It was supposed to be a five-city tour of Texas.
Over the course of two days in November 1963, President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were scheduled to visit San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas – ending with a stop in Austin.
The Kennedys arrived in San Antonio Thursday, Nov. 21. From there, they traveled to Houston and before packing it in at the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth.
President Kennedy spoke to a crowd the morning of Friday, Nov. 22, just outside the hotel. The President and his wife then proceeded to Dallas, accompanied by Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie.
Austin was the final destination on Pres. Kennedy’s Texas tour. A motorcade was planned through downtown Austin, followed by receptions at the Governor’s Mansion and a fundraising event at the Austin’s Municipal Auditorium.
Don Carleton, executive director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History says Kennedy’s trip was to raise a considerable amount of money.
“Texas was going to be incredibly important in the upcoming election,” Carelton says. “He needed, like all presidential campaigns, to raise money to fight for reelection. But also the public appearances here, including Austin, were partly more of an early campaign as well.”
Ben Barnes, former Texas Lieutenant Governor of Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, took part in organizing Kennedy’s visit to Texas. He also recalls the aftermath of the president’s death.
“We decided the important thing to do was to give everybody something to do, and to be able to see one another, be able to console one another, comfort one another and express sympathy to one another,” Barnes says.
Barnes says Austinites were not only grieving for Kennedy, but also praying for Gov. Connally to live.
“We had a prayer service at the house chamber at the Texas House of Representatives,” Barnes says, “which was full of people that had tickets to the Kennedy-Johnson dinner that night, members of the legislature and friends of Governor Connally.”
Barnes says Americans witnessed a time of change; fifty years later, he’s impressed with the public reflection on President Kennedy’s life and tragic death.