JFK50GT #1: Love Field
President Kennedy begins the day in Fort Worth
On the morning of November 22, 1963, Air Force One flew from Carswell Air Force Base, in Fort Worth, to Dallas' Love Field. Early on that cold and rainy morning in Fort Worth, President John F. Kennedy delivered the final two speeches of his life. He gave his first speech that day outside the Fort Worth Hotel to a rain-soaked crowd of several thousand people who gathered to hear the first President to visit Dallas/Ft. Worth since 1948.
President Kennedy walks into the rain to deliver his first speech of the day. Vice President Johnson is at his side, but his wife Jackie is inside "organizing herself" according to the President. "It takes her longer, but, of course she looks better than we do when she does it."
(Footnote: In 1948, it was sitting President Harry Truman who visited on September 27, 1948, during his famous whistle-stop Presidential campaign. This event sped up by two days the launch of NBC's Dallas affiliate, channel 5/KXAS. KXAS became the first television station in the southwestern United States. Nearly a year after World War II, the great southwest and parts beyond still relied on the daily papers for their news of the day. The Dallas/Ft. Worth area could also rely on WBAP radio for news updates during that time. KXAS was the first TV station south of St. Louis, east of Los Angeles, and west of Richmond, Virginia. The station began broadcasting two days earlier than planned to cover nearly an hour of this Truman train stop/Presidential campaign event as the station's very first televised broadcast.)
After this early morning speech, President Kennedy worried the Secret Service agents who were responsible for his safety by walking up to the barricades and shaking hands with well-wishers in the front row who braved the elements to see this President who was already becoming a pop culture icon.
President Kennedy joins the scrum. While there are many security personnel present, it's hard to believe an event like this could ever be secure.
After his rainy morning outdoor speech, President Kennedy and his party retreated back into the warm and dry confines of the Fort Worth Hotel for a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where he delivered his last ever speech. He was clearly in great spirits with his wife, Jackie, by his side.
Everyone was seated for breakfast to allow for Jackie Kennedy's grand entrance.
President Kenney began the breakfast by joking that "two years ago, I introduced myself in Paris by saying that I was the man who accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris. I am getting somewhat that same sensation as I travel around Texas. Nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear."
Immediately after the speech, still standing at the head table, he was gifted a cowboy hat, which got laughs from everyone in the crowd. After recovering from the surprise and taking a moment to find the right words, President Kennedy fumbled around with the hat, steadfastly avoiding the obvious photo moment by refusing to try it on, and instead said to the crowd that if they wanted to see him wear it, they needed to be at the White House on Monday. This refusal to try on the cowboy hat was as obvious a symbol as there ever could be regarding the relationship between JFK and Dallas/Ft. Worth, even before this fateful day.
Political Tensions in Dallas
President Kennedy was not only an unpopular Presidential candidate in Dallas, he was just as unpopular in his own political party in Dallas. For political, not safety concerns, Vice President Lyndon Johnson didn't even want him to make the trip to Texas. Johnson encouraged Texas Governor John Connelly, who helped plan the trip, to limit Kennedy's access to the big Texas political donors who detested Kennedy. For Kennedy, however, these donors who politically opposed him, were his main focus for this trip, and the primary reason why he extended the trip to two days. To avoid the political fallout during the election, Kennedy wanted to unite the Democratic Party, by bringing together Texas conservatives, like LBJ, John Connelly, and a number of influential Dallas citizens, with his more progressive "New Frontier" aspirations. LBJ and Connelly didn't want Kennedy to pillage the state funds from the large political donors, thus lessening their own chances for advancement, especially with LBJ concerned whether Kennedy was going to invite him back on the ticket as Vice President for the 1964 campaign.
The very conservative Texas Democrats promoted the image of Kennedy as a far-leftwing liberal who was soft on communism; in favor of increased oil taxes; and pushing hard for racial integration. In short, they painted the picture that Kennedy and his supporters were diametrically opposed to everything that most Texans held sacred. Wealthy Dallas donors such as the Murchisons, Hunts, and Dealeys, effectively portrayed Kennedy as a threat to the Texas way of life. Kennedy came to Dallas to change that image, and show the people that he was just a regular guy. That he was in favor of advancement in Texas through such things as the space program in Houston, and that he was not the scary caricature that the Dallas papers made him out to be.
Thus far the Texas Democrats had succeeded greatly: Kennedy and his "New Frontier" politics were run out of town in the 1960 Presidential Election. The landslide vote in Dallas, Texas, was Kennedy's worst showing in any major U.S. city for the election. With Kennedy winning the nation's 1960 popular vote by only about 100,000 votes of the 68 million that were cast, he couldn't afford such a devastating Dallas loss in 1964. As things stood at that moment, polls showed Kennedy's Dallas support at 38%, while Connelly was at 68% and LBJ was in the high 60's as well. He knew it was an uphill battle with powerful local dissenters.
