As the nation anxiously awaits the release of thousands of documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, East Tennessee is remembering one of his last visits.

Kennedy visited Knoxville in 1960 while on the campaign trail, holding a campaign event at the airport.

But the year before, he toured Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“We’ve very proud of the history here and many distinguished people both from science and public life that have visited,” said David Keim, communications director for ORNL.

JFK visited ORNL in 1959

Keim said JFK, wife Jackie and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Sr. toured the facility, including the famous Graphite Reactor.

“It’s the world's first continuously operating reactor,” said Keim.

Documents related to Kennedy's 1963 assassination in Dallas have been kept secret for decades.

President Donald Trump has said he will allow the release of long-secret records surround JFK’s death. Many were released Thursday, though some were delayed pending further redaction.


In the meantime, ORNL is looking back on the visit.

“I can only speculate that he was learning about how reactors worked and what they’re used for, and why they’re important to the United States,” said Keim.

In the 58 years since Kennedy’s visit to ORNL, much has changed. But the shots of him on that day are also a reminder of what hasn’t changed.

“You just get a sense that something really important was happening here,” said Keim of the reactor room. “Fortunately we still get the sense important things are happening at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.”