DALLAS, TX -- A committee of high-profile Dallas business and community leaders, in partnership with City Hall, is planning a ceremony at Dealey Plaza next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The 45-minute event marks the first time in 20 years, and one of the very few times in the past half-century, that an official ceremony has been scheduled to mark the darkest day in the city's history.
The observance will not be restricted to VIPs, although admission will require advance ticketing. The commemoration will include music and speakers and, afterward, the plaza will be reopened. Details of the program will be announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
When the committee was formed last spring, Mayor Mike Rawlings said organizers wanted to set a tone for the commemoration that was "serious, respectful, understated."
"It became obvious to me in the fall of last year that probably the most important date for me as mayor was going to be the 50th anniversary of the assassination," Rawlings said.
"I say that because on the 48th, people were already asking, 'What are you going to do on the 50th?'"
Organizers have said the event would focus on the life and legacy of Kennedy, rather than on the circumstances of his death.
In the past, leaders of the city and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza have shied away from organizing a commemoration of the events of Nov. 22, 1963. In part, they said, they were deferring to the wishes of the Kennedy family, who wanted no official recognition of the tragedy.
One of the few exceptions was the 30th anniversary, when there was a ceremony marking Dealey Plaza's enrollment in the National Register of Historic Places.
On most anniversaries, however, the absence of an official program found the plaza dominated by conspiracy theorists, and sometimes simply by attention seekers, at 12:30 p.m. That was the moment Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president from a sixth-floor window at the Texas School Book Depository.
For months, city and museum officials have said they were concerned about the city's image next year when a major anniversary of one of the 20th century's most tragic events is expected to attract international attention.
"Dallas has been somewhat defined by the events of that day. We will have a chance to present what Dallas is," Rawlings said.
Last year, museum officials secured a permit for Dealey Plaza during the anniversary week, a permit since taken over by city leaders.
Rawlings earlier this year set up the organizing group, known as The 50th Committee, and appointed Ruth Altshuler, one of the city's highest-profile philanthropists, as its chair.
Altshuler said she was shocked when the mayor asked her to head the committee. She initially resisted.
"I said, 'I'm over the hill,'" she recalled. "And he said, 'Do it for Dallas.' And that did it, so I said, 'I'll come back over the hill.'"
The multiethnic group has met several times over the past few months.
Its ranks include some of the most prominent names in the city: philanthropist Margot Perot; arts patron Anita Martinez; and the Rev. Zan W. Holmes Jr., pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church.
It also includes political figures such as state Sen. Royce West, DISD board President Lew Blackburn and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
The committee, which had 21 members when it was first formed, has added four more, including former Mayor Ron Kirk, now U.S. trade representative.
AT A GLANCE: The 50th Committee
The 25 officers and members of The 50th Committee:
Honorary chairman Mike Rawlings, Dallas mayor
Chairwoman Ruth Sharp Altshuler, philanthropist
Vice chairwoman Linda Pitts Custard, philanthropist
Lindalyn Adams, historic preservationist
Lew Blackburn, DISD board of trustees president
Adelfa Callejo, civil-rights activist
Kevin Farrell, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas
Nancy Strauss Halbreich, civic volunteer
Zan W. Holmes Jr., pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church
Clay Jenkins, Dallas County judge
Ron Kirk, U.S. trade representative
Bobby Lyle, philanthropist
Anita Martinez, arts patron
Linda McFarland, civic volunteer
Cappy McGarr, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts board member
Ken Menges, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza board chairman
Blaine Nelson, Dallas Symphony Orchestra board chairman
Erle Nye, retired utility executive
Rick Ortiz, Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president
Margot Perot, philanthropist
Jeanne Phillips, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
Caren Prothro, philanthropist
Deedie Rose, philanthropist
Terdema Ussery, president of the Dallas Mavericks
Royce West, state senator
SOURCES: The 50th Committee; Dallas Morning News research