<photo: Open Letter from the resigned US General Edwin Walker to JFK on September 26, 1962, linking the Mississippi crisis of James Meredith with the Cuba crisis of Fidel Castro, and blaming JFK for both. SOURCE: Briscoe Center for American History>
As we’ve long said on this website, the JFK Assassination was almost entirely a Dallas plot, conceived and executed in Dallas by her radical right-wing (with minor assistance by sympathetic forces in New Orleans and rogue government agents). In Dallas, the most obviously qualified, motivated, and resourceful person to orchestrate all local plotters was the resigned General Edwin Walker, an original and fanatical member of the John Birch Society (hereafter JBS). Walker was also a good friend of rightist oil billionaire, H.L. Hunt.
Tracing the hearings and exhibits of the Warren Commission (WC) witnesses over the past few years, we’re beginning a specific focus on Walker, and especially his psychiatric profile as provided by Dr. Charles E. Smith, Chief Psychiatrist of the Federal Prison System, Washington, DC. He was the psychiatrist who signed the warrant to arrest Walker after the massive race riot in Oxford, Mississippi (Ole Miss University) to send Walker to an insane asylum for observation.
Also, Dr. Smith was one of two psychiatrists who testified before a Federal Grand Jury about Edwin Walker, and I was fortunate to locate the Grand Jury records of this hearing – even though the Grand Jury acquitted Walker.
Usually, after a Grand Jury acquits a suspect, all records are destroyed. In this case, however, General Walker himself requested copies of the hearings as they pertained only to himself (as there were other suspects). He himself kept those court transcripts among his personal papers, and these are now piled into the archives of the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
In 2012 I found them there and I showed Professor H.W. Brands.
We’re going to display selections from psychiatrist testimony from those hearings, but before we do, I want to provide an even richer background. As we noted in our last post, during the month of September 1962, JFK and the CIA were busy collecting information to confirm credible rumors that the USSR was building nuclear missiles in Cuba. Public news about this would not appear until weeks later, but in September 1962 the JFK Administration was secretly obsessed with this investigation, knowing that war with the USSR was a possibility.
It was against this White House background that a new crisis appeared in the South – the attempted enrollment of one Black American into an all-white college in Mississippi, “Ole Miss.” A young veteran of the US Air Force, James Meredith, insisted on his American right to enroll there, while the Mississippi governor, Ross Barnett, strictly prohibited his enrollment on grounds of the Mississippi tradition of race segregation.
Barnett had ordered local law enforcement to enforce his prohibition and he encouraged local protestors to vocally support him on campus. JFK, however, recognized that US Law gave no public college the right of racial discrimination, so, like Eisenhower before him (1957), JFK warned Barnett that he would send federal troops to defend the right of Black Americans to enroll in that public school.
JFK could not get Barnett to change his mind, so JFK slowly began to move troops toward Mississippi in the middle of September 1962.
This raised an alarmist outcry among the US radical right, including the JBS and one of its prominent members, the resigned General Edwin Walker. Knowing that Castro’s Cuba was a major sore spot in US policy, Walker’s strategy was to link the Cuba problem with the Ole Miss problem. Walker published an “Open Letter to JFK” in various US newspapers on September 26, 1962, and we display his signed letter at the front of this blog post. It says, in part:
September 26, 1962
It is obvious to millions of concerned and informed Americans that idle talk and rocking chair action cannot cope with the Russian-Cuban threat. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, our highest military tribunal, has informed your administration that Cuba is a threat to the United States…America is now the laughingstock of the world to both friend and foe…
There is widespread bewilderment throughout the nation at the audacity of Castro-Cuba and our obsequious policy of vying for favor in assisting our enemies, which is now realistically exposed and shorn of enchantment.
…Harboring and shielding Communist Cuba in our midst is a direct threat to the State of the Union.
