About the Exhibit
President and Mrs. Kennedy celebrated American history, culture, and achievement on social and diplomatic occasions. They brought an innovative spirit to ceremonial and state events, enhancing the role of the arts in national life. Artifacts and documents on display in this gallery feature the seating charts, place settings, invitations, programs and the outfit worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to the White House dinner or state visit events.
From the earliest moments of his Presidency, with more than 150 artists, writers, and poets invited to his inauguration, JFK signaled that the arts would hold a central place in the public life of his administration. Over the next three years, White House events and receptions hosted by President and Mrs. Kennedy celebrated and showcased the highest in American cultural achievement. The President and Mrs. Kennedy hosted visits from foreign dignitaries and heads of state from countries all over the world.
The items in the exhibit reveal all the pomp and ceremony of a state event, the glitter of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's dress, the sparkle of the crystal, the music by Aaron Copland, the entertainment all carefully chosen, all these things speak to the beauty and formality of these age-old traditions. This event was notable as it demonstrated how President Kennedy was reaching out to the leader of a newly independent African nation.
President Kennedy was a strong supporter of African nationalism and independence on both moral and strategic grounds. Within the context of the Cold War, he believed that the newly independent nations could have an impact on the struggle between the western democracies and the Soviet bloc. He also believed that the African movements for freedom and independence were inspired by the same universal aspirations that engendered our own American revolution. The Ivory Coast was one of the most staunchly anti-communist countries among the newly independent African states and was unfailingly loyal to the West. "If we extend the hand of friendship," JFK said, "then the course of African revolution...will be towards democracy and freedom and not towards communism." President Kennedy's invitation to President Félix Houphouët-Boigny was a gesture of friendship to the leader of an emerging African democracy.
Included in the display are:
- Dinner menu with President Kennedy's scribbled notes
- Table setting used at the State Dinner
- Program for "Billy the Kid", performed by the American Ballet Theater in the East Room following the dinner
- Seating chart from the dinner
- State gifts from President and Mrs. Houphouët-Boigny
- Evening gown, designed by Oleg Cassini worn by Jacqueline Kennedy to the state dinner