Crowds cheered Jackie's speech in French

(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Saturday, May 31, 2008 beginning at 12 noon a historical marker will be unveiled at the site where then Presidential-candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to a Rice Festival crowd that exceeded 135,000 people. That speech was delivered on October 16, 1959 from the main platform of the festival, located on the southern lawn of the Acadia Parish Courthouse. It was the 23rd International Rice Festival. Efforts to secure the marker were initiated by Crowley native John Gott who will also be one of the dignitaries in attendance for the unveiling.)

CROWLEY – On the platform built on the grounds of the Court House were politicians from all over Louisiana and local citizens who worked to make the International Rice Festival a success for the gigantic crowds who came to see Senator and Mrs. John F. Kennedy who were to crown Judith Ann Haydel of Houma queen.

Edwin Edwards, then a Crowley lawyer who was the 1959 Master of Ceremonies presiding over activities on the platform, kept the program moving with the presentation of queens from other festival and fairs throughout the state in addition to the contestants who were vying for the 1959 Rice Festival crown.

Judge Edmund Reggie introduced Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy to the approximate 135,000 spectators who had crowded into every nook and cranny they could find along Parkerson Avenue.

At first, Mrs. Kennedy considered the crowd to be so huge that it was intimidating. But at the encouragement of her husband Jack, she began to address the crowd.

Upon her introduction, Mrs. Kennedy reached for the microphone that was connected to loudspeakers that would carry her voice throughout the streets, and in clear and perfect French, she began, “Bonjour, Mesdames et Monsieur.” Before she could speak another word, the crowd responded with yells and cheers at her choice of speaking to them in friendly French.

A spectator who was there that day said, “It sounded like the top of the City of Crowley had exploded when the crowd started cheering their approval of even just the beginning of her remarks.”

She continued and told her audience how she was so happy to be in South Louisiana which her father had described to her when she was a child as being like a “small corner of France.”

The cheers went up again; possibly stronger if that was possible. She finished her remarks all delivered in French to the applause and cheers, the like of which had never been heard at the Rice Festival.

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