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Archive for the category “Vanderbilt University”


May 18, 1963


President Kennedy traveled to Nashville, Tennessee today to give a commencement address to the graduates of Vanderbilt University.

The President was the honored participant in the 90th commencement exercises held at Dudley Field on the university campus.

More than 30,000 people attended the event.

               JFK Speaking at Vanderbilt

Other guests included Tennessee senators Estes Kefauver & Albert Gore, Sr.  As this day is also the 30th anniversary of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers of the Tennessee Valley were on hand.

In keeping with his theme of “ask what you can do for your country”, JFK urged the graduates:

“to enter the lists of public service….for we can have only one form of aristocracy in this country.  As Jefferson wrote…in rejecting John Adams suggestion of an artificial aristocracy of wealth & birth, ‘It is….the natural aristocracy of character & talent.'”

JFK, in speaking about the university itself, said:

“The essence of Vanderbilt is still learning.  The essence of its outlook is still liberty.  And liberty & learning will & must be the touchstones of any free university in this country.  For liberty without learning is always in peril & learning without liberty is always in vain.”

The President concluded by saying:

“90 years from now, I have no doubt, that Vanderbilt….will…still be teaching the truth–the truth that makes us free & will keep us free.”

             Vanderbilt University
              Nashville, Tennessee
         Photo by John White (2011)

May 18, 1896


The United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson today.

The high court ruling, which came with only one dissenting vote, says that “equal but separate accommodations for the white & colored races” on railroad cars is constitutional.

The Citizen’s Committee, which organized the act of civil disobedience by Homer A. Plessy to board a railroad car designated for whites only, responded to the ruling by saying:

“We as freemen still believe we were right & our cause is defeat but not with ignominy.”

The dissenting view came from Kentucky’s Justice John Marshall Harlan who wrote:

“Our constitution is color blind in respect of civil rights.  All citizens are equal before the law.”*

President Kennedy made reference to Justice Harlan’s comment in his address to the nation on civil rights in June 1963.

          Justice John Marhall Harlan

*Plessy v. Ferguson will be used for more than 50 years to justify racial segregation in all public facilities such as hospitals, restaurants & schools.  It will be overturned by the Brown decision in 1954.

         Louisiana State Historical Marker
              New Orleans, Louisiana

May 18, 1860


The Republican National Convention, meeting today in Chicago, Illinois, has chosen Abraham Lincoln as their Presidential nominee for 1860 .

Lincoln, born in Kentucky, has made his home in Springfield, Illinois where he practiced law before being elected to Congress.

He ran for the US Senate in 1858 only to be defeated by incumbent Stephen A. Douglas.

The Republican platform, on which Mr. Lincoln will run, proposes that the institution of slavery be prohibited from the western territories.

         Abraham Lincoln of Illinois
1860 Republican Nominee for President

May 18, 1917


The US Congress today passed the Selective Service Act giving the government the power to draft men to serve in the military forces of the United States.

The passage of the act comes 6 weeks after the United States formally entered the world war.*

*By war’s end, 24 million men were registered with 2.8 million drafted into service.

              Statue of Alvin C. York*
               State Capitol Grounds
               Nashville, Tennessee
          Photo by John White (2011)

*York of Fentress County, Tennessee, although a religious pacifist, was drafted into the infantry & became a hero of World War I.

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