Baptist minister Bailey worked to get JFK elected

PARKERSBURG – The Rev. Harley E. Bailey was happy when John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960.

As a Baptist minister in Parkersburg, Bailey worked to get the Catholic Kennedy a victory in the Democratic primary in West Virginia on May 10, 1960, and elected in the general election against Republican Richard Nixon that November.

Bailey was devastated when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.

Bailey’s daughters, Carolyn Roush of Parkersburg and Lynn McCormick of Vienna, know how much their late father respected and liked Kennedy.

As children, Roush and McCormick attended a campaign rally for Kennedy on May 1,1960, in City Park. An estimated 4,000 people were in City Park to hear Kennedy speak at the bandshell.

Bailey, founder and pastor of Jefferson Baptist Temple in Parkersburg, gave the invocation in City Park.

Part of Bailey’s invocation, as he told an interviewer for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in 1964, follows.

“In that prayer that I gave, this is part of it: ‘We pray, dear God, that thy blessing may rest upon our speaker today, Senator John F. Kennedy, and give him wisdom and strength as he seeks to lead our nation in the years ahead. Give to us the constant aid of thy Holy Spirit that true democracy may be established in this our land. Uphold us in high resolve that both government and industry shall faithfully serve the people.”

On the wall of the study in his Parkersburg home, Bailey placed a photograph of John, Robert and Ted Kennedy standing together that he received from the Kennedy family.

Also on Bailey’s wall was a framed letter he received on Oct. 13, 1972, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The letter thanked Bailey for providing an oral history interview for the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

“Your contribution will – in future years – be of the utmost importance to those compiling a history of President Kennedy’s administration, and I shall always be grateful to you for the part you have played in this project,” Onassis wrote.

Bailey’s oral history interview of the John F. Kennedy years, provided to William L. Young on Dec. 5, 1964 in Parkersburg, is one of 1,565 interviews on record at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

In the interview, Bailey, a Kennedy for President campaign worker in Wood County, discusses the 1960 Democratic primary and general election in West Virginia, the Catholic issue in the state and John F. Kennedy’s legacy in West Virginia.

In the interview for the Kennedy library, Bailey said he first met the late president in 1958 when he was in Parkersburg to lead a parade down Market Street for candidates in the November general election. Afterward, Kennedy, accompanied by wife Jacqueline, gave a speech at the Chancellor Hotel, said Bailey, who died in 2004.

“He (Kennedy) gave a marvelous speech,” Bailey said. “At that time it was stated that he would become the president one day, that he would perhaps be the next president.”

Pertaining to the 1960 primary election in West Virginia, Bailey told the interviewer that “quite a few of our Baptist ministers” did not support Kennedy’s bid for the presidency because he was Catholic.

“However, as a Baptist minister, I felt that religion had nothing to do with it, because our Constitution gives everybody the same right to run for office regardless of his religion,” Bailey said in the interview for the Kennedy library.

McCormick said it was thrilling for her to listen to her father’s words in the Kennedy library.

Bailey was devastated when he received word that John Kennedy had been assassinated, Roush said.

“Dad was glued to the television,” she said. “He prayed at home and at church.”

The following words are found on the Kennedy library website,

“I would not be where I now am, I would not have some of the responsibilities which I now bear, if it had not been for the people of West Virginia.” – President John F. Kennedy, June 20, 1963.