Remembering JFK's Campaign Visit To Greenville

They are moments frozen in time of the historic visit by then Senator John F. Kennedy to Greenville in September of 1960 as he campaigned for president. Those snapshots come to life in the priceless home video from the Edwards family of Greenville and now part of ECU's Joyner Library.

Don Edwards was just 7-years-old when his dad shot the video. He says, "I certainly knew it was a big enormous deal, motorcades, I was fascinated by it all."

Louis Gaylord was among the group that worked to get Kennedy to Greenville. By chance, he got to be the emcee for the event. He's now 95-years-old and says, "One day at a meeting the chairman said Louis you're going to be the emcee. And I said what? And everybody said no, you are, and now what's next on the order of business and went on."

Kennedy flew into the Greenville Airport where there was a huge crowd. He then got into an open-air convertible as his motorcade headed downtown, first to the Farmers Warehouse and thousands more people. He even inspected the tobacco. Then it was onto a parade route through downtown on his way to the East Carolina College stadium for a rally.

Louis met him just at the edge of campus. He says, "And there was another car and I got in that car and Mr. Kennedy got in the back seat with me. I was on the back left and he was on the back right."

And they rode around the field a few times where there were reportedly 12,000 people. Louis says, "People were everywhere which I'm sure he loved cause he got to reach a lot of people."

In addition to the home video of Kennedy's visit, his speech aired live on the campus radio station. That audio is also part of the digital collection at Joyner Library. In it, you can hear Louis introduce those in attendance as the rally is about to start.

Listening to the speech again, Louis remembered what JFK asked while they were riding in the car. Louis says, "He turned to me and said tell me something about East Carolina College?"

So he told him East Carolina College was one of the fastest growing colleges in the south, and that the football team was trying to get in the Southern Conference. But to his dismay, Louis says Kennedy wasn't paying attention. Or so he thought.

As he delivered his speech, Kennedy said, "I understand that they had a most rapid growth and now wish to play in the Southern Conference."

Louis says, "He heard every word I said and was able to repeat it."

And it added to the special bond formed that day between Eastern Carolina and JFK.

It was a history making day Dr. John Tucker, an ECU history professor and university historian wrote a book about. He says, "The 1960 campaign rally by John Kennedy on the campus of East Carolina, then college, was impactful because it was the first time in the 20th century that a presidential campaign had been brought to the eastern part of the state."

That personal history, preserved through the pictures, video and audio at ECU, magnified the incredible pain of November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated...

Edwards says, "It was shocking that the President of the most powerful and protected person like that could be assassinated. A shock and devastating."

Gaylord says, "I was driving down the streets as I recall and heard it on the radio. I was shocked."

ECU, where Kennedy had just visited three years earlier, held a memorial on campus with University President Dr. Leo Jenkins delivering a eulogy. The Tobacco Warehouse he visited did the same...a testament to what his visit to Greenville meant...and how it changed the east.

Gaylord says, "Before that nobody came down here, never had anything like this and people, I guess politicians, didn't think it was worth the time and effort. It really helped show the eastern part of the state in a different light I think."

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