Americans, civilian and military…recognize demagogic power and action with centralized police state methods (as being used by Federal law enforcement agencies in Mississippi) as an internal policy which is corroborating and reciprocative in purpose with the enthronement and escalation of Moscow’s Cuba…
Edwin A. Walker
Note that the theme of Ole Miss was shrewdly insinuated within a political complaint about US policy on Castro’s Cuba. Around that same time, the John Birch Society Bulletin was already setting in print their October 1962 issue which would include an article entitled, “Defend the State’s Rights of Mississippi.” The JBS article began:
“We take a very emphatic position indeed in opposition to the sending of Federal Government troops into Mississippi, or any other actions on the part of the Federal Government, to force Mississippi to admit any applicant to the University…We are not going into all of the legalistic sleight-of-hand about the Fourteenth Amendment, or into all of the hocus pocus used by the Supreme Court.” (John Birch Society Bulletin, October 1, 1962).
Another article in this same issue was entitled, “Federal Troops to Cuba, Si! Mississippi, No!” The JBS article claimed that the JFK Admin, because of its border policies, had no moral stature to address the racial problems at Ole Miss. It claimed furthermore that:
“Castro, a vicious Communist enemy of our country, has robbed, tortured, imprisoned, and murdered American citizens who were entitled to the protection of their government, while the most that the determined Governor of Mississippi has done is to tell one American citizen that he cannot go to a college – where he isn’t wanted.” (ibid, 1962)
The JBS article added:
“We note the huge extent, fully documented by HCUA hearings and from a dozen other sources, to which the Communists have been working for 30 years to bring about bitterness and civil disorder in the South over racial relations. We have stated many times before, and we still repeat, that the whole ‘civil rights’ agitation in the South has been Communist inspired…This scenario: is prompting millions of Americans to ask just what kind of a pro-Communist circus they are running in Washington these days anyway.” (ibid, 1962)
These were the Communist-under-every-bed rantings heard often in 1962, from the JBS (historical heir to the mantle of McCarthyism, c. 1945-1955). We note that many of the ideas expressed in this article harmonize quite closely with Walker’s Open Letter to JFK published only days before this JBS article would be published nationwide.
Even JBS founder Robert Welch couldn’t guess what would actually happen four days later. As the days progressed after September 26th, Walker went on radio and TV announcing his plans to personally travel to Oxford, Mississippi to protest JFK’s use of federal troops at Ole Miss. He openly called for “thousands” of protestors from coast to coast to come to Ole Miss University on the first day of school, to challenge JFK’s federal troops.
Over radio station KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana, Walker broadcasted the following call to action, according to notes stored in the archives of UT Austin’s Briscoe Center:
Mississippi: It is time to move! We have talked, listened and been pushed around far too much by the anti-Christ Supreme Court! Rise to stand beside Governor Ross Barnett at Jackson Mississippi! Now is the time to be heard! Thousands strong from every State in the Union!
Rally to the cause of freedom! The Battle Cry of the Republic! Barnett yes! Castro no! Bring your flag, your tent and your skillet! It’s now or never! The time is when the President of the United States commits or uses any troops, Federal or State, in Mississippi!
The last time in such a situation I was on the wrong side. That was in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957-1958. This time – out of uniform – I am on the right side! I will be there! (Walker, 1962)
Note that Walker called the US Supreme Court “anti-Christ”, hinting his political motives reached out to the extreme right-wing, mobilizing the anti-Semitic fringe. Walker called repeatedly for “thousands strong from every State in the for Union” to join his militant segregationist movement at Ole Miss.
On September 30, 1962, thousands did travel to Mississippi from all over the US to support the resigned General Walker. Many did bring weapons. Walker did lead thousands of protesters in violent charges against approximately 4,500 federal marshals at Ole Miss and surrounding Oxford in a massive, 6-hour racial riot in which hundreds were wounded and two were killed.
MY INTERVIEW OF JAMES MEREDITH
For a closer portrait of these historical events, I reached out to James Meredith himself on the morning of January 24, 2013. Mr. Meredith was kind enough to grant me a brief telephone interview. I clearly recall his emphasis -- his main focus in September 1962 was on the physical danger of the situation which he braved as part of his personal commitment to the inspiring plans of his good friend, NAACP officer Medgar Evers.
By coincidence, the January 2013 issue of Esquire Magazine featured an unusual article on James Meredith, and he shared it with me. He also noted that General Walker in 1957 had obeyed White House orders to racially integrate the Little Rock 9 into Little Rock Central High School – but Walker’s loyalty to the White House faltered in 1962.
