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Saturday, November 05, 2005
Who killed JFK?While conspiracy theorists keep the debate alive, few mention Mississippi's links to the murder of a U. S. president 42 years ago this week, says Susan Klopfer, author of two civil rights books that focus on the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta.
Klopfer became intrigued with the Mississippi connection to JFK's assassination when she came across information linking a Delta icon to several others often associated with the tragic Dallas event, including a private detective from Vicksburg.
Seven years before John F. Kennedy's murder, the magnolia state's U. S. Sen. James O. Eastland met for the first time with Guy Banister, a controversial CIA operative and retired FBI agent in charge of the Chicago bureau, according to Klopfer.
"Banister was later linked to Lee Harvey Oswald and Mississippi's senator through involvement with Eastland's Senate Internal Security Subcommittee or SISS (sometimes called "SISSY")," writes the author of "Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited" and "The Emmett Till Book."
"The New Orleans Times-Picayune on March 23, 1956, reported that Robert Morrison, a former chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and Banister traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta, to confer personally with Senator Eastland for more than three hours," Klopfer said.
Describing the conference as "completely satisfactory," Morrison told the New Orleans reporter that "Mr. Banister has complete liaison with the committee's staff which was the main object of our trip."
Known as a notorious political extremist who was later described as the impetus for James Garrison’s 1967-1970 Kennedy assassination probe, Banister earlier became a brief focus of Mississippi's secret spy agency, the Sovereignty Commission, when it was suggested Banister should be hired to set up an "even tighter" domestic spying system throughout the state. Klopfer said she found this report in the state's Sovereignty Commission records.
A second Eastland operative, private investigator John D. Sullivan of Vicksburg, made this suggestion to the commission just months after the JFK assassination, also reported in released Sovereignty Commission records, Klopfer said.
"Former FBI agent Sullivan had worked for Banister (both inside the FBI and privately) and as a private self-employed investigator for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; the private white Citizens Councils, of which he was an active member; and for SISS, as had Banister and Lee Harvey Oswald.
"When Sullivan reportedly committed suicide soon after the Kennedy assassination, Sovereignty Commission investigators tried to acquire his library and files, but most of his confidential files were either reportedly burned by his widow or they had been lent out, and she 'could not remember' who had them, Sovereignty Commission files disclose."
Some twenty-nine years later, in testimony before the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board during a Dallas hearing on November 18, 1994, the late Senator Eastland was directly implicated in the president’s assassination by one of the author/theorists invited to testify, Klopfer said.
"Lee Harvey Oswald was quite possibly an agent of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and he was doing the bidding of [Sen. Thomas J. Dodd and Eastland and Morrison, author John McLaughlin swore
Klopfer said that documentation that could support or even discredit such assertions could be present in the Eastland archives at the University of Mississippi, "but no objective scholar has been allowed to search these archives since the day they arrived on campus.
"Instead, Eastland's records were managed for years by a former associate and devotee who followed the papers from Washington, D.C. to Oxford," she said.
Eastland, a cotton planter from Doddsville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta, was the consumate racist. "He often blocked money from coming into the Delta to feed and employ the poorest of Mississippians. Yet he was quite adept at collecting hundreds of thousands dollars of federal farming subsidies for himself," Klopfer said.
"There has been very little written about Eastland; his family and friends seem to be protecting what information is allowed to the public."
Eastland died in 1986 at the age of 82.
After an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request to the University of Mississippi's law school by Klopfer, a historian was finally hired to organize the archives based in the James O. Eastland School of Law.
But there was still a waiting period scheduled before any of the files could be viewed, Klopfer said.
"I was informed that the plan was to release first all press releases, according to one Ole Miss historian who also told me that many important files were probably missing -- that the files looked cleaned out."
Klopfer asserts the law school dean, when presented with a freedom of information act request or FOIA for access to Eastland archives, asked her, while laughing, if he could "just show the rejection letter written to the last person who asked for this information."
Later, Klopfer said, it came back to her that “people at Ole Miss were really angry” over the FOIA request.
Klopfer said she once spoke with historian Carol Polsgrove from Indiana University who also wanted to see the Eastland records.
"Dr. Polsgrove was interested in the white resistance to the civil rights movement, that it has not received the kind of attention from historians that the movement itself has--understandably, since there is nothing heroic about the resistance.
"She once thought about writing a biography of Eastland, who she terms the political linchpin of the resistance, and went so far as to call the University of Mississippi Law School, where his papers were kept.
"Dr. Polsgrove said she was told they were stowed in boxes in a basement--uncataloged and inaccessible. A library staffer explained to her, in hushed tones, that Senator Eastland was not quite 'politically correct'."
Klopfer notes that "Even today, Ole Miss doesn't seem to advertise the law school's identity - the James O. Eastland School of Law."
But like the Indiana professor, Klopfer said that she, too, would "really would love to go through all of Eastland's records. ALL of them."
Keywords: JFK, Mississippi, civil rights, assassination, John F. Kennedy, Eastland, James O. Eastland
About the AuthorSusan Klopfer, Elko, Nevada, USAsklopfer@earthlink.netLearn more about Kennedy assassination OR Mississippi
Susan Klopfer, journalist and author, writes on civil rights in Mississippi. Her newest books, "Where Rebels Roost: Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited" and "The Emmett Till Book" are now in print. "Where Rebels Roost" focuses on the Delta, Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Amzie Moore and many other civil rights foot soldiers. Emphasis on unsolved murders of Delta blacks from mid 1950s on...
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