‘History will prove us right’

An unprecedented gathering of those who served on the Warren Commission will meet at SMU on Oct. 11.

John F. Kennedy in Dallas

DALLAS (SMU) — An unprecedented gathering of assistant counsel and staff members who served on the Warren Commission – appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to report on President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963 – will gather at SMU Oct. 11 to discuss their work and findings.

JFK MotorcadeNearly 50 years later, the Warren Commission Report continues to spark debate, controversy and conspiracy theories.

“The Work of the Warren Commission, Half a Century On: Its Methods, Successes & Questions” will be 12:30–4:30 p.m. in the Martha Proctor Mack Ballroom, Umphrey Lee Center, 3300 Dyer St., on the SMU campus.

The event is free and open to the public with advance registration

“This is the first time this elite group will publicly discuss their work,” says SMU Dedman Law professor William J. Bridge, who is helping plan the event sponsored by SMU’s Dedman School of Law and John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, along with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. “This discussion will provide a unique window into the still compelling, still controversial efforts of the Warren Commission, whose work was part of the largest criminal investigation ever conducted in the United States.”

As part of the event, Washington, D.C., lawyer and author Howard P. Willens will discuss his new work, History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation Into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Overlook Press), the only book ever written on this subject by a senior member of the Commission staff.

Willens was a 32-year-old attorney in the Department of Justice’s criminal division when asked to assist in the commission’s organization and staffing a week after Kennedy’s assassination. Ultimately Willens was involved in every aspect of the team’s efforts, which, after interviewing 552 witnesses and reviewing more than 3,000 exhibits, concluded in a 889-page report that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby was solely responsible for killing Oswald.

Willens’ book reveals how the commission conducted its work, and also how the team learned a decade later that both the FBI and CIA had lied to them on critical matters. The book acknowledges some of the commission’s mistakes (leading to still-thriving conspiracy theories) and the report was subjected to four major investigations. Its title, and emphasis, stems from a 1965 comment from U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, who said to critics of the commission he chaired, “History will prove us right.”

The event will be divided into two panel discussions.

  • During the first panel (12:45–2:30 p.m.), Willens will join former commission colleagues Burt W. Griffin, a retired Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge who was a Cleveland attorney in 1963; W. David Slawson, Webb Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Southern California, a Denver lawyer 50 years ago; Richard M. Mosk, a justice with the California Court of Appeals, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School in 1963; and Stuart R. Pollak, also a justice with the California Court of Appeals, who worked in the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice at the time of the assassination.
  • During the event’s second panel (3–4:30 p.m.), SMU faculty members and others will join the five Warren Commission staffers in discussing continuing questions about the commission’s work.
  • SMU Dedman Law alumna Sarah R. Saldaña ‘84, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, will moderate the first panel. Assisting her, and moderating the second panel, will be SMU Dedman Law professor William Bridge.
  • More information on the panels.

The event is part of a yearlong collaboration between SMU and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

For related events, JFK experts and resources visit: http://smu.edu/smunews/jfk/ .