Photographer Bob Jackson took one of the most unforgettable images of the 20th century when he captured the moment Jack Ruby fatally shot accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald November 24, 1963.
Jackson, a former SMU student (1952-57), was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for the iconic black-and-white photo, which was first published on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald on November 25, 1963 (left).
The image graphically represents “an awful time in the history of the city of Dallas and of the United States,” says Tony Pederson, professor and Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism.
“This photo also marks a time of significance in news coverage,” he adds. “It changed journalism in Dallas; it was the first Pulitzer Prize won by a Dallas newspaper. … It created an awareness of professional journalism.”
As a staff photographer for the now defunct Dallas Times Herald, Jackson was assigned to cover President John F. Kennedy’s visit to the city. When shots rang out in Dealey Plaza, he was one of the few eyewitnesses to spot a rifle barrel in a sixth-floor window at the Texas School Book Depository. But as he recalled in a 1993 interview for the Sixth Floor Museum, “Of course, I had an empty camera. I don’t think I could have reacted fast enough to get a picture, even if I had film in the camera.”
Two days later, while crowded into the basement of Dallas police headquarters with other members of the press, waiting for the police to transfer Oswald to the county jail, he took the photo of a lifetime.
In the 1999 Turner Network documentary “Moment of Impact: Stories of the Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” Jackson retraces his actions: “My plan was to shoot a picture as they brought [Oswald] out into an open space. I pre-focused on about 10 feet where I knew he would be in an open area. … As soon as he stepped into the open area, I was aware that somebody was stepping out from my right. My first reaction was ‘this guy is getting in my way.’ Ruby took about two steps and fired. I guess I fired [my camera] about the same time.
“I thought I had something good. I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like until I looked at the film, but I felt like I had a good picture.”
Jackson worked as a newspaper photographer in Dallas into the 1970s. He later served as a staff photographer for the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, from which he retired in 1999.
“In the end, I want to be remembered not just for one picture,” he says, but for a career where I tried to do my best on any and every assignment.”