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Houstonians Reflect on Kennedy Visit

Houstonians Reflect on Kennedy Visit

With all the attention on Dallas Friday, many forget President John F. Kennedy spent a few hours here in Houston the evening before his death.

The president and first lady flew in from San Antonio, and were met at Hobby Airport by a local entourage which included developer Welcome Wilson Sr.  This was his third time meeting Kennedy.

“JFK was the most charismatic man that I have ever met in my life,” Wilson told KTRH News. “There was just something about him, his smile was so genuine, you just loved the guy.”

The Kennedys, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and wife “Lady Bird” all traveled to the Rice Hotel downtown, to freshen up for an appreciation dinner honoring Congressman Albert Thomas who is credited with securing NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center and later became JSC.

Photo provided by Alexander Arroyos.

It was at the hotel where local Latino leaders scheduled an event with hopes of meeting the president. 

Vice President Johnson had only promised a possible wave and smile by the president as he left the hotel for his main engagement, but LULAC's Alexander Arroyos says they got much more than they bargained for.

“When the elevator opened, he walked out and dammit if Jacqueline Kennedy didn't walk out behind him, and then Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird, all four of them walked out of the elevator,” Arroyos tells KTRH News.

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The president stayed about 17 minutes, and even spoke to the LULAC members.

“This organization has done a good deal for this state and for our country, and I'm particularly glad that it emphasis not only the opportunity for all Americans the chance to develop their talents, but education for boys and girls so they can pursue those talents to the very end of their ability,” said Kennedy.

The highlight for many though, was Jackie's impromptu speech in Spanish (video below).

Many scholars believe Kennedy's brief visit with LULAC helped kick start Latino politics in America.

“Of course Kennedy was the first Catholic president, and it was the first time that a president stopped at an event like ours,” says Arroyos.

From there it was on to the old Sam Houston Coliseum for the dinner honoring Congressman Thomas.

Photo provided by Alexander Arroyos.

“I was in charge of seating for the VIP,” says Wilson.  “So I put myself at the first table next to the head table, right in front of Jackie.

Much of Kennedy's trip to Texas was part mending fences within the state's Democratic ranks, mixed with campaign fund raising and gearing up for the 1964 election.

“In Texas and the nation, change has been the law of life,” Kennedy told the crowd.  “Growth has meant new opportunities for the state, progress has meant new achievements, and we dare not look back now.”

“Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions the Bible tells us, and where there is no vision, the people parish,” he said.

The president and first lady then left to Fort Worth where they spent what became their last night together.

The Essential JFK Books

JFK In The Houston Coliseum 11-21-1963

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