It is well known that on November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a presidential motorcade. The tragedy has been investigated by government committees, analyzed by historical scholars, questioned by conspiracy theorists, and portrayed countless times in television and film. There is no doubt that Kennedy’s death had a profound, lasting effect on American culture and politics.
What is discussed far less often is the effect the assassination had on the city in which it occurred: Dallas. This growing metropolis in northeast Texas had already been grappling with a negative reputation before the President’s limousine rolled through Dealey Plaza. Years of right-wing extremist activity had earned it the nickname “the city of hate" from its critics. Kennedy’s assassination simply confirmed to much of the world that Dallas was a bad place.
In order to combat the declining public opinion towards his community, Dallas’s new mayor, J. Erik Jonsson, recognized that the city needed a transformation. A year after the assassination in November 1964, in an Associated Press article published throughout the country, Jonsson said, “The great tragedy caused by a stranger in our town renewed our dedication to the goal of balance.” He admitted that Kennedy’s death “forced a certain pattern of self-examination” in Dallas.
To help Dallas in its self-examination, Mayor Jonsson created an ambitious plan. Called "Goals for Dallas,” it was a series of both short and long-term development strategies aiming to reinvigorate the city’s infrastructure, cultural institutions, economy, and, ultimately, its reputation.
A film titled To Shape a City from Hagley’s Chamber of Commerce of the United States collection defines and promotes the Goals for Dallas initiative. Scenes showing the city skyline, cheerful residents, and political task force meetings are accompanied by a booming voiceover from a young Charlie Van Dyke (credited as Charles Steinle) encouraging citizens to participate at every level of the program. The final two minutes feature Mayor Jonsson himself appealing directly to the viewer, motivating all Dallas residents to care for the future of their community:
Quotes by Dallas Mayor Erik Jonsson from The Odessa [Texas] American, 22 Nov 1964 and a video titled: “November 22, 1964 - Dallas Mayor J. Erik Jonsson - One year later” via YouTube
Ona Coughlan is the Audiovisual Digitization Archivist at the Hagley Library