncleanness was put under a microscope and shown to the world.”
He continued: “The city of rich palaces and tall towers of commerce were set amidst slums and hovels. As the powerful light shown upon it, the city, it was learned, had been inhospitable to honorable debate.” … End quote
Rabbi Olan captured the heartbreak and hurt the city felt; he stated plainly the defects and failings that were laid bare before the world. But most important, he called for Dallas to use this tragedy to seek a true transformation.
Look around today, and I believe we have heeded that call. The people of this city have been filled with a sense of industry born of tragedy – driven to improve the substance of Dallas, not just the image of it.
Today, because of the hard work of many people, Dallas is a different city. I believe the “New Frontier” did not end that day on our Texas Frontier. And I’d hope that President Kennedy would be pleased with our humble efforts toward fulfilling our country’s highest calling: that of providing the opportunity for all citizens to exercise those inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The City of Dallas must continue on that course.
The man we remember today gave us a gift that must not be squandered. He and our city will forever be linked. In tragedy, yes. But out of that tragedy an opportunity was granted to us: the chance to learn how to face the future when it is darkest and most uncertain. How to hold high the torch even when the flame flickers and threatens to go out.
As the people of Dallas did then, each of us must meet our oncoming challenges head-on, with courage – honoring but not living in the past … and never flinching from the truth. We must meet the future with the same vigor, optimism and unfailing sense of duty that our young president embodied.
President Kennedy brought that message in his pocket down that street on November 22, 1963. That message was to be delivered a few miles away, in a speech to Dallas leaders following his parade. It was a speech he never got to make.
But those unspoken words resonate far beyond the life of the man. To commemorate that day and those words, we are unveiling this memorial right here in this historic plaza. It is inscribed with the last lines of that undelivered speech, and will serve as a reminder and permanent monument to President Kennedy’s memory.
I leave you with those resonant words: We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.”
That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
Ladies and gentlemen, would you join me in a moment of silence in honor of the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.