A Tale of Two Countries | For the Record
For the Record
President John F. Kennedy visited Fort Worth once.
He delivered a breakfast speech to a packed house at Hotel Texas. Less than two hours later he was felled by an assassin's bullet in Dallas. The
morning's events often get buried in the tragedy of what happened in Dallas, but a recording found last year is a tangible reminder of TCU's ties to
that historic day.
By Jeri Petersen '00
Fort Worth was abuzz the day President John F. Kennedy visited. Granville T. Walker '31 (BA '35, DDiv '47), then-minister of University Christian Church, offered the benediction at the president's breakfast speech. Walker's two daughters, one of whom was still a student at TCU, were amazed that their parents had the honor of being part of the entourage.
At 11:25 a.m., with the president safely aboard Air Force One for the 13-minute flight to Dallas' Love field, Walker returned to his office at the church across the street from Ed Landreth Auditorium.
As he sat down to put the finishing touches on his Thanksgiving sermon, he turned on the radio and listened in disbelief: The president had been shot. He paused, then began drafting a new Sunday message only hours after he had offered the last public prayer the president heard.
That Sunday, Walker delivered an impassioned sermon. A politically active minister, one often at odds with conservative local leaders, he talked at length about the heritage of law and order, the heritage of free speech and of equality, of liberty and respect for the opinions of others. Although the church did not record Walker's sermons until 1966, those in attendance recorded his poignant address in their hearts.
Last year, his sermon was heard again.
It was November 2005 when Fort Worth resident Mark York noted an ad for an estate sale offering "presidential memorabilia." York is a lifelong Democrat and Kennedy admirer, having been born, coincidentally, the month Kennedy was assassinated. Arriving at the home of the late Joe Shosid '50 (MA '52), who was a special assistant to Jim Wright for about 30 years, York marveled at the wall-to-wall presidential items.
But the sight of four pristine records with KXOL radio labels titled "President John F. Kennedy's Fort Worth Visit" made his heart beat a little faster.
"An art dealer had the records in his hands, and I asked him what he thought about them. He said that they should be interesting since Kennedy was only here once," York said. "He handed them to me, and I asked if he didn't want them. He said no, so I paid $4 a record."
York didn't own a record player, so he had a sound studio transfer them to compact disc. Shosid's records obviously had been made as a set because, unlike traditional discs, which are recorded front to back, these were recorded front to front, one through four, then back to back.
When he slipped them into a CD player, York wasn't surprised to hear Kennedy's breakfast speech, which is widely available. What did startle him was about a minute of news – KXOL newscaster Russ Bloxom '61 and news director Roy Eaton '59 announcing that the president had been shot and killed, as well as reporter Bruce Neal's '59 phoned-in interview with then-Rep. Jim Wright at Dallas' Parkland Hospital.
And York was baffled by what appeared to be sermons delivered by Granville T. Walker. In the opening segment, Walker spoke loudly, almost angrily – uncharacteristic for him. At least part of the message seemed to have been given within days of the assassination, as Walker referred to Kennedy's visit, saying, "On last Friday morning some of us were privileged to be in his presence at the breakfast. … After the president's address, I gave the benediction. … "
York also wondered why KXOL recorded Walker and whether the recordings represented one sermon or several. He contacted the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston, the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas and former KXOL personnel, and learned that the recordings had never surfaced in other archives, including a KXOL collection stored for 38 years by former KXOL reporter and program director Bob Bruton '58, which were made public a few years ago. Bruton covered Kennedy's Fort Worth speech and had attended the unpublicized burial of Lee Harvey Oswald at an east Fort Worth cemetery three days later.
Who made the long-forgotten recordings remains a mystery, although Bruton believes it is likely that the KXOL general manager told an assistant, possibly Jerry Hahn '46, to put them together.
The search for information revealed a little-known fact weaving TCU into the fabric of that wrenching day: The president had been considered to receive an honorary degree from TCU the morning of the assassination. When trustees voted not to award the degree, the breakfast speech at Hotel Texas was hurriedly scheduled.
Kennedy's Catholicism had been an issue in the presidential campaign. Gov. John Connally, Texas' Democratic governor in 1962 and a staunch Kennedy supporter, knew it would please the president to receive an honorary degree from a respected Protestant university.
Then-trustee Sam Woodson was cited in the March 1979 Staff Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations to the U.S. House of Representatives, saying he recalled that late in October 1963, Connally contacted Chancellor M.E. Sadler about awarding the president an honorary degree. The board ultimately rejected the idea, saying, "University procedure required that candidates for honorary degrees be nominated from within the university and be evaluated by both the faculty senate and the student senate."
According to the staff report, Gerald J. "Jerry" Bruno, who did advance work for Kennedy's trips and speaking engagements, including the Fort Worth visit, said possible embarrassment resulting from the president not receiving the honorary degree eliminated TCU from consideration for a program that morning. The report noted:
"It is ironic that if the honorary degree ceremony at TCU had been held, especially with a subsequent reception of some kind, logistical complications might have delayed the President's arrival in Dallas and thereby interfered with the scheduled occurrence of the mid-day motorcade. If such a delay had occurred, the opportunity might have been lost for an assassin to take advantage of certain conditions that promoted Kennedy's assassination. Such conditions included the physical absence of many employees from their places of employment during the midday lunch hour and the presence of large crowds on the streets immediately after the shooting."
Although his visit to Fort Worth did not include an honorary degree, Kennedy did receive a warm welcome in Cowtown. The recording York found is another artifact documenting the impact he had during his few hours here.
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