Bud Kennedy

A Kennedy comes to Dallas –‘It’s a great city,’ JFK nephew says

Stephen Kennedy Smith is a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy.
Stephen Kennedy Smith is a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy. Handout photo

For one night, the Sixth Floor Museum will have a Kennedy.

Presidential nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith will make a rare family visit Tuesday, speaking on a new book about President John F. Kennedy on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

“Let’s be honest,” he said by phone Thursday: “There’s a lot of painful memories there.”

But Smith and his co-author, Rice historian Douglas Brinkley, are coming to discuss “JFK: A Vision for America” (Harper, 496 pp., $45) because “going to Dallas is a way of touching base with the heart of America,” Smith said.

“We have this wonderful invitation from the Sixth Floor, and it’s important for President Kennedy’s message to be shared with the whole country. So we are going to Dallas.”

The crew filming 11/22/63, a miniseries for Hulu based on the Stephen King novel about the Kennedy assassination, was filming in Dealey Plaza. It attracted crowds eager to spot the star and see the '60s era cars and costumes.

More than 50 years after JFK’s assassination Nov. 22, 1963, on Elm Street, Dallas is no longer a nut nest of reactionary extremism, although the 1960s political climate probably was not part of the motive for Fort Worth-reared assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

“One of the wonderful things I’m looking forward to is that Dallas is more balanced now,” said Smith, 59, a son of Kennedy’s sister Jean Kennedy Smith.

“I think Dallas is very impressive on every level — the arts, humanitarian issues. It’s a great city.”

The book combines great Kennedy speeches with short essays by world leaders and historians, along with more than 500 photos and portraits by some of the nation’s greatest photographers of the era.

“In this centennial year, we want to bring the public President Kennedy’s vision for the country,” Smith said.

“He envisioned a civilization that was great morally, artistically, scientifically and spiritually. The moon shot, the National Endowment for the Arts, Medicare and Medicaid, civil rights — he spoke to our shared humanity.”

Today’s young people might not know much about “Hamilton” if his life weren’t set to music, and many really don’t know much about Kennedy.

“Most young people think of him as a glamorous media figure,” Smith said.

Smith was part of a recent panel of students from Harvard and other schools, including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“What they see in him is the vision, the optimism and the youthful energy,” Smith said.

“Most of all, they want this generation to recapture that, to do something positive for this country, and see the acrimony stop.”

Smith went on: “We need leaders today who give us inspiration, not desperation.”

To learn more, you’ll have to buy a $40 ticket to the museum speech (jfk.org). Or a book.

Actor Bill Paxton was a young boy in Fort Worth when President Kennedy made his fateful trip to Texas. He sat down recently at TCU to remember those days in November. (September 2013)

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.