JFK’s Final Visit to Houston Came 50 Years Ago Today

It was fifty years ago today that President John F. Kennedy was in the middle of a short swing through Texas as he tried to shore-up support in a state where voters weren't so sure about re-electing him in 1964. Kennedy's brief visit to Houston on Thursday, November 21, 1963, was the last full day of his life. 


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Kennedy had spent the earlier part of the day in San Antonio, where adoring crowds lined streets in support of the president. While he found support there, he was worried about what would happen here in Houston, his next stop on the short Texas trip.

Announcer’s voice: “The presidential plane, Air Force One, departs San Antonio and touches down in Houston.”

Michael Hardy wrote “The Last Supper” for Houstonia magazine, a chronicle of Kennedy’s time in Houston. He says no official motorcade was planned because the President was concerned nobody would show up.

“He needn’t have worried about the support. He got about 75,000 Houstonians coming out to line the edges of the procession of the cars, nearly as many as he got in San Antonio.”

PBS NewsHour Weekend: JFK in Houston
A look at President Kennedy’s final day in Houston – just one day before his assassination.

Kennedy’s next stop was the historic Rice Hotel in downtown Houston, where he was provided a suite.

“A lot of people think because he had a suite there, that he spent the night at The Rice Hotel. That’s not the case. It was just to change and to relax. The Rice Hotel had stocked the suite with caviar and champagne and Heineken, which was Kennedy’s favorite beer, and he held a number of meetings there.”

The President was set to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser that evening for Congressman Albert Thomas at the nearby Houston Coliseum.

“But he decided to make an impromptu stop at a gathering of LULAC, and said a few words and what most impressed the crowd was that Jackie Kennedy said a few words in Spanish.”

From the LULAC event, Kennedy headed a few blocks south.

Announcer’s voice: “Thursday evening, the Houston Coliseum, a testimonial dinner for Congressman Albert Thomas.”

“Albert Thomas was the guest of honor because he was the Congressman most responsible, along with Vice President Johnson, with bringing NASA to Houston, so that was really his enduring legacy.”

Kennedy spoke before a crowd of several thousand.

“In Texas and the nation, growth has been the law of life. Growth has meant new opportunities for this state. Progress has meant new achievements and we dare not look back now.”

It was one of his last speeches before his death.

“In 1990, the age of space will be entering its second phase and our hopes in it to preserve the peace, to make sure that in this great new sea, as on earth, the United States is second to none. Your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions, the Bible tells us, and where there is no vision, the people perish.”

From that speech, the Kennedy’s headed back to the Rice Hotel, changed, and then headed back to the airport for a flight that night to Fort Worth. The entire Houston stop was no more than six hours long. But Hardy says the city made the President feel welcome.

“We rolled out a carpet of red roses, which is what we had put out in front of The Rice Hotel for him. Apparently he and the First Lady were a little embarrassed by that, but there was actually a carpet of red roses leading up to the hotel. So, I would say Houston went above and beyond in their reception of President Kennedy.”

John F. Kennedy was dead less than a day later.

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