The events of November 22, 1963, are etched in history. For the three days after President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, the country mourned and watched in horror as his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered beneath the Dallas Police Station.
But a day before his death, Kennedy flew to Houston, and University of Houston students, leaders, and alumni played a part in his visit.
the daily #113 | 11/21/2023 | Archives
On November 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy embarked on an early campaign and fundraising swing through Texas. He flew from Washington to San Antonio for a motorcade through the city and then gave a speech at Brooks Air Force Base on medical research in space.
After the speech, the three-plane entourage flew to Houston International Airport, now Hobby, with the media plane landing first and Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s plane landing second. That way, the media could be in place to document when Johnson and his staff disembarked and met local dignitaries. Both groups would be in place when the President’s plane landed.
When JFK and his wife Jackie came down the stairs, University of Houston leaders were among those to greet him. Philip G. Hoffman, the first Chancellor of the UH System, was one of the first to shake Kennedy’s hand. A Cougar photographer captured the moment, and it was published the next day.
Also there to greet Kennedy was one of Johnson’s political consultants, Jack Valenti. Valenti was a UH graduate, former student government president and writer at the Cougar. Valenti played a significant part in the student group that pushed for UH to add intercollegiate athletics in 1945. Valenti served as a media liaison while the President was in Houston.
Cougar writers and a photographer were on hand to cover the Houston leg of the President’s trip. And UH students made signs to show their support of Kennedy, including one from the Young Democrats Club.
UH’s chapter of Phi Kappa Theta painted a sign welcoming their fraternity brother JFK that said, “Phi Kappa Theta Says Hi Brother Jack!”
The crowds grew large once the motorcade reached US 75, the precursor to Interstate 45. As the President passed the University of Houston, cars heading south had stopped and people streamed onto the highway to watch the procession go by. Kennedy rode in convertibles during the trip because of the unseasonably warm weather and his desire to connect with Texans.
JFK was driven to the Rice Hotel for meetings before speaking at a LULAC convention downstairs. The Phi Kappa Theta sign can be seen behind Kennedy’s car in downtown:
After LULAC, he visited the Houston Coliseum for a dinner honoring Houston congressman Albert Thomas.
After his speech there, the motorcade returned to the airport for an evening flight to Fort Worth. Kennedy spent his last night at the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth.
The following day, the presidential party left Carswell AFB for an eight-minute flight to Love Field. During a motorcade to the Trade Mart, Kennedy was assassinated coming out of downtown Dallas, some 20 hours after landing in Houston.
JFK was shot at 12:30 pm, and within six minutes, teletype machines were sending the news nationwide. The Cougar had an AP teletype, and staffers huddled around it, waiting for updates. At 1:37, the AP flash told them that Kennedy was dead. A minute later, Walter Cronkite read the news to America.
Jack Valenti was in the motorcade in Dallas when the President was killed and was present when Johnson was sworn in at 2:38 pm at Love Field. Valenti became a Special Assistant to President Johnson and lived in the White House for two months.
At the time, the Cougar was printed twice a week. With the nation officially mourning Monday, November 25th – the day of Kennedy’s funeral – the next paper was put together Tuesday and published Wednesday.