ELKINS – President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today, Three years before that, the state of West Virginia played a major role in his becoming president.
When the 1960 primary campaign began, a firmly established Kennedy organization had been formed, with eight main headquarters and a similar number of sub-offices established throughout West Virginia. Elkins became a city with a strong Kennedy organization, and it began to work for the defeat of Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, Kennedy’s major opponent in the primary election.
West Virginia became a battleground state during the Democratic primaries, which involved Humphrey, of Minnesota, and Kennedy, of Massachusetts.he West Vi
The West Viginia presidential primary was scheduled for May 10, 1960, and Kennedy orchestrated a whirlwind campaign that emphasized the social and economic conditions of the Mountain State, with the poor and unemployed as principal issues, and de-emphasized his Catholic religion.
Local supporters of Kennedy were elated to find out that arrangements had been made for the senator to make a visit to Elkins immediately prior to the primary election. Many citizens were agog with anticipation of the senator’s visit, scheduled to be held at the Tygart Hotel on Sunday, May 8, 1960. Invitations had been mailed by West Virginians for Kennedy for his friends and supporters to gather at the hotel at 1:30 p.m. to welcome him. The senator and the local newspaper – The Inter-Mountain – had run large ads inviting the local citizenry to the welcoming ceremonies at the hotel.
However, the Kennedy visit did not occur.
In the Monday, May 9, 1960, edition of The Inter-Mountain, a report read:
“Several hundred Randolph County citizens overflowed the Tygart Hotel in Elkins yesterday to get a glimpse of Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy, but learned with disappointment that his airplane had been ‘grounded’ by rainy weather conditions at Charleston. But, Sen. Kennedy still spoke to the Elkins audience via telephone, and his voice was broadcast over loudspeakers in the hotel lobby.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., a Kennedy advisor and son of late president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, made an appearance at the Sunday afternoon gathering to remind the audience what his father and mother had done in the local area to ease the economic problems of the 1930s. Roosevelt had been introduced by Judge Stanley Bosworth, and Robert E. Maxwell served as master of ceremonies.
Later in the evening on May 8, Kennedy appeared on statewide television and made a memorable speech about religion, in which he emphasized the need to maintain a separation of church and state.
As a result of the primary election of May 10, 1960, Sen. Kennedy swept 48 of 55 counties in West Virginia, thereby ending Humphrey’s run for the Democratic nomination for president.
Humphrey conceded defeat in the evening of May 10, and Kennedy remarked, “I think we have buried the religious issue once and for all,”
Humphrey’s campaign had floundered, according to some political observers, due to underfunding and inability to match Kennedy’s touring the state by airplane, vs. Humphrey’s travel in the state by hired bus.
At the Los Angeles nominating convention in July 1960, Kennedy went on to garner 806 votes to obtain the Democratic nomination for president, with the vote of the West Virginia delegation making a contribution to the final tally.
Late in the summer of 1960, the Methodist Men’s group of the First United Methodist Church of Elkins, including this writer, traveled to Pittsburgh by chartered bus to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. This had been a customary outing for the organization for many years, and this year was expected to be another pleasant journey to the Steel City for many of the participants.
In the course of the group’s travel into the city, the chartered bus began to experience some stoppages and delays on the city’s streets, due to unexpected traffic problems.
For a great distance through the streets of Pittsburgh, we began to encounter flashing lights and a cluster of police vehicles approaching our bus as we moved toward the Pittsburgh stadium. At one point, the bus came to an extended stop, when a caravan of official vehicles, including an open convertible, came from the opposite direction of our travel and slowly passed our bus. Much to our surprise, one of the occupants of the convertible was Kennedy. We all were pleasantly surprised by this unexpected occurrence, since most of us in the bus had never seen Kennedy in person. It would be the only time we were to see him in person after his nomination for president.
A state visit
The West Virginia congressional delegation – and former mayor of Elkins and governor of West Virginia, Wally Barron – met with President Kennedy in early 1963 at the White House to invite him to visit West Virginia during the celebration of the state’s 100th anniversary on June 20, 1963.
The West Virginia Centennial Celebration at Charleston was cause for a great gathering of state and national political leaders, with a special “spotlight” on Kennedy. This event occurred less than five months before his Dallas visit in November 1963. Kennedy later spoke glowingly of the centennial visit to Charleston and always expressed gratitude to the people of West Virginia for the support he received during the primary election.
While serving as a teacher at Elkins High School on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 – 50 years ago today – this writer experienced an unpleasant historical event that coincided with the teaching of a group of senior students in a “Problems of Democracy” class.
In the course of a routine day of instruction, an abrupt and shocking announcement came over the school’s PA system early in the afternoon by the school’s principal, Henry Hamilton. The announcement was horrifying to the students.
Hamilton, in a very moderate tone, announced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot while visiting Dallas. Many of the students in the classroom became very emotional, with senior girls, in particular, reacting in shock and dismay to the abbreviated announcement.
The students were not receptive to any further instruction at that point, and it was not until about an hour later that Hamilton made a follow-up announcement of the president’s death as a result of the shooting.