Civil Rights

Latino civil rights leaders remember JFK’s final visit to Houston ahead of the 60th anniversary of his death

60 years ago President John F. Kennedy visited Houston and spoke with Latino civil rights leaders, what officials say was a “pivotal moment in Mexican-American history.” 

President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy shake hands with well-wishers who lined the ramp at Houston International Airport to welcome them to the city, Nov. 21, 1963.   (AP Photo)
President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy shake hands with well-wishers who lined the ramp at Houston International Airport to welcome them to the city, Nov. 21, 1963. (AP Photo)

It's been 60 years since President John F. Kennedy spent his last night in Houston, a night that's considered historic for the city and the Latino community.

President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, met with Latino civil rights leaders at the Rice Hotel in Downtown Houston on November 21, 1963. LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the oldest Hispanic civil rights organizations, was hosting a Gala event that the Kennedys were only supposed to stop by briefly.

"The city of Houston recognizes its profound significance to LULAC Council 60 and to the nation," said Robert Gallegos, Houston's only Hispanic council member. "Kennedy’s appearance will be remembered as a pivotal moment in Mexican-American history."

The event turned into about 20 minutes of speeches given by JFK and the former first lady, who delivered her remarks in Spanish. Historians view the event as the first time a president acknowledged the Latino voting bloc.

In honor of the significant day, LULAC was presented a proclamation by the City of Houston during its November 14th public session meeting, proclaiming November 21, 2023 as LULAC Council 60 Day.

"I still recall some of the stories that the older members have told me of them, who have now passed on," said Al Maldonado, LULAC's District Director. "They told me the story about how they got the president in here and it was just great listening to them and I was all ears listening to their stories."

Maldonado was only two years old when JFK died, but he said former members have always kept that night alive in their memories.

"We’ve lost a lot of members since then, but they will not be forgotten for all the work they did in putting this event together," he said. "We're just so excited that the President was able to come to visit LULAC Council 60. We recognize (the event) as the first President to visit a Latin American organization, so we're truly proud of that honor and distinction."

Council members joined in celebrating the monumental day and the lasting impact on Houston.

"We’re celebrating a son of Massachusetts like John F. Kennedy, where I was born, let me say and as much as the Kennedys have meant to the great state of Massachusetts, the great state of Texas and our country, It means so much to this LULAC chapter," said At-Larger Council Member David Robinson.

The Heritage Society currently has an exhibit commemorating JFK's 60th anniversary visit. "The Civil Rights Milestone" features pictures, documents, and films that include JFK's speech at the Rice Hotel.

"It had such significance, such sadness what happened the next day, but it puts a highlight on it even more that it was one of the last acts he did as President of the United States and so very important," said At-Large Council Member Sallie Alcorn.

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.