Racial tension in the Southern states was boiling over in the early to mid 1960s, and Louisiana was no exception. The Louisiana legislature had resurrected the "Ku Klux Klan control law of 1924" to drive the NAACP underground by requiring it to file membership lists. This was "tantamount to a death sentence for many members. The NAACP [was] forced to suspend official operations in Louisiana for fear of reprisals."(1)
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was at the forefront of the movement for nonviolent protest and desegregation. CORE members participated in the Freedom Rides of 1960, with New Orleans as their last stop. They were met by members of the New Orleans Police Department and brutally beaten. CORE staged a sit-in at the office of the police superintendent in protest, and CORE members picketed City Hall.
On September 9, 1960, seven CORE members were arrested and charged with "criminal mischief" for protesting segregation with a sit-in at the "white only" lunch counter of a Woolworth's store on Canal Street. On September 16, 1960, seven protesters, including CORE field secretary Jim McCain, picketed the shopping area of a predominantly black section of Claiborne Avenue. Shortly afterwards, four CORE members staged a sit-in at the lunch counter in McCrory's on Canal Street. McCrory's and Woolworth's would see more sit-ins, picketings and boycotts, and stores on St. Claude Avenue were picketed. On October 31, 1960, CORE members staged a sit-in at the segregated cafeteria in the basement of the New Orleans City Hall.
In 1962, thanks in part to the efforts of CORE, token integration in New Orleans was achieved. Boycotts continued to protest the segregation that remained, and CORE began organizing voter registration drives around Louisiana.
June 20, 1963 was the date of the march on Washington, the largest demonstration of the Civil Rights movement. On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four children. Medgar Evers, the Mississippi field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was murdered in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 12, 1963.
On August 19, 1963, CORE members marched in Iberville Parish, just south of Baton Rouge, to protest the denial of voting rights for blacks in the parish. More than two hundred of the protesters were arrested. Later protest marches in Plaquemine were brutally dispersed by police.
On September 30, 1963, ten thousand blacks and three hundred whites marched on City Hall to demand that Mayor Vic Schiro create a bi-racial committee to advance the process of desegregation. Known as the Freedom March, it was the largest political demonstration of blacks in the history of New Orleans. CORE's Oretha Castle addressed the crowd.
On October 4, 1963, New Orleans police raided the headquarters of the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), a civil rights organization, and seized its records. The homes of SCEF leaders were searched and the leaders arrested and charged with "subversion" by, of all people, Orleans Parish DA Jim Garrison. The SCEF's Executive Director filed suit to obtain an injunction restraining the police and DA's office from harassment, and protesting the unlawful searches and seizures at the SCEF office and the homes of SCEF leaders. Jim Garrison fired back that "the records were seized in aid of the prosecutions under the Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law."(2) Arguing along with Garrison was Jack N. Rogers of the Joint Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities; Rogers was the individual who made the "Oswald in Clinton" story public in May 1967.
The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which affirmed the plaintiff's charge that "the Louisiana Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law and the Communist Propaganda Control Law . . . on their face violate the First and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees securing freedom of expression, because overbreadth makes them susceptible of sweeping and improper application abridging those rights." The court affirmed that "the threats to enforce the statutes against appellants are not made with any expectation of securing valid convictions, but rather are part of a plan to employ arrests, seizures, and threats of prosecution under color of the statutes to harass appellants and discourage them and their supporters from asserting and attempting to vindicate the constitutional rights of Negro citizens of Louisiana." Also noted was "the chilling effect on free expression of prosecutions initiated and threatened in this case."(3)
The First Unitarian Church in New Orleans protested the SCEF raid. It was later bombed; no suspects were arrested.(4)
On March 7, 1964, five young black men, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) staged a sit-in at the Audubon Regional Library in Clinton, to protest segregated conditions in Louisiana state libraries. The five were arrested and charged with violating the Louisiana breach of the peace statute, which makes it a crime "with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby" to crowd or congregate in a public building and fail or refuse to disperse or move on when ordered to do so by a law enforcement officer or other authorized person."(5)
All five were convicted on March 25, 1964. These convictions were not appealable under Louisiana law. The five men sued the state, and the US Supreme Court eventually overturned the convictions, noting, "This is the fourth time in little more than four years that this court has reviewed convictions by the Louisiana courts for alleged violations, in a civil rights context, of that state's breach of the peace statute",(6)
On January 23, 1964, the 24th Amendment was ratified, eliminating poll taxes designed to prevent blacks from voting in Federal elections. The Louisiana Ku Klux Klan burned crosses across the state in protest. In November 1964, in Jonesboro, Louisiana, black citizens formed the Deacons of Defense and Justice, advocating armed self-defense against the Klan. In December 1964, the Klan burned down a shoe repair shop in Ferriday, Louisiana, killing storeowner Frank Morris, who was trapped inside.(7)
To understand the Clinton story, one must understand something that the Shaw jury and the HSCA did not know: that the two men who had originally come forward with the story, Registrar of Voters Henry Earl Palmer and Town Marshal John Manchester, were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Palmer held the title of Exalted Cyclops.(8) Edwin Lea McGehee and Reeves Morgan, with whom Palmer and Manchester were associated, were of the same racist stripe.(9)
Researcher Jerry Shinley pored over the microfilm records from CORE's Southern Regional Office, and came up with some interesting tidbits, culled from reports written by civil rights workers assigned to the voter registration drive in Clinton.
