Lee Oswald’s Speech in Alabama
Oswald’s Speech and the JFK Assassination
In July 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was living in New Orleans. His cousin, Eugene Murret, was attending the Jesuit House of Studies at Spring Hill College, a couple of hours’ drive away in Mobile, Alabama. Murret asked Oswald to visit the college and give a talk about his experiences of the Soviet system. Oswald’s notes for his speech are given below, followed by an account of the speech assembled by another student, Robert Fitzpatrick.
The speech touches on two aspects of the Warren Commission’s case that Oswald was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy:
- Oswald’s political beliefs: he was said to be a Marxist and a malcontent, although this is not consistent with what is known about Oswald’s career, nor with his notes for his speech;
- and the attempted shooting in Dallas of General Edwin Walker, allegedly by Oswald, which helped to create the impression that Oswald possessed the capacity for violence.
Lee Oswald’s Political Beliefs
In his notes, Oswald deplores racism in general and racial segregation in particular. Yet there is evidence that while in New Orleans he spoke in public in favour of segregation, and associated with a well–known enthusiast for segregation (see Michael L. Kurtz, ‘Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans: a Reappraisal,’ Louisiana History, vol.21 no.1 [Winter 1980], pp.7–22).
Oswald has little good to say about communism or communists, whom he describes as “a pitiful bunch.” Although he criticises aspects of western capitalism, he considers the Soviet system to be worse: “In returning to the U.S., I have done nothing more or less than select the lesser of two evils.”
Within a few days of giving his speech, however, he was confronting anti–Castro militants in New Orleans, portraying himself as a devout Marxist and an active supporter of Fidel Castro’s regime, while at the same time associating with strongly anti–Castro sympathisers.
Although Oswald’s genuine beliefs are more likely to be reflected in his private notes than in his duplicitous behaviour on the streets of New Orleans, it would be reasonable to suspect that he may also have used his speech to project a dishonest persona.
Lee Oswald and General Edwin Walker
Oswald’s notes refer to General Edwin Walker, who was a well–known figure in 1963: a fanatical segregationist and all–round authoritarian who had been obliged to resign from the army after having attempted unsuccessfully to persuade his troops to join the John Birch Society.
Oswald was accused posthumously of having attempted to murder General Walker in April 1963 (Warren Report, pp.183ff). The charge is almost certainly false:
- The Dallas police had not suspected Oswald until prompted to do so by the FBI after the assassination of President Kennedy.
- The only eye–witness to the incident saw two men driving away in two cars (FBI HQ Oswald File, 105–82555–174). Oswald could not drive. In any case, the presence of an associate in April would hardly support the notion that Oswald was a lone assassin in November.
- Marina Oswald testified that her late husband had confessed to her that he had shot at Walker, but her testimony on this matter was contradictory and on other matters was frequently unreliable.
- The Dallas police claimed in April 1963 that the attempt on Walker involved one steel–jacketed 30.06–calibre bullet, fired from a high–powered rifle. General Walker, who had examined the surviving bullet fragment, agreed. The only rifle and bullets associated with Oswald were of a different type and size. Tests showed that the fragment was made from a different lead alloy than the bullet fragments found in President Kennedy’s car (FBI HQ Oswald File, 62–109060–22).
Not only is the allegation that Oswald shot at General Walker unlikely to be true, but it appears to be based on fraudulent evidence. Walker himself claimed repeatedly that Commission Exhibit 573, the bullet fragment supposedly retrieved from the scene of the shooting, was not the fragment he had held in his hand and examined (for his correspondence with the Justice Department, see Justice Department Criminal Division File 62–117290–1473). Like Commission Exhibit 399, a bullet more central to the case against Oswald, CE 573 appears to have been placed into evidence fraudulently.
For more information, see Did Oswald Shoot at General Walker?
Photographs of Oswald’s manuscript were published by the Warren Commission, but at such low resolution that most of the text is illegible. The text reproduced here follows the official transcription of Oswald’s hand–written notes, and includes crossings–out and a multitude of spelling mistakes.
- Eugene Murret’s letter to his cousin Lee: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.25, p.919 (Commission Exhibit 2648).
- A scan and the official transcription of Oswald’s notes: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.16, pp.441f (Commission Exhibit 102).
- A summary of Oswald’s speech, as it was recalled by Robert Fitzpatrick and other members of the audience: Warren Commission Hearings, vol.25, pp.924ff (Commission Exhibit 2649).
- For a full account of the shooting of General Walker, see Gerald D. McKnight, Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why, University Press of Kansas, 2005, pp.48–59.
