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Finely written and meticulously documented, this book describes how—very early on—a small group of ordinary citizens began extraordinary efforts to demonstrate that the JFK assassination could not have happened the way the government said it did. In time, their efforts had an enormous impact on public opinion, but this account concentrates on the months before the controversy caught fire, when people with skeptical viewpoints still saw themselves as lone voices. Material seldom seen by the public includes a suppressed photograph of the grassy knoll, an unpublished 1964 interview with an eyewitness, the earliest mention of the "magic bullet," and an analysis of the commotion surrounding New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison's charge that anti-Castro CIA operatives were involved.
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Read an Excerpt
Praise from a Future Generation
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and the First Generation Critics of the Warren Report
By John Kelin
Wings PressCopyright © 2007 Wings Press for John Kelin
All rights reserved.
Air Force One
During its flight from Dallas to Washington, D.C., on November 22, 1963, the occupants of Air Force One were informed that there was no conspiracy in the shooting death of John F. Kennedy, whose body was also on the plane. It was no more than four hours since the President had been pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald was under arrest but would not be charged with Kennedy's murder for another eight and a half hours. Yet the presidential jet's passengers were told he was the sole, unaided assassin.
The Cabinet plane, flying from Hawaii to Japan for an economic summit, received the same no conspiracy, lone assassin message as Air Force One, and at about the same time. The common denominator was the source of each announcement: the White House Situation Room.
"That," wrote Philadelphia attorney Vincent J. Salandria, "is conclusive evidence of high-level U.S. governmental guilt. The first announcement of Oswald as the lone assassin, before there was any evidence against him, and while there was overwhelmingly convincing evidence of conspiracy, had come from the White House Situation Room. Only the assassins could have made that premature declaration that Oswald was the assassin."
Salandria wrote those words in 1998, in one of his strongest, most direct public statements on the matter. Yet he had come to this conclusion many years before. Salandria was among the earliest researchers of the Kennedy assassination – one of a small group of private citizens at first working independently of, and largely in isolation from, one another. Although the suspicions of most of them were aroused and acted upon on the very day President Kennedy was slain, the initial efforts of this small group – by one estimate, there were fewer than twenty – went mostly unnoticed by the general public. In some cases these critics preferred it that way. In others, the writings they produced were not easily published – were deemed unpopular and perhaps dangerous – and could find their way to print only in limited-circulation magazines or self-published books that did not enjoy the benefit of a major publisher's distribution power.
And yet these early researchers – usually called first-generation critics – were not deterred, for if they shared one trait, it was a dedication to the truth. And the truth, they were convinced, had not been served by the nation's media, or by those government bodies charged with investigating the brutal murder, in broad daylight before hundreds of eyewitnesses, on the streets of a modern American city, of its chief executive.
* * *
"By the evening of November 22, 1963," recalled Ray Marcus, another of the first-generation critics, "I found myself being drawn into the case. The government was saying there was only one assassin; that there was no conspiracy. It was obvious that even if this subsequently turned out to be true, it could not have been known to be true at that time."
Dallas legal secretary Mary Ferrell was, at the moment of the assassination, about ten blocks from Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was slain. She was struck by the remarkable speed with which Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. "The Dallas Police were not gifted with ESP," she said. Mrs. Ferrell heard the description of the suspect, broadcast some twenty minutes after the assassination; it was so general it would have fit countless men in the greater Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex. "I went home, turned on the television, I'm glued to it. And one hour and one minute later, at 1:51 pm, the Dallas Police arrested a man seated in a darkened theater, across town in Oak Cliff, and I'm thinking, 'Oh, this is remarkable!'"
On his farm in Maryland two days later, Harold Weisberg was watching TV coverage of the assassination. The arrested man was about to be transferred from the Dallas jail to a more secure lockup when Weisberg looked at his wife and said: "You know, honey, this poor son-of-a-bitch is going to get killed."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oswald. Everything that is happening is making it impossible to try him. Somebody wants to close his mouth." A few minutes later, a national television audience first became acquainted with Jack Ruby.
The early critics were in general agreement that there was no real case against Oswald, and an examination of police reports filed the day of the assassination supports that view. From the beginning, the evidence indicated the likelihood of more than one gunman in Dealey Plaza. Some eyewitnesses observed activity in the Texas School Book Depository that was at odds with what authorities claimed happened there. The attention of many others – one count placed the number as high as fifty-one – was drawn to a grassy, tree-lined slope on the north side of Elm Street, soon to gain infamy as the "grassy knoll." Attention was also drawn to an adjacent concrete pergola, referred to variously as a "monument," "arcade," or "brick structure." Still others reported activity in the surrounding area suggestive of a radio-coordinated ambush in the making. Once the fusillade was over, a Dallas police officer who had run toward the knoll encountered a woman who cried out, "They're shooting the President from the bushes!"
