ATHENS, Ga. -- A scrawled note on pink memo slips still packs a punch 50 years after it was written.
Authored by the late Sen. Richard Russell, the note reveals the powerful Georgia lawmaker and Washington insider had doubts from the very beginning about the government’s investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The Georgia senator wrote the note just after he was named to the Warren Commission, appointed to investigate the assassination of Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
The senator wrote on the pink slips as he talked to the chairman of that commission, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren – a man Russell didn’t much care for.
Russell helped block civil rights legislation for years and thought Warren was prejudiced against the South. Under Warren, the Supreme Court in 1954 handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregation by race in American schools.
“Warren asked about C.I.A. ‘did they have anything’ When I told of Mexico & Nicaragua NOT mentioning sums,” wrote U.S. Sen. Russell on Dec. 5, 1963. That was less than two weeks after Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down Kennedy with a high-powered rifle nearly 50 years ago now.
“He mention 5G as McCone had told me. He knew all I did & more about CIA. Something strange is happening. W. & Katenbach (Katzenbach) know all about F.B.I. and they are apparently through (an undecipherable word, perhaps ‘psychologists’) & others planning to show Oswald only one who even considered – This to me is untenable position – I must insist on outside counsel. ‘Remember Warren’s blanket indictment of South.’”
The note and other documents are in Russell’s papers, now housed in the University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. The papers, donated by the senator’s family, actually gave the library its beginning.
Elected in 1931 to be Georgia governor at the age of 33, Russell ran successfully for the U.S. Senate in 1933 and remained in Washington until his death in 1971, nearly 40 years later
Russell rose to great power and responsibility in Washington. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services for 14 years, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations for the last two years of his life.
Some of Russell’s papers remained sealed for decades after his death in 1971, but papers opened up to the public a few years ago didn’t shed a lot of new light on the assassination.
Russell never made a secrets of his doubts, explained Jill Severn, head of access and outreach at the Russell Library.
The commission concluded that Oswald acted alone when he assassinated Kennedy and gravely injured Texas Gov. John Connally. The commission also concluded that Jack Ruby acted alone when he shot down Oswald two days later.
Other documents and handwritten notes reveal Russell’s uncertainty over the conclusions of the commission, which remain controversial to this day.
Many who have examined the evidence in subsequent years don’t accept that Oswald was acting on his own, and conspiracy theories abound.
Some involve communists governments in countries Oswald had visited. Others suspect the CIA, the Mafia, Cuban exiles or combinations of them.
Russell didn’t give voice to conspiracy theories, but he didn’t believe the investigations were thorough enough to support the commission’s findings.
“I do not share the finding of the Commission as to the probability that both President Kennedy and Governor Connally were struck by the same bullet,” Russell wrote later, as the commission neared the end of its investigation.
Though Russell’s papers don’t contain any smoking guns about the assassination, they tell historians a lot about what Russell was thinking – especially those hastily written notes Russell wrote to himself, said Sherl Vogt, director of the Russell Library.
Russell routinely wrote notes about the matters he took up as a senator, not just about the Kennedy assassination.
The notes show up unexpectedly in stacks of papers that might include grocery lists and other mundane topics, she said.
“That’s what makes this collection so rich,” Vogt said.