In 2013, James Meredith (who is 89 this year) already had his own web site, and his staff told me about a film on YouTube, entitled, “James Meredith and Ole Miss.” These are some of the rare images of the massive Ole Miss racial riot that NARA has released:
THE PROBLEMS OF PSYCHIATRY
In response (and in strained frustration) JFK and RFK ordered the arrest of General Walker and remanded him to a US military hospital in Missouri for psychiatric evaluation. In Walker’s defense, Kent and Phoebe Courtney published several front-page articles in their right-wing newspaper, The Independent American. One article, entitled, “On the Marshals’ Hands,” said:
“Whatever Mississippi’s faults may be, the riot itself was touched off by the Federal marshals.” (Kent and Phoebe Courtney, The Independent American, October 1962)
Another front-page article asked:
“Why was Walker rushed off to a government mental hospital on the basis of a “diagnosis” by a government psychiatrist who had never seen Walker but who based his opinions on news accounts of Walker’s behavior?” (ibid)
Yet another asked:
“Who are these ‘little men’ occupying positions of control and power in this nation, who deride patriotism, national sovereignty, and who counsel appeasement of the Soviet Union?” (ibid)
MY INTERVIEW OF BISHOP DUNCAN GRAY
These sentiments were widely shared in right-wing media, and their clash with mainstream media was ferocious on both sides. So, in my research in 2013 I also reached out to an eye-witness, namely, the 86-year-old Episcopalian Bishop, Duncan Gray. In 1962, Bishop Gray was just a local Ole Miss campus priest, then 36 years old. Gray wasn’t called to testify before the Grand Jury in Mississippi, yet he was gracious enough to grant interviews to several history students and reporters who requested them.
Bishop Gray granted me two interviews in February 2013. He told me in the clearest terms that he personally saw General Walker leading crowds of rioters. Gray also suffered personal injury in his attempts to stop Walker, as Walker looked on with approval.
Bishop Gray told me that he still remembered the days leading up to the Ole Miss riots. He and his family and friends heard General Walker on local radio and watched him on local TV, where Walker implored “thousands” to travel to Oxford to help him organize a massive protest against James Meredith and JFK. Gray and his friends discussed it for hours – it seemed to them that this subversive call was well-planned and well-funded.
Ole Miss faculty and staff believed that they could control their own students, but they were terrified of the prospect of controlling outsiders, mostly adults, some of whom would be armed. Each of Walker’s broadcasts repeated the slogan, “bring your tents, your flags and your skillets” to evoke images of military occupation. It was originally these TV and radio broadcasts, said Bishop Gray, which revealed Walker as an organizer of a violent movement.
When Gray and his friend, professor Wolford Silver, saw on TV that the riot had finally started at Ole Miss, they quickly drove to campus. On the highway, car after car bearing out-of-state license plates continually passed them, all headed toward the Ole Miss campus. Reverend Gray and Professor Silver looked at each other, shook their heads and said, “General Walker.”
They arrived on campus at perhaps 8:30 p.m. to see a budding riot that involved mostly students with perhaps 20% out-of-town adults. Gray and Silver immediately approached the students, taking bricks, bottles, pipes and rocks from them, and sending them home. Some went home while others took their weapons back and returned to the riot.
Reverend Gray kept alert for General Walker who had promised to be there. Gray planned to reason with him. At perhaps 9 p.m. Gray heard several students repeating: “Now we have a leader! A leader!” Looking around he saw Walker in a nearby cedar tree grove with about 30 students. Gray promptly rushed up to Walker and demanded that he stop the violence immediately.
Walker was surprised and demanded to know who this humble man was. Gray introduced himself as an Episcopal priest who lived in Oxford, and added that he knew who Walker was, and knew that Walker was a Texan, not a resident of Oxford. He told Walker to go home where he belonged. I’ll quote Bishop Gray briefly here:
“Although there was some light here and there, it was nighttime after all, and we were under the shade of trees, so I could not see General Walker’s eyes. But I could see his face clearly enough to see that his expression was hostile. Walker’s face was very unfriendly towards me, making it clear that he held my very presence in contempt.” (Bishop Duncan Gray, 2012).
