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Assassins have gunned down four sitting American Presidents: two in Washington; one in Buffalo; and, of course, John F. Kennedy in Dallas, 50 years ago.

But only Dallas was tainted by the horrific event that took place on its streets.

Why?

The radio call of the Rev. Billy James Hargis was a familiar one across America in 1963. His coast-to-coast broadcast started with a song, "His truth is marching on!" An announcer then introduced Hargis him with these words: "Now... speaking for Christ and against Communism... here is The Rev. Billy James Hargis!"

Within seconds, Rev. Hargis was off and running with the day's message, railing against Washington, integration, and communism.

"Developments in Red Cuba 90 miles from the shores of Florida hold more ominous warnings for a sleeping American public," he would declare.

Rev. Hargis wasn't from Dallas, but the popular right wing radio evangelist's close ties to and support from retired Army Gen. Edwin Walker who did live here left the clear impression Dallas wasn't just conservative, it was far right.

Fidel Castro's capture of Cuba was an outrage for both Walker and Hargis. They wanted him out of power.

"The capture of Cuba by the communists is the most unacceptable," Walker told supportive audiences.

Edwin Walker had retired from service following clashes with superiors, including President John F. Kennedy.

As a civilian, he organized protests against integration at the University of Mississippi. Walker also teamed up with oil baron H.L. Hunt to make a failed run for Texas governor.

Most of the national political establishment shunned Walker, but Dallas leaders loved him.

In April 1963, when someone fired a shot at Walker as he sat inside his house and it missed, he told reporters he knew who did it.

"This is just further indication that there is a threat to our individual right to liberty," he said.

Walker gave no names, but investigators later linked JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the shooting.

Edwin Walker's prominent profile coupled with H.L. Hunt and Rev. Hargis' very vocal advocacy of right wing issues left Dallas with a national reputation as a center for far right wing politics, a reputation that one prominent resident at the time said was undeserved.

"Fifty years ago, the majority of citizens in Dallas were moderately conservative," said Rev. Dr. William Holmes, who in 1963 was pastor at Northaven United Methodist Church.

Now retired and living on the East Coast, Holmes insists that neither Hargis nor Walker represented the typical Dallas resident, who was instead, "business-oriented, family-oriented, church- and synagogue-oriented and adamantly disinclined to engage, to confront, and to challenge anyone who held a more radically conservative point of view."

That hesitation by most people to confront, Rev. Holmes said, posed a serious problem because as the voices on the far right grew louder, "their silence created a vacuum that was soon filled by a minority of vocal of extremists who vilified and demonized anyone who took a different point of view politically."

Walker supporters in Dallas heckled favorite son Lyndon Johnson when he came to town in 1960.

When U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson arrived for an event just weeks before President Kennedy's fateful visit, they booed and interrupted his speech so much he asked from the podium: "Truly my dear friends, I don't have to come here from Illinois to teach Texas manners, do I?"

As Stevenson left the building, one protester struck him with her sign.

In the days leading up to President Kennedy's visit, both Mayor Earl Cabell and Dallas Police Chief Jess Curry urged calm, saying the city's reputation was on the line following the treatment of Ambassador Stevenson. They warned any discourtesy or disruption would be dealt with harshly.

So Rev. William Holmes and his wife Nancy hoped to be a part of a successful, positive visit to Dallas by the president and first lady. They were at the Trade Mart awaiting their arrival when the announcement came of the shooting.

They sat shocked and dumbfounded as word came over a small portable radio of what had happened.

Beginning to grieve along with a stunned nation, they left the event and within hours started hearing from friends.

"A teacher in the school shared with me the information about the children in her classroom cheering," Rev. Holmes said. "Not all of them, but some of the children cheered."

Two days later, that story provided the theme for his sermon.

First, he re-stated the warnings city officials had given via television before the president arrived, saying, "Dallas is the city where many leaders and officials express anxiety and fear of incident."

After mentioning the shooting, Rev. Holmes went on to talk about some children cheering the news and he asked, "In the name of God, what kind of city have we become?"

As he closed the service that Sunday morning, an usher passed him a note. Stunned, he read it to the congregation saying, "Lee Harvey Oswald has just been shot and killed downtown."

It was a powerful Sermon that generated much support from the members of his church. Later in the week, Rev. Holmes repeated it on television for a national audience seeking some understanding of the nightmare weekend.

Rev. Holmes and his wife Nancy watched the taped speech from their home. "Before the broadcast went off the air," Nancy Holmes said, "the telephone started ringing. Bill answered the phone and I kept score."

The phone kept on ringing. Some people stopped by, all saying "thanks." But within minutes, Rev. Holmes said Dallas police arrived.

"They came in and they pulled down all of the shades and they said, 'Your house is under bomb threat and the [TV] station is under bomb threat."

For days, the Holmes lived under police protection. The following Sunday, armed plainclothes detectives sat in the pews as Rev. Holmes preached.

But the support for his sermon was overwhelming: 464 letters, telegrams and postcards from strangers, and even a few famous persons.

"One of them that was especially meaningful to the family came from Hugh Brannum, who played Mr. Green Jeans on Captain Kangaroo," Mrs. Holmes recalled.

Edwin Walker's tirades continued.

As the country grieved, Dallas was shunned.

Giants' fans renamed the Cowboys the "Dallas Assassins."

"It's not the individual person of Dallas; there is something evil, festering, stinking in this community," said attorney Melvin Belli, who would later serve as an attorney for Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby.

Fortune magazine called the powerful dALLAS business community an "oligarchy" that had not done enough to isolate extremists, a reputation that lingered.

H.L. Hunt died in 1974. Edwin Walker 20 years ago. Billy James Hargis in 2004.

Dallas didn't kill John F. Kennedy any more than Buffalo killed William McKinley or Washington killed Abraham Lincoln or James Garfield.

Today, Dallas may still have some problems but hard work and 49 Novembers have helped erase much of that extremist image.

The one remaining question is: For how long?

E-mail jmccaa@wfaa.com

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