In a chronological, episodic narrative that grows somewhat tedious yet chilling, Minutaglio (City on Fire: The Explosion That Devastated a Texas Town and Ignited a Historic Legal Battle, 2004, etc.) and Davis (J. Frank Dobie, 2009, etc.) unearth the various fringe elements rampant in Dallas in the three years (from January 1960 to November 1963) preceding John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
These anti-communist and racist groups were essentially sanctioned by officials and created a dangerous climate for the president and first lady during their visit on November 22, 1963. Indeed, Kennedy had been warned not to come, especially after the violent reception of U.N. ambassador Adlai Stevenson by Dallas crowds several weeks before. “Super-patriots” like Gen. Edwin A. Walker, formerly enlisted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in helping integrate Little Rock Central High School, had made an about-face and grown stridently pro-segregationist, distributing Wanted for Treason posters at the time of JFK’s visit; billionaire oilman H.L. Hunt was bankrolling right-wing groups; Frank McGehee was organizing a National Indignation Convention; and publisher Ted Dealey, whose paper the Dallas Morning News routinely attacked the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, ran an incendiary full-page advertisement from Bernard Weissman’s American Fact-Finding Mission on the day Kennedy arrived in Dallas. In this xenophobic, anti-liberal, anti–East Coast atmosphere, Lee Harvey Oswald purchased a mail-order rifle, which he tried out first by shooting at Gen. Walker through a window of his home. Minutaglio and Davis alternate their doomsday scenario with chronicles of the upbeat attempts at integrating and liberalizing Dallas—e.g., international marketing efforts by showman Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus) and New Hope Baptist Church pastor H. Rhett James’ engineering of Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to the city.
Despite the calendar slog, the authors make a compelling, tacit parallel to today’s running threats by extremist groups.