Little Rock Look Back: JFK in the ARK

JFK LROn October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas.  In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris.  Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees.

The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.  He tied that to improvements in the state’s universities and colleges as well as public works projects.

The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code.  He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.

He arrived at the Little Rock Air Force Base, then only a few years old, and proceeded to Heber Springs via helicopter. Students and civic leaders from nearby Batesville were present to help welcome the President and his entourage.  Following the ceremony at Greers Ferry, he and his party ventured to Little Rock.

It was an exceptionally hot October day (temperatures were in the lower 90s), but all else seemed perfect according to media reports.  The Little Rock School District dismissed classes on that day (which was a Thursday) so students could attend the President’s remarks at the Fairgrounds.