The Pop History Dig

“JFK’s Texas Statue”
Fort Worth: 2012

Profile view of the JFK statue in downtown Fort Worth, Texas – installed in 2012 to commemorate the President’s visit there on November 22, 1963.
Profile view of the JFK statue in downtown Fort Worth, Texas – installed in 2012 to commemorate the President’s visit there on November 22, 1963.
     On the fateful day of November 22nd, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy (JFK) was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, some may not know that JFK also visited another Texas city earlier that same day – Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth is the twin city of Dallas, commonly known today as the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.  But in 1963, Fort Worth would become the place where John F. Kennedy made his last two speeches.

     The president had come to Texas as part of some early politicking for his planned 1964 re-election bid — Texas being a key state in the electoral math.  Kennedy was then making a larger tour of western states, sounding out some possible campaign themes, including education, conservation, and national defense, among others.  But in Texas at that time there was also a bit of a rift in the Democratic party.  And JFK’s civil rights and foreign affairs policies were also not popular among Texas conservatives.  A month earlier in Dallas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, had been roughed up by a crowd after making a speech there.  So Kennedy had come to Texas, in part, to do some fence-mending and also to gin up popular support for his party prior to 1964.

Map shows JFK’s 2-day Nov `63 itinerary: San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, then back to  D.C.
Map shows JFK’s 2-day Nov `63 itinerary: San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, then back to D.C.
     On the Texas trip – which had scheduled stops in five cities over two days – JFK was accompanied by his wife, Jackie, who was making her first public appearance since the August 9th death of their two-day-old baby, Patrick.  The first stops on the trip were San Antonio and Houston on November 21st, 1963, where the president made a series of speeches.  They then came to Fort Worth later that night.  After a scheduled speech in Fort Worth the next morning, November 22nd, the president and his party would then take a short flight to Dallas for the day, then to Austin, the final stop.  Following the Austin visit, the Kennedys were scheduled to spend the weekend at Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s Texas ranch near Johnson City, Texas and then fly home to Washington thereafter. But the tragic events in Dallas intervened in the latter events.

     After their first two visits on November 21st, the Kennedys arrived at Ft. Worth’s Carswell Air Force Base at 11 pm.  Despite the late hour, cheering crowds greeted them at the airport and all along their route to downtown Fort Worth, where the Kennedys would spend the night at the Texas Hotel.  Local art patrons, knowing JFK and Jackie were both art lovers, assembled a sampling of art pieces from Fort Worth collectors and installed what amounted to a private exhibit in the President’s hotel suite.  Sixteen original pieces of modern art and sculpture were installed, including works by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso and others.  A special catalog, “An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. Kennedy,”listed the details on each piece and their owners.

     The next morning, The Star-Telegram ran the front-page banner headline: “Welcome, Mr. President!” with sub-heads: “JFK Lands Amid Roar of Cheers” and “Crowd Lines Route to Town; 10,000 Welcome President.”  That morning, the president was scheduled to speak at a breakfast gathering of civic leaders of the Forth Worth Chamber of Commerce.  Despite an earlier rain and misty conditions, a huge crowd of Texans had gathered outside the hotel hoping to get a glimpse of the President.  Against the advice of Secret Service, an impromptu speech was hastily arranged in the parking lot outside across the street from the Texas Hotel, using a truck bed for a speaker’s platform.  Congressman Jim Wright of Texas, traveling with the president that day, had previously been pushing the White House to allow a short public speech in Fort Worth in addition to the President’s scheduled Chamber of Commerce speech later that morning.

Fort Worth, Texas: At approximately 8:45a.m. on the morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a short speech to thousands of Texans in downtown Fort Worth prior to his formal speech inside the Texas Hotel before the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.  Rep. Jim Wright is standing just beyond JFK.
Fort Worth, Texas: At approximately 8:45a.m. on the morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a short speech to thousands of Texans in downtown Fort Worth prior to his formal speech inside the Texas Hotel before the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Jim Wright is standing just beyond JFK.

JFK’s Speech
Fort Worth: 1963

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     On his Texas trip, the president was traveling with a group of Texas dignitaries that included, in addition to Congressman Wright: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas Governor John Connally, U.S. Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough, Texas state senator Don Kennard, and others.  These officials appear in the Fort Worth photo above and some of the other photos of the same speech below.  The president was quite encouraged by the large crowd that turned out that morning, and he thanked them for coming out in what had been a rainy morning.

Nov 1963: JFK with Rep. Jim Wright in Fort Worth, Texas.
Nov 1963: JFK with Rep. Jim Wright in Fort Worth, Texas.
President John F. Kennedy addressing Fort Worth ,TX crowd on the morning of November 22, 1963 outside Hotel Texas.
President John F. Kennedy addressing Fort Worth ,TX crowd on the morning of November 22, 1963 outside Hotel Texas.
JFK looking out over crowd and downtown Fort Worth, Texas during speech on the morning of November 22, 1963.
JFK looking out over crowd and downtown Fort Worth, Texas during speech on the morning of November 22, 1963.
JFK in Fort Worth with Sen. Ralph Yarborough, Gov. John Connally and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson behind him.
JFK in Fort Worth with Sen. Ralph Yarborough, Gov. John Connally and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson behind him.
After his Fort Worth speech, JFK plunged into the crowd.
After his Fort Worth speech, JFK plunged into the crowd.