Lee Oswald: Notes for a Speech
Americans are apt to scoff at the idea, that a military coup in the US., as so often happens in Latin american countries, could ever replace our government. but that is an idea that has grounds for consideration. Which military organization has the potenitialities of executing such action? Is it the army? with its many constripes, its unwieldy size its scores of bases scattered across the world? The case of Gen. Walker shows that the army, at least, is not fertail enough ground for a far right regime to go a very long way. for the same reasons of size and desposition the Navy and air force is also to be more or less disregarded. Which service than, can qwalify to launch a coup in the USA? Small size, a permanent hard core of officers and few baseis is necessary. Only one outfit fits that description and the U.S.M.C. is a right wing infiltrated organization of dire potential consequence’s to the freedoms of the U.S. I agree with former President Truman when he said that “The Marine Corps should be abolished.”1
My second reason is that undemocratic, country wide institution know as segregation. It, is, I think the action of the active segregationist minority and the great body of indiffent people in the South who do the United States more harm in the eyes of the worlds people, than the whole world communist movement. as I look at this audience, there is a sea of white facts before me where are the negro’s amongst you (are they hiding under the table) surly if we are for democracy, let our fellow negro citizen’s into this hall. Make no mistake, I am segregationist tendencies can be unleared. I was born in New Orleans, and I know.
In russia I saw on several occiasions that in international meeting the greatest glory in the sport field was brought to us by negroes. Though they take the gold metals from their Russian competitors those negroes know that when they return to their own homeland they will have to face blind hatred and discrimonation. The Soviet Union is made up of scores of naturiclists asians and Eurpr–asian’s armenian and Jews whites and dark skinned people’s yet they can teach us a lesson in brotherhood among people’s with different customs and origins.
A symbol of the american way, our liberal concesin is the existance in our midst of a minority group whose influence and membership is very limited and whose dangerous tendencies are sufficeanly controlled by special government agencies. The communist party U.S.A. bears little resemblance to their Russian conterparts, but by allowing them to operate and even supporting their misguided right to speak, we maintain a tremonusu sign of our strenght and liberalism harasment of their party newspaper, their leaders, and advocates, is treachery to our basic principles of freedom of speach and press. Their views no matter how misguided, no matter how much the Russians take advantage of them, must be allowed to be aired. after all communist U.S.A. have existed for 40 years and they are still a pitiful group of radical.
Now–a–days — most of us read enough about certain right wing groups to know enough how to recognize them and guard against their corresive effects. a would like to say a word about them, although their is possibley few other american born person’s in the U.S. who know as many personal reasons to know and therefore hate and mistrust communism. I would never become a pseuso–professional anit–communist such as herbert Philbriks or Macarthy.2 I would never jump on any of the many right wing bandwagon’s because our two contries have too much too offer too each other to be tearing at each others trouths in an endless cold war. Both are conoutries have major shortcomings and advantages. but only in ours is the voice of dissent all the ability of that voice of dissent allowed opportunity of expression, in returning [illegible] to [illegible] the U.S., I hope I have awoken a few who were sleeping, and others who were indifferent.
I have done nothing a lot of critizing of our system I hope you will take it in the spirit it was given. in going to Russia I have followed the old priciple “Thou shall seek the truth and the truth shall make you free In returning to the U.S., I have done nothing more or less than select the lesser of two evils.
Recollections by Robert Fitzpatrick
On Saturday, July 27, 1963, a relative of Lee Oswald, a member of the community at the Jesuit House of Studies, asked Mr. Oswald if he would address the scholastics on his experiences in Russia. The request was not unusual, for the scholstics try from time to time to have either prominent persons or others who have something interesting to relate speak to the scholastics on their experiences. Because Mr. Oswald was an American who had gone to live in Russia and who had returned, obviously for a reason, it was thought that he might be able to communicate the nature of the Russian people themselves better than any official reports might. Those who went to listen to him expected to hear a man who had been disillusioned with Soviet communism and had chosen America to it. What they heard was only partially this.
The major points of Mr. Oswald’s address and details from it are given below, probably never in verbatim form, but always true to his intent, at least as he was heard by a number of people.
He worked in a factory in Minsk. When he applied for permission to live in the Soviet Union, the Russian authorities had assigned him to a fairly well advanced area, the Minsk area. He said that this was a common practice: showing foreigners those places of which Russians can be proudest.
The factory life impressed him with the care it provided for the workers. Dances, social gatherings, sports were all benefits for the factory workers. Mr. Oswald belonged to a factory–sponsored hunting club. He and a group of workers would go into the farm regions around Minsk for huntings trips. They would spend the night in the outlying villages, and thus he came to know Russian peasant life too. In general, the peasants were very poor, often close to starvation. When the hunting party was returning to Minsk, it would often leave what it had shot with the village people because of their lack of food. He spoke of having even left the food he had brought with him from town. In connection with the hunting party, he mentioned that they had only shotguns, for pistols and rifles are prohibited by Russian law.
Some details of Russian life: in each hut there was a radio speaker, even in huts where there was no running water or electricity. The speaker was attached to a cord that ran back to a common receiver. Thus, the inhabitants of the hut could never change stations or turn off the radio. They had to listen to everything that came through it, day or night. In connection with radios, he said that there was a very large radio–jamming tower that was larger than anything else in Minsk.
