In the JFK Aftermath, A Dallas Minister's Moving, Controversial Sermon Against Extremism

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Nov. 20 2013 12:00 PM

In the JFK Aftermath, A Dallas Minister's Moving, Controversial Sermon Against Extremism

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This sermon, preached by Reverend William Holmes at the Dallas Northaven Methodist Church on November 24, 1963, made the national news in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.

The agonized text pleads for Dallas citizens to recognize their complicity in the killing of the President. While Holmes acknowledges that Oswald, who had been charged with the crime, was a “Marxist and left-wing extremist,” he argues that extremism is a general poison, no matter the flavor.

Whether extremism wears the hat of left wing or right wing, its by-products are the same. It announces death and condemnation to all who hold a different point of view.
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Holmes calls for his parishioners to acknowledge that their hometown had been fertile ground for the “spirit of assassination.” “Here is the hardest thing to say,” he wrote. “There is no city in the United States which in recent months and years, has been more acquiescent toward its extremists, than Dallas, Texas.”

CBS News ran coverage of this sermon November 26. Holmes’ anecdote about fourth-grade schoolkids cheering at the news of the President’s death made major headlines in the ensuing coverage. Holmes’ larger plea for reconciliation was lost in the impact of this sensational tidbit.

After the CBS segment, Holmes refused to name the teacher who had told him about her kids’ celebrations. The Chicago Tribune reported on November 27 that Holmes received so many threats that his family was put under police guard in their home, and then moved to an undisclosed location.

Holmes also received many letters, some chastising him, while others commended his bravery and offered additional examples of “cheering in the classrooms.” Teachers took to the news media to deny the allegations, while at least one, Joanna Morgan, corroborated his report.

The minister kept the name of his teacher informant, Carol Tagg, a secret until 2008.

HolmesSermon1Final

Image courtesy Rev. William Holmes. Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

HolmesSermon2Final

Image courtesy Rev. William Holmes. Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

HolmesSermon3Final

Image courtesy Rev. William Holmes. Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

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