     At about 8:45 a.m., President Kennedy, with Congressman Jim Wright at his side, strode out of the hotel, also flanked by Vice President Johnson and Senator Ralph Yarborough, with Governor Connally a few steps behind.  Johnson, Yarborough and Connally all wore raincoats, as the skies were still overcast.  Kennedy and Wright were in their suit coats.  Jackie Kennedy had remained behind in the hotel suite.

     “There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” President Kennedy began when he mounted the platform, “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. . . . We appreciate your welcome.”  Then he continued with the rest of his speech, which follows:

     “. . .This city’s been a great western city, the defense of the west, cattle, oil, and all the rest.  It has believed in strength in this city, and strength in this state, and strength in this country.”

     “What we’re trying to do in this country and what we’re trying to do around the world, I believe, is quite simple.  And that is to build a military structure which will defend the vital interests of the United States.  And in that great cause, Fort Worth – as it did in World War II, as it did in developing the best bomber system in the world, the B-58, and as it will now do in developing the best fighter system in the world, the TFX – Fort Worth will play its proper part.”

     “And that is why we have placed so much emphasis in the last three years in building a defense system second to none.  Until now the United States is stronger than it’s ever been in its history.”

     “And secondly, we believe that the new environment – space, the new sea – is also an area where the United States should be second to none…  And this state of Texas, and the United States, is now engaged in the most concentrated effort in history to provide leadership in this area, as it must here on Earth.  And this is our 2nd great effort, and next December, next month, the United States will fire the largest booster in the history of the world, putting us ahead of the Soviet Union in that area, for the first time in our history.”

     “And thirdly, for the United States to fulfill its obligations around the world, requires that the United States move forward economically; that the people of this country participate in rising prosperity… And it is a fact in 1962, and the first six months of 1963, the economy of the United States grew, not only faster than nearly every Western country – which had not been true in the 50’s – but also grew faster than the Soviet Union itself.”

     “That’s the kind of strength the United States needs – economically, in space, militarily.  And in the final analysis, that strength depends on the willingness of the citizens of the United States to assume the burdens of leadership.  I know one place where they are – here in this rain, in Fort Worth, in Texas, in the United States, we’re going forward.  Thank you.”

     Kennedy received rousing cheers and prolonged applause throughout this speech, and was generally greeted enthusiastically by the large crowd.  He then plunged into the crowd for a time, shaking hands and thanking folks for coming out.

President Kennedy greeting citizens of Fort Worth, Texas who just heard him make a brief speech in front of the Hotel Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963.  Photo by White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton.
President Kennedy greeting citizens of Fort Worth, Texas who just heard him make a brief speech in front of the Hotel Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963. Photo by White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton.

     Next it was on to a more formal speech inside the Hotel Texas addressing an audience of about 2,000 civic, business, and labor leaders at a breakfast meeting of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.  Tickets for this event had vanished well in advance of Kennedy’s appearance, as demand for tickets had outstripped the capacity of the hotel’s ballroom.  Among the political and business leaders in the room that morning were Vice President Johnson, Governor Connally, U.S. Senator Yarborough, and Rep. Jim Wright.  Also attending were: Byron Tunnell, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives; Waggorier Cart, Texas Attorney General; Raymond Buck, president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; and Marion Hicks, a vice president of General Dynamics in Fort Worth and also vice president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Jackie Kennedy, center, in light suit behind agent, making her entrance at the Hotel Texas to join JFK at the head table.
Jackie Kennedy, center, in light suit behind agent, making her entrance at the Hotel Texas to join JFK at the head table.
Jackie Kennedy at the head table between JFK and Lyndon Johnson, left, and official of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, at the podium.
Jackie Kennedy at the head table between JFK and Lyndon Johnson, left, and official of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, at the podium.
President Kennedy during his speech to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Texas, Nov. 22, 1963.
President Kennedy during his speech to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Texas, Nov. 22, 1963.

     As the guests at the head table were taking their seats, JFK, according to Jeb Byrne, Kennedy’s advance coordinator for the Fort Worth visit, called one of the Secret Service agents over to the head table and told him to ask Mrs. Kennedy to come down to the ballroom.  He also instructed the agent to ask the orchestra to play “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You” when she made her entrance into the ballroom.

     Jackie arrived, escorted by two agents, and she was dressed in a striking pink suit and matching pillbox hat – an outfit that would later become a painful symbol of one of the nation’s most horrible days.  But at this moment, Jackie Kennedy was the center of attention and received a rousing welcome and audience ovation as she joined JFK at the head table.

     After the perfunctory political “thank yous” and acknowledgments of local leaders, the president began his speech by praising his wife’s greater aura: “Two years ago, I introduced myself in Paris by saying that I was the man who had accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris.  I am getting somewhat the same sensation as I travel around Texas. …Nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear.”

     In his prepared remarks, Kennedy expanded on themes he had touched on earlier in his outdoor speech.  Again, he touted Fort Worth’s contribution to national defense with its World War II bombers, combat helicopters, and a current project, the TFX aircraft.  The focus was military preparedness and U.S. leadership.  “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.”

