Correcting the Record on Why JFK Came to Texas in 1963–One More Time

September 27, 2009

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



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