General Walker's Mental State (Part 3)


<photo: The resigned US General Edwin Walker is arrested by US federal marshals around 10:30 a.m. on October 1, 1962, the morning after the Old Miss racial riots over James Meredith.>


Aftermath of Ole Miss, October 1962


OK, just a little bit more background before we delve into the Grand Jury testimony of the psychiatrists in the General Walker case. Let’s continue with detail from Walker’s arrest.


Early in the morning of Monday, 1 October 1962, after the Old Miss riots had subsided, Edwin Walker did not seem to suspect that he was in trouble with the US government. Along with his friends, Robert Alan Surrey, Jim Evetts, and John Haley, he prepared to travel back to Dallas.


The story about the Ole Miss riot was now national and even international news that morning. Outside a local café where they had breakfast, Walker stood on a corner with his friends posing for photographs. He had been within his rights, he told the press, in this, his honest protest against the Kennedy Administration.


About 10:30 a.m. while driving to the local airport, Walker and his friends stopped for a routine roadblock at the Oxford town border. In a surprising turn of events, Military Police arrested the resigned General Walker and transported back to the Ole Miss Lyceum.


At the Lyceum, Walker was handed over to federal marshals, and by noon he was driven to the Oxford federal building where he was served with a warrant for his arrest. US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had issued the warrant. The warrant charged Walker with four serious crimes:


1. Assaulting, resisting, or impeding US marshals

2. Conspiring to prevent discharge of duties

3. Inciting, assisting, and engaging in insurrection against the authority of the US

4. Conspiring to oppose by force the execution of any US law


In addition to the Ole Miss riots themselves, evidence cited Walker’s Open Letter to President Kennedy, as well as tape recordings of Walker’s broadcasts over TV and radio calling for “thousands” to join him in Oxford to oppose JFK’s federal order. The Attorney General also cited the Associated Press (AP) eye-witness story by Van Savell regarding Walker’s behavior at Ole Miss. That AP story was widely reprinted.


When Walker received the warrant, he quickly called an attorney, conferred privately over the telephone, and then, upon legal advice surrendered to US Commissioner Omar Craig without a hearing on condition that his case would be heard in a Mississippi court by a Mississippi jury. Commissioner Craig gave Walker this assurance.


RFK set Walker's bond at $100,000 – which, adjusted for inflation, is over a million dollars today – a nearly unprecedented amount. Walker told his brother George in Center Point, Texas, who quickly tried to raise the money. Although Walker was initially sentenced to confinement in Mississippi pending bail, another unexpected series of events would take over.


Walker and the Psychiatrists


As the Ole Miss racial riot had raged on the night of September 30, 1962, the Justice Department and select government staff had already begun reading the written evidence. One of the staff members was Dr. Charles E. Smith, Chief Psychiatrist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington. Written evidence included:


(a) The AP report by Van Savell which was reprinted widely;

(b) Walker’s testimony before the Senate Subcommittee earlier in 1962;

(c) sundry news reports about Walker’s behavior at Oxford;

(d) Walker’s military medical records.


Dr. Smith studied these documents all night long, and early in the morning he sent his summary to his Director. We reproduce a part of Dr. Smith’s affidavit here:


I, Charles E. Smith, Medical Director, and Chief Psychiatrist of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, having been duly sworn, do hereby certify that I have examined carefully various news reports concerning the actions and behavior of Major General Edwin Walker…Some of his reported behavior includes sensitivity and essentially unpredictable and seemingly bizarre outbursts of the type often observed in individuals suffering with paranoid mental disorder. (Dr. C.E. Smith, Oct. 1, 1962)


This affidavit was transmitted to the US Attorney in Oxford, H.M. Ray, who, early in the morning on Monday, October 1, 1962, filed a motion in a Mississippi District Court to subject Walker to medical an examination. The District Court Judge so ordered.


Yet even before this order was issued, a telegram to James Bennett, Chief of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, had ordered that Walker be moved to the US Medical Center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. It was well known that this Medical Center was normally used for mental and psychiatric cases. By 4:30 p.m. Walker was rushed to the Mississippi airport, accompanied into a private plane. Only then was Walker informed of his destination.


The Justice Department surprised Walker again with their order for a 45-day psychiatric examination for him. According to this order, regardless of bail, Walker would not be released until the psychiatric examination was complete.


