A lot of great journalists have worked in the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau through the decades. I've been lucky to have worked with all of the correspondents since the mid-1990s, but I never had the pleasure of meeting Sam Kinch Sr., Harley Pershing or Bob Bain.
Fortunately, they kept terrific files.
It was the treasure trove of historic nuggets they filed away in the creaky file cabinets of the now-closed bureau office that provided the initial seeds of inspiration for the Star-Telegram's expanded coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
As the paper moved out of its long-time office across the street from the Texas Capitol in downtown Austin in December 2008, I had the lonely task of plowing through decades worth of files and documents. As a political junkie raised in Louisiana, it was easy for me to get lost in the history unfolding before me as I rifled through reporters' yellowed notes and transcripts on everything from the Sharpstown Scandal to Lone Star political legends like Dolph Briscoe, Lloyd Bentsen, Billy Clayton, Bill Clements and Fort Worth's Jim Wright and Gib Lewis.
But I hit the mother lode when I got to the files marked "JFK" and "LBJ." Like most people, I thought I knew a lot about the life and times of Kennedy, the assassination and politics of the time. And like a lot of people, most of what I knew had to do with what happened and didn't happen in Dallas on the day that changed the world 50 years ago this week. What I quickly learned is how little I really knew.
I still get overwhelmed with emotion sometimes as I handle the brittle, yellowed documents from Nov. 22, 1963: the news bulletins announcing JFK's whereabouts and his motorcade's movements; the bulletins announcing the worst. And stories and bulletins and advisories for days on end as Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson assumed the presidency in wake of the assassination. While much of the material was familiar to me as a "late-comer" to Texas well aware of the horror of the Dallas end of JFK's visit, the images I saw in the files of the earlier Fort Worth part of the visit was a revelation to me. The face of pure joy and exuberance and hope of the thousands who turned out in Fort Worth to see the president and first lady was a part of the story that had pretty much escaped me all these years. That joy and hope was evident in dozens of photos shot that day in Fort Worth, but perhaps was best captured in an image by Gene Gordon, who worked for the Fort Worth Press at the time, but later joined the Star-Telegram. My fascination with that photo evolved into a quest to find some of the people who were in that photo, and led to the story by Anna Tinsley in our special JFK section on the photograph. It helped that the Star-Telegram for the 1988 JFK anniversary had tracked down several dozen of the people in the photo. Researcher extraordinaire Cathy Belcher used the 1988 information as leads in helping Tinsley track down some of the people who came out to see JFK. Here's another sidenote: Tinsley's late father, Jack Tinsley, was a Star-Telegram reporter at the time of the assassination.
The expanded anniversary coverage also has given us the opportunity to spotlight the work of some of the well-known journalists from the time, including CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and the Associated Press' Mike Cochran, as well as former Star-Telegram writer Roger Summers. We've also given credit to the great team of journalists who worked tirelessly on this week's new Star-Telegram anniversary coverage. Thanks again to Tinsley, Belcher, Mark Hoffer, Steve Wilson, Michael Currie, Rodger Mallison, Joyce Marshall, Taylor Cammack, Marissa Hall, Nick Dean, Darrell Goolsbee, Gene Zipperlen, Kathy Vetter and Sarah Huffstetler! And thanks to Jim Witt and Gary Wortel for supporting the expanded coverage, and everyone else who has worked on it.
But there are a lot of terrific journalists from the past whose work helped inspire our work, but whose names didn't make the special section. So in addition to tipping the hat to Kinch and Pershing and Bain, let me also pay homage to some other great journalists from that time: Ed Johnson, Jerry Flemmons, Thayer Waldo, Barbara Richardson, Jim Jones, Harry Cabluck, Jerry Cabluck, Bill Foster, Winston Croslin, Brooks Keller, Paul McAfee, Bill Hitch, Jon McConol, Elston Brooks, Don McDowell and Phil Vinson. If you know of more folks who were involved and deserve a mention, please add them in a comment below, and accept my apologies for not including them.
As Friday's anniversary nears, remember not just the grim news at the end of JFK's journey -- celebrate the joy and the hope from that final morning in Fort Worth.
-- John Gravois