     It was a speech written for a Texas Chamber of Commerce audience, and they loved it.  Following the speech, the President and Mrs. Kennedy walked down the main aisle shaking hands and engaging members of the audience for a few minutes before Secret Service agents guided them on a security-cleared route back to their hotel suite.  There, with some time to catch their breath before departing for Dallas, the president made a few telephone calls, one to former Vice President, John Nance Garner, at his home in Ulvade, Texas, to wish him a happy 95th birthday.  Garner had served as vice president in FDR’s first two terms in the 1930s.  The Kennedys also took some time to view the original art works adorning their suite, placing a call to one of the of exhibit’s organizers, Ruth Carter Johnson, to thank her for her thoughtfulness.

Front page of the New York Times on November 23, 1963 includes photo of LBJ being sworn on Air Force One in with Mrs. Kennedy beside him.
Front page of the New York Times on November 23, 1963 includes photo of LBJ being sworn on Air Force One in with Mrs. Kennedy beside him.
     The presidential party then left the hotel by motorcade to Carswell Air Force Base for the 13-minute flight to Dallas.  A short time later, the national horror of a presidential assassination would plunge the nation into a period of shocked disbelief and prolonged national mourning, as assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president while he was riding in an open limousine along with Jackie and Governor Connally.

     Arriving at Love Field in Dallas that morning, the President and Mrs. Kennedy engaged in some brief welcoming activities before entering their  limousine.  The JFK motorcade proceeded along a 10-mile route through downtown Dallas on its way to the Trade Mart, where the President was to speak at a luncheon. 

At approximately 12:30 p.m. on November 22nd, 1963, the President was struck by two bullets.  Shortly thereafter, at about 1:00 p.m., he was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital.  Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One with Mrs. Kennedy beside him in her blood-stained pink outfit that only hours earlier had dazzled a Fort Worth breakfast audience.  After that tragic day, America would never be quite the same, as a measure of innocence was lost with the President’s assassination.  John F. Kennedy was 46 years old.

 

The Texas Statue

Earlier artist’s rendition of the JFK Tribute Site in downtown Fort Worth, Texas at General Worth Square Park.
Earlier artist’s rendition of the JFK Tribute Site in downtown Fort Worth, Texas at General Worth Square Park.
JFK Tribute site in Fort Worth, TX as of November 2012.
JFK Tribute site in Fort Worth, TX as of November 2012.
Closer view of the JFK statue in Fort Worth, TX, with one of the large background photos from JFK’s 1963 visit.
Closer view of the JFK statue in Fort Worth, TX, with one of the large background photos from JFK’s 1963 visit.

     After JFK’s assassination, cities and towns across the country sought ways to honor the fallen president, and a number of place-name designations followed bearing the JFK or Kennedy moniker.  Schools, streets, parks, airports, public buildings and more were named for the fallen president.  In Fort Worth, too, an effort to memorialize Kennedy began in early 1964, when a group of local women pushed to have the city acquire the parking lot where Kennedy spoke, name it for him, and turn it into a public square.  However, that effort failed, but the women tried again after a local bond issue passed to build a new convention center downtown.  This time some 10,000 signatures were gathered for a petition seeking to name the new convention center after JFK.  The county commissioners rejected that idea too, but they later agreed to name the theater inside the convention center for Kennedy,  installing a small bronze plaque near the box office with the title, The John F. Kennedy Theater.  By the year 2000, however, that theater was razed in the construction for an expanded convention center.  Meanwhile, the parking lot where Kennedy had given his November 1963 speech was turned into a public square, named for the city’s fortifier and founder, General William Jenkins Worth.

     In 1999, plans were begun to include a Kennedy memorial on that site under the direction of the JFK Tribute Committee of Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc.  By 2001, Texas sculptor Lawrence Ludtke had created an eight foot statue of JFK, which was cast in bronze in 2009.  In that same year, the Fort Worth City Council authorized an agreement with Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc., for improvements to General Worth Square Park, including the JFK Tribute site,  approving $250,000 in spending.

     In January 2011, Taylor and Shirlee Gandy, co-chairs of the JFK Tribute Committee, with the backing of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., started a $2 million public fundraising effort.  Dozens of prominent residents, foundations, and trusts contributed to the project, among them: the Gandys, Bob and Janice Simpson, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the Martha Sue Parr Trust, the Jane and John Justin Foundation, Tarrant Co. Commissioners Court, and the Ann L. and Carol Greene Rhodes Charitable Trust. 

     The tribute site was dedicated at a public ceremony in November 2012.  The site is centered on the JFK statue and includes a 2,000 square foot granite plaza backed by large wall with 6-ft. x 8-ft. photographic panels depicting scenes from 1963, along with other panels with selected historic quotes.  The JFK site also includes a water wall, night lighting, and extensive landscaping.  Audio tours of the site are available as are downloadable transcripts of JFK’s 1963 Fort Worth speeches by mobile app or from the JFK Tribute website.

     The Ludtke treatment of Kennedy in the statue presents the president in a gesturing, positive mode.  “His posture is pressing forward,” explained Andy Taft, the president of Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives, “and Ludtke considered that a very optimistic pose for the president – moving forward, pressing with optimism into the future.”  The Tribute site seeks to honor the positive ideals and themes of JFK’s final speeches. That is consistent with JFK’s message that day in his Forth Worth speeches, as he spoke about the importance of a strong U.S. economy, the space program, military preparedness, and U.S. leadership.

