Exploring JFK’s Final Hours In Texas
Throughout November, KERA will mark the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination by taking a closer look at that fateful day, what it meant to the country, how it changed Dallas, and more.
Today, we take a look at JFK’s final hours:
So much attention has been given to the hours following the assassination. But what about JFK’s final hours before he entered Dealey Plaza?
John Kennedy made a two-day stop through Texas to start generating support as he approached the 1964 presidential campaign.
Why did JFK visit Texas?
In the fall of 1963, Kennedy was preparing for the 1964 presidential campaign. In September 1963, Kennedy traveled through nine Western states in less than a week.
"The trip was meant to put a spotlight on natural resources and conservation efforts," according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. "But JFK also used it to sound out themes—such as education, national security, and world peace—for his run in 1964."
On Nov. 12, 1963, the president held his first planning session for the 1964 election.
“At the meeting, JFK stressed the importance of winning Florida and Texas and talked about his plans to visit both states in the next two weeks," the JFK Library stated. "Mrs. Kennedy would accompany him on the swing through Texas, which would be her first extended public appearance since the loss of their baby, Patrick, in August.”
The president needed the Lone Star's electoral college votes – and fundraising money – for re-election the following year and offer glimpses into the true Kennedys, says Julian Read, Connally's press secretary who was in the motorcade at the time of the shooting.
"In an event of this magnitude, where all the focus is naturally on the tragedy, the context is often lost," says Read, author of JFK's Final Hours in Texas. "But it's important to give a complete picture."
But as the president's staff planned a trip to the southwest, they knew there were tensions in Texas -- and tensions in Dallas.
President Kennedy was aware that a feud among party leaders in Texas could jeopardize his chances of carrying the state in 1964, and one of his aims for the trip was to bring Democrats together. He also knew that a relatively small but vocal group of extremists was contributing to the political tensions in Texas and would likely make its presence felt—particularly in Dallas, where U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson had been physically attacked a month earlier after making a speech there. Nonetheless, JFK seemed to relish the prospect of leaving Washington, getting out among the people and into the political fray.
A look at “The Last Two Days” from the JFK Library:
The Texas visit: First San Antonio, then Houston
On Nov. 21, the president and first lady got on Air Force One and left for a two-day tour of Texas that would take them through five cities.
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally accompanied the president to Brooks Air Force Base for the dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center.
In Houston, Kennedy addressed a Latin American citizens' organization and spoke at a testimonial dinner for Congressman Albert Thomas.
He ended the day in Fort Worth and stayed at the Hotel Texas.
The president's suite was filled with various works of art donated by Fort Worth art collectors. They included paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Thomas Eakins, Lyonel Feininger, Franz Kline, and Marsden Hartley, and sculptures by Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Earlier this year, the Dallas Museum of Art displayed the works of art in an exhibit.
The final day: Fort Worth, then Dallas
On the morning of Nov. 22, several thousand people stood in a parking lot outside the hotel.
The president spoke to the crowd:
“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” he said, “and I appreciate your being here this morning. Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes longer, but, of course, she looks better than we do when she does it."
Inside the hotel, the president spoke at a breakfast of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, focusing on military preparedness.
"We are still the keystone in the arch of freedom," he said. "We will continue to do…our duty, and the people of Texas will be in the lead."
Katie Sherrod, a Fort Worth author, producer and commentator, recently reflected on JFK’s trip to Fort Worth at a symposium called "Understanding Tragedy."
The breakfast at the hotel was joyous. Huge crowds waited to greet him. He was presented with a white Stetson, she said.
“The joy in Fort Worth – there’s a poignancy of that joy that’s hard to watch,” Sherrod said, her voice filled with emotion. “It started with such joy and hope and it ended in such tragedy.”
On to Dallas
The president and Mrs. Kennedy left the hotel and headed to Carswell Air Force Base.
Their flight to Dallas lasted 13 minutes.
They arrived at Dallas Love Field.
The Kennedys shook hands with visitors.
Jackie Kennedy, wearing a pink dress and pillbox hat, received a bouquet of red roses.
Governor Connally and his wife, Nellie, sat in the open convertible as the Kennedys entered and sat behind them. The rain had stopped, so the plastic bubble wasn’t used.
The limousine meandered through downtown Dallas. Kennedy was on his way to the Dallas Trade Mart where he was to speak at a luncheon.
Around 12:30 p.m., the car entered Dealey Plaza and passed the Texas School Book Depository.
Then shots were fired and bullets struck the president.
Connally was struck in the chest.
The car sped off to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
At 1 p.m., Kennedy was pronounced dead.
National Geographic Channel is airing "JFK: The Final Hours" at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8.
We've compiled this post based on information from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.
KERA wants to hear your JFK stories and memories. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may contact you or use your memory in an upcoming story.