The night before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, he addressed the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Hispanic civil rights group, at an event in Houston, Texas. Associated Press reporter Russell Contreras unearthed a recording of the remarks and uploaded them to YouTube on Wednesday -- the 96 anniversary of the former president's birth.
Kennedy's remarks highlighted the role that the Cuban Revolution played in shaping his presidency. With the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year behind him, Kennedy played up a Latin American economic development program known as the Alliance for Progress during his speech to LULAC.
This organization has done a good deal for this state and for the country, and I'm particularly glad that it emphasizes the, not only opportunity for all Americans the chance to develop their talents, education for boys and girls so that they can pursue those talents to the very end of their ability -- but also because you remind Americans of the very important links that we have with our sister republics in this hemisphere.
On the campaign trail, Kennedy had taken a different tone.
While many viewed 2012 as the year of the emergence of the Latino voter, Hispanics have been influencing elections for decades, as Contreras pointed out in a feature published shortly after last year’s presidential election. And Kennedy appears to be the first president to recognize the potential of the coalescing voting bloc.
During the first televised presidential debate in 1960, Kennedy mentioned problems faced by Latinos in his opening remarks, according to AP reporter Russell Contreras.
I’m not satisfied until every American enjoys his full constitutional rights. If a negro baby is born -- and this is true also of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans -- in some of our cities, he has about one half as much chance to get through high school as a white baby. He has one third as much chance to get through college as a white student. He has about a third as much chance to be a professional man. About half as much chance to own a house. He has about four times as much chance to be out of work in his life as the white baby. I think we can do better. I don’t want the talents of any American to go to waste.
The language sounds a little dated and Kennedy may be playing a little fast and loose with those un-cited stats. But there’s no doubt that Kennedy’s choice to use valuable air time to address the social injustices faced by Hispanics marked a pivotal moment in the history of Latino politics in the United States.
His wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, also made waves in the Latino community. She appeared in a Spanish-language television ad while her huband was on the campaign trail in 1960. After Kennedy addressed LULAC on the night before he was assassinated, then-First Lady Kennedy took the podium and showed off her Spanish skills once again.
Their efforts paid off. Propelled by independent “Viva Kennedy” groups that organized Latino voter drives, Kennedy walked away with 85 percent of the Mexican American vote, according to the Associated Press -- votes that helped win swing states including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Watch John F. Kennedy's remarks to LULAC in the video above.