     At the November 2012 ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony, a number of Texas politicians and local officials were on hand to lend their support for the site, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, former House Speaker Jim Wright, former Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolen, and various Fort Worth City Council members.  The JFK Tribute site exists, according to the Tribute Committee, to honor the positive ideals and themes of the President’s historic final speeches.  “President Kennedy’s vision and the impact of his leadership are as relevant today as they were in 1963,” said Taylor Gandy, JFK Tribute Co-Chair at the site’s dedication.  The tribute is also about Fort Worth and its people, then and now.

     “This isn’t about the tragedy in Dallas,” explained Mayor Betsy Price during the dedication ceremony. “This is about the [Kennedy] welcome here. . . . Fort Worth’s story has been almost forgotten.”  But now, thanks to the persistence and generosity of Fort Worth citizens, both Kennedy’s ideals and Fort Worth’s enthusiasm for a nation’s young president are set in a worthy public display.

     For additional stories at this website on Politics & Culture, or Icons & Celebrities, please visit those category pages, or go to the Home Page for other choices.  Additional stories at this website related to Kennedy family history are listed below in Sources.  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you.  - Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 17 April 2013
Last Update: 20 August 2014
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Texas Statue, Fort Worth: 2012,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2013.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Fort Worth, Texas newspaper headline of November 21st, 1963 announcing visit of President John F. Kennedy.
Fort Worth, Texas newspaper headline of November 21st, 1963 announcing visit of President John F. Kennedy.
Welcoming Fort Worth residents await late night arrival of President Kennedy at Carswell AFB, 21 Nov. 1963.
Welcoming Fort Worth residents await late night arrival of President Kennedy at Carswell AFB, 21 Nov. 1963.
Photograph of JFK’s outdoor speech in Fort Worth, TX, also showing (behind JFK, l-r), state senator Don Kennard, Sen. Yarborough, Gov. Connally, and v. p. Lyndon B. Johnson.
Photograph of JFK’s outdoor speech in Fort Worth, TX, also showing (behind JFK, l-r), state senator Don Kennard, Sen. Yarborough, Gov. Connally, and v. p. Lyndon B. Johnson.
President John F. Kennedy welcoming his wife, Jacqueline, to the head table in Forth Worth, Texas, November 22, 1963.
President John F. Kennedy welcoming his wife, Jacqueline, to the head table in Forth Worth, Texas, November 22, 1963.
President & Mrs. Kennedy greeting Fort Worth police force on departure to Dallas from Carswell AFB, 22 Nov 1963.
President & Mrs. Kennedy greeting Fort Worth police force on departure to Dallas from Carswell AFB, 22 Nov 1963.
Another view of the JFK statue at the Fort Worth, Texas JFK tribute site at General Worth Square, downtown, set against large period photographs of the President’s 1963 visit.
Another view of the JFK statue at the Fort Worth, Texas JFK tribute site at General Worth Square, downtown, set against large period photographs of the President’s 1963 visit.
JFK Tribute Site in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, with night lighting, located near the Fort Worth Hilton Hotel (formerly, the Hotel Texas in 1963).
JFK Tribute Site in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, with night lighting, located near the Fort Worth Hilton Hotel (formerly, the Hotel Texas in 1963).

“The Tribute Story,” JFKtribute.com.

“November 22, 1963: Death of the President,”JFKlibrary.org.

“Welcome, Mr. President! JFK Lands Amid Roar of Cheers; Crowd Lines Route to Town; 10,000 Welcome President,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 22, 1963.

Tom Wicker, “Kennedy Pledges Space Advances; Opens Texas Tour… Declares Research ‘Must and Will Go On’ …Party Split Evidenced; Yarborough Scores Connally…,” New York Times, November 22, 1963, p. 1.

“JFK’s ‘Parking Lot’ Speech in Fort Worth, Texas” (November 22, 1963), You Tube.com, audio track comes from the archives of Fort Worth radio station WBAP (length 10:30).

“JFK Outdoor Fort Worth Speech, November 22, 1963,” JFKtribute.com.

President John F. Kennedy, “Remarks at the Breakfast of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce,” November 22, 1963, The American Presidency Project.

“The Last Two Days, November 1963: 21-22,” JFKlibrary.org (video, 19:22).

Jeb Byrne, “The Hours Before Dallas: A Recollection by President Kennedy’s Fort Worth Advance Man, Part 1,” Prologue Magazine (of the National Archives), Summer 2000,Vol. 32, No. 2

Jeb Byrne, “The Hours Before Dallas: A Recollection by President Kennedy’s Fort Worth Advance Man, Part 2,” Prologue Magazine, Summer 2000,Vol. 32, No. 2

Jeb Byrne, “The Hours Before Dallas: A Recollection by President Kennedy’s Fort Worth Advance Man, Part 3,” Prologue Magazine, Summer 2000,Vol. 32, No. 2

“Fort Worth OKs Funding For Kennedy Statue,” Star Telegram (Forth Worth, TX), September 9, 2009.

Frank Heinz, “FW Erecting JFK Statue in Downtown Square; Statue to Commemorate President’s Visit, Final Night,” NBC (Fort Worth), Tuesday, January 25, 2011.

Ray Sanders, Commentary, “JFK Gets a Fitting Tribute in Fort Worth, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 29, 2011.

James Ragland, “Fort Worth’s JFK Tribute Forever Links Cowtown to Camelot,” Dallas News, November 7, 2012.

Stephen Becker, “Fort Worth Unveils New JFK Tribute,” ArtandSeek.net, November 7, 2012.

