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“It’s important to teach to younger generations when you have this tangible link to the past through these stories and people who are willing to share them, along with the artifacts, how memory shifts over time. And that we’re not always in agreement. And we’ll always be looking back and interpreting this period in our history,” Longford said.
Peter Landesman, whose film “Parkland” details in a vivid narrative the events of Nov. 22, for one, was certainly grateful for the resources of the museum.
“They were very involved. They were very helpful to me,” Landesman said recently in an interview with CQ Roll Call about his picture.An Initial Queasiness
The lines are usually long to get into The Sixth Floor Museum, particularly as the 50th anniversary started coming into focus. But the establishment of the museum and its place in Dallas history hasn’t been without heartburn.
In 1970, the Texas School Book Depository Co. moved out, and some members of the community called for the building to be torn down, perhaps in an effort to purge the painful memories associated with it.
“It took a very long time to convince community leaders here in Dallas that this story needed to be told to a national audience,” Longford said.
Dallas County acquired the building in 1977, and in 1981 it moved county administrative offices there. The top two floors, the sixth and seventh, remained vacant. In 1989, the initial exhibit that comprises most of the museum’s permanent collection opened on the sixth floor. The seventh floor opened on Presidents Day 2002 to house more temporary exhibits and public programming. A reading room and separate gift store and cafe opened in July 2010.
The museum is a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, places and institutions in the world that have been preserved to commemorate and interpret key historical and cultural events. Other member institutions include the Maison des Esclaves (Slave House) in Senegal, the last stop for many Africans before being sent to slave markets, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, a school used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge.
“There was a great deal of ambivalence about even telling the story on the sixth floor of that building,” Longford said of the depository. “The fact that the building even existed, for some, was traumatic. But, over time, we served a need for a national audience and a world audience.”Not Universal Acclaim
Not everyone is a fan of the museum. Jim Schutze, a writer for the Dallas Observer, has been a longtime thorn in the side of museum. Most recently, he wrote a scathing post for the Observer’s Get Off My Lawn blog titled, “Who Died and Made the Sixth Floor Museum the King of Dealey Plaza?” that blasted the institution. “The mission of the museum has been perverted in recent years. It has become a kind of enforcement arm for the ilk of people in Dallas who can’t stand controversy about the assassination,” Schutze wrote on May 13.