A Spark of Greatness, part 4

Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which A View to Hugh commemorates with the fourth and final installment of “A Spark of Greatness.” Using photographs by Morton, Edward J. McCauley, and Don Sturkey, “A Spark of Greatness” highlights some of the key events that led to Kennedy’s campaign visit to the Tar Heel State in September 1960. The story presented in A View to Hugh draws from contemporary newspaper accounts and the book Triumph of Good Will, John Drescher’s account of the gubernatorial contest between Terry Sanford and I. Beverly Lake that preceded Kennedy’s visit.

As the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate, Terry Sanford believed that John F. Kennedy would win North Carolina in the 1960 presidential election, but to do so Kennedy would need to campaign in the state. As the Raleigh News and Observer reported on July 15th, 1960, Sanford “told newsmen he is sure that when Kennedy goes to North Carolina, ‘as he will,’ he will convince voters that he has a spark of greatness.”

The North Carolina delegates’ caucus that followed the formal nomination emphasized not only the need for vigorous campaigning in the state, but also a personal appearance by Kennedy. Kennedy did indeed campaign in North Carolina; perhaps just as importantly, as John Drescher notes, Sanford “made Kennedy’s campaign his campaign.”

There are many photographs of Kennedy’s daylong campaign tour in North Carolina in the North Carolina Collection by Hugh Morton, Burlington’s Daily Times-News photographer Edward McCauley, and Don Sturkey, chief photographer of the Charlotte Observer. Sturkey’s photograph of Kennedy, U.S. Congressman Herbert C. Bonner, and Terry Sanford riding in a convertible approaching the football stadium at the Eastern Carolina University in Greenville may be the quintessential photograph that captured that “spark of greatness” reflected by the enthusiasm of onlookers chasing the motorcade. Ironically, this image did not appear in the Observer’s coverage of Kennedy’s campaign swing through the state. (Morton and McCauley’s photographs can be seen by clicking on the links above. Sturkey’s photographs are not available online; the link, however, leads to the collection’s finding aid.)

John F. Kennedy campaigning in North Carolina. Copyright Don Sturkey, 1960.

Photograph copyright Don Sturkey, 1960.

After Richard M. Nixon’s nomination for president on the Republican ticket, pollster Lou Harris showed Nixon ahead of Kennedy in North Carolina by a margin of two-to-one. A month after Kennedy’s campaign swing through the state on September 17th, another Harris poll had Kennedy ahead fifty-one percent to forty percent. On election day, Kennedy won North Carolina with fifty-two percent of the vote.

Fast forward to January 20th, 12:51 P.M—the time Kennedy began his inaugural address. Among its memorable passages, Kennedy observed, “The world is very, very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” And among the memorable accomplishments of Terry Sanford during his governorship was the North Carolina Fund, Sanford’s innovative initiative to address the state’s dire poverty.

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