Sandra Baker, “Long-Overdue JFK Tribute Dedicated in Fort Worth,” Star-Telegram (Ft. Worth), Thursday, November 8, 2012.

“Fort Worth Flashback: JFK’s Speeches in Fort Worth Would be His Last,” City News, November. 19, 2012.

Stephanie Stegman,  “‘No Faint Hearts in Fort Worth:’ Public Art and Memory in the JFK Tribute,” Ultimate History Project .com.

“JFK Statue: Fort Worth Worthy,” Orwell Today.com.

 

Other Kennedy-Related Stories

“The Jack Pack, 1958-1960,” (Pt. 1: Frank Sinatra, Rat Pack & JFK campaign), PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2011.

“The Jack Pack, Pt. 2: 1961-2008,” (Part 2: Rat Pack & JFK inauguration, etc), PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2011.

“JFK, Pitchman?, 2009,” (John F. Kennedy in Omega watch ad), Pop HistoryDig.com, August 29, 2009.

“RFK in Brooklyn, 1966-1972″(Robert F. Kennedy history, legacy, statue/bust), PopHistoryDig.com, July 20, 2009.

“1968 Presidential Race: Democrats”  (includes section on RFK campaign), PopHistoryDig.com, August 14, 2008.

“JFK’s Profiles in Courage, 1954-2008″ (history of JFK book, 1950s politics & legacy), PopHistoryDig.com, February 11, 2008.

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JFK’s “Profiles in Courage”
1954-2008

2003 edition of JFK book, published by Harper-Collins.
2003 edition of JFK book, published by Harper-Collins.
     Profiles in Courage is the name of a Pulitzer Prize- winning book by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy written in 1954 and 1955 while he was a U.S. Senator. The book chronicles acts of bravery and integrity in the careers of eight U.S. Senators in American history. Profiles in Courage became a best-seller and was ground-breaking in its day, becoming one of the first books used to advance a political career aimed at the White House. Yet apart from its politics, Profiles in Courage remains popular, not only for its attachment to the Kennedy legacy, but also as an important book on political courage and U.S. Senate history. Sometimes forgotten is the fact that Kennedy’s book also spawned a Peabody Award-winning television series in 1964. Profiles in Courage also had numerous print runs including a 50th anniversary edition in 2004, inspired several new books and ongoing research on the history of political courage, and also led to the creation of the “Profiles in Courage” award, given annually since 1990.

     “Jack” Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946 as a Congressman from Massachusetts. He was 29 years old at the time. In 1952, he ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat. However, as a freshman Senator in 1954 and 1955, Kennedy took leave from the Senate to recover from surgery to treat a perennial back problem. It was during this period that he undertook Profiles in Courage. In the book, the senators that Kennedy profiled were mavericks of a kind who took courageous stands or stood apart from the safe and conventional norms of their day. They crossed party lines, defied their constituents, or ran counter to public opinion to do what they felt was right. Among Kennedy’s featured senators were: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. Each of these, and others Kennedy mentions in his book, suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of the particular stance or action each took, which was the point of Kennedy’s “courage” argument.

Early paperback edition of JFK book.
Early paperback edition of JFK book.

 

Becoming A Best-Seller

     By the late fall of 1955, advance notice of the book’s publication began appearing in some national newspapers. Kennedy himself also penned a long piece in the New York Times Magazine in December 1955 that previewed the book’s themes. On Sunday, January 1st, 1956, the book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review along with a large photo of Kennedy. Cabell Philips, the reviewer, noting that politicians themselves often criticized their own profession, wrote: “it is refreshing and enlightening to have a first rate politician write a thoughtful and persuasive book about political integrity.” Profiles in Courage generally received good reviews and was widely acclaimed. It became a best seller and remained on the best-sellers’ list for some 95 weeks. The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators. And the book’s arrival was well-timed too, as 1956 was a presidential election year; a time when national political campaigns were in full swing.

The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators.

     Although Kennedy was not a presidential candidate in 1956, he took center stage for a time at the Democratic National Convention that August in Chicago. Political conventions then were just beginning to receive more coverage by television. NBC, for example, pre-empted its day time soap operas and assigned two of its reporters, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, to co-anchor the convention coverage. Kennedy, meanwhile, gave the nomination speech for Adlai Stevenson, who became the party’s presidential nominee. Stevenson liked Kennedy and thought about making the young senator his running mate, but decided instead to throw open the nomination for Vice President to the entire convention. Several candidates were then vying for the VP slot: Senator Hubert Humphrey, Senator Al Gore, Sr., Senator Estes Kefauver, and Kennedy. All mounted instant campaigns on the floor of the convention. Some of Kennedy’s campaign paraphernalia tagged him as “a profile in courage.”

