The Kennedy Assassination – Six Decades of Questions
By Thomas Giangreco, Walsh Library – Gov Docs, Microforms, and Digitization
For anyone of a certain age, November 22nd, 1963 is indelibly imprinted on their memory. They can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas. John F. Kennedy was not the first president to be assassinated, but it was the first time TV coverage brought the tragedy into everyone’s home via this still relatively new medium. A young and vibrant president, who had come into office at the start of a new decade full of promise, was gone in an instant. The tragic event was even filmed by Abraham Zapruder, who was in Dealey Plaza that day taking home movies of the President’s visit to Dallas. And a decade which had started on a note of optimism quickly descended into a maelstrom of chaos and division. A suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was quickly taken into custody, but he too, was murdered (on live TV) by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he could testify. With no trial possible for Oswald, definitive answers proved elusive and left the field open for speculation and conjecture of all sorts.
How could this have happened? To answer this question a commission was established under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren. The commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, and had killed President Kennedy with a rifle from his perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. However, it was not long before the Warren Commission’s report was questioned. Had, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald committed the crime with a rifle from the book depository? In the years following, no shortage of alternative suspects emerged; the KGB, the CIA, the Mafia, even Vice-President Lyndon Johnson! Who did it? Why? How? From where? Like a high stakes game of Clue. The Warren Commission seemed to raise more questions than it answered. The Zapruder film was picked apart frame by frame for evidence. By the late 1970’s the United States congress reopened the case by forming the House Select Committee on Assassinations to take a second look at both the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations.
The doubts and unresolved issues led to a profusion of conspiracy theories and gave rise to an entire cottage industry. Films such as Oliver Stone’s JFK, loosely based on District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigations and prosecution of Clay Shaw relating to the assassination, postulated a vast web of interconnected conspirators, which leaves the viewer wondering who was NOT involved. However, Gerald Posner’s exhaustively researched book Case Closed upheld the view that Oswald had acted alone. No consensus there. The question has even made its way into popular culture. All fans of the X-Files know it was the Cigarette Smoking Man firing from the sewer, and Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 employs the plot device of time travel to thwart the assassination, with calamitous consequences for the future (mild spoiler alert).
What is the truth of the matter? It depends on who you ask. Partisans on both sides have marshaled their evidence for or against the Warren Commission. Any number of conspiracy theories have their fervent supporters. Fortunately, the Fordham University Libraries has a large collection of books on the subject and is a federal depository library, allowing its patrons to research the matter for themselves and delve into all sides of the debate. In addition to the hyperlinked sources mentioned in this blog post, you also may wish to dive into…
Something from our collection, such as the Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Hearings Before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, Second Session
Or something from the National Archives, such as The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection.
Curious about other government documents available through the Fordham Libraries? Visit our Government Documents research guide to learn more.
Fordham has been a proud member of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) since 1937. The FDLP is devoted to the mission of “keeping America informed” by the free-of-charge dissemination of non-classified government information and publications to participating libraries. You can find the Federal Register and Congressional Record, transcripts of congressional hearings, the Congressional Serial Set going back to 1789, United States Supreme Court Reports, and a multitude of federal department publications from every branch of the federal government. From the earliest acts of congress to the Mueller Report, our Government Documents collection is a primary source history of the United States government in one location.