Even if every last one of these and other witnesses were wrong, some of the early critics observed, the official pronouncement of Oswald's sole guilt was too early and too final. It was not what one would expect from an impartial, preliminary investigation.
"Dealey Plaza," Vince Salandria said, "reeked of conspiracy."
* * *
Exactly one week after Kennedy's assassination, new President Lyndon Johnson announced the appointment of a Special Commission "to study and report upon all facts and circumstances relating to the assassination of the late President, John F. Kennedy, and the subsequent violent death of the man charged with the assassination." This Commission was composed of some of the most prominent and respected public servants of the day. A White House press release issued at the time stated the Commission would "have before it all evidence uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation" and pertinent data from any other government agency. It also had the power to "conduct any further investigation that it deems desirable." The Commission was instructed "to satisfy itself that the truth is known as far as it can be discovered, and to report its findings and conclusions to [President Johnson], to the American people, and to the world."
The press release noted that a Texas inquiry into President Kennedy's assassination had been announced by Waggoner Carr, the Texas Attorney General, and that Carr was now pledging to cooperate with the Federal probe. By early December the Texas inquiry had been postponed. This decision was announced after Carr met with Justice Department officials in Washington, and with Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was chairing the Special Commission.
Preparations were underway for a separate investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee; the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were also considering probes. One purpose of the presidential Commission, said The New YorkTimes, was to stop the competing investigations, "and give the public a single report that would command the nation's full confidence."
The special panel quickly became known as the Warren Commission after its chairman. There were six other members: Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan, former CIA Director Allen Dulles, and John J. McCloy, who had served as a disarmament adviser to President Kennedy, and was the former president of the World Bank.
The bulk of the Commission's work, however, would fall on members of its staff, which took most of the witness depositions. "Of the 489 witnesses who gave testimony, less than one-fourth appeared before the Commission itself," first-generation critic Sylvia Meagher wrote, in a trenchant analysis of the Warren panel's work. "Even in those cases, the seven members of the full Commission were never present as a body or throughout an entire session."
The Warren Commission was in existence for about ten months. Its findings appeared first in the fall of 1964, in a single-volume summary. Two months later the Government Printing Office published a twenty-six- volume set of hearings and exhibits from which the summary was ostensibly derived. The single-volume summary, known popularly as the Warren Report, saturated the public mind: it was published simultaneously by five commercial publishers at what industry observers said was record speed. The first copy of the mass market paperback edition was sold precisely one minute after the report was officially released. The Government Printing Office published a sixth, official version, and the complete text was also published in The New York Times. By early November, 1964, nearly three million copies of the Warren Report were in print. Major media outlets, almost without exception, lauded the Report as a superlative piece of investigation and reportage.
The Commission listed twelve main conclusions. Of those, the most important was that a total of three shots had been fired at the presidential motorcade, all of them by Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald had no help from anyone. He had fired from a southeast corner window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building. One bullet had wounded President Kennedy in the neck. This same bullet went on to cause multiple wounds to Governor John Connally. A short time after the assassination, Oswald also shot and killed Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.
But long before the Commission published a word – before it even heard its first witness – the first-generation critics, American citizens who were convinced that something was not right in the story that came out of Dallas in November 1963, were trying to sort out the confusing mass of data and answer some questions for themselves.
* * *
The people who would come to be known as Warren Report critics were a varied group. They included a poultry farmer with a background in journalism and government work; several lawyers, one of them a former state legislator; the operator of a small business; three housewives; an educator; a researcher for the World Health Organization; a French journalist; and the publisher of a smalltown newspaper.
At the time of the assassination, most of the critics were unaware of each other, although most assumed that other private citizens had also been drawn into the case. Curious about this, Ray Marcus reckoned that one out of every one thousand adult Americans must be as interested and active as he was. He estimated a figure of about 120,000 people. He was astonished to later determine the actual number was nearer to twelve.
There was a great deal of confusion in the days and weeks immediately following the assassination. It was still unclear how many shots had even been fired on the motorcade, and from where those shots originated. Emergency room doctors said Kennedy's throat wound was one of entrance. But Kennedy's limousine had already passed the building Oswald allegedly fired from – so how could he have wounded Kennedy in the front? A major magazine duly reported that JFK had turned in his seat at the moment he was shot, thus explaining the contradiction, but photographs published by the same magazine showed, incontrovertibly, the President had not turned. Moreover, accounts of the location of the President's head wound – was it in the back of the skull, the right rear of the skull, the right temple? – varied greatly. Something was amiss.
One of the autopsy surgeons said he had been forbidden to talk. This same doctor admitted to having burned some of his autopsy notes. The published autopsy seemed to raise as many questions as it answered; one doctor called it "a grossly incomplete record."
The confusion was so great that journalist Léo Sauvage – an exception among the first critics in that he was neither a private citizen nor an American – wired his home office at Le Figaro, a leading Paris daily newspaper, that one of the few certainties in Dallas was that President Kennedy was dead. There was little concrete to go on.