"Everytime a strange face enters into Clinton, La., he is stopped and questioned by the town marshal [John Manchester]."(10)
"[Voter registrar Henry Earl Palmer] is very unfriendly and unnerves most applicants."(11)
". . . Bill Brown was arrested for 'obstructing the highway' after the Town Marshal [John Manchester] swerved his car off the road in an effort to hit Brown. Brown was released several days later on $150 bond."(12)
"[The gas bills at the home of the woman hosting CORE workers have been excessively high for 2 straight months.] The CORE chapter plans to circulate a petition to the mayor of the town requesting that a new meter-reader be employed; the present one is the Town Marshal [John Manchester], chief harasser of CORE workers and Negro citizens."(13)
"Henry Earl Palmer, registrar of voters and ace-high bastard, continues to obstruct Negro applicants vigorously."(14)
In August 1963, the New Orleans FBI investigated complaints that a number of Louisiana residents had lost their jobs because of voter registration activities. One of the subjects of this investigation was Reeves Morgan, who denied any wrongdoing.(15)
At the instruction of Henry Earl Palmer, John Manchester arrested CORE worker Stephen Lesser on August 28, 1963, allegedly because he refused to leave the courthouse, which housed Palmer's office. Lesser had been escorting in black citizens and helping them register.(16)
Billy Kemp, the pilot married to Maxine Kemp, the woman who claimed to have seen "Harvey Oswald's" job application at the State Hospital in September 1964 was reportedly involved with the Klan. Investigator Joe Cooper first learned of Kemp's story while infiltrating the East Feliciana Klan for the FBI.(17)
In September 1963, Clinton officials attempted to have CORE Chairman Corrie Collins placed under an injunction prohibiting all actions of CORE. Collins had been arrested by Clinton authorities on several occasions for his civil rights activities.(18)
This was the backdrop against which the story of Lee Harvey Oswald in Clinton was erected.
Would CORE workers Collins and Dunn have colluded in their testimony with ultra-racists like Palmer and Manchester? Or is it possible their testimony was coerced?
Reporter Hugh Aynesworth and onetime Garrison investigator Bill Gurvich went to Clinton to interview the witnesses. Aynesworth reports:
We went to see Corrie Collins, but were told he had left town. A deputy took us to his house and barged right in and sat down in the living room as Collins' father, Emmett "Snowball" Collins looked at the three of us with fear in his eyes. It was just after dark and he knew we weren't there to watch TV. He told us his son now lived in Baton Rouge and worked at the Post Office there. The white-haired man of 70 told us he didn't know anything about the case and didn't know what his son knew.
We left and drove to Baton Rouge, where about 11 PM we just missed him at the Post Office, but we found that he was working there under an assumed name. We tried to find his home, but to no avail. We never found Corrie, but it was simple to see how he HAD to testify to what Manchester and the other scrub-nuts wanted him to. His father was simply terrified by three white men barging into his house after dark. In short, being a Negro in Clinton -- a hotbed of the red-neck and the klan [sic] -- is not much fun.(19)
On the other hand, it's possible that Collins and Dunn stood to gain from going along with the Clinton story. When Collins was interviewed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations a decade later, his testimony seemed to reveal anything but bitterness towards Klansman John Manchester, whom he said he knew "very well," though he hastened to add, "we didn't socialize." "I spent most of our association outfoxing him," Collins explained. "He was only the Town Marshall -- the Sheriff was the boss. I knew him very well, even worked for him when I first came home from Vietnam."(20) Collins also may have known Reeves Morgan from the State Hospital, where both men were working in the early Sixties.
