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Kennedy calls for diversity in his 1963 Utah speech

Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy speaks at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Sept. 1960.
Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy speaks at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Sept. 1960.
Deseret News Archives

Editor's note: With the election season winding down and a new president about to take office, the Deseret News has decided to review the presidents who have visited Utah and explain what they did while they were on their trip through the Beehive State.

John F. Kennedy’s visit to Salt Lake City is still celebrated today.

His time in Salt Lake City began with a speech at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square. He also had breakfast with LDS Church President David O. McKay, Deseret News reported.

During his speech at the Tabernacle, Kennedy promoted the need for diversity in the Beehive State. He harkened back to early LDS and Utah history to make his point.

“I know that many of you in this State and other States sometimes wonder where we are going and why the United States should be so involved in so many affairs, in so many countries all around the globe,” he said, according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “If our task on occasion seems hopeless, if we despair of ever working our will on the other 94 percent of the world population, then let us remember that the Mormons of a century ago were a persecuted and prosecuted minority, harried from place to place, the victims of violence and occasionally murder, while today, in the short space of 100 years, their faith and works are known and respected the world around, and their voices heard in the highest councils of this country.”

He rode around town in an open motorcade, the same sort of car he would ride in just eight weeks later when he was shot and killed in Dallas. Students turned out in droves to watch the president drive by, according to Deseret News.

Kennedy also stopped at the Flaming Gorge dam in Salt Lake City. He switched on the dam’s generator, too.

Kennedy’s legacy in Utah still remains powerful today. Back in 2008, the Deseret News shared photos taken during Kennedy’s arrival in the Beehive State to honor the 45th anniversary of his visit.

“The photographs captured the fond relationship Kennedy shared with David O. McKay, then president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” our own Tad Walch wrote. “In one image, Kennedy and McKay are belly laughing with their heads thrown back. There are a handful of stunning shots of Jacqueline Kennedy, just 28 when she joined JFK in Salt Lake in 1959.”

Oscar McConkie, who served as Kennedy's Utah point man during his 1960 presidential campaign and appears in some of the photos, told the Deseret News that he couldn’t believe how great it was to see the images years later.

"I'm fascinated by these photos," McConkie said. "President Kennedy was a brilliant young man, a wonderful inspiration. He was a great speaker. I was enamored of (President-elect Barack) Obama, I think, because it was the first time I had seen someone with that command of the English language since Kennedy. President Kennedy had a sense of new inspiration to move us ahead, not unlike the sense of Obama now. It was new and exciting."

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.