Presidential visits of the past


President Bill Clinton led a two-hour discussion on race relations at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on Dec. 3, 1997.

Had President Barack Obama brought his campaign to The University of Akron's James A. Rhodes Arena for a rally this week, it would have marked the third time in University history that a sitting president had visited campus.

LBJ addresses a rally in Memorial Hall on Oct. 21, 1964. Among those visible behind him on the stage are his wife, Lady Bird, and, to her right, UA President Norman P. Auburn.

Most recently, it was President Bill Clinton who came to UA. He was here on Dec. 3, 1997, to host his first in a year-long series of national town hall-style meetings on race relations at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. UA was chosen as the site for the town Hall because of the Akron Beacon Journal’s Pulitzer Prize winning series on race relations — "Coming Together."

Marion A. Ruebel, UA's president at the time, introduced the 42nd president of the United States before "One America: President Clinton’s Initiative on Race" got under way. For two hours, Clinton shared the Thomas Hall stage for a discussion with University and high school students as well as community leaders, elected officials and national experts.

The event was telecast live on C-SPAN, and covered by regional, state and national media. More than 2,000 people were in the Thomas Hall audience, while 4,000 more watched via C-SPAN in James A. Rhodes Arena. Following the town hall, Clinton paid a visit to the JAR to speak to the crowd and shake hands.

LBJ the first president to visit

It was in the waning days of the 1964 presidential campaign that President Lyndon Baines Johnson spoke at a rally in Memorial Hall. In fact, Johnson and his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, made speeches within five days of one another in Memorial Hall, each drawing a crowd of 3,000. According to UA's 1964-65 Annual Report, ours was the only campus in the country where both candidates appeared during the campaign.

Presidential candidate Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, attend a rally at Memorial Hall during the 1968 campaign.

After their terms in office, both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush came to campus for events. In 1998, Bush was the guest lecturer at the School of Law Dean's Club Dinner, while Ford delivered the Dorothy Garrett Martin Memorial Delta Gamma Lectureship on Values and Ethics in 2003.

Over the years, presidential hopefuls have held rallies at UA, including:

  • Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate in 1960, was here for a campaign rally at Memorial Hall. He was again the candidate in 1968 when he returned for another rally at Memorial Hall before going on to win the election in November.
  • John Kerry, who went on to be the 2004 Democratic nominee, was at a campaign rally in the Student Union Ballroom on March 14, 2004.