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When John F. Kennedy Came to Rochester

November 21, 2013
by Sofia Tokar, University Communications

Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, his life and connections—both political and personal—continue to fascinate.

photo of John J. Kennedy in front of Meliora banner on stage at Strong Auditorium

Senator and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressing a standing-room audience in Strong Auditorium on October 1, 1959. (photo courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections)

Before the White House, before the Bay of Pigs, and before Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. In 1959, Senator Kennedy was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the upcoming presidential election.

It was as such that he visited River Campus on October 1, 1959. He was greeted with enthusiasm by students and faculty, and addressed a standing-room-only audience in Lower Strong Auditorium.

Kennedy shared his thoughts on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s recent U.S. visit and its implications for the nation. “It justifies more, not less, sacrifice to protect and extend the world's frontiers of freedom,” he said.“We here in the United States in the year 1959 cannot escape our dangers by recoiling from them or by being lulled to sleep.”

Although Kennedy recognized that the United States and the Soviet Union were fundamentally different, he stressed the need to find consensus on issues such as ending the Cold War and advancing each nation’s respective economies.

The then-senator also displayed his oratorical skill by expressing his faith in the American people and economy: “Khrushchev may have known his Marx, but Marx didn’t know the United States in 1959.”

He concluded by saying that Russia might be a land of the brave, but that “this nation is still the land of the free, and in the last analysis this will make all the difference.” Afterward, he met with Rochester students to answer their questions.

Almost exactly a year later, Kennedy returned to the city of Rochester to give another speech as the Democratic candidate for President. Then on November 8, 1960, he was elected the 35th President of the United States.

From the Archives

screenshot of the front page of the Campus Times newspaper with JFK visit as the top story

Campus Times, October 1959

screenshot of the Interpres yearbook page on the JFK

Interpres yearbook, 1960