DALLAS -- Thursday marks one of the darkest days in Dallas history.
It was 49 years ago that President John F. Kennedy -- after speaking to a crowd of thousands in Fort Worth -- traveled to Dallas and was assassinated in a motorcade passing through downtown's Dealey Plaza.
Now, city leaders are working on a proper way to honor the life and legacy of the country's 35th president next year, the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
"His death forever changed our city, as well as the world," said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who serves on the committee planning the event. "We want to mark this tragic day by remembering a great president with the sense of dignity and history he deserves."
At 12:25 p.m. Nov. 22, 2013, the event -- the first officially designated tribute held in Dallas to honor Kennedy's memory -- will begin.
The 45-minute ceremony will begin with church bells tolling throughout the city and will include a moment of silence, a reading of Kennedy's speeches by presidential historian David McCullough, songs sung by the 73-member U.S. Naval Academy Men's Glee Club, prayers from religious leaders and a military flyover.
The event will be free and open to the public, although tickets will be distributed.
"This is a part of our history," Rawlings said as members of the leadership committee gathered Tuesday at the Old Red Courthouse in Dallas to talk about the event. "The story of Dallas' growth and success can only be understood in the context of this unspeakable tragedy. It's important that the city of Dallas has a strong voice in remembering this very solemn day and honoring a great president who was a hero to so many people around the world."
The ceremony is called "The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy."
On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy woke up at the old Hotel Texas in Fort Worth -- now the site of the Hilton Fort Worth hotel.
He spoke to a large cheering crowd outside the hotel and then talked to civic leaders gathered at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast. He then went to the former Carswell Air Force Base and boarded Air Force One for a short flight to Dallas.
He and his wife, Jacqueline, along with Texas Gov. John Connally and Connally's wife, Nellie, rode in a presidential motorcade that was expected to take them to the Dallas Trade Mart for a luncheon with Dallas business and civic leaders.
Instead -- around 12:30 p.m. -- as the motorcade passed by the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza on the west end of downtown Dallas, shots rang out, hitting Kennedy and Connally.
Kennedy was taken to Parkland Hospital and was later declared dead.
Less than a year later, the Warren Commission, a federal panel appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the assassination, concluded in an 888-page report that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of the nearby Texas School Book Depository.
The Sixth Floor Museum is now on the top two floors of that building.
Fort Worth tribute
This month, officials in Fort Worth unveiled a Kennedy tribute -- an 8-foot sculpture, photographs and a water wall.
The JFK Tribute is downtown, in the area where Kennedy last spoke to local residents, across from the old Hotel Texas.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called the tribute "a lasting landmark."
"This isn't about the tragedy of Dallas," she said as the tribute was unveiled. "This is about his life. Fort Worth's story was almost forgotten. What a fitting tribute this is."
Another tribute was unveiled recently to recognize Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who was shot to death by Oswald that day.
On Tuesday, Dallas officials dedicated a Texas Historical Commission marker at 10th Street and Patton Avenue -- where Tippit was killed.
Ruth Collins Altshuler, a longtime Dallas philanthropist and civic leader, is heading the Dallas committee working on the Kennedy memorial.
She and her husband were among those at the Dallas Trade Mart on Nov. 22, 1963, waiting for the president at the luncheon.
"We sat and sat and sat, waiting," Altshuler said, adding that finally members of the press corps ran into the area, then quickly ran out.
The crowd was told that Kennedy had been shot. By the time people left the building, they learned he was dead.
Now she and 25 other members of the 50th committee -- which includes state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor -- are working to honor the Kennedy legacy.
More than $1 million, possibly as much as $2 million, has been raised in private donations for the event.
"Dignity and honor," Altshuler said. "That's what we want for this occasion."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610