Jackie Kennedy’s Speech the Night Before JFK’s Murder

Jacqueline Kennedy's Houston speech, November 21, 1963.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s Houston speech, November 21, 1963.

It really started with constituent mail.

She was the new wife of a new United States Senator who represented the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with a constituency at the time of many first-generation immigrants. And she could speak and write well in French, Spanish, and Italian, and even could manage some German and Polish.

Jackie Kennedy delivered her first political speech during her husband's 1958 Senate re-election campaign.

Jackie Kennedy delivered her first political speech during her husband’s 1958 Senate re-election campaign.

So initially Jacqueline Kennedy helped to compose responses to constituent mail for her husband John F. Kennedy in the foreign langauges which the incoming letters were written in. And then, he gently pushed her, couldn’t she say a few words of greeting in those foreign languages to those constituencies during his 1958 Senate re-election campaign?

That’s how Jackie Kennedy began her nervous career as a public speaker.

Almost always gently encouraged with him smiling by her side and she not wanting to disappoint him, the pattern soon developed. JFK would deliver his opening remarks and then introduce his wife Jackie Kennedy who could, he promised, more effectively translate his message in their native tongue.

Jackie Kennedy giving a speech during the 1960 presidential campaign.

Jackie Kennedy giving a speech during the 1960 presidential campaign.

Two years after his Senate re-election, Jackie Kennedy surge enough courage in her to also begin making remarks that she composed in a way to both crystallize the reasons why she believed voters should support her husband for President and make her presentation as short as possible. Largely off the active campaign trail due to her pregnancy, she even taped several campaign commercials on his behalf.

Always self-conscious of not only how perfectly she pronounced her words in a foreign language but her diction and delivery, its obvious from those recordings which were made of Jackie Kennedy delivering speeches and public remarks was hesitant and nervous. It’s when she tended to speak with her famous breathy voice, which was not the normal sound of her voice. Oftentimes she blinks rapidly, sometimes lowering her head modestly.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis never adapted to public speaking naturally but the point is that she kept doing it because she knew her husband took pride in her for trying and because it soon translated into genuine political currency.

She had delivered her first known speech in 1947 while in high school, at Miss Porter’s School, the boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut. In her senior year, as a member of a student group known as Little Meeting, she was expected to publicly deliver her thesis, and chose to address what she saw as the duty of individuals to each other, entitled “Be Kind and Do Your Share.”

As First Lady, she famously led the nation on a televised tour of the White House, explaining the historic renovation she had been conducting there. New documentation shows that she herself wrote and edited the speech carefully.

In India, Mrs. Kennedy makes brief remarks on the value of arts education for children.

In India, Mrs. Kennedy makes brief remarks on the value of arts education for children.

When it came to standing up before crowds to deliver a live speech, however, she remained nervous. Doing so in a language other than English seemed to almost serve as a layer of protection from being exposed on a stage or platform.

Jackie Kennedy speaking as First Lady in Venezuela, December 1961.

Jackie Kennedy speaking as First Lady in Venezuela, December 1961.

While she made remarks in English during her 1962 tour of India and Pakistan, it was with the President on state visits to Latin American countries where her command of Spanish sent crowds wild with enthusiasm for the American presidential couple.

Jackie Kennedy speaking at the Shalimar Gardens in Pakistan.

Jackie Kennedy speaking at the Shalimar Gardens in Pakistan.

That translated into welcome support, particularly from the grassroots up in those “non-aligned” nations the U.S. was hoping to win over or at least keep away from accepting Soviet support for their infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

Jackie Kennedy delivering remarks to the Cuban Freddom Fighters, Miami, December 1961. 001

Jackie Kennedy delivering remarks to the released Cuban Freedom Fighters after the Bay of Pigs, Miami, December 1961

The radio advertisements which Jackie Kennedy had taped during the 1960 presidential campaign in 1960 are largely forgotten in the story of her husband’s historically razor-thin victory. Broadcast throughout New York City in the days leading up to Election Day, they were played heavily in the boroughs with its heavy Puerto Rican and Dominican populations. Those districts proved to be the tipping point for New York State’s electoral votes that year which gave JFK the winning margin.

And so it was almost a given that the First Lady would deliver remarks in Spanish on the first unofficial trip of JFK’s 1964 re-election campaign in Texas.

Jackie Kennedy was happy to feel her speech in Houston might make a difference. (www.dailymail.co.uk)

Jackie Kennedy was happy to feel her speech in Houston might make a difference. (www.dailymail.co.uk)

On the night of the day they arrived in Texas, November 21, 1963, after landing in San Antonio where the President spoke at the dedication of an air force base medical center, they proceeded to Houston. Before attending a large Texas Democratic Party fundraiser, they attended an event in the Rice Hotel for the politically powerful League of Latin American Citizens, perhaps the oldest of political organizations representing the growing Latino constituency in the U.S.

After addressing the crowd, the President turned the microphone over to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, “in order that my words may be even clearer.”

Jackie Kennedy delivering her speech to LULAC.

Jackie Kennedy delivering her speech to LULAC.

And, as she had now done on countless occasions, Jackie wowed the crowds by speaking in their native tongue:

“I’m happy to be in the great state of Texas and I’m especially pleased to be with you, who are part of the great Spanish tradition, which has contributed so much to Texas. This tradition began a hundred years before my husband’s state, Massachusetts, was settled, but it is a tradition that is today alive and vigorous. You are working for Texas and the United States. Thank yoiu and viva las Lucas!”

Here is a video taken of Mrs. Kennedy delivering her remarks:

As they left the ballroom, JFK asked his aide how the number of crowds on the trip so far compared to a trip he had made alone to Houston the year before.¬† “About a hundred thousand more,” Powers estimated. The President turned to his wife and said, “You see, you do help.” As they walked the hall to the elevator Jackie made another, more impromptu speech to a gathering of Mexican-American employees there.

She told an aide with some pride that she was growing more optimistic of her role in the 1964 campaign because, as she said, “I am needed.”

The President took great pride in his wife's appeal to Latino voters through her Houston speech. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Alexander Arroyos)

The President took great pride in his wife’s appeal to Latino voters through her Houston speech. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Alexander Arroyos)

Related articles


Categories: First Ladies, Presidents, The Kennedys

Tags: , , , ,

7 replies »

  1. HI Carl –
    Just read that you attended the 200th anniversary of the White House celebration which included all the living Presidential couples with the exception of the Reagan’s – which of the Kennedy’s represented the family that evening? How many family’s from past presidential administrations were represented?

    Best wishes –

    David

    • Yes I did. It was quite an honor to attend that state dinner. Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, was in attendance as a representative of the Kennedy Administration. John Eisenhower, the son of President and Mrs. Eisenhower, represented that Administration. Margaret Truman Daniel was invited but at the last minute ill health prevented her attendance.

  2. I was wondering if other First Ladies before or since were that fluent in other languages and were utilized in such a way?

  3. Carl,Congratulations on your new book!This week must be crazy busy for you.Best,Liz

    Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2013 14:00:21 +0000 To: lnewstat@hotmail.com

  4. Very nice piece, and very good to hear that voice again! Thanks!

Trackbacks

  1. When Jackie Kennedy Was a One-Day President: Assuring & Forging Allies « Carl Anthony Online
  2. When Jackie Kennedy Was a President: Assuring & Forging Allies « Carl Anthony Online
  3. Jackie Kennedy’s Last White House Days & What She Found in JFK’s Desk « Carl Anthony Online
  4. Be Kind and Do Your Share: Memorable Words from a Memorable Woman | writing4hope3
%d bloggers like this: