Bud Kennedy

JFK, MLK and what has — or hasn’t — changed since 1963

President and Mrs. Kennedy depart the Hotel Texas for the Air Force One flight to Love Field.
President and Mrs. Kennedy depart the Hotel Texas for the Air Force One flight to Love Field. JFK Library

More than 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy woke up in Fort Worth and went on to eternity.

A statue at Main and Eighth streets now marks the site of his last public speech, but a historic site across the block remains unmarked.

When Kennedy spoke in front of a hotel on the drizzly morning of Nov. 22, 1963, over the crowd to his left he could see the old Majestic Theater.

On Oct. 22, 1959, the Majestic hosted a Baptist pastor from Alabama on his only appearance in Fort Worth.

Almost four years after Rosa Parks’ 1955 breakthrough in Montgomery, it was the first time African-American patrons were allowed to come in the Majestic’s front door and sit on the lower floor.

Finally, Fort Worth heard the message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The era of King and Kennedy in Fort Worth — and the changes then and since in this city and America — were topics for two symposia a few years ago under the title “JFK: Five Decades of Progress.”

Expert panels remembered Fort Worth in the era of Jim Crow segregation, and how Kennedy’s visit came as the city teetered uneasily on the edge of change.

Fort Worth’s downtown department store supercenter of the era, Leonards, had taken down its “white” and “colored” restroom and water fountain signs years earlier. But at least one other department store remained segregated until just before Kennedy’s visit.

(There is an old town tale that the city’s skyline was first outlined in lights for Kennedy. The skyline lights began with two buildings in 1959 and spread in 1960, but 1963 was the first time they were turned on before Thanksgiving. “Spectacular,” Kennedy said.)

I won’t retell the panelists’ stories, covered well at keranews.org, but one topic literally arched over the entire evening: segregated public education at the old I.M. Terrell High School, where one panel gathered on the stage of what will soon become Fort Worth’s science-technology magnet school.

Later, one Arlington reader offered his own answer.

Mark Liberto, 60, an elected Republican precinct chair, saw my Twitter photo of the civil rights symposium and tweeted back a snarky, “Am I supposed to be impressed?”

I called to ask what he meant.

“I think it’s time black people stopped bringing up racism,” said Liberto, a perennial Arlington City Council candidate.

“They ought to just shut up. Let it go. It’s history. Stop talking about it. I don’t hear white people talking about racism.”

I noticed that.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.