How history gets made: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings and JFK

I sense possibilities for the decisive clarification of the JFK story in the next two years. The deadline and disclosures of October 25, 2017 should help.

Here’s why. If we think historically, we can see that dramatic changes in popular thinking can occur with the convergence of three factors: new perspectives, new technology, and new information.

In the JFK story of 2016 all three are present.

A Washington Affair

Consider the story of President Thomas Jefferson’s long running affairs with Sally Hemings, an African-American woman whom he owned. If you had asked a panel of Washington experts in 1963 whether this story was true, they would have replied with a unanimous and resounding “No.”

The very notion was absurd, they would have said, an insult to a great man. The professors and the senior editors would have dismissed the story of a Jefferson-Hemings liaison as as an unfounded malicious rumor spread by political partisans, outright racists and undereducated colored people.

Then came a new perspective. With the rise of the civil rights movement,  the oral history of the Hemings family was treated with new respect. The Hemings descendents had always said that Tom and Sally had children, and the Hemings were descended from both. People, white and black, began to realize their story might be just as valid as the self-serving myths of the Jefferson family.

Then came new technology. The emergence of genetic testing and DNA science in the 1970s provided a new means of testing whether Sally Hemings bore Tom Jefferson’s children.  DNA from Jefferson and Hemings descendents were compared. There was a 99.9 percent chance that the Hemings were descended from a male Jefferson.

Then came new information. Jefferson’s meticulous notebooks were consulted again. They revealed little about his relationship with Hemings. But they did show that he lived in physical proximity to Hemings  nine months before the birth of each of their children. No other male Jefferson was close to Hemings each time she became pregnant.

Now most everyone agrees that Jefferson and Hemings had a relationship. People argue about whether it was rape, romance, mutual exploitation or something else. In any case, the “expert” conclusion of 1963 has been rendered defunct and forgotten. It has been superseded by a new popular understanding.

The Future of JFK

On the JFK assassination story, we can see similar factors at work

We have new perspectives, born of broad social change.

The revelations of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden exposed the reality of a pervasiveness and powerful of mass surveillance national security state. The secrecy surrounding JFK’s assassination is not seen as a cover-up of treachery or incompetence. It is seen more as a manifestation of reality.

We have a new technology, the Internet. For a long time the U.S. government controlled the public narrative of November 22, 1963 by controlling access to the historical record. The JFK Records Act of 1992 ended the government’s monopoly on the facts. Now thanks to Oliver Curme and the Mary Ferrell Foundation, anyone anywhere who wants to know the JFK story can learn the facts in their own home. The Internet makes it possible for onlline civil society to analyze the evidence in new ways that the national security agencies and the mainstream media organizations did not.

And, come October 2017, we will have new information. The files identified by Politico and WhoWhatWhy that are due for online release in October 2017might [emphasis on the conditional] have a catalytic effect.

The Road to 2017

The problem is that the CIA is well aware of this possibility and thus can be expected, for reasons of institutional self-protection