For most of the critics, it was simply the suspicion that something was rotten – in the city of Dallas and the state of the union. And so, with intense curiosity but limited resources, they scoured newspapers, clipped articles and tried to sort the fact from the fiction.
Strictly speaking, once the Warren Commission was established and taking testimony from witnesses, it acted openly. The hearings were private, in that the public and press were barred from the proceedings, but witnesses were free to repeat their testimony once it was taken. In practice, however, the Commission acted covertly. Some of the critics wondered – if the facts of the assassination were as simple as the official government pronouncements made them out to be – why the proceedings were held behind closed doors. "I became disturbed by the secret and therefore undemocratic hearings of the Warren Commission," Vince Salandria told an acquaintance. On his farm in Maryland, Harold Weisberg felt much the same way. "With the Commission working in secret, there were no new leads for an inquiring press to follow." Later he added: "I have always felt, very strongly, that the most important thing in this country is for the people to be fully and accurately informed. That goes back to the first days of this country – people risked their lives for that."
The official judgment, issued in September 1964 but virtually a foregone conclusion by the end of the day of the assassination, was that President Kennedy was killed by a lone, unassisted, and probably demented gunman. In spite of the confidence with which this presumed truth was stated, Federal authorities deemed it prudent to keep a watchful eye on those who publicly declared their doubts about the Warren Commission findings. The FBI, which had supplied the Commission with the bulk of its investigatory data, emerged as its principle guardian following publication of its Report, noting and filing from the very start what few articles critical of the Commission's work appeared in the nation's press, and keeping track of those public utterances that ran counter to the lone assassin story. In 1965 one critic told his colleagues that FBI recordings of another critic's lectures would fill half a room. In January 1967, a Central Intelligence Agency memorandum was prepared offering strategies for "discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists."
Senator Joe McCarthy was dishonored and dead, but the United States was not far removed from the anti-Communist hysteria of the immediate post-World War II years. The FBI was thus careful to note, during its clandestine monitoring, whether a subject had any hint of Communism in his or her background. While many of the early critics were politically of the Left, not all of them were; in any case personal politics, in a land of presumed freedom of choice and diversity, should be irrelevant to the questions of who, if not Lee Harvey Oswald, killed President Kennedy and why. Regardless of their place on the political spectrum, many of the early critics were motivated by their sense of patriotism; all were in pursuit of the truth.
FBI memos dating to the earliest period following the JFK killing show that virtually every active critic of the Commission was monitored to some degree. In a nation fond of proclaiming its constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, such monitoring cannot be considered benign. One of the earliest articles on the case was characterized in an FBI memo as "another bitter attack upon the Bureau." The article was based primarily on readily available newspaper accounts, and simply raised the question of whether Lee Harvey Oswald had any covert intelligence connections.
Most of the early critics were simply doing what they felt they had to do, regardless of how the authorities viewed their activities. "I did the research with the expectation that they were following my work, if they had an interest in it," Vince Salandria later said. He acknowledged there was an element of personal risk involved, and later attributed several Internal Revenue Service audits to his work. But the consequences appear to have been greater for some witnesses to events related to November 22, 1963: it was gradually learned that some of these witnesses were intimidated with threats, or worse. Before long critic Penn Jones, Jr., was compiling a list of what he referred to as the "strange deaths" of some assassination witnesses.
The more prominent the critic, it seems, the more paper was generated within the Bureau, and in some instances the more mean-spirited it was. A memo from William Branigan to William Sullivan, for example, noted one prominent critic's supposed affiliation with "Communist Party front groups" in the years preceding the assassination. The memo also carried the intelligence that this critic had once been investigated for allegedly violating laws defining permissible sexual activity. Since this FBI memo says nothing about prosecution resulting from the allegations, the investigation apparently came up empty. But records were kept – the memo had copies of the evidence attached – and one cannot discount the possibility that this material was used against the critic to deter his activities or blunt his message.
Excerpted from Praise from a Future Generation by John Kelin. Copyright © 2007 Wings Press for John Kelin. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Air Force One,
2. The Beplumed Knight,
3. Oswald and the FBI,
4. Promises To Keep,
5. "I Guess You're on Your Own",
6. "We All Loved Kennedy",
7. Mrs. Oswald and Mrs. Markham,
8. Mrs. Markham and Mrs. Clemons,
11. Friends in L.A.,
12. The Report Goes Public,
13. The First Anniversary,
14. A Middle-aged Lochinvar,
15. The Oswald Affair,
16. Dueling Attorneys,
17. Some Contacts,
18. Films and Photographs,
19. More Contacts,
20. The Meeting,
21. No Exit,
22. Strange Authors,
23. Developments Thick and Fast,
24. An Ugly Question,
27. The Proof of a Plot,
28. Fatal Ruptures,
29. Single-spaced Letters,
30. The Trial,
Appendix A - New Developments,
Sources and Archives,
About the Author,