JFK VP campaign button at the 1956 Democratic Convention tagging him a 'Profile in Courage'.
JFK VP campaign button at the 1956 Democratic Convention tagging him a 'Profile in Courage'.
     The scramble for convention votes among the candidates proved dramatic with television capturing a series of roll-call ballots. Three separate ballots were needed. On the second ballot, Kennedy led 618 to 551½. At one point, the Chicago Daily News reported that Kennedy and Kefauver were tied, each falling short of the number to nominate. Kennedy then came to the floor and asked for Kefauver to be put on the ticket by acclamation. Stevenson, watching on TV at his hotel, was reportedly disappointed in the outcome. In the general election that followed that fall, the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket was crushed by the re-election of President Dwight Eisenhower and his running mate, Richard Nixon. For Kennedy, however, the national exposure he had received at the convention provided a springboard for 1960. Kennedy biographer James MacGregor Burns would write of the Kennedy’s vice presidential bid at the convention: “The dramatic race had glued millions to their television sets. Kennedy’s near-victory and sudden loss . . . struck at people’s hearts in living rooms across the nation. In this moment of triumphant defeat, his campaign for the [1960] presidency was born.” One of those who watched on TV was a young Bill Clinton in Arkansas, who years later recalled: “The Kennedy-Kefauver thing, oh, yeah. I remember that,” he said, “– and Kennedy’s gracious concession speech.”
Kennedy featured on Time cover, Dec 2, 1957, with cover story, 'Democrat's Man Out Front'.
Kennedy featured on Time cover, Dec 2, 1957, with cover story, 'Democrat's Man Out Front'.

 

Pulitzer Prize

     In 1957, following the election, Kennedy began his unofficial campaign for the White House as he continued his duties in the U.S. Senate. Among fellow Democrats in the Senate who were also presidential contenders at the time were Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, returned to the news in May 1957 as the book picked up a Pulitzer prize. The award came as something of surprise, however, as the Pulitzer board rejected the jury nominations and gave the prize instead to Kennedy’s book. In fact, a few critics charged that Kennedy’s father had been involved behind the scenes on his son’s behalf. New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, a friend of Joe Kennedy’s, boasted that he had lobbied hard for the Kennedy book. But no evidence of impropriety was found Through 1957, Kennedy continued to travel the country, with numerous speaking engagements. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s December 2nd, 1957 issue, with the feature story, “Democrat’s Man Out Front.” About that same time, however, some charges surfaced that Profiles in Courage had been written by others working with Kennedy. On December 7, 1957, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said the book was ghostwritten for Kennedy, suggesting that Kennedy’s aide, Ted Sorensen, had written much of the book. Kennedy did not take kindly to the charge and hired lawyer Clark Clifford, who produced Kennedy’s handwritten notes and statements from people saying they had seen Kennedy working on the book. Sorenson also denied the allegation and signed an affidavit attesting to Kennedy’s authorship.

Kennedy’s Writing
1940-1950s

     John Kennedy, before he entered politics, had aspired briefly to a career in journalism and had written on history and public policy. As a student at Harvard in the 1930s, Kennedy had studied international relations and history. In his senior year, he wrote a college thesis that examined the failures of the British government to take steps to prevent World War II, entitled “Appeasement in Munich.” Kennedy’s paper did not castigate Britain’s appeasement policy, and suggested that an earlier confrontation between the U.K. and Nazi Germany might have been more disastrous in the long run. That paper was written in the spring of 1940.

     Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., looking out for his son’s political future, was able to get that senior thesis paper released from Harvard and had it published as a book. Joseph Kennedy, as ambassador to Britain, had supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement during the late 1930s, which many believe cost the senior Kennedy his own political career. At any rate, John Kennedy graduated from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June 1940. A month later, his thesis was published by Willard Funk, Inc., in New York in July 1940 as Why England Slept – a play on Winston Churchill’s 1938 title, While England Slept, which also examined the buildup of German power.

     Although there has been a long running dispute over how much of Profiles in Courage Jack Kennedy actually wrote, it does appear that he formulated the idea, wrote a number of memos on the project, did oversee the book’s structure and production, and did write and/or dictate much of it. Wife Jacqueline also appears to have contributed to the concept for the book, and helped engage the research and writing assistance of a history professor at Georgetown University named Jules Davids, whom she had met taking his history course. Library of Congress researchers also assisted Kennedy, as they would any Senator requesting background research from the Library. But because of his back problem – according to one of Kennedy’s secretaries at the time, Gloria Sitrin – Kennedy could not sit for long periods of time writing or typing, and instead, dictated much of the material. Still, Ted Sorensen, Kennedy’s assistant, is believed by many to have written at least some of the book, while others say he only provided research and constructive editing. In any case, in the final book, Kennedy acknowledged all of these participants and contributors.

     About a week after the allegation had been aired by Pearson, ABC executive Oliver Treyz read a retraction of the charge on the air of Wallace’s December 14th TV show. The statement was reprinted in the New York Times, Sunday December 15th, as follows: “I wish to state that this company [ABC] has inquired into the charge made by Mr. Pearson and has satisfied itself that such charge is unfounded and that the book in question was written by Senator Kennedy.” Kennedy had also acknowledged Sorensen’s involvement in the book, crediting him in the preface and also acknowledging other contributions. Kennedy and Sorensen insisted that Kennedy was the book’s author and the initial controversy died down, although it would emerge again years later. Kennedy, meanwhile, was re-elected to a second term in the U. S. Senate in 1958 by a wide margin, and continued to draw national attention through the Democratic front runner for the White House. In January 1960, he formally declared his bid for the Presidency. During the campaign, and after Kennedy won the election, there was continuing interest in Profiles in Courage. By the time of Kennedy’s Presidential inauguration in January 1961, the book was being prepared for sale as a Pocket Books paperback. A young reader’s edition was also produced in March 1961. By then, Profiles in Courage had sold 2 million copies since its original 1956 publication.

