By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
She does it way better than I did. I don't even want to say how long ago. We're talking late '70s. Barely 15 years after the assassination, I was newly arrived in town, a Yankee carpetbagger. Young. Some Yankee friends were in town for some kind of newspaper convention. I believe drink may have been involved.
They wanted to see where it happened. We all went down to Dealey Plaza some time after midnight. The sleazy assassination "museum" across the street, a tourist trap, was closed. There was no marker, no mention anywhere in the plaza itself. No X yet.
Tourists came during the day, stolidly ignored by the locals. They had to guess where the X was. The grainy-autopsy-photo vendors hadn't even discovered Dealey Plaza yet.
We decided to reenact it. We arranged ourselves out in the lanes of Elm Street. The streets were silent as a tomb. My friend, Ladd Neuman, was Kennedy. Others were Jackie, the Connallys, the driver, the Secret Service agents. Someone was Oswald, hiding behind a sapling. We moved slowly in unison with our knees and waists bent so our heads were at convertible-seat level, bent-walking down Elm until we got to about where the X is now.
Oswald shouted, "Bang! Bang! Bang!"
Neuman threw his head back.
I think if Sherman Hopkins had seen it, he would tell a different story today about the most morbid thing he ever saw in Dealey Plaza. We thought we were funny. For a minute.
A glistening black car, the size of Kennedy's limo, purred slowly down Elm and rolled to a stop right next to us. A tinted rear window rolled down, and an old man with white hair leaned forward. In the musically genteel accent of old upper-class Texas, he said, "Do you boys not have anything better to do with yourselves tonight?"
We froze. I was ashamed of myself. Standing there like an oaf in the street, I felt naked. But it was not a good naked. That was the first time I heard even a whisper of the pain of this place for Dallas. The man in the car shrugged. The window rolled up, and the big black car rolled off into the night.
I'm not sure people elsewhere knew, or remembered, or really understood that Dallas was blamed. And no one else would have a way of knowing what it felt like.
William Manchester, in his 1967 book, Death of a President, pointed the bony finger of blame not just at Dallas in general but specifically at the Morning News, using the George Bannerman Dealey Memorial at Dealey Plaza as his metaphor:
"But if you really want a proper perspective of the Dealey Memorial," Manchester wrote, "the northeast window on the sixth floor of the warehouse is incomparable."
For Manchester, the George Bannerman Dealey Memorial was a monument to extremism and the people who fanned its flames in Dallas. It would be comforting now to dismiss all of that as passion of the times. But when I interviewed the late Stanley Marcus in 1985, he was not willing to let his beloved hometown off the hook quite that softly.
Marcus said to me: "I remember also that, following the assassination, there was a great desire on the part of the leadership to cope with the situation. The word 'cope' was the way to describe it. And everyone was saying, 'Well, it could have happened anywhere.'
"Of course that was true. But it did happen here, and it happened partially because of the atmosphere that attracted that kind of fanatic nut. And when a community doesn't do anything to express disapprobation, it is logical that it will attract more and more of them."
In the atmosphere in this country since the election of Barack Obama, Marcus' words about the climate in Dallas before November 22, 1963, should be especially chilling. The real conspiracies of history are not overt. They're much more about permission. We give permission for horrors by withholding our disapprobation.
In a joint appearance on national television in 1984 former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and the late cosmetics titan Mary Kay Ash proposed that the School Book Depository Building be demolished and all memory of the Kennedy assassination scrubbed from Dealey Plaza.
Instead, Dallas devoted a decade of difficult effort to creating the award-winning Sixth Floor Museum in the Book Depository Building. Today Dallas suffers the presence of the grainy-autopsy-photo vendors outside the building as if they were stigmata. The price we pay.
By singing her way back down into the beating heart of Dealey Plaza and making herself naked on the X, Erykah Badu brought life and vulnerability back to all of this. This X. This scar tissue. It was an important worthwhile act.
I love it. Next year on the X, OK? We all get naked. You first.