More about the factories: factory meetings were held which all had to attend. Everyone attended willingly and in a good frame of mind. Things came up for discussion and voting, but no one ever voted no. The meetings were, in a sense, formalities. If anyone did not attend, he would lose his job.
Mr. Oswald said that he had met his wife at a factory social.
The workers, he said, were not against him because he was an American. When the U–2 incident was announced over the factory radio system, the workers were very angry with the United States, but not with him, even though he was an American.3
He made the point that he disliked capitalism because its foundation was the exploitation of the poor. He implied, but did not state directly, that he was disappointed in Russia because the full principles of Marxism were not lived up to and the gap between Marxist theory and the Russian practice disillusioned him with Russian communism. He said, ‘ Capitalism doesn’t work, communism doesn’t work. In the middle is socialism, and that doesn’t work either.’
After his talk a question and answer period followed. Some questions and his answers:
- Q. :
- How did you come to be interested in Marxism? To go to Russia?
- A. :
- He had studied Marxism, became convinced of it and wanted to see if it had worked for the Russian people.
- Q. :
- What does atheism do to morality? How can you have morality without God?
- A. :
- No matter whether people believe in God or not, they will do what they want to. The Russian people don’t need God for morality; they are naturally very moral, honest, faithful in marriage.
- Q. :
- What is the sexual morality in comparison with the United States?
- A. :
- It is better in Russia than in the United States. Its foundation there is the good of the state.
- Q. :
- What impressed you most about Russia? What did you like most?
- A. :
- The care that the state provides for everyone. If a man gets sick, no matter what his status is, how poor he is, the state will take care of him.
- Q. :
- What impresses you most about the United States?
- A. :
- The material prosperity. In Russia it is very hard to buy even a suit or a pair of shoes, and even when you can get them, they are very expensive.
- Q. :
- What do the Russian people think of Khrushchev? Do they like him better than Stalin?
- A. :
- They like Khrushchev much better. He is a working man, a peasant. An example of the kind of things he does: Once at a party broadcast over the radio, he had had a little too much to drink and he began to swear over the radio. That’s the kind of thing he does.
- Q. :
- What about religion among the young people in Russia?
- A. :
- Religion is dead among the youth of Russia.
- Q. :
- Why did you return to the United States? (The question was not asked in exactly this way, but this is its content.)
- A. :
- When he saw that Russia was lacking, he wanted to come back to the United States, which is so much better off materially. (He still held the ideals of the Soviets, was still a Marxist, but did not like the widespread lack of material goods that the Russians had to endure.)
More points that were contained in the main part of the talk:
He lived in Russia from 1959 to 1962. He only implied that the practice in Russia differed from the theory, never stated it directly. The policy of Russia was important:
- After death of Stalin, a peace reaction.
- Then an anti–Stalin reaction.
- A peace movement, leading up to the Paris conference.4
- The U–2 incident and its aftermath.
At the factory he had trouble at first meeting the men. They did not accept him at first. He joined a hunting club. He belonged to two or three discussion groups. He praised the Soviets for rebuilding so much and for concentrating on heavy industry. He said at one point that if the Negroes in the United States knew that it was so good in Russia, they’d want to go there.
- Q. :
- Why don’t the Russians see that they are being indoctrinated and that they are being denied the truth by these jamming stations?
- A. :
- They are convinced that such contact would harm them and would be dangerous. They are convinced that the state is doing them a favor by denying them access to Western radio broadcasts.
- Oswald, a former Marine, was repeating a popular but incorrect allegation. In 1950, President Truman had written a letter to a Congressman in which he remarked on the political power of the Marine Corps but had not advocated its abolition. The letter had been made public, and a minor scandal ensued, with the result that the Marine Corps’ political power increased. See Franklin D. Mitchell, ‘An Act of Presidential Indiscretion: Harry S. Truman, Congressman McDonough, and the Marine Corps Incident of 1950,’ Presidential Studies Quarterly, 11 (Fall 1981), pp.565–75.
- Herbert Philbrick infiltrated the Communist Party USA on behalf of the FBI in the 1940s. The youthful Lee Oswald was an avid watcher of a television series, I Lived Three Lives, which was based on Philbrick’s autobiography. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a notorious fomenter of political hysteria in the 1940s and 1950s, claiming that many political and media institutions were being infiltrated by subversives. He had died six years earlier in Bethesda Naval Hospital, which was to be the location of President Kennedy’s autopsy.
- Gary Powers, the pilot of a U–2 spy plane, was shot down and captured over Soviet airspace on 1 May 1960, while Oswald was living in Minsk. There are suggestions in some of Oswald’s other writings that he attended part of Powers’ trial in Moscow. Before his defection to the USSR, Oswald had been a radar operator at a U–2 base in Japan.
- The Paris conference of 14 May 1960 was intended to repair trust between the USA and USSR. The shooting down of Gary Powers two weeks earlier allowed Nikita Khrushchev to abandon the conference.