January 19, 2010
The West Virginia Archives and History Section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History is seeking original photographs, letters, diaries, campaign buttons and flyers, audiovisual recordings and personal reminiscences of West Virginians relating to the momentous 1960 presidential campaign. Archives and History is creating a permanent on-line exhibit and a temporary hanging exhibit about the campaign, which will be on display by May 2010, to commemorate the 50th anniversary.
West Virginia played a prominent role in the 1960 presidential election. Political pundits, the press and both campaigns wondered if Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, could win the West Virginia Democratic primary. Conventional wisdom at the time said a Catholic presidential candidate could not carry predominantly Protestant states and, therefore, could not be elected president. For the Kennedy campaign, West Virginia became a battleground state, where victory would distance him from his rival on the Democratic ballot, Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey. If Kennedy won in the Mountain State, it also would end the hopes of other political rivals who were running silent campaigns for the nomination and stifle the growing concerns about his Catholic faith. When the votes were counted, West Virginia Democrats gave Kennedy a commanding victory that led to the Democratic presidential nomination in July.
Following the Democratic convention, Republicans met in Chicago to officially nominate Vice President Richard Nixon as their presidential candidate. Once again, West Virginia played a prominent role. The keynote speaker for the Republican Convention was a young and rising star of the Republican Party, West Virginia Governor Cecil H. Underwood. In the months that followed Underwood’s speech, Kennedy and Nixon changed the nature of political campaigns forever. Their race for office featured the first live televised debates and ranks as one of the closest presidential elections in American history.
For more information about donating items related to the 1960 presidential campaign to the State Archives, contact Joe Geiger, director of archives and history for the Division, at (304) 558-0230.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Culture Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Culture Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.