From John F. Kennedy’s first stop in Logan County during the 1960 primary election to his brother Roberty Kennedy’s campaign here in 1968 to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s many trips to Logan, the Kennedy’s are like royalty to people throughout the county.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pres. John F. Kennedy’s initial campaign in Logan County, celebrations are being held this week.
The first celebration was held Monday in Courthouse Square, where the Kennedys stumped. Courthouse Square, because of its significance to those election visits, has now officially been renamed Kennedy Square.
For several weeks, National Public Radio has had a special in-depth feature series about the 1960 presidential primary race in West Virginia.
Many people have been interviewed as part of the feature, talking about the importance of southern West Virginia and how JFK believed that if he could win the West Virginia primary he could prove that a Catholic candidate could be elected to the highest office in the land, even though it was a land of predominantly Protestant voters.
The Kennedy family hit the campaign trail hard in West Virginia — especially in the southern coal-producing counties.
Longtime Logan resident Sonny White, who has lectured about President Kennedy and his family to college students and civic groups in Logan and in other states, said the Kennedy family had a profound affect on American politics and culture from 1960 to today that does not seem to be letting up.
The Museum In The Park currently has its own exhibit about the Kennedy family and their ties to West Virginia.
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College Professor F. Dean Lucas, who has hosted a series of events and history classes about the Kennedy family legacy, was honored at the ceremony yesterday in the renamed Kennedy Square for his work in promoting the Kennedy family history.
SWVCTC President Joanne Jaeger Tomblin praised Lucas and his students for his many years of work to preserve local history and recalled her own memories of the assassination of JFK when she was a young schoolgirl in New York.
“We were all glued to our television sets for days,” Tomblin said. “We could not believe the news.”
Tomblin said people in southern West Virginia should be proud of the role they played in making American history by helping Kennedy get elected — a fact that she said Kennedy never forgot. She said many people did not believe at that time that a Catholic could be elected president, but Jackie Kennedy, John’s wife believed that if he could win West Virginia it could make prove he could win the presidency.
“It’s a great day for West Virginia history,”she said.
Logan County Commission President Art Kirkendoll said he wanted to pay his respect to local history and to Lucas, who he called a friend who he would soon be joining in retirement.
“Who would have thought something that happened here 50 years ago, would still be talked about today,” Kirkendoll said of Kennedy’s speech at the Courthouse Square on March 10, 1960.
Kirkendoll also spoke about the differences of the culture from 1960 to 2010, noting “Kennedy broke barriers,” and was accepted by West Virginians because of the concern he showed for poor people in rural mining towns like Logan and the passion he felt for social justice.
Kirkendoll said it is still important to remember Logan’s history and southern West Virginia’s role in the 1960 presidential election.
“It is acknowledged world wide that West Virginia made a difference,” he said of the Kennedy campaign.“Our county is proud to acknowledge that this day.”
Raamie Barker, who is chief of staff for Sen. President Earl Ray Tomblin, talked about the historic spot where all three Kennedy brothers had campaigned for office.
Barker said he had been a guest speaker in Lucas’s classes over the years to discuss the 1968 election when he, as a young man just out of college and getting involved in politics, was honored to introduce Bobby Kennedy to a packed crowd at the courthouse square. He also recalled Pres. Kennedy’s stop in Logan County.
“It seems like it was just yesterday that JFK was in this very spot, 50 years ago talking to the crowd,” Barker said.
“We honor their service and acknowledge the tragedy of their loss,” Barker said, noting that there are many books on the topic of the 1960 election thanks to a new generation of authors and publishers.
“History was made in this very square,” Barker said, thanking all the people who had campaigned for the Kennedy brothers over the years. Barker said he was proud of the people of West Virginia for stepping up and doing what was right when JFK challenged prejudices in that election year “and the walls came tumbling down.”
“Our fathers made history,” Barker said.
Barker was contemplative after the ceremony was over.
“We didn’t have a large crowd today,” Barker said, comparing the event to the crowds in 1960 and 1968. “But that is okay. Each of us has his or her own memories in our hearts about those days.”
Barker said reliving those memories was a bit cathartic.
“There is still a lot of pain in our society due to their deaths and the assassinations of other individuals like Martin Luther King,” he explained. Because of their ties to the area and their concerns for the people of southern West Virginia, it was almost like we lost family members when they died.”
A reception for the new Kennedy History exhibit in The Museum In The Park will be held Wednesday evening from 6-8 p.m. at the museum in Chief Logan State Park. The reception is open to the public. The exhibit was set up in the museum on Friday.