Evidently Walker was in no mood to debate the merits of peace and justice according to Reverend Gray. Walker was on a mission and this mere cleric got in his way. Gray added:
There, under the grove, Walker insulted me for the first time, saying it loudly so the students around him could hear that this sort of priest made him ashamed to be an Episcopalian. The students then looked upon me with contempt. Walker added that they would certainly not stop their proceedings there, since they had every right to protest and to act upon their beliefs. They didn’t want Negroes at Ole Miss and that was the end of it. Walker left the grove toward the park lawn in front of the Lyceum Building and the students followed him. (Bishop Duncan Gray, 2012).
Reverend Gray personally witnessed General Walker deliberately encouraging the large crowd of rowdy protestors. Gray watched as hundreds of protestors relentlessly hurled bricks and bottles at the marshals and as the marshals relentlessly shot cans of tear gas back at the protestors. The next time that Gray spotted him, Walker was half-way up the Confederate monument exclaiming to a larger crowd about the importance of preventing that James Meredith never study at Ole Miss. Walker exclaimed:
“We’re here for a righteous cause! We must let our voices be heard!” (Walker, 1962)
So, Gray walked over and also climbed on the monument and exclaimed loud enough so that the students could hear him:
“Please tell these people to go back home or go back to their dormitory rooms. They’ll listen to you because they consider you as their leader! Violence is not the answer to this problem!” (Gray, 1962)
Walker then turned to the crowd and shouted:
“There’s an Episcopal priest over here that makes me ashamed to be an Episcopalian!” (Walker, 1962)
In response to this some people in the crowd pulled Bishop Gray down and started beating on him. Others, however, recognized Gray, pulled him out of the crowd and took him back into a college building.
I asked Bishop Gray to please be absolutely certain that Walker was the one who inspired the crowd to pull Gray down from the monument to the ground and beat and kick him. Bishop Gray patiently replied that he is most certain of that precise sequence of events, even after 50 years, because it was so physical and startling to be the victim of such personal violence at such a critical period in the history of Ole Miss. He assured me:
“Walker was the one who set the crowd on me. That fit in with his starting pattern, because Walker came to Oxford encouraging the mob from the very start – from the first terrifying radio and TV ads saying that the cause needed ten thousand protestors at Ole Miss and telling them to bring their tents, skillets, and flags.” (Gray, 2012)
I established that Gray witnessed Walker inciting the crowd; that Gray told Walker to stop; and that Walker certainly instigated the violence against Gray. Clearly, then the resigned General Walker never traveled to Ole Miss to calm the crowd and call for peace, as he told the Grand Jury. Rather, Walker told the Grand Jury that he told the crowd that violence was not the way!
Many of Walker’s defenders repeat that fabrication to this very day. The reverse is true – Walker flatly rejected Reverend Gray’s calls for peace and calm. Bishop Gray’s words sharply disagree with the next flurry of JBS articles and books that had transformed Walker into the martyr of the Old Miss riots (cf. Earl Lively, “The Invasion of Mississippi”, 1962, American Opinion Press).
However, these opposing sides could agree on one obvious fact: that Walker’s mere presence encouraged the crowd and legitimized their actions as they attacked the Federal marshals.
THE KENNEDY WHITE HOUSE CONFINES WALKER TO A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
The morning after the Ole Miss riot (which ended long after midnight) RFK signed a psychiatrist’s warrant to commit the resigned General Walker to a 90-day psychiatric examination. The ACLU joined the immediate protest from left and right wing advocates to demand the immediate reversal of any political psychiatry.