On Tuesday morning, October 2, 1962, Edwin Walker awoke to breakfast inside the US Medical Center at Springfield, Missouri in a small, maximum-security cell. His attorneys arrived promptly. They agreed that Walker was “clear, lucid, undisturbed and possessing all his mental facilities.” They advised Walker to give prison officials only his name, rank, and serial number. They hotly disputed the AP story. Attorney Robert Morris told the Press:


Edwin Walker is being held as a political prisoner. This can now happen to any person who disagrees with the government.


Liberals who were not medical experts, like president of the AFL-CIO, Walter Reuther, shared the concern of many when he declared it “fitting” that Walker’s would get his head examined. Another medical layperson, publisher Hodding Carter, called Walker a “seditious psychopath.”


The negative sentiment about Walker was so widespread that even Walker’s longtime supporter and fellow Bircher, Congressman John Rousselot of California, publicly announced that if Walker proved to be mentally unstable, the Birchers should revoke his membership.


Although the leftwing tended to say that Walker was responsible for the riot and surely belonged in an insane asylum, the rightwing tended to say that Walker was being persecuted by a race-mixing quisling of the US Supreme court under the allegedly antichrist Earl Warren. The centrist majority tended to say that psychiatry and politics simply cannot mix without leading to a tyranny of science-fiction proportions.


Outrage of Thomas Szasz


Renowned medical experts like psychiatrist Thomas Szasz immediately took the side of the resigned General Walker and demanded his release without delay. Szasz knew that many objected to Walker’s behavior, and some considered Walker to be psychologically unfit to have ever been a US General in the first place. Yet those were decisions for courts to make.


Losing political objectivity in such an instance was inexcusable, especially for psychiatrists. On October 4, The New York Times published an article entitled, “Military Men Say Walker Changed After He Became a General.” It read in part:

…Many persons are asking the question: How does a man like Walker rise to two-star rank in the Army? At the Pentagon, where the General has been disowned emphatically, they say that men like him do not rise to high command. The man has changed, they say. As one officer put it: “He’s gone through a metamorphosis. He is not at all the man he was when he was a combat officer.” (NY Times, p. 30)


Dr. Thomas Szasz charged this article and similar articles in Time and Life magazines with a lack of objectivity. They stretched sentences to portray “the picture of Walker as a crazy man.” Szasz wrote:


An article in Life, too, referred to General Walker’s behavior in Oxford, Mississippi as “bizarre.” It did not refer to Mississippi governor Barnett’s behavior as bizarre. (Szasz, 1962)


Szasz also objected to the current editorial by Walter Winchell, who attempted to rationalize the benefits to Walker of being committed to an insane asylum:


Former General’s Walkers friends don’t know how really lucky he is. Sedition calls for death by the firing squad or hanging. Government is really giving him a break trying to have him declared gluggy. (Walter Winchell, 10/2/1962)


This, for Szasz, was dangerous logic – by declaring somebody insane in order to prevent him from taking the stand is a particularly vicious type of political trick, and nothing else. Szasz concluded:


Never has the art of slander been developed to greater perfection.

(Szasz, 10/1962)


Szasz posed the professional questions regarding whether Dr. Smith had violated the principles of medical ethics, whether Smith violated professional confidence, and whether Smith had actually made a professional diagnosis at all.

(Weeks later, the AMA Judicial Council ruled that Dr. Smith indeed “made no diagnosis in the mental condition of General Walker.” The AMA urged physicians to beware of “possible future situations in which a physician might be subject to political control.” Dr. Smith conceded this ruling).


Outrage of the ACLU


Even the ACLU was incensed at the idea of political psychiatry, and also demanded the immediate release of Edwin Walker. The obvious folly of the action, said ACLU spokespersons, was that Dr. Smith never even saw Walker before making his medical opinion. The Justice Department had probably “violated due process of law” by holding General Walker in this way.


The injustice of the act was unforgivable, and furthermore had set a dangerous precedent for the future of American politics. Instead, the ACLU demanded that the Justice Department instantly release Walker, plead for his forgiveness, and then apologize to the entire world for such a blunder. Both leftists and rightists locked arms against the Kennedys in this instance.


Walker's attorneys demanded recognition for their right to approve any psychiatrist treating Walker, and to judge their competence using a team of psychiatrists of their choosing, saying, “you get your psychiatrists and we’ll get ours.”


Rightwing reactionaries called psychiatry is the Communist method of creating new Communists! Perhaps electroshock or lobotomy were considered in the Walker case! Further, argued Robert Morris, if this could happen to a well-known figure, what hope did ordinary people have if the authorities did not like them?


