Fifty years ago today, presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy went shopping for votes at the 163rd Street Mall, in North Miami Beach. Judging by the text of his stump speech, it was a pretty routine campaign stop, with JFK portraying the dread Nixon as out of touch with the pulse of the country.
While there are several photos of JFK in Miami (at the Orange Bowl, flashing that tragic smile in the back of a convertible), picturing the Brahman nonpareil in front of 163rd Street Mall conjures an incongruous image. Kennedy’s remarks to Miami voters that day included phrases and cadences that would appear in similar form in his first inaugural speech.
Compare this snippet from his Miami speech —
In my judgment the United States can meet any burden, can meet any challenge, can meet any responsibility, but it cannot possibly do so unless the President of the United States and the country move to finish the unfinished business of our society.
— to this section from JFK’s famous “ask not” speech.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
In the end, JFK’s stop at the 163rd Street Mall paid off, as he took Miami in the general election (but lost Florida). It’s not hard to see why in the following quote, in which he combines humor and eloquence to win over his audience.
I come to Florida today where my family has lived for 30 years, where they have already voted for one of the two candidates, and I feel it looks pretty good at least to get two votes in Florida. (Applause and laughter) But I come here to this state which reaches like an arm toward Latin America, which is surrounded by sea, the water which laps Miami, laps Africa and Latin America and Europe. This state here is an advancing, moving and progressive state. Its brightest days are bound to come in the years of the 1960’s and 1970’s . . . .
Of course, the 60s had some dark days. With so many rumors about Miami’s involvement in JFK’s assassination, it’s chilling to wonder whether, among the baby-toting mothers and straight-laced suits, a sniper stood in the crowd 50 years ago today.