Locals remember President Kennedy’s Fort Worth visit 60 years later

dfwnewsa | November 20, 2023 | 1 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

President Kennedy at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Nov. 22, 1963. Fort Worth Chamber President Raymond Buck is on the right. (Courtesy photo | Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection at the University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

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A look back 60 years to when the Fort Worth Chamber hosted the president just a few hours before events in Dallas changed history.

John Fletcher still has the cardboard sign that says, “Hooray for JFK,” in faded blue glitter. 

On Nov. 21, 1963, the 12-year-old Fletcher was filled with excitement and anticipation. He was going to see President John F. Kennedy’s arrival via Air Force One at Fort Worth’s Carswell Air Force Base, now the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base. The visit was part of the president’s trip through Texas to shore up political support for an upcoming reelection campaign that was not to be. 

Fletcher recently found the sign, which had been misplaced in a recent move. Like many others, he recalls the day 60 years ago, on Nov. 22, when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas just a few hours after he departed Fort Worth. 

Fletcher’s father, Earle Fletcher, was general manager of KXOL, one of the top AM radio stations of the era. He had secured the invitation to the air base and had also purchased the white cardboard sign for his son. 

Neither father nor son got too close to the president. The crowd that day was estimated at 10,000, John Fletcher said. 

“It was electric. Everybody wanted to be there,” he said. “That’s what I remember, just the electricity in the air.” 

Shorter in stature than many in attendance, he mostly remembers seeing the coats and hats of all those in front of him and the backs of people who had deplaned.

“I could catch a glimpse between one shoulder and the next, but I proudly held the sign up, ” he said.

The next morning, Nov. 22, Fletcher’s father went to see the president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at a breakfast event hosted by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Texas. 

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Later that same day, Fletcher was in his seventh-grade reading class at McLean Junior High when the school principal came over the public address system to deliver the news that the president had been shot. Several class members began to cry.

“Lost in the tragedy was the fact that Fort Worth had rolled out the red carpet and opened its heart to welcome the president and the first lady,” said Fletcher, now owner of Fletcher Consulting Public Relations. 

The warm Fort Worth embrace of the president was seemingly forgotten for years, said Tim D. Young, a real estate broker who also runs free walking tours in downtown Fort Worth. The tours cover several topics, from architecture to history to art. About 15 years ago, Young added an annual JFK walking tour.

“Really, before that, people didn’t seem to want to talk about his visit to Fort Worth,” he said. When Downtown Fort Worth Inc. and business leaders Shirlee J. and Taylor Gandy began work to create a JFK Tribute in Fort Worth’s General Worth Square, that changed, he said. 

“I think at that point people began to talk about what a great welcome the city gave the president and the first lady,” he said. “And what a great speech the president made.” 

The 2023 JFK walking tour has already taken place, but Young plans to continue doing it as long as people are interested.

The tour recounts highlights of Kennedy’s visit to the city, including the breakfast, the fact that the presidential suites were decorated with artwork from the city and the speech JFK delivered to thousands of rain-drenched spectators from the front steps of the historic Hotel Texas, now the Hilton Fort Worth

“I think it’s a very important piece of our history, and people need to remember it,” he said. “I’m glad we’ve embraced it.” 

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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