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.
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.
President Kennedy continued the string of 20th Century Presidents to visit Little Rock. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had all visited while in office. Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower all visited prior to attaining the presidency.