"KENNEDY SLAIN ON DALLAS STREET," screamed the inch-and-a-half letters in the 4-inch headline. As if large words could somehow assuage the sorrow and guilt of a city at the center of "Why?"
There were words of contrition and pain within, even large department store ads that said nothing more than "John F. Kennedy." If there were those who quietly celebrated the president's death, there were far more who had great respect for the president, and even more who may have opposed the president politically, but held the office in high esteem. Shock was the only word to describe the feeling that day, and it was every bit as real in Texas as it was in Washington, D.C. I know. I lived it.
The conspiracy theories were immediate, mostly centering around the mafia, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. But the front page words that would address the real guilt and shame within the pages of that newspaper were in the sub-headline, in much smaller letters that belied the world-shaking impact they were to have. They said simply:
"Johnson Becomes President."
The first hint of the paradigm shift this president was to preside over was presaged by this story, hidden at the back of the sports section:
"Negro Status Unsure in Senior Bowl."Some 16 years after Jackie Robinson had started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, NBC was deciding whether or not it would cancel television coverage of the Senior Bowl, because "Negros are not invited to play."
And in tiny print, hidden in the want ads were these:
"WHITE MOTHER or older woman in South Oak Cliff High School area needing to supplement income: 1/2 day. Flexible hours."
"LIVE IN - Middle-aged white woman. care children school age. Generous salary. Give references."
"WHITE lady, for child care. light housekeeping, 5 days, in my home."
"WHITE FRY COOK" $80 week, 6 days, 5 meals and uniforms furnished."
"FRY COOK - White, to 35. Fast and thorough. Nights."
"Young man (white) for counter work. 18 to 40."
"WHITE Practical Nurse companion. Also drive car. Days only."
"WHITE housekeeper for elderly lady. Must drive. Under 50."At first, I thought that "must drive" ad was specifying the driver must drive under 50 miles per hour. But after encountering dozens of ads specifying not only race, but sex and acceptable age range, I concluded "under 50" meant age.
And it was not only the color of your skin that mattered, apparently it was the color of your voice as well:
"WOMEN to take Christmas orders on the phone in our downtown office, part or full time, no experience necessary, $1.25 per hour. White only..."This is not to say there weren't job ads that SPECIFIED minority candidates, like this one:
"DISHWASHER Permanent job for colored boy, age 18-25, to wash dishes, do janitor work and help in kitchen. No nights. No Sundays. Do not phone."Black people KNEW, if they didn't want to waste their time when asking for work, to specify their race:
"COLORED girl wants daywork. maid, cook, ironing. ETTA."Despite the "WHITE COOK" ads, minorities were often welcome and even specified in restaurant ads - especially behind the kitchen wall:
"COLORED WOMAN PASTRY COOK" cafeteria experience preferred."If I were guessing, I would guess that the preference had more to do with wages and working conditions than it did with an appreciation of black people.
"COLORED WOMAN VEGETABLE COOK" cafeteria experience preferred."
Black people even had their own classified sections in some cases:
"For Rent to Colored P-27"And you ladies, y'all had your own sections too:
HELP WANTED Female (Miscellaneous) E-9"For you ladies, there was extra care to see that the job was "right" for you:
"WANTED (really wanted) Well established aggressive and dignified company has opening for nice-appearing lady for secretarial position. Shorthand not required. Pleasant telephone manner essential....Reply, reflecting age, marital status, dependants, and brief resume of experience..."emphasis mine.
So, there, hidden behind the big headlines, is a snapshot of what awaited Lyndon Johnson in the years ahead. Thank God he was up to the task, although the task is far from finished.
It only took the election of a black president in 2008 to draw the attitudes hidden in the back pages of the November 23, 1963 edition of the Dallas Morning News into the open in all their ugly, bigoted glory.
The only reason there weren't ads barring heterosexuals from employment in 1963 is not that homosexuality was tolerated, it was just that gay and lesbian people didn't look any different than heterosexuals, they didn't acknowledge their sexuality for the most part, and it was simply easier on puritan sensibilities to act as if they didn't exist than to explicitly bar them in ads.
Besides, the erroneous but widespread belief in sexual stereotypes led managers to believe they could take care of such things at the interview, if they were so inclined.
We have come so far, and yet, the ugly spirit of November 23, 1963 is still among us, waiting - impatiently of late - and longing for a return to "the good old days." That spirit sees 1963 as only a revolution away from reality, and backed with seemingly endless financial support, those filled with that spirit are hard at the task of electing representatives who can get them back there, from city council to president.
We. Can. Not. Let. That. Happen.