Past Times

Candidate Kennedy enjoyed a warm reception in Raleigh

Presidential candidate John Kennedy addresses a crowd of 12,000 at the East Carolina College stadium in Greenville in 1960.
Presidential candidate John Kennedy addresses a crowd of 12,000 at the East Carolina College stadium in Greenville in 1960. N&O File Photo

Campaign appearances by presidential hopefuls have been plentiful this election season. In 1960, much of North Carolina was excited to welcome a young Sen. John F. Kennedy to the campaign trail. Writer David Cooper described the reception he got in Raleigh.

A swarm of wet, cheering citizens almost mobbed Jack Kennedy in their enthusiasm as he entered Raleigh Saturday evening.

It happened at the Glenwood Shopping Center at the edge of the city as the Kennedy caravan from Raleigh-Durham Airport stopped for the candidate to change from a closed sedan to an open car.

There, 1,500 people – mothers in Bermuda shorts, men in shirt sleeves and carrying umbrellas, and children screaming for Kennedy – met the candidate. They had been waiting for almost an hour.

For several minutes, the crowd pressed so tightly around the closed car carrying Kennedy that he was unable to get out.

When he did, wearing his ever-present smile, a great whoop went up from the people pressing tightly around him. Governor Hodges and Terry Sanford, the Democrats’ candidate for the State’s next Governor, were squeezed up against the side of the car with Kennedy.

With the door slightly ajar, Kennedy stood and waved. The crowd roared again. Hands pressed from all sides, grasping the hand of the presidential candidate.

Kennedy changed from the closed sedan to an open convertible at the Glenwood Village stop, but it took him almost 10 minutes to make the switch.

Police, local officials, and top State party leaders were unable to help the cornered candidate.

Finally, Raleigh Police Chief Tom Davis, driving a white Ford Thunderbird with the top down, moved his car up next to the vehicle carrying Kennedy.

Davis literally had to ease the cheering crowd out of the way with the vehicle.

When the Thunderbird got alongside the Kennedy car, the man seeking the presidency vaulted the side of the new vehicle.

With the candidate perched on the back seat of the Thunderbird, the Kennedy caravan started moving inch by inch away from the crowd that had come to see him. But not before many more hands grappled with his or slapped him on the back or merely reached out to touch.

Through it all the handsome New Englander kept a broad smile or flashing grin. He obviously loved the welcome.

With Kennedy on the back seat of the convertible – and two SBI men sprawled on the rear trunk of the car – the procession headed on toward the Governor’s mansion.

All along Glenwood Avenue, little knots of people stood, waved and shouted at Kennedy.

About 150 crowded out into the streets at Five Points to seem him pass by.

Another 500 were waiting in the streets at the Governor’s mansion to see him. About 75 were on the steps of the mansion and along the drive as he drove up, accompanied by Hodges and Sanford.

Then, with the crushing welcome to Raleigh behind him, Kennedy entered the mansion for a few minutes’ rest and some food before going to Reynolds Coliseum for his main Raleigh appearance. The N&O Sept. 18, 1960

Former editor Jonathan Daniels joined Kennedy on his swing through the state and gushed over the candidate under a dateline that read “EN ROUTE WITH KENNEDY.”

As a Massachusetts man, naturally reared in the remembrance of Plymouth Rock, he indicated his knowledge of the earlier North Carolina colony. And obviously he came to the State of that first colony with more contemporary elation than historical envy. Indeed, it was clear in all his speaking that he recognized Raleigh’s colony at Roanoke not only as the first frontier in English-speaking America. Clearly he recognized the State and the South behind it as a first frontier still in the development and destiny of our native land.

In his acceptance speech in Los Angeles he invited all Americans to be pioneers on the New Frontier of the 1960s.… Obviously what Kennedy proposed for our times is something closely akin to the expansive Elizabethan spirit which made Raleigh’s colonists the argonauts of an age which never had known such space before. The N&O Sept. 18, 1960

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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