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Bethlehem, Pa., October 26, 2010--It was 50 years ago on October 28, 1960, less than two weeks before the hotly contested 1960 presidential election. A young senator, relatively new to the political scene, flew into ABE, breezed into Bethlehem, and delivered an electrifying campaign speech in Moravian College's Johnston Hall. A boisterous crowd of 9,000 packed the hall and spilled out onto the grounds beyond, where they listened to the speech projected by loudspeakers.
Senator John F. Kennedy spoke of America's declining prestige in the world, the poor state of the economy, and the need for individual citizens to step up "to build a society which will augment freedom, which will serve as a beacon of light to all those who now wish to be free."
Moravian faculty members and alumni from the Classes of 1960 to '63 recall the morning vividly; the 15-minute talk, punctuated by frequent applause, left an indelible impression even on those who would in later years come to identify themselves as solid Republicans. The speech was carried on local radio and television, and the first two classes of the day were cancelled.
"Kennedy was a charismatic fellow--he had natural appeal," recalls Daniel Gilbert, professor emeritus of history. "He struck a chord with the younger faculty--we were very excited about his candidacy and what he represented." Gilbert points out that Moravian's director of finance, facilities, and development at the time, Robert P. Snyder, "was a rock-ribbed Republican," but knew that bringing Kennedy to campus would boost the College's image.
Joe Castellano '61, former president of the Moravian College Alumni Board, remembers staying up the entire previous night to decorate the gym. "I hoped I would get to see him, but all the girls took over," he says. "Certainly, being a Catholic, this election really meant something to me."
With Bethlehem Steel and the unions going strong, the City of Bethlehem was decidedly Democratic, and many from the union were in the audience. Alumna Jean Friedman '63 remembers that many of the union representatives were women who chanted, "We want Kennedy, we want Kennedy."
"It was thrilling and tense," says Friedman. "When he finally walked in the room, it took my breath away. He looked handsome, but had blood shot eyes after having had only a cat nap on the way to the College." Friedman, who was a member of the Young Democrats and assigned to greet Kennedy when he arrived, remembers tapping the senator on the shoulder to ask for a photo. "He turned around, furious, and I said, 'welcome to Moravian College,' and then he laughed and asked the way to Johnston Hall." Student photographer Chester Galle '61 snapped a photo, but had forgotten to connect a flash to the camera. Moments later, Kennedy entered the gymnasium, and "the audience went crazy," recalls Friedman.
Kennedy addressed the students, faculty members, steelworkers, and housewives in attendance, calling for a higher rate of economic growth, higher minimum wage, medical care for the aged, and federal funding to increase accessibility to higher education. JFK's talk at Moravian College is posted in its entirety on the American Presidency Project Website at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=74267.
"Freedom demands more of people than any other system," said Kennedy at Moravian. "It requires a higher development of those qualities of self-discipline and character and restraint than any other system ... I don't think this State, this country, or this society of ours will move ahead until every child who has the talent to develop superior intelligence, capability, or skill, is given a chance to do it, regardless of his race or his color. The real question of our time is: Can we make a free society develop, grow, thrive, with sufficient purpose, sufficient direction, to compete with the single-minded advance of the Communists over a long period of time? That is the problem that all of us face as Republicans and Democrats."
Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Visit the Web site at www.moravian.edu.