More and more we learn how closely allied Jim Garrison seemed to be with certain members of Louisiana's radical right. Jim Garrison's first election campaign was partially funded by the family of arch-segregationist Judge Leander Perez, founder of the New Orleans chapter of the White Citizens' Council. It also appears that Garrison was not averse to attending meetings of the New Orleans White Citizens' Council.(21)
Another supporter of Jim Garrison's was Ned Touchstone, publisher of The Councilor, the official publication of the [White] Citizens' Council of Louisiana. Touchstone is also reported to have been a member of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.(22)
Garrison incurred the wrath of the American Civil Liberties Union for speaking out against two black men who had been sentenced to death for rape in 1953, and who the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 1966 had been denied a fair trial, since blacks were systematically excluded from juries in New Orleans at that time.(23)
Garrison fired back, "I am honored to be criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union . . . The organization might have had some value a few years back, but it has drifted so far to the left that it is now almost out of sight."(24)
General Edwin Walker, resigned, appeared at a 1965 rally in Baton Rouge with Councilor publisher-Klansman Ned Touchstone and Judge John Rarick, the close associate of Henry Earl Palmer whom Palmer named as one of the men who might have been the official he'd asked about obtaining the registration check on the black Cadillac that day. One topic raised at the rally was a $25,000 proposal for the state to investigate whether Lee Harvey Oswald had any accomplices still at large in Louisiana.(25)
Patricia Lambert names Rarick as a little-known supporter of Garrison's who reportedly read complimentary remarks about Garrison into the Congressional Record when Garrison was indicted for bribery in 1971. One Clinton resident recently referred to Rarick as the "spiritual leader" of the local Ku Klux Klan, and at one time he was considered Henry Earl Palmer's mentor. Jackson barber Edwin Lea McGehee said the first public official to inquire about Oswald in Jackson was Congressman John Rarick, in 1966.(26) To this day Rarick is friendly with McGehee.(27)
Jerry Shinley notes that "the day before the assassination, a hearing was held in John Rarick's court. 'Witnesses summoned included Ronnie Moore . . . Edgar Vickery, Emmett Collins [believed to be the father of Corrie Collins], Sheriff Arch Doughty and three of his deputies, State Rep. Reeves Morgan, Henry Earl Palmer, registrar of voters, Dr. Richard K. Munson and several others.' CORE was represented by lawyers Murphy Bell and Nils Douglas, who attempted to kill the subpoenas for Moore, Collins and Vickery. District Attorney Richard Kilbourne indicated that the purpose of the hearing was to look into law violations 'dealing with public intimidation, perjury, criminal anarchy, extortion, subversive activities, [and] falsification of voting records'."(28)
Is there reason to believe that John Rarick would have been especially sympathetic to Garrison's investigation? One clue might be that a statement of Rarick's relating to the susceptibility of the major media to control by US intelligence agencies is cited in The Taking of America, 1-2-3, a work of extreme conspiracy theorist -- and staunch Garrison supporter -- Richard E. Sprague. Rarick's comments had been reprinted in Computers and Automation, a magazine infamous for its editor's insistence on publishing work by the first generation JFK assassination theorists.(29)
Rarick's concerns about CIA control of the major media should come as no surprise. As long as the CIA has existed, the ultra-right has expressed suspicion of it. When ultra right-wing Liberty Lobby founder Willis Carto's Populist Action Committee endorsed candidates for public office that fit Carto's ultraconservative, racist, anti-Semitic agenda in 1992, two such "populist candidates" were "John Rarick (Former Congressman, D-Louisiana)" and "Col. L. Fletcher Prouty (US Air Force, ret.)." Prouty is the former Air Force liaison to the CIA who inspired Donald Sutherland's "X" character in Oliver Stone's JFK(30), based loosely on the Garrison story.(31)
At different times of his career, Jim Garrison relied on not only Prouty, but two other Liberty Lobby associates who have invested a great deal of effort in speaking out against the CIA: former CIA officer Victor Marchetti and Rush to Judgment author Mark Lane.(32)
The question that keeps arising, however, is what did Palmer and the Ku Klux Klan have to gain by claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald stood in line at a CORE voter registration drive. The answer, of course, is nothing. But since Jim Garrison's death in 1992, a number of previously unknown documents have turned up amidst the private papers of the former DA.
