60 years after JFK assassination: Remembering president's visit to Houston 24 hours before his death

Pooja Lodhia Image
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
Remembering JFK's visit to Houston a day before his assassination
The Heritage Society Museum is marking 60 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. ABC13 looks back at his last Houston visit.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 60 years ago.

But did you know the president spent his last evening in downtown Houston?

The president and first lady were on a tour of Texas.

At the same time, LULAC, the biggest Latino civil rights organization in the country at the time, was holding its annual statewide gala at the Rice Hotel.

The plan was for the couple just to stop by and wave.

Instead, they stayed for about 20 minutes.

It was the first time in history a United States president addressed a Latino group.

The first lady spoke in Spanish, specifically recognizing a crowd that had faced decades of discrimination.

"It was just like a dream come true - absolutely a dream come true for an impressionable 17-year-old," Rosalie Sharkey explained.

Sharkey and her friend had taken a bus to the Rice Hotel.

"We opened up the door and we're walking up the floor when finally someone came and they said, 'What do you want?' We said, 'We want to talk to the president.' He said, 'Just a minute.' Then he came down and said, 'You need to run down because he's on the way downstairs.' We ran down, and he was walking on the stage," she explained.

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"It's estimated somewhere between 75% to 80% of all Hispanics voted for Kennedy, so it was a very large voting bloc at the time, and having him come and talk to this group just solidified that effort," explained Minnette Boesel, the president of the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park. "There were numerous Viva Kennedy campaigns around the state."

After the speeches at the Rice Hotel, Sharkey got a handshake from the president.

"The next morning, I went to school, and I just felt like I was walking on clouds," she remembered. "In fact, I went to school and said I didn't wash my hand because I shook the president's hand."

It would be the last night of President Kennedy's life.

"Everybody remembers or knows about his death, but maybe not so much about the fact that he was here in Houston less than 24 hours before that fateful event happened," Boesel said. "And it is quite symbolic because of the group he was addressing. A civil rights moment, if you will."

"We didn't have to go to our classes that afternoon. We just sat around, and everybody cried," Sharkey said. "These were high school students. Can you imagine how the world felt about it?"

Sixty years later, Sharkey is now a retired Spanish teacher.

She went to college on a LULAC scholarship.

And to this day, she has the same photos hanging in her living room that her parents did.

"It was very important to have a picture of the Pope, of course, Jesus, and of President Kennedy, and it warmed my heart because that's exactly what my home was like," Sharkey said. "We had those three pictures on the wall."

The Heritage Museum has an exhibit until the middle of January on President Kennedy's visit.

For more information, you can visit the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park website.

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SEE ALSO: 'JFK: One Day In America' sheds new light on Kennedy assassination ahead of 60th anniversary

NatGeo's new docu-series 'JFK: One Day In America' recounts the shocking and emotional moments leading up to and after the assassination of President Kennedy.