50 years since JFK assassination: Kennedy's impact on Eastern Carolina

POSTED: 5:14 PM Dec 24 2013   UPDATED: 11:45 AM Nov 22 2013
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GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY -

Friday marks 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. The assassination affected people across the country, including those in Eastern Carolina, where he visited while on the campaign trail.

President Kennedy actually made a campaign stop in Greenville in 1960, when he was still a senator. He spoke to a crowd of thousands at ECU, back then called East Carolina College. That visit resonated with people three years later when Kennedy was killed, and it's still being remembered and studied at ECU today.

It all started in 1960 when Kennedy, a young senator from Massachusetts, was named the Democratic presidential candidate. He faced Richard Nixon in a tight race. Kennedy set off on the campaign trail, which included a stop in Eastern Carolina.

"The first and most important visit John Kennedy made to the eastern part of the state was on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1960, when he was then a senator and campaigning for the presidency," said Dr. John Allen Tucker, a Greenville native and the official university historian at ECU.

Tucker helps manage the school's archives, which include pictures, video and historical items related to JFK.

"He just stood up and engaged them almost instantly, and it was one of those golden moments, I think, on campus in terms of campus history," said Tucker.

Kennedy was the first presidential candidate of either party to visit Eastern Carolina in the 20th century. Back then, the area had historically elected Democrats. But Kennedy, being Irish-American and Catholic, was not a shoe-in for Eastern Carolina voters. Tucker said Kennedy's visit to Greenville convinced many voters.

"His charisma, his ability to connect with people, not only on campus with the undergraduates, but also with the farmers at Farmers Warehouse," said Tucker.

Kennedy won the election, and the days of Camelot began. America fell in love with the young first family. The Kennedys returned to Eastern Carolina in 1962 and visited Camp Lejeune.

But on Nov. 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy in Dallas at 12:30 p.m.

Reports that the president was dead came to newsrooms on teletype papers. As the world mourned for the young president, the people of Eastern Carolina grieved especially.

"I think everybody in greenville for the next 10, 20 years would hear about John Kennedy's coming to the town, which in part made his tragic assassination all the more heartfelt," said Tucker. "There was a sense not only that he was a president of the United States, an important figure. He had bonded personally with the community."

Flags were lowered, people gathered together, and a eulogy was given on the ECU campus- a campus John F. Kennedy had visited and made a lasting impression.

"He had ridden down 5th Street, like we all have in this town... he had been on the athletic grounds, he had interacted with students ,faculty, administrators... he wasn't some remote figure who the local people felt no particular connection to," Tucker said.