Two days later, at the urging of Walker’s attorney and former General Clyde Watts, filed a writ of Habeas Corpus charging that Walker was effectively denied bail, illegally transported across State lines, and denied standard examination by a medical doctor.


Attorney Robert Morris sent a telegram to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, James Eastland, asking for an investigation into Robert Kennedy’s hasty action, and called Walker the nation’s “first political prisoner.”


On his third day of confinement, picketers appeared outside the Springfield Medical Center. These included members of various segregationist groups. One picket sign read: “Civil rights for Communists – why not for Walker?”


US District Judge John Oliver then issued a “show cause order” ordering the Attorney General to show cause why Walker should not be released on bail and gave him ten days to file briefs certifying the “true cause'' of Walker’s confinement.


On Walker’s fourth day in prison, Robert Kennedy changed his mind and sent his chief assistant, Nicholas Katzenbach, to offer Walker's lawyers a deal – the government would release Walker immediately in exchange for his future silence. When Walker heard of the deal, he shot back to RFK, “That’s blackmail! Go to hell!


The next day, October 5th, RFK gave in to the protestors and released General Walker unconditionally. On October 6th, US District Judge Claude Clayton at Oxford ordered Walker's bond reduced from $100,000 to $50,000 and ordered Walker to appear before Dallas psychiatrist Dr. Robert Stubblefield, and another psychiatrist of the White House’s choosing, within five days at Dallas’ Southwest Medical Center.


The only psychological test or criteria of interest was to be the standard legal test – whether Walker understood the charges against him and could participate in his own defense. At midnight on date, Walker walked out of Springfield Medical Center.


Walker Flies Home


Walker returned home to Dallas on Sunday, 7 October 1962 to a heroes’ welcome. Perhaps 200 people greeted Walker at Love Field with welcome signs when his plane landed. Greeters waved US and Confederate flags, and cheered Walker as he strode up to reporters. He crisply denied guilt of any charge related to the Ole Miss riots.


The next day Walker reported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for his court ordered psychiatric exam to determine whether he could understand the charges against him and could assist counsel in his own defense. Walker was released three days later and examining physician Dr. Robert Stubblefield reported that Walker was “functioning currently at the superior level.”

Walker took the rest of October out of the public eye. He took a sorely needed rest and he listened to his lawyers’ strategy for his defense before an Oxford, Mississippi Grand Jury. In early November, Walker returned to Oxford, Mississippi to face that Grand Jury concerning the deadly riots at Ole Miss.


Walker and the Grand Jury


Attorney H.M. Ray presented the former General Walker and nine others before a Federal Grand Jury and Fifth Circuit Federal Court Judge Claude F. Clayton. The ten faced assorted charges in connection with the Oxford riots which injured hundreds and killed two. The purpose of this all-white Grand Jury was to determine whether they would send each case to formal litigation. Walker steadfastly denied any charge of insurrection – on the contrary, he insisted that he had attempted to calm the crowd at Ole Miss.


Walker’s lawyers, Clyde J. Watts, and Dr. Robert Morris, agreed upon a shrewd line of argumentation – they would minimize testimony about the riots themselves, and would maximize testimony about Walker’s alleged insanity. Watts and Morris continually drove the interrogation back to the question of Walker’s sanity, as if this were what the Grand Jury had assembled to decide in the first place.


The began with evidence that Walker was sane enough to stand trial and they would cross-examine multiple psychiatrists to show that psychiatrists can and do disagree each other because psychiatry is not yet an exact science.


By banging the drum for Walker’s sanity, and loudly defending Walker on that basis, Morris and Watts’ details of the Ole Miss riots were kept to a minimum, and the remaining questions could be covered over promptly with Walker’s brilliant war record. This proved to be a successful legal strategy.


The Sources


The extensive Edwin Walker Collection in the archives of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, contained three stapled transcripts of legal proceedings before a Grand Jury. Two of the documents contain testimony and cross-examinations of psychiatrists, namely, Dr. Charles E. Smith himself, and Dr. Manfred Gutmacher, an impartial, military psychiatrist. The third document contains Walker’s own testimony.


This data may be all that remains from that Oxford Grand Jury of late 1962. Bishop Gray told me that he was not called to be a witness at the Grand Jury, nor did he hear news about its formation in Oxford. Nevertheless, the testimony of the two psychiatrists will be our focus in this series of posts.


This time for sure.


Best regards,

--Paul Trejo, M.A.

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