     In June 1963, midway into Kennedy’s presidential term, the television rights for Profiles in Courage were sold for an estimated $3.5 million (1963 dollars). The NBC television network planned to film and air a series of 26 hour-long TV programs based on the book. Several months later, however, national tragedy came with the president’s assassination in Texas in late November 1963. After Kennedy’s assassination, Harper & Row was besieged for copies of Profiles in Courage, with orders in excess of 10,000 copies by late November. A Perennial Library Memorial Edition of Profiles in Courage was prepared by Harper for 1964, which included a moving introduction by Kennedy’s brother and then U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy.

Television Series

Front-page New York Times story on the sale of JKF book for TV series, June 10, 1963.
Front-page New York Times story on the sale of JKF book for TV series, June 10, 1963.

     The following year, in mid-November, the planned NBC television series, ”Profiles in Courage,” began airing on Sunday evenings. However, with 26 episodes, additional characters beyond those in Kennedy’s book were needed for the series. All of the additional characters subsequenlty profiled in the TV series had been previously approved by JFK. The producer of the TV show, Robert Saudek, was known for his serious television productions, and had also produced the much-praised OmnibusTV series as well as concerts by the New York Philharmonic. Saudek had a clear grasp of Kennedy’s message for the Profiles TV series. One of the additional historic politicians, for example, was that of Oscar Underwood, an Alabama Senator who in 1924 was in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Underwood, however, chose to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, losing southern support, thereby ruining his chances of winning the nomination and later losing his Senate seat and his political career.

Profiles in Courage-TV
Episode List, 1964-1965
Episode
Oscar W. Underwood
Mary S. McDowell
Thomas Hart Benton
Richard T. Ely
Sam Houston
Gov. John M. Slaton
John Adams
Robert A. Taft
Anne Hutchinson
Gen. A. Doniphan
John Peter Altgeld
Frederick Douglass
Daniel Webster
Woodrow Wilson
Prudence Crandall
Andrew Johnson
Hamilton Fish
Charles Evans Hughes
Edmund G. Ross
George W. Norris
Grover Cleveland
John Quincy Adams
John Marshall
Judge Ben B. Lindsey
George Mason
Thomas Corwin
Air Date
11/8/64
11/15/64
11/29/64
12/6/64
12/13/64
12/20/64
12/27/64
1/3/65
1/10/65
1/17/65
1/24/65
1/31/65
2/7/65
2/14/65
2/21/65
2/28/65
3/7/65
3/14/65
3/21/65
3/28/65
4/4/65
4/11/65
4/18/65
4/25/65
5/2/65
5/9/65
____________________
Aired on NBC, Sundays, 6:30-7:30pm.

     Time magazine called the Profiles in Courage TV series “a bracing antidote to the plethora of two- dimensional tele- dramas in which tinsel laurels automatically crown the good guy.” The TV series ended in mid-1965, but received a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service rendered by radio and television.” The book, meanwhile, remained in print and continued to be used in schools and beyond.

 

Award & New Books

     The Profiles in Courage legacy, however, continued through the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st Century. In 1989, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation established an award for political courage called “The Profile in Courage Award.” The annual award is made to recognize displays of political and moral courage similar to those that Kennedy originally wrote about in his book. It is given to individuals, and often elected officials, who have risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state, or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other interests. Winners are selected by a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which typically includes members of the Kennedy family as well as other prominent Americans. The award is generally made around the time of JFK’s birthday, May 29th. From the early 1990s, the award has been presented at the Kennedy Library in Boston by Kennedy family members, including JFK daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Senator Ted Kennedy. In addition to honoring those with political courage, the award had also helped kindle continuing interest in the original book.

Former President Gerald Ford receiving 2001 Profile in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ted Kennedy.
Former President Gerald Ford receiving 2001 Profile in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ted Kennedy.

New Profiles

     In 2002, Caroline Kennedy gave the “profiles of courage” concept a new focus, teaming up with publisher Hyperion and serving as editor for a new book, Profiles in Courage for Our Time, offering a collection of essays profiling recent winners of the Profile in Courage award. In this book, award winners are profiled by a variety of writers, historians. and journalists, some of well-known stature such as Michael Beschloss, E. J. Dionne, Anna Quindlen, and Bob Woodward. Famous award winners, as well as lesser known recipients, are profiled in the book. Among some of the well-know recipients profiled, for example are: New Jersey Governor James Florio, former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, and former president Gerald Ford. Among the less well-known are activists and community heroes such as Corkin Cherubini, Nickolas C. Murnion, and Hilda Solis.

2005 book of essays on Profile of Courage award winners by Caroline Kennedy (ed).
2005 book of essays on Profile of Courage award winners by Caroline Kennedy (ed).

     In April 2006, a special 50th anniversary edition of Profiles in Courage was published by Harper. This special “P.S.”edition, as the publisher called it, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication and also included a number of extras, such as vintage photographs, an extensive JFK biography, Kennedy’s correspondence about the project, reviews of the book, a letter from Ernest Hemingway, and two speeches from recipients of the Profiles in Courage Award. Elsewhere in the Kennedy family, the “heroes theme” was also being explored by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who with publisher Hyperion in September 2007, launched the first of “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes Series” of children’s books, Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War. A second book in the series, focusing on another Civil War hero, Robert Smalls, a slave who hijacked a Confederate steamer and turned it over to the Union Navy, and later became a U.S. Congressman, will be published by Hyperion in 2008.

