Last Tuesday, a crowd of over 60 New Ulmers (and a few out-of-towners) gathered to listen to my talk on the Kennedy assassination at the New Ulm Library. The audience viewed some video clips, watched a PowerPoint presentation and collected some handouts.
Prior to the program, nearly 50 people in the audience filled out a brief unscientific survey. We did this survey before my presentation since I didn't want anything I was presenting to change people's views in any way. After all, the information I presented tended to support the argument that Oswald did not kill the president.
The audience was composed mostly of people who'd lived at the time of the assassination. Only a few members of the audience were too young to remember the events of Nov. 22, 1963. I'd like to share the interesting results of this survey with you.
The first question I asked was about Lee Harvey Oswald. Did he kill Kennedy by himself (22.7 percent), with others (61.4 percent), or was he innocent of any involvement (15.9 percent)? I found it surprising that nearly 85 percent of people thought Oswald was involved in some way in the murder, and that only a few thought Oswald was "a patsy," as he claimed in the Dallas County Jail the day after the assassination.
The second question was TRUE or FALSE, and asked the survey takers if they thought one or more agencies of the U.S. government were involved in a conspiracy to kill JFK. Perhaps tellingly, some 66.7 percent thought the government was involved, while 33.3 percent thought this was a false allegation. I'm not sure if this speaks more to the general distrust of government now, or to what we thought back then.
The third question asked the survey takers to check off as many people and/or organizations as they thought had been involved in the assassination. The list included: Oswald (87.0 percent), C.I.A. (39.1 percent), Lyndon Johnson (37.0 percent), the Mafia (30.4 percent), Secret Service (26.1 percent), the F.B.I. (15.2 percent), J Edgar Hoover (15.2 percent), Other (13.0 percent), the Russians (10.9 percent), Industrialists (10.9 percent), Fidel Castro (8.7 percent), Bankers (6.5 percent) and the military (4.3 percent). Our audience thought by a large majority Oswald was involved (87.0 percent) in the assassination, thought an agency or person in the U.S. government may have been involved: C.I.A. (39.1 percent), Lyndon Johnson (37.0 percent) or the Secret Service (26.1 percent). The Mafia (30.4 percent) was also suspected in the assassination.
Other individuals or organizations on the list received far fewer votes. I found the absence of votes for Fidel Castro (8.7 percent) to be highly interesting! NOTE: The total percentages do not add up to 100 percent since the survey takers could check off as many choices as they wanted.
My fourth question dealt with the Warren Commission. Over the years it has received much criticism and skepticism over its report, so my TRUE or FALSE question was if the Commission had been "fair and impartial in its exploration of who killed Kennedy." Only 22.0 percent of the survey takers thought this was the case; fully 78.0 percent thought the Commission had not been fair and impartial. It made me wonder: had the Warren Commission done a better job, would we now still have so much skepticism over its conclusions?
I also asked people where they were when they learned Kennedy had been shot. Since most of our audience was aged 55 to 75, nearly everyone listed where they had been, some in great detail. The vast majority of our audience, like me, had been in grade school, high school, a few had been in college. The most interesting comment was, "I was in the basement of our house, my husband called me and said they shot Kennedy. I didn't believe him."
It's now 50 years later, and many of us still can't believe it.