It has been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was cut down on the streets of Dallas by rifle shots fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, a self-described Marxist, defector to the Soviet Union, and admirer of Fidel Castro. The evidence condemning Oswald was overwhelming.
The bullets that killed President Kennedy were fired from his rifle, which was found in the warehouse where he worked and where he was seen moments before the shooting. Witnesses on the street saw a man firing shots from a window in that building and immediately summoned police to provide a description. Forty-five minutes later a policeman stopped Oswald in another section of the city to question him about the shooting. Oswald killed him with four quick shots from his pistol as the policeman stepped from his squad car. He then fled to a nearby movie theater where he was captured (still carrying the pistol).
Yet opinion polls suggest that 75% of American adults believe that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy. Most of the popular books published on the murder have argued for one or another conspiracy theory, with the CIA, FBI, organized crime or right-wing businessmen cast as the villains. Why does the Kennedy assassination still provoke so much controversy?
A large part of the answer can be found in the social and political climate of the early 1960s. Immediately after the assassination, leading journalists and political figures insisted that the president was a victim of a “climate of hate” in Dallas and across the nation seeded by racial bigots, the Ku Klux Klan, fundamentalist ministers and anticommunist zealots. These people had been responsible for acts of violence across the South against blacks and civil-rights workers in the months and years leading up to Nov. 22, 1963. It made sense to think that the same forces must have been behind the attack on Kennedy.