The crowds in Dallas on November 22, 1963 were among the most enthusiastic John F. Kennedy and his wife had ever seen. People lined the highways and sidewalks hoping for a glimpse of their President and the glamorous First Lady. “I can’t believe there was ever a point in the life of the Kennedys, in a way, that was as high as that moment in Dallas,” said Robert J. Donovan, who covered the trip for the Los Angeles Times.
The story of those final hours was lost amid the breaking news coverage of the assassination. This 19-minute government film, from David Von Pein’s JFK Channel on YouTube, includes snippets of Kennedy’s speeches and appearances in Texas, and shows why Donovan was right to think that if the trip hadn’t ended so tragically, it would have been a high point in Kennedy’s political career.
President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson traveled to Texas in November 1963 on what the news media labeled a political trip aimed at healing a rift between two factions of Texas’ Democratic party. Sen. Ralph Yarborough, a member of the party’s liberal faction, was locked in a personal and political feud with Johnson and Gov. John Connally, who were of the party’s more conservative wing.
Some aspects of the dispute were petty. Kennedy put great effort into simply persuading Yarborough to ride in the same car with Johnson during the fateful motorcade in Dallas.
But a lot more went on in Texas besides political healing. Kennedy gave several speeches aimed at building his chances to win the state in the 1964 election. He also promoted his plan to put Americans on the moon – a push in which Texas military and aerospace contractors had a big part.
Speaking at an Air Force base in San Antonio, Kennedy pointed out that the military’s development of radar during World War II led to the development of transistors, which led to the development of computers. Also, Kennedy said, “Research in space medicine holds the promise of substantial benefits for those of us who are earthbound.”
“Our effort in space is not, as some have suggested, a competitor for national resources needed to improve our living standards. It is instead a working partner and co-producer of these resources … There will be pressures for our country to do less and temptations to do something else,” Kennedy said. “But this research must and will go on.”
Merriman Smith’s report of this speech noted that just before Kennedy left Washington, the Senate voted to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from his proposed NASA budget.
Throughout the trip, the President and First Lady got a rousing welcome, even from politically conservative Texas business people. Jacqueline Kennedy, who hated campaigning, shook hands and gave speeches like a political pro. Texans thrilled at the touch of glamour she brought to the trip. Reporters who were there say they’ll never forget the cheers she got by showing up at a breakfast of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce on the morning of November 22, hours before she and her husband flew to Dallas.
For more on the Texas trip, see this page on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s website. Click on the tab that says “related records” for text and audio of the speeches he gave in San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth.