It was a beautiful fall day in Arkansas. The date was October 3, 1963. It was the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam near Heber Springs. Greers Ferry was a hydroelectric dam project constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beginning in 1957. President John F. Kennedy was invited to dedicate the dam. It would be one of his last major public appearances.
The bright day had attracted the political giants of the state, including Gov. Orval Faubus, U.S. Senators John McClellan and William Fulbright, and all four Arkansas congressmen.
Kennedy spoke to the crowd with his well-known charm and good humor. He praised the work of the dam and efforts to develop the resources of the nation for the prosperity of all. He reminded critics of federal spending for the project, “Which is more wasteful: to let the land wash away, to let it lie arid, or to use it and use it wisely and to make those investments which will make this a richer State and country in the years to come?”
He added, “A rising tide lifts all the boats and as Arkansas becomes more prosperous so does the United States.”
This would be the last time Kennedy would ever see Arkansas. Six weeks later, he would travel to Dallas, Texas, as part of a three-day tour of Texas, as part of his work to shore up his support in a crucial state for his 1964 re-election. In a span of seconds, the terrible shots would take the life of the president and alter the course of American History.
Greers Ferry became the success that Kennedy predicted in his address, eventually boasting upward of one million visitors per year. In the wake of his death, Arkansas would name one of the campgrounds at Greers Ferry, John F. Kennedy Campground, in his honor, in addition to a number of other landmarks across the state.
Dr. Ken Bridges is a Professor of History at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado. He can be reached at http://soarkhistory.com.