Thursday, November 21, 2013


November 21, 2013


San Antonio (JFK+50) President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy were welcomed to the Lone Star State 50 years ago today, November 21, 1963, arriving here in San Antonio on the first stop of their planned five city political tour.

JFK and Jackie
San Antonio, Texas
November 21, 1963
Photo by Cecil Stoughton
JFK Library Image

This question has been debated over the past 50 years:  

Why did JFK go to Texas?

One of the reasons mentioned frequently is to heal the division in the Democratic party in the state as evidenced by the rift between the liberal wing led by Senator Ralph Yarborough and the conservative wing led by Governor John B. Connally.

Thurston Clarke discounts this in his recent book. 

He writes...

"...the notion that Kennedy could resolve (the rift) by visiting Texas for a few days was preposterous.  Johnson and Yarborough lived in Washington, and if that had been Kennedy's only goal he could have easily invited them to the Oval Office for peace talks."

Clarke lists the following reasons for the Texas trip:

1. to raise money
2. to energize the party
3. to demonstrate appeal to oil men, executives and conservatives
4. to improve chances of winning Texas by significant margins

In an interview with Larry King on CNN in the early 1990s, John Connally emphasized the fundraising aspect of the trip.   He said that JFK wanted 5 fund-raising dinners.  Nellie Connally followed that up by saying..."Gobble! Gobble!"

As Air Force One landed in San Antonio, teenagers, gathered on the observation deck, "screamed.... 'Jackie!'"

The President and First Lady then began a 26 mile motorcade through the city, and JFK would speak at the dedication of the United States Air Force Aerospace Medical Division at Brooks Air Force Base.

If the President had hoped that his visit would help patch up the division in the party, he was soon to be disappointed.  Senator Yarborough would not even ride with LBJ in the motorcade. 

Instead, he jumped in another car with Congressman Henry Gonzalez.

At Brooks, President Kennedy said....

"I have come to Texas today to salute an outstanding group of pioneers, the men who man the Brooks Air Force Base School of Aerospace Medicine and the Aerospace Medical Center.

This city has long been the home of the pioneers in the air...and in the new frontier of outer space...history is being made every day by the men and women of the Aerospace Medical Center..."

The President continued...

"This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space and we have no choice but to follow it.  

With the help of all Americans, we will climb this wall with safety and with speed--and we shall explore the wonders on the other side."

After speaking, JFK looked through the porthole of an oxygen chamber where 4 men had been living since November 3 in at atmosphere simulating being in outer space.  

Following the event at Brooks, the Presidential party flew to Houston where JFK "had decided against a formal motorcade."

Thurston Clarke tells us that while at the Rice Hotel, where the President and First Lady were freshening up,  LBJ paid a visit and while alone with JFK in the next room, Jackie could hear them shouting at each other.

Clarke writes that JFK  was "angry" with LBJ's failure to settle the feud between John Connally and Ralph Yarborough.

James Swanson, in his newly released "End of Days," disagrees with Clarke's assessment of the event.

Swanson believes Jackie simply thought they were arguing because of the loud voices, but when she later asked JFK about it, he told her that they had NOT argued.

In the evening, JFK spoke at the dinner honoring Congressman Albert Thomas at the Houston Coliseum.

There, the President said...

"The United States next month will have a leadership in space which it wouldn't have without Albert Thomas.  And so will this city. old enough to dream dreams, and young enough to see visions.

He sees an America of the future...strong in science and space, in health and in America that is both powerful and peaceful...prosperous and just.

With that vision we shall not perish, and we cannot fail."

After the dinner, the Presidential party departed Kelly Field where 5000 people had gathered to see them off and arrived at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth just before midnight.  

JFK and the First Lady would spent their last night together in a 3 room suite at the Texas Hotel.

Thurston Clarke writes...

"(JFK and Jackie) embraced and he said, 'You were great today.'  She went next door and laid out the pink suit and pillbox hat she would wear the following day."


"End of Days:  The Assassination of John F. Kennedy," by James Swanson.  Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2013.

"JFK's Last Hundred Days:  The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President," by Thurston Clarke, Penguin Press, 2013.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1963," United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1964.