One such document may well be the "smoking gun" that explains the entire Clinton episode. In a memorandum of January 22, 1968, Andrew Sciambra writes:
Mr. Palmer informed me that John Manchester has recently told him that right around the time the black Cadillac was in Clinton, he remembers seeing a boy who fit Oswald's description coming out of a CORE meeting in Clinton and when he left the CORE meeting, Manchester followed him and the car went in the direction of Jackson, Louisiana.(33)
There is not the slightest hint in the known record of whether Exalted Cyclops Henry Earl Palmer and his Klan kin ever made use of this story of the infamous Marxist Oswald to further their agenda of tarring CORE as a Communist organization. There can be little doubt, however, that this long-overlooked statement betrays the reason the story of Oswald in Clinton came into being.
Palmer also advised Sciambra that Clinton attorney Richard Van Buskirk might be of some assistance in the investigation.(34) Buskirk "was well-known for his activities to stop the CORE organization from assisting the local black residents to assert their legal rights (such as voting and equal educational opportunities) in the long, hot summer of 1963. He received repeated injunctions from District Court Judge (later Senator [sic]) John R. Rarick of St. Francisville to prevent CORE from doing anything in East or West Feliciana Parishes throughout that fall and into the winter because CORE, according to Van Buskirk and Rarick, was a Communist controlled organization bent on subverting America from within by creating tensions between the races."(35)
The Clinton Klan had a reason to target Clay Shaw as well. Shaw was good friends with notoriously liberal philanthropists Edgar and Edith Stern. Edgar was a New Orleans cotton broker and Edith Rosenwald Stern was heiress to the Sears Roebuck fortune; both contributed generously to charitable and liberal causes, and they are reputed to have been supporters of the Anti-Defamation League, a group hated and feared by the radical right.(36)
Congressman Rarick once read into the Congressional Record a report by Richard Cotten, arguing that the Anti-Defamation League was receiving "large sums of government money to 'train' -- that is, to indoctrinate -- police officers and government officials, not just over a period of years, but decades." Cotton accused the ADL of brainwashing police officers in pursuit of a "Communist agenda."(37)
Such rhetoric is not far removed from that of Jim Garrison: Simply substitute a few keys words -- the CIA for the Anti-Defamation League; a "Fascist" agenda for a Communist one -- and we're not as far from Garrison's nebulous conspiracy world as we might previously have believed.
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations released their Final Report, stating that the Committee had interviewed the witnesses and were "inclined to believe" that Oswald had been in Clinton "in the company of David Ferrie, if not Clay Shaw."
Ironically, despite the fact that only a single witness -- Corrie Collins -- positively identified David Ferrie at the Shaw trial, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had no problem declaring that David Ferrie was in the black Cadillac. Why? Because HSCA General Counsel G. Robert Blakey needed Ferrie, an employee of Carlos Marcello's lawyer, G. Wray Gill, to provide a Mob "connection" to Lee Harvey Oswald.
For three decades, and especially since the release of the HSCA's Final Report, the Clinton witnesses have seemed the best evidence that Jim Garrison really did have something after all. But with the truth about the evolution of the Clinton story revealed at last, we see now that it was just one more trick up the DA's voluminous sleeves. What seemed to be a united front of solid witnesses has turned out to be precisely what Garrison described Henry Palmer's original lead to have been -- little more than "a whisper in the air."
1. Information on CORE and the struggle for civil rights in Louisiana is drawn primarily from two sources:
The Civil Rights Movement and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., US Information Service (http://www.usia.gov/usa/blackhis/kingpam/march.htm).
A House Divided, A Teaching Guide on the History of Civil Rights in Louisiana (http://www.tulane.edu/~so-inst/dividedindex.html).
2. Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 US 479 (http://www.artmeg.com/casecites/dombrowski.htm). This was brought to the author's attention by the newsgroup posts of Jerry Shinley.
5. See note #1.
6. Brown v. Louisiana, 383 US 131.
7. See note #1.
8. Director of the FBI, letter to the Attorney General, Feb. 10, 1969; Lambert, 186.
9. Perhaps coincidentally, there was another Klansman who offered his services to the DA's office. Jules Ricco Kimble claimed to have known both Clay Shaw and David Ferrie, claimed first-hand knowledge that both men were CIA operatives, and related a story about Ferrie flying the three of them to Montreal. Aside from Shaw's adamant denial of having ever met Ferrie, and Ferrie's adamant denial (while he was still alive) of having ever met Shaw, there is one slight problem with the story: Shaw had a deeply rooted fear of flying, and, though he traveled often on business, he always traveled overseas by boat. Garrison was wise enough not to call Kimble as a witness at the Shaw trial, but had no qualms in trotting him out in his 1988 memoirs, where there would be no worries about the dangers of cross-examination.
10. Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Papers, Part 2: Southern Regional Office 1959-1966, August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, ed., University Publications of America, Frederick, MD, Reel 3, Frame 806, Status Report March 1-31, 1964; Jerry Shinley, newsgroup post.
11. Ibid., Reel 4, Frame 492, Weekly Report August 1-4 ; Shinley.
12. Ibid., Reel 4, Frames 546, Field Report, Jan 13-26, 1964; Shinley.
13. Ibid., Reel 4, Frames 549-50, Field Report, Jan 27 - Feb 9, 1964; Shinley.
14. Ibid., Reel 4, Frame 627, Summary Report, April 1965; Shinley.
15. Joseph Stephen Breitung, et. al; Ester Lee Daniel et. al. - Victims; Cr, Bufile 44-22905, New Orleans file 44-1862; A. J. Weberman Web site (www.ajweberman.com).
16. New Orleans FBI files revealed: "John Manchester was the Subject of a case in August 1963 entitled, 'Henry Earl Palmer, et. al; Michael Stephen Lesser - Victim; CR; Bufile 44-22889, New Orleans file 44-1852; A. J. Weberman Web site.
17. Claude B. Slaton, "The Tragic Career of William H. 'Joe' Cooper," From the now defunct "The Truth is Redacted" website.
18. A. J. Weberman Web site.
19. Aynesworth to James Kirkwood, American Grotesque, 222.
20. HSCA interview.
21. New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 20, 1962, s3, 2; March 31, 1962; s3, 31; Jerry Shinley, newsgroup post.
22. FBI memorandum, April 17, 1964, serial 3581 of HQ File
23. "DA Statements Harmful -- ACLU, People's Right to Safety His Concern -- Garrison," New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 27, 1966 S2-P7; Jerry Shinley, newsgroup post.
25. FBI report, July 12, 1965, serial 35 of HQ File 105-44536; Jerry Shinley, newsgroup post.
26. Larry Catalanello, "East Feliciana's Oswald Connection," The Advocate, February 2, 1992.
27. Lambert, 322 fn.
28. New Orleans Times-Picayune; November 22, 1963; S-3, 13.
29. "Chapter 9, Control of the Media"
30. Chip Berlet, "Fletcher Prouty, Mark Lane, JFK Assassination Theories & the Fascist Right".
31. Rarick, who was elected to Congress in 1966, was singled out for praise in a 1990 article by Pastor Thomas Robb, director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc.
32. Robb, "The Great Banking $ RIP OFF $: The real reason we are called a hate group" (http://www.kukluxklan.org/voice.htm).
33. Andrew Sciambra, January 22, 1968, Memorandum to Jim Garrison.
35. Claude B. Slaton, Further Feliciana Research, The Truth is Redacted Website [now offline].
36. Washington Observer, August 1, 1970; Michael Collins Piper, Final Judgment. The Observer was published by Willis Carto of Liberty Lobby fame, and while such a source cannot be relied upon to substantiate the Sterns' involvement with the ADL, it demonstrates that the radical right was reporting such involvement in 1970, if not earlier.
37. "The ADL: America's Greatest Enemy, Part 2," June 5, 1993, radio broadcast (http://www.natvan.com/american-dissident-voices/adv060593.html).