Walker was released in only 3 days, yet JBS founder Robert Welch was quick to capitalize on the story. His next JBS Bulletin claimed that the whole Oxford scenario was a Communist plot to legitimize the use of psychiatry to brainwash whole populations and to lobotomize political dissidents. Welch wrote:
“This was demonstrated by Dr. Charles E. Smith, a government psychiatrist who wrote the warrant to detain General Walker in a hospital prison for mental observation…A Federal Judge in Mississippi…on the basis of this memo from Dr. Smith, ordered Walker held indefinitely, without trial and without bail for a psychiatric examination. Americans must convince all other psychiatrists that they cannot get away with the high-handed piece of tyranny perpetrated by Dr. Smith, which threatens to demolish the Constitutional protections in this country.” (John Birch Society Bulletin, October 1962)
Many pundits of left and right already agreed that this move by JFK and RFK regarding Walker had been a miscalculation, because it changed the topic from the racial riots at Ole Miss to the political question about the abuse of Federal authority to pursue the evil of political psychiatry. Welch ended with a demand for:
“A public letter-writing campaign to the American Medical Association, requesting a formal vote of censure against Dr. Charles E. Smith, Chief Psychiatrist of the Federal Prison System, Washington, D.C.” (John Birch Society Bulletin, December 1, 1962)
So, the JBS began to preach not only that JFK used Communist tactics to imprison political dissidents, but this was only a token of a psychiatric “mental health tyranny” that would soon descend upon America – exactly as the Communists had planned. This was about the same strategy used by Robert Morris to defend Walker before the Grand Jury. That is, Morris changed the topic – the question was not about who led the Ole Miss riots over the Brown Decision; the real question was whether Walker was really and truly medically insane!
Using this strategy, Robert Morris convinced the Mississippi Grand Jury that JFK and RFK and their psychiatrists had falsely accused Walker, so that Walker was eventually acquitted in January 1963. (Walker immediately began to sue every US newspaper that had printed the story as described to me by Bishop Gray. Walker’s lawyers won many of those court cases, and pending an appeal by the Associated Press, Walker was now $3 million richer).
According to Bishop Duncan Gray, in order to maintain this strategy, the resigned General Walker had to perjure himself before the Grand Jury by claiming that his only purpose at Ole Miss on 30 September 1962 was to help maintain the peace. Walker testified in part:
“The students kept wanting me to lead a charge, but I kept saying, no, no violence. Just keep protesting. Just do what you're doing. Don't carry it any further…Now some kids learned how to pick up hot tear gas bombs and heave them, so they did…The students pelted all marshals’ cars with stones all night. One could hear it all night.” (Edwin Walker, Grand Jury Transcripts, Oxford Mississippi, c. December 1962)
JBS founder Robert Welch decided to make political hay out of this scenario. The true place of the former US General Edwin Walker in this political battle, he suggested, is really and actually about the Communist plot to use psychiatry to brainwash populations and even to lobotomize political dissidents!
Dr. Charles Smith demonstrated this, argued Welch’s writers, by issuing the memo to detain General Walker in a military hospital for mental observation. A (fellow traveler) Federal Judge in Mississippi, on the basis of this memo from Dr. Smith, ordered Walker held indefinitely, without trial, without bail, for a psychiatric examination.
This was unconstitutional exclaimed Welch! He published article after article demanding that Americans convince all other psychiatrists that “they cannot get away with the high-handed piece of tyranny perpetrated by Dr. Smith!” Welch urged all JBS members to write letters to the AMA demanding the following:
“[Write the AMA and demand that they] ban Dr. Charles E. Smith, Chief Psychiatrist of the Federal Prison System, Washington, DC from any government job because of his dangerous practices!” (American Opinion, December 1962)
This same psychiatrist, Dr. Charles E. Smith, was the first psychiatrist to testify against General Walker to the Grand Jury in Oxford, Mississippi from November 1962 to January 1963. Because these boisterous clashes between the US right-wing and left-wing propaganda mills are still alive and well in today’s America – these histories are still relevant.
I think we’re finally ready to approach the Grand Jury testimony of Dr. Charles E. Smith, who agreed with the Episcopalian Reverend Duncan Gray in challenging the testimony of General Walker and the claims of his JBS supporters – as well as the opinions of Walker’s counsel.
That will be the topic of our next post.
--Paul Trejo, M.A.
© June 2012, Trejo Academic Research, All Rights Reserved
Telephonic Interview with James Meredith, January 2013
Telephonic Interview with with Bishop Duncan Gray, February 2013
American Opinion Magazine, September, October, November, December 1962
John Birch Society Bulletin, October, November, December, 1962
Grand Jury Testimony of Edwin Walker at Oxford, Mississippi, c. December 1962, stored at the personal papers archives in the Briscoe Center for American History, UT Austin.
Final paper, Spring semester, 2012, UT Austin History Department with H.W. Brands.