The Vault

In A Prophetic Letter, A Dallas Citizen Begged JFK Not To Visit

The Vault is Slate’s history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This letter, from Dallas resident Nelle Doyle to White House press secretary Pierre Salinger, would come to seem eerily prophetic after the events of November 22, 1963.

As Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio, authors of a book on Dallas politics in 1963, write, Dallas was a hotbed of right-wing activism in the early 1960s. The city had strong historical ties to the KKK; in the 1920s, Dallas had the highest per-capita rate of KKK membership in the country. In the 50s and 60s, resistance to school integration and civil rights catalyzed rightist sentiment in the city.

Dallas was also home to Edwin A. Walker, a one-time general in the Army whose involvement with the ideology of the anti-communist John Birch Society and vocal opposition to Kennedy intensified after his discharge. Reverend W.A. Criswell, pastor of the powerful Dallas First Baptist Church, campaigned against Kennedy on the basis of his Catholicism during the 1960 election. And the Dallas Morning News, the largest newspaper in the state, was consistently conservative in its editorial coverage, attacking the NAACP, running editorials by prominent red-hunters, and commemorating the Confederacy in the name of “states’ rights.”

The “attack upon Ambassador Adlai Stevenson” that Doyle mentions happened on October 24, 1963, when Stevenson, then the United States envoy to the United Nations, spoke at the Memorial Auditorium Theater. Time reported that “scattered hecklers hooed and booed” throughout his speech (this YouTube clip records that heckling at 0:20). When Stevenson left the venue and tried to wend his way through the anti-United Nations protestors outside, he stopped to speak with one woman, Cora Lacy Fredrickson, who hit him on the head with her placard

Salinger wrote back to Doyle on November 8, and while “appreciating” her letter, added: “I think it would be a most unhappy thing if there were a city in the United States that the President could not visit.”

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.