Most damaging to Kennedy, was that Dallas' wealth at that time was almost exclusively from oil profits, and the fear-mongering of the Texas Democrats made it clear to the city's voters that Kennedy was an untrustworthy wingnut coming to impose high oil taxes and rob the city's wealth. They attacked Kennedy with zeal both verbally an in print. The day before Kennedy arrived in Dallas, several full-page ads in the Dallas Morning News criticized Kennedy using highly charged and venomous language that would not be tolerated by newspapers today. Placing one of these ads was Ted Dealey, the owner of the Dallas Morning News, whose anti-Kennedy views were already well-known through his many harsh editorials.
In addition to the oil tycoons and other wealthy conservatives, Dallas also had the highest percentage of KKK members at that time, compared to other major U.S. cities. They, like many in the city, did not favor racial integration. Add to that, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's visit less than a month earlier, when after giving a speech in Dallas for United Nations Day, one heckler spat on him, while another lady hit him over the head with a picket sign. While most of the crowd gave him a standing ovation, there was obviously a small Dallas contingency far off the mainstream. Even as a Vice Presidential candidate campaigning in Dallas in 1960, a heckler spat on LBJ. These events contributed to the "City of Hate" moniker that Dallas was pegged with for several years following the Kennedy assassination.
While still sitting at breakfast in Ft. Worth, a copy of the Dallas Morning News was passed to President Kennedy. It was opened to a black funeral type outlined page with an announcement sponsored by the John Birch Society, warning the readers that the Kennedy's were pro-communist. In a case of grim foreshadowing, the President shared it with his wife and told her, "we're heading into nut country today." On the eve of Kennedy's visit to Dallas, the political playing field was set with tensions high throughout the city. While many citizens were very excited to see the Kennedys, if there had been a color coded alert system, it would have been set at bright red. The Dallas police force and the Secret Service were on full alert, with hundreds of extra officers on duty that day. At least one Dallas citizen, expressing the sentiments of many, wrote to the White House prior to this trip to urge President Kennedy to vacate his plans of coming to Dallas for his own safety. It appears that Kennedy was not far off base: he and Jackie may have been headed towards throngs of adoring fans, but the feeling wasn't unanimous: they were also headed into nut country.
The Kennedy Charm Offensive
With the local political calculus equaling another tough run through Dallas in the upcoming election, Kennedy brought his most effective secret weapon to Dallas: his wife Jackie. It was her first trip with President Kennedy in several months. Just 3 months earlier she had lost their 2-day-old son, Patrick, who had died from respiratory distress syndrome, a disease that was poorly understood at the time. She spent time recovering with Aristotle Onassis, and caring for their two children. The children, Caroline and John Jr., were going to celebrate their 6th and 3rd birthdays, respectively, within a few days of the Kennedys' return from their Texas trip.
Jackie arrived in her stylish pink dress, matching pillbox hat, and her happy and comforting smile. When Jackie was at his side, the crowds for Kennedy doubled everywhere he went. In 1963, nobody in America had more star power than the Kennedy's. Everyone held out their hands hoping to shake with the President, while many more shrieked and photographed the First Couple like they were at a rock concert. Understanding that this hysteria could work to his advantage and swing a close election, Kennedy mingled up close with the crowd often panicking the Secret Service.
The Kennedys arrive at Love Field
Upon their arrival at Dallas' Love Field, they were greeted by the Dallas Mayor and his wife, along with an overflow crowd lining every street and hanging off buildings and lampposts, all excited to catch a glimpse of the famous First Couple. At Love Field, the City of Dallas had put its best foot forward.
Breaking normal Presidential protocol, President Kennedy lets Mrs. Kennedy leave Air Force One before himself, but then he leads the way to the greeting party and the gathering of his supporters and fans.
It's an ambiguous beginning as the cheerful crowd welcomes their President, with a Confederate flag and a Texas flag visible in the background, but no U.S. flag to be seen.
President Kennedy attracts the ladies in the crowd, and Mrs. Kennedy also attracts the ladies in the crowd. It looks like he may already have won half the Dallas votes!
The Presidential limousine is gassed up and ready at Love Field. Since the rain had cleared and the weather was nice, President Kennedy elected to stow away the clear plastic bubble top that could keep them dry if needed. Regardless, the clear top was not bullet-proof.
As a happy President Kennedy is whisked away from the tarmac, he has already taken his last steps on earth.
This cache marks the beginning of the JFK50 GeoTrail, which celebrates President John F. Kennedy's day in Dallas, the last day of his life. There are many ways to see the sites of Dallas associated with President Kennedy's visit. There are also many ways to learn about the events that transpired that day. The purpose of this GeoTrail is to tell the story of November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, by leading to the many locations that became famous landmarks that day and during the days that followed. Consider this exercise a public service to the Dallas community and to everyone who wants to review and examine these events firsthand and on-site. I hope you have fun navigating through this adventure, and I hope that you learn more about the historic events surrounding that day. I also hope that some of the lessons we all learned will help prevent such a senseless tragedy in the future.