Some myths never die. But in the interest of accuracy in history, we must try once more.

For decades, the false story has been told and retold that President John F. Kennedy came to Texas in 1963  to unite a fractious Democratic Party in the state. Now comes a Washington Post article this week, prompted  by the death of Don Yarborough, a charismatic liberal Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Governor three times in the 60s, which recycles that  revisionist history. Under a headline that reads “His Challenge to Party Brought Kennedy to Texas in ’63”, Post staffer Joe Holley recalls  that Don Yarborough came within 27,000 votes of defeating Connally in the Democratic Primary runoff. Which is true.  But then the article reports that Vice President Johnson “was concerned that Mr. Yarborough might defeat Connally in 1964 and that his liberal views would drive conservatives into the Republican fold, thus jeopardizing Kennedy’s re-election chances in 1964. Johnson convinced Kennedy that a presidential visit to Texas would help unite the famously fractious party.” 

Not true. President Kennedy wanted to come to Texas for one reason–political fundraising.  As a matter of fact, neither Johnson nor Connally were excited about the presidential visit at that time, but JFK had been pushing for it ever since his election. The original White House wish was for one big fundraising event. It was Connally who convinced the President to tour San Antonio, Houston,  Fort Worth and Dallas for non-political events, ending up in Austin for a fundraising dinner.

The truth about the tour is underscored by prominent Austin attorney Larry Temple, former Executive Assistant to Governor Connally and later Special Assistant to President Johnson, who has grown weary of the enduring myths. In a vent of frustration to close friends, he wrote: “Those of us  who were there and know the reason for the fateful Kennedy trip to Texas knew that it was solely to raise money…healing wounds in the Democratic Party wasn’t even a consideration. One of the myths was that he wanted to heal the rift between LBJ and Ralph Yarborough. Another myth was he wanted to heal the rift  between Connally and Yarborough. Another one was that Kennedy wanted to try to unite the conservative wing and the liberal wing of the party. I know from John Connally that Kennedy never mentoned any of those factors as a reason for his trip. I know from LBJ that Kennedy never mentioned any of those factors as a reason for his trip.”

–Julian Read

 

money.

Shortly after Walter Cronkite’s death back in mid-July, Discovery Channel’s Sunday night marathon epic “Cronkite Remembers” was a bountiful feast for history buffs–powerful enough to keep even early-to-bed viewers glued until midnight. The show’s  melding  of awesome newsreel footage of the legendary newsman’s career over five decades with his surprisingly candid commentary produced a gripping experience.

Now, this week’s  memorial service at Lincoln Center in NewYork stirs a stream of memories of the former U.T. dropout through longtime friend Neal Spelce, who has known him since 1960, when Neal was with CBS-TV in New York. Here is some of his reminiscense about Cronkite’s Austin footprints:

“He (Walter) left UT before getting a degree because he hungered to roll up his sleeves and begin his career as a reporter. His early departure from the Forty Acres did not diminish his close ties to UT. His narration of the ‘We’re Texas’ TV spots was probably the most visible of his contributions. But for years, he narrated the filmed biographies of those selected each year as Distingished Alumnus of the University of Texas.

“In 1997, I had the pleasure of escorting him to the campus on one of his visits here, He wanted to look at the presses where The Daily Texan was printed, He was greeted like a rock star by the young students, although very few, if any, saw him on the CBS Evening News before he retired.

“The late Lowell Ledbemann hosted a party for Walter and (wife) Betsy on their 60th wedding anniversary. And Liz Carpenter was another close friend of Walter’s.

“He was famous for sailing on the boat he kept at Cape Code.  He also  liked   Lake Travis– so much so that he asked me to check on a possible lake home he might buy at Lakeway. I sent him a half-dozen or so waterfront options, but he didn’t buy a home here. In fact, when he looked at the  info I sent him, he said ‘I can’t afford these. You must have my salary confused with Dan Rather’s!’  ”

Thanks for the warm memories, Neal.

–Julian Read

Lingering thought after the touching images and commentary of ceremonies chronicling the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy: that first wife Joan received short notice.  With  due respect to widow Vicki, who was the essence of elegance throughout a marathon schedule, it seemed almost that Joan did not exist. One fellow television viewer was prompted to ask whether she still is alive.

The scant attention to her was notable, considering that she was mother of his children who were prominent in the services (she saw two of them through bouts with cancer). She stood byKennedy steadfastly during  his stormy years, including the Mary Jo Kopechne tragedy in 1969. Although pregnant and confined to bed in the wake  of two previous miscarriages, she attended the young woman’s funeral. Three days later, she stood beside her husband in court when he pleaded guilty to having left the scene of an accident. She even remained with him during his failed 1980 presidential campaign following their separation in 1978. Despite her own acknowledged problems with alcholism, she would seem deserving of more recogntion.

One personal memory of her loyalty in those early days remains especially vivid.  My experience with her occured at the Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City back in 1964.  Since Lyndon B. Johnson was president, following the assasination of John F. Kennedy the previous year, the Texas delegation predictably was seated immediately in front of the convention hall podium. Seated just behind us was the Massachusetts delegation. But the physical proximity was not reflected in the attitudes of the two delegations, which were chilled by the natural bitterness of the Massachusetts delegates over the tragic loss of President Kennedy, and the frost of Texans who felt that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was undermining Johnson

So when brother-in-law Robert Kennedy rose to speak to the convention, most of the Texas delegates sat on their hands. And in response, a young, beautiful and very animated Joan Kennedy jumped into the aisle from just behind, and loudly commanded: “stand up,  you —–, stand up!  And we stood up.