50th anniversary trade paperback edition of JFK book issued by Harper-Perennial in 2007.
50th anniversary trade paperback edition of JFK book issued by Harper-Perennial in 2007.

 

 

65 Printings

     JFK’s Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, compiled quite a track record over more than 50 years. The book has had at least 65 printings, sold more than 3 million copies, and hit the bestsellers list three times: in the late 1950s when JFK was an up-and-coming Senator; after he was elected President in 1960-61; and following his assassination in 1963-64. The book also spawned a successful television series in 1964-65, inspired the annual Profiles in Courage Awards, and sparked new research and subsequent books on political integrity and the history of heroism. Whatever criticism may still linger about the JFK’s Profiles in Courage, there is no doubt that this book instigated an important concept and way of evaluating political courage, fostered a respectable progeny of good and useful history, and helped bring into the spotlight contemporary careers of exemplary public service and good works.

     For additional stories at this website on Politics & Culture, or Celebrities & Icons, please visit those category pages, or go to the Home Page for other choices.  Additional stories at this website related to JFK and other Kennedy family members are listed below in Sources.  Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you.  —  Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 11 February 2008
Last Update: 18 May 2013
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Profiles in Courage, 1954-2008,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 11, 2008.

____________________________________

 

 

Sources, Links & Additional Information

Time magazine cover, November 24th, 1958, featuring seven “Democratic Hopefuls” then believed to be in the early running for their party’s 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Senator Stuart Symington (MO), Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Governor, Robert Meyner, Senator John F. Kennedy (MA), and then California Governor-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.
Time magazine cover, November 24th, 1958, featuring seven “Democratic Hopefuls” then believed to be in the early running for their party’s 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Senator Stuart Symington (MO), Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Governor, Robert Meyner, Senator John F. Kennedy (MA), and then California Governor-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, National Archives and Records Administration, Boston, MA.

John F. Kennedy, “The Challenge Of Political Courage; A Senator Analyzes the Pressures Confronting the Conscientious Lawmaker,” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, December 18, 1955, p. 13.

Cabell Phillips, “Men Who Dared to Stand Alone; Political Integrity and the Price Paid For It Is Discussed by Senator Kennedy,” The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, January 1, 1956, p.1.

Charles Poore, “Books of The Times; Two Who Put Whole Nation First Assaying a Cause Championed,” New York Times, January 7, 1956, Saturday, p. 15.

John F. Kennedy, “Search for the Five Greatest Senators,” The New York Times Magazine, April 14, 1957.

Harrison E. Salisbury, “O’Neill Play, Kennan Book Awarded Pulitzer Prizes,” New York Times, Tuesday, May 7, 1957, p. 1.

“Democrats: Man Out Front,” Cover Story, Time, Monday, December 2, 1957.

A.B.C. Answers Pearson; Apologizes for Charge About Kennedy on Wallace Show,” New York Times, Sunday, December 15, 1957, p. 73.

Lewis Nichols, “In and Out of Paperbacks,” Book Review, New York Times, January 15, 1961, Sunday, p. BR, A-2.

Harry Gilroy, “Publishers Rush President Books; Revised Works on Kennedy and Johnson Planned, Johnson Book Updated, Memorial Editor Set,” New York Times, November 27, 1963, Wednesday, p. 35.

“Through a Brother’s Eyes,” Time, Friday, February 21, 1964.

Jack Gould, “TV: ‘Profiles in Courage'; First Program Based on Kennedy Book Is Presented on N.B.C.,” New York Times, November 9, 1964.

“The Badge of Courage,” Time, Friday, November 20, 1964.

“A Year for Teen-Agers,” Time, Friday, May 7, 1965.

Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., “Jules Davids Dies at 75; Helped Kennedy With ‘Profiles’ Book,” New York Times, December 12, 1996.

Patricia Cohen, “An Old Letter Backs a Claim of Helping Kennedy Write ‘Profiles’,” New York Times, October 18, 1997.

Curtis Wilkie, “The Spirit of ’56: Recollections of A Convention Worth Watching,” Boston Globe, July 25, 2004.

Joe Queenan, “Ghosts in the Machine,” Books, New York Times, March 20, 2005.

Shannon Maughan, “Profiles in Courage: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes,” Children’s Bookshelf, Publishers Weekly, September 27, 2007.

Caroline Kennedy, Profiles in Courage for Our Time, @ Hyperion Books.

 

Other Kennedy-Related Stories at This Website

“The Jack Pack, 1958-1960,” (Pt. 1: Frank Sinatra, Rat Pack & JFK campaign), PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2011.

“The Jack Pack, Pt. 2: 1961-2008,” (Rat Pack & JFK inauguration; years thereafter; etc.,), PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2011.

“JFK, Pitchman?, 2009″( John F. Kennedy in Omega watch ad), Pop HistoryDig.com, August 29, 2009.

“JFK’s Texas Statue, Ft. Worth: 2012″ (statue in Fort Worth, Texas commemorates JFK’s 1960 visit there prior to his assassination), PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2013.

“RFK in Brooklyn, 1966-1972″(Robert F. Kennedy statue in Brooklyn, urban policy history, etc.,), PopHistoryDig.com, July 20, 2009.

“1968 Presidential Race – Democrats”(includes section on RFK campaign), PopHistoryDig.com, August 14, 2008.

 

 

 

 

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