The day before, John F. Kennedy visited Houston

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.

John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie deplane in Houston // John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

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.

The Cougar 11/22/1963

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.

Jack Valenti greets JFK // Houston Chronicle archives

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 Young Democrats sign // John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
“U of H welcomes first family” // John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

UH’s chapter of Phi Kappa Theta painted a sign welcoming their fraternity brother JFK that said, “Phi Kappa Theta Says Hi Brother Jack!”

Phi Kappa Theta sign painting (11/20/1963) // The Houstonian Yearbook

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.

Presidential motorcade travels up the Gulf Freeway toward Cullen/Univ Houston exit

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:

JFK sees Phi Kappa sign // The Houstonian
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy at LULAC // John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

After LULAC, he visited the Houston Coliseum for a dinner honoring Houston congressman Albert Thomas.

JFK speaking at the Sam Houston Coliseum

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.

Cougar staffers await news at the AP teletype // The Houstonian

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.

Jack Valenti, next to flowers, at LBJ swearing in at Love Airport // LBJ Presidential Papers

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.


Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, is proud to be a corporate sponsor as the Official Personal Injury Law Firm for the University of Houston Athletics.

“As a University of Houston alum, I am honored that the University of Houston Athletics chose our firm to be their official and exclusive personal injury law firm,” says Stewart J. Guss, the firm’s founder.