Friday November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As we reflect on that tragic day and honor the memory of the late president, students in the “Oral History” class this semester conducted a series of interviews with current and retired Samford employees and alumni. Each day this week, the Bull Pup will highlight these Samford voices.
L to R: (Top Row) John Mayfield, Professor of History; Lowell Vann, Professor of Art; Marlene Rikard, Professor of History; Larry Davenport, Professor of Biology; (Middle Row) Judge John Carroll, Dean of Cumberland School of Law; Jennings Marshall, Professor of Economics; James Brown, Professor of History; (Bottom Row) William Collins, Professor of Political Science; Harold Hunt, Retired Samford Theatre Department Chair; William Mike Howell, Professor of Biology; Governor Albert Brewer, Professor of Law and Government; Brad Bishop, Professor of Law
What were your reactions to the arrest/murder of Lee Harvey Oswald? Was he the lone gunman? Why was Kennedy assassinated?
Bishop: I remember that he [Oswald] was arrested. I remember seeing on television a live shot of him being shot and killed unexpectedly by a person who had not been mentioned up until that time. I think the thing that went through everyone’s minds was — set up; that it was a designed plan, but no one ever really knew what happened. History doesn’t really support that, but I think that everybody at the time when it happened was even more afraid then because there seemed to be a cover up to make it difficult to figure out exactly what happened.
Brewer: You may recall a man named Jack Garrison, who was the DA in New Orleans who alleged the conspiracy and got an indictment maybe, but nothing came of it, so I am not sure that there is any evidence or significant evidence that anyone was implicated other than Oswald. I have no idea and I never let myself get caught up in the investigations or the allegations of the Communist plot. I never felt that there was enough information to reach a definite conclusion one way or the other. Oswald was undoubtedly an unbalanced person.
Carroll: It was absolute shock that here I am watching television and watching the perpetrator that killed President Kennedy and then all of the sudden there was another assassination. It is hard to describe how unsettling all this was. Here is a country . . . built on the rule of law — that there was a political process — and all of the sudden these two prominent murders and then of course five years later Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Brown: It was so quick, just three days later, you couldn’t help but think conspiracy. The fact that Oswald had the Cuban and Russian connections . . . . You really didn’t want to know if it had been a Russian plot because that would have meant war.
Collins: It was a hit. The guy came up and did what a professional hitperson would do. So he came up . . . and didn’t even have to aim the gun. Ruby was a mobster.
Rester: The [Warren Commission] findings just weren’t solid enough for me. While I didn’t think it was a conspiracy, I left room for it to be. But over the years, as I read more and thought more, I pretty well ruled it out. It was a lone, individual working to do the unthinkable.
One of the things that puzzled me though is how Oswald was able to make that shot from that distance. And at a moving target and hit several people in that car. That was a little problematic — especially with people saying they heard shots coming from other directions.
Rikard: I’ve never been much of a conspiracy advocate, I think often individual people do terrible things on their own and I’ve never seen anything that convinced me that there was a conspiracy.
Marshall: How does this Night Club guy who’s just this shadowy character, how does he get past all these FBI and police and everybody and . . . walk up to Oswald and shoot him? It was just beyond belief. That made people think Oswald knew something that somebody didn’t want him to be able to tell. So everybody’s thinking, Who’s behind it? Was the mob behind it? Was Cuba behind it? Was Lyndon Johnson behind it? Does it have something to do with Marilyn Monroe? All this wild speculation.
But it was just strange to see somebody shot live on television. Now there’s all these reality shows, but this was real. There he was, just Bam. Shot right there and killed right there on T.V.
I got to go home on Sunday for Church leave [from military school]. You got to go home on Sunday to go to church. So my dad came out and picked me up and my roommate came with me. We went to church then we went to my parent’s house and my mother was fixing Sunday dinner, and we were sitting around the T.V. watching the coverage [of] the assassination. It was the only thing on T.V. They had all this coverage about Lee Harvey Oswald, and you see him being transferred from the jail to somewhere, and you see this guy walk around this policeman and walk towards Oswald, and you hear the shot. My roommate said, “He just shot him!” And I said, “Naw, he didn’t, did he?” And my dad said, “I think he did!” I said, “What?!” We’re all watching it, but you still didn’t believe it.
Mayfield: On Sunday we hauled off to church which wasn’t very cheery either, and we were coming back in this big white Pontiac, and Walter Cronkite with CBS News came on the radio, and said that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot. Where does this end? First, you have the President shot, then you have the prime suspect shot. I went home and turned on the TV and saw the replay of it, of Oswald’s shooting, and I couldn’t believe it. They took this guy [Oswald] out of the car across from a parking garage with nobody in front of him, and a crowd milling about, and even at the ripe old age of eighteen I realized that was in technical terms, stupid.
Hunt: The fact that Ruby was so irritated with him [Oswald] and felt that close to the Kennedys and wanted to do that for the Kennedys. It was an amazing time. I know Johnson really wanted to be president; he would have liked to be president when Kennedy went in, but I can’t believe that Johnson would be implicated; I just don’t think so.
Davenport: It was an amazing shot, that’s the part that gets me. Oswald was depicted as this Communist trouble maker. I remember, and, of course, this was a time of constant [fear of] Communism and conspiracy theories. We were all, as kids, junior G-men, looking for Commies under every rock and, so, we didn’t have any doubt that Oswald did it. We didn’t have any doubt that he was connected to the U.S.S.R. and the only downside of Jack Ruby killing him is that we would never know the connection.
Howell: And for him to be shot by the owner of a nightclub and a sleazy type guy? You say, “Now who paid HIM to kill Oswald?” I always felt that he was a hit man for somebody. I was watching the very moment when they brought him out and Jack Ruby shot and killed him. Another traumatic event. Whatever Oswald knew was gone forever.
Floyd: The guy that killed him was portrayed as having some collusionary connections with other elements that wanted Kennedy dead. That made the conspiracy theory much more viable for sure.
At the time, I thought it was very interesting because the media portrayed him as kind of conspiratorially related to Kennedy’s hostility towards communism and capital links of the US. Whether it was the Cosa Nostra kinds of relations or in Cuba. I didn’t think there was an argument convincing enough for me to take a position.
Vann: I think if he [Oswald] had been kept alive and been put on trial maybe those things would have come out, but it just sort of closed the door and you didn’t know what was on the other side of that door.
Adapted from Oral History Interviews by Holly Howell, Sara Curley, Ben Woodall, Haley Rester, Smith Ann Burley, Katie Dover, Lauren Ziemer and Robert McNeill.