Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis’ book, Dallas 1963 has just been published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. It offers a unique perspective, examining the political and cultural climate of Dallas in the years leading up to the tragic assassination of President Kennedy. They attempt to answer the question, why Dallas?
I heard an interview with Minutagio on NPR during which he highlighted several interesting and little known facts about these turbulent times, including the Mink Coat Mob Riot.
Turns out that the Mink Coat Mob Riot happened in the days leading up to the contentious 1960 Presidential election. It was an important moment in a long series of events, symbolic of the deep-seated anger and hysteria that the President would encounter three years later. In 1960, though, Lyndon Johnson was desperate to win his home state of Texas and was taken aback by the venomous reception he received while on November trip to Dallas.
According to Randall Wood’s LBJ: Architect of American Ambition,
…So frantic did LBJ become at one point during the campaign that Jack Kennedy told him, “I believe you’re cracking up.” Among other things, LBJ was sick with worry over the prospect of losing Texas. “I need you as I have never needed you before,” he cabled wealthy Fort Worth publisher Amon Carter.
In a last-minute effort to generate support, LBJ decided to travel into that heartland of radical conservatism, Dallas. Aides in Texas scheduled a luncheon address at the Adolphis Hotel on November 4. Lyndon and Lady Bird flew into Fort Worth that morning and were picked up by Carl Phinney, a retired military officer and Democratic activist. Approaching the outskirts of Dallas, the Johnson party was stopped by city police and told there was a ‘disturbance’ at the Baker Hotel, where Lyndon and Lady Bird were booked. The officer in charge insisted on taking the Johnsons in through the back entrance of the hotel. There was no avoiding the lobby, however, and what Lyndon and Lady Bird found there was a throng of well-heeled Republicans led by the reactionary congressman from Dallas, Bruce Alger, and Lyndon’s opponent in the Senate race, John Tower. The crowd, bearing banners reading, “LBJ Sold Out to Yankee Socialists” and “Beat Judas,” booed and hissed when they saw the vice-presidential candidate. They party shouldered its way to the elevators.
While LBJ was dressing for his speech at the Adolphius, located just across Commerce Street from the Baker, his advance man urged him to allow them to take him and Lady Bird through the restaurant exit and then by auto to the back door of the Adolphis. LBJ flatly rejected the suggestion. “If the time has come when I can’t walk through the lobby of a hotel in Dallas with my lady without a police escort,” he said, “I want to know it.”
Commerce Street between the two hotels was a mob scene. In the forefront of the crowd were young, well-to-do Junior Leaguers Alger had whipped into a frenzy. “The Mink Coat Mob,” one newspaper dubbed them. As LBJ clutched Bird to him, the crowd closed, shouting, “Traitor,” “Socialist,” “Judas,” and less polite epithets. A women snatched Lady Bird’s white gloves from her and threw them in the gutter. “It came upon me as a tremendous surprise and sort of an assault on my spirit,” Lady Bird said, “because we had felt that we were working for them all these years.” Bird, her gorge rising, started to answer one young women who was screaming at her, but Lyndon put his hand over her mouth. Suddenly, she noticed that her husband was moving very slowly, more slowly than he needed to. She also recalled that he had told Phinney and other staffers there to escort them to disappear. Finally, the vice presidential couple reached the friendly confines of the Adolphus, and Lyndon went on to speak. As he knew would be the case, the “Adolphus riot” received nationwide attention in both the print and broadcast media. A groundswell of sympathy for the Johnsons swept the Lone Star State. The next day in Houston, home to both conservative and liberal Johnson-haters, the couple was treated to a uniformly warm reception. …
What strikes me most about the Dallas of 1963 is that it seems so similar to today’s divisive and vitriolic political scene. According to Minutaglio, Dallas became the home of anti-Kennedy sentiment. The hatred and anger became palpable as he was called a traitor, socialist, communist, Yankee, and Catholic. “It’s those scary moments when you see a face coiled in rage. You see behind [LBJ] these faces twisted in anger and hate. Then, again, almost the unlikely nature [of the mob]: You look at the full frame and these are people who are dressed literally in mink coats, suits, ties, people taking a break for lunch during their business endeavors. It really looks like society unhinged. Something’s gone horribly, horribly awry in Dallas.”