John F. Kennedy visits Nashville

JFK in Nashville

In the decades after World War II, The United States was going through a pivotal point in its history with the Cold War. At any time, the world believed that the Soviet Union and the U.S. were going to start a nuclear war over their competing economic philosophies of communism and capitalism, respectively. The presidential election of 1961 came at the height of Cold War tensions. Senator John F. Kennedy, who was running as the Democratic nominee, went to Nashville in 1960 as a stop on his campaign trail. He gave a speech at the War Memorial Auditorium, located right next to the State Capitol Building.

Although the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing throughout the South, Senator Kennedy shied away from the topic to focus on foreign affairs and rebuilding the nation’s strength. In his speech, he spoke directly about these challenges, “Today we too are faced with a threat from abroad – today we too must be aroused to the struggle” and “that is what the New Frontier is all about – the challenge to all Americans to rebuild our national strength – to strive toward new heights of greatness – to start America moving again.” He also attacked the GOP in his speech, using TVA’s failing lack of promotion as a sign that the Republicans were not looking to the future, and attacked them directly with Cold War politics saying “These are the ones who have said they will stand up to Nikita Khrushchev but who haven’t shown any ability to stand up to Fidel Castro.”

Kennedy visited Nashville again on May 18, 1963, six months before his untimely passing. He spoke at Vanderbilt University over the growing need for education and the responsibility of the American people to push the topic further. He rode down the streets of Nashville in an open convertible motorcade, with the route being printed the day before his arrival in The Tennessean. John Jay Hooker, an attorney and friend who attended the Vanderbilt Speech spoke ominously on the situation in Nashville when saying “It could have happened that morning (in Nashville), no doubt about it.”