We finished bedecking the 50th ward float with red, white and blue streamers. The float was hitched to Marv Stein’s Chevy Impala. Soon we would head downtown to be part of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s torchlight parade and the JFK pre-election rally at the Chicago Stadium. My role on the float was to make sure that the hitch remained secure during our ride.
As a kid of fifteen with a decided liberal political bent, I really wanted to be part of the parade and rally and see my idol, John Fitzgerald Kennedy in person. My Aunt Della, who worked for County Commissioner and 50th Ward Committeeman Jerome Huppert, pulled a few strings to let me part of the ward contingent going downtown that memorable Friday night of November 4, 1960.
Chicago mayors had been holding pre-election torchlight parades and Stadium rallies since the first FDR election campaign in 1932. The entire Democratic Party Machine apparatus came out that night to give a glorious sendoff to the presidential nominee. First for FDR, then Harry Truman and native son Adlai Stevenson and now JFK. Each of the fifty city wards had floats in the parade which were surrounded by a phalanx of torch carrying precinct workers lighting up the darkened Chicago sky.
When we arrived at Columbus Drive and Congress, the parade starting point, our float and marchers were placed at the back of the line because we were from the 50th ward. The tough looking 1st ward delegation was at the head of the line behind the mayor and Senator Paul Douglas.
As the floats and marchers proceeded west on Madison to the Stadium, handbills were passed out with the words to the Kennedy-Johnson campaign song. I still remember the words:
“Walking down to Washington to shake hands with President Kennedy, walking down to Washington to see what we could see. Kennedy and Johnson how great that day will be. Soon we will be in Washington D.C., dancing at the President’s Jubilee.”
Eventually the parade ended and we entered the Stadium for the rally. I climbed the tortuous ramp to the uppermost balcony, finding a seat in the uppermost row. It really didn’t matter where I sat when JFK came out to the stage with a thunderous ovation resounding through the great hall. I hung on every word he said especially “we have millions of Americans whose full and equal rights under the Constitution, regardless of their race or creed has been recognized in law but unfulfilled in fact.” JFK’s statement hit me like a bolt of lightning then, and now fifty-one years later I still wonder why America’s promise still remains unfulfilled for so many of our citizens.