Wednesday, May 15, 2013

50 Years Ago JFK Comes To Vanderbilt For A Special Birthday

As members of Vanderbilt's Centennial Class (it says so on our diploma), I know we all think our class year (1973) represents the most important birthday so far in the school's history.

But actually the most historic Vanderbilt birthday came on Saturday May 18, 1963 (50 years ago this weekend) when the University celebrated its 90th year with a visit to the campus and a speech at Dudley Field by President John F. Kennedy! 

Yes, I know Vanderbilt's birth is usually celebrated on March 17 to mark the founding donation to begin the school from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. But hey! I guess if the President can come,  you make your birthday celebration that year whenever he can make it.

And more than 30,000 people made it too. They packed the stadium to hear the President speak with an estimated 200,000 folks (probably more than the entire Nashville population back then) lining the motorcade route from the airport to Vanderbilt, and then after his speech,  through Hillsboro Village and out to the Governor's Residence where he had lunch.

Looking back on his remarks a half century later, it is remarkable how timely JFK words remain. He spoke of "the educated citizen" and our obligation to serve the public, uphold the law and defend the pursuit of learning. He came to the South at a time of unrest surrounding the civil rights movement and when some like Alabama Governor denounced him as a "military dictator.' Kennedy offered this eloquent statement, including a closing prediction about Vanderbilt's future at the end of the speech. You can see and hear almost the entire 20-minute address through this YouTube video of his remarks....

If I may be allowed some shameless self-promotion, I hope you in the Nashville area can join me for my INSIDE POLITICS show on this topic this weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. John Seigenthaler, Publisher Emeritus of THE TENNESSEAN (nobody in Nashville knew John and Robert Kennedy better) and former Congressman Bob Clement (his dad was Governor at the time) will offer their thoughts and reflections.

Following that, courtesy of Vanderbilt University's Special Collections, we will air the 30-minute special Channel 5 (then WLAC-TV) aired the day JFK came to town in 1963. It's like going back in a time machine to see Vanderbilt, Nashville and our nation as it was exactly a half century ago.

Our INSIDE POLITICS air schedule is 7:00 p.m. Friday, May 18; 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Saturday, May 18; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.,Sunday, May 19. The show can be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS which can be found on Comcast Cable Channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel, 5.2.

Don't forget the JFK special done by Channel 5 in 1963 will air immediately following INSIDE POLITICS. Both are 30-minute programs. Watch us (or tape one of the early morning broadcasts on your DVR or TiVo!

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