InMarket: Witnessing History

Robert Francis

“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it,” says George Santayana, who probably wishes he was remembered for something else besides that quote. We’re coming up on a moment in history in a couple of weeks and we likely can’t avoid it, no matter how hard we try. It’s 50 years since Nov. 22, 1963, a day with particular resonance for Dallas, Fort Worth and for Texas. One thing about history is that in the wrong hands it can seem awfully, catatonically boring. The grand recitation of dates, times, names, facts and figures of innumerable history classes more than likely resulted in many people wanting to forget history, eschewing Santayana’s warning. We’re fortunate, in a way. Even though those grim events occurred in our own backyard, we have the luxury of getting the story from people with a front-row seat to the events and, in some cases, from people involved in the events. Without the layering of opinion, supposition, assumption and outright mistreatment of facts, we can, via these eyewitnesses, sometimes catch a glimmer of truth before it disappears into a thicket of clutching shadows. That was how I felt a few nights ago attending an event hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Fort Worth Chapter. The program gathered together a mix of journalists and citizens. What came across were that they sounded like real people in real situations, not facts and figures lifeless on a page. Here are some voices from people who were there. Maybe you can catch a glimmer within: • Mike Cochran, formerly with the Associated Press and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a Fort Worth Business Press contributor and a pallbearer at Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral: [After the president had taken off for Dallas, Mike returned to the Star-Telegram] “I walked by the general desk and I quipped to the guy there, ‘Well guys we got him out of town safe.’ “The copy boy came in only minutes later to drop some copy off and screamed ‘The president’s been shot.’” • Phil Vinson and Jim Jones, who covered the assassination for the Star-Telegram; Vinson: “Jim got the call. We were eating lunch, I was just a kid, 23 years old, just out of college and I had just been assigned to the Star-Telegram Mid-Cities bureau in Arlington, the first bureau they had set up. “Jim was suburban editor. Jim and I and another reporter… were at the Circle C Restaurant on West Abrams in Arlington having a typical chicken-fried steak, one of those blue-plate specials.” Jones was called to the phone. To Vinson, when Jones returned he seemed nonchalant about the news that the president had reportedly been shot. Jones: “I was not really nonchalant. I was stunned. I thought it was going to be a day, another routine day when we were opening a bureau and we were serving coffee and cookies to people coming in. I realized it wasn’t going to be that kind of day.” • Eddie Griffin, Fort Worth community leader and former Black Panther who attended the president’s final speech in Fort Worth: “I was a 17-year old high school student and we got word Kennedy was coming to town and we all congregated downtown in front of the Hotel Texas.” They all noticed the lights on the buildings downtown. “The explanation was they put those yellow lights around so that the Kennedys could see the city scape from Air Force One. So we thought, ‘OK after Kennedy leaves the lights are going to come down and maybe they’ll put them up for the holidays.’ But those lights are still burning today. I just wanted people to know that the first night those lights came on was the night Kennedy came to Fort Worth.” Griffin sees Kennedy’s visit as a turning point for him and for African-Americans of his generation. “We loved Kennedy. I went from in 1952 wearing an ‘I Like Ike’ pin to Kennedy who integrated the colleges. That changed the course of my life because I went to Arlington State College, now UTA, as a result of his desegregating the colleges.” • Buell Frazier, a co-worker of Oswald’s who drove him to work the morning of the assassination; “Nov. 22 was like any other day. It was Friday when you work all week, and you work overtime, you’re tired. When I got up that morning I was a few minutes late, 5-10 minutes late – I lived with my sister and her husband. I lived in Irving, Texas. About one-half mile to Ruth Paine’s house. “How little did I know what was going to go on that day…That day changed my life. I’ve never been the same. A young boy went to work that day. He has never come home.” If you get a chance over the next couple of weeks, get out and hear some of these people tell their stories. Take your children. I guarantee you’ll be a witness to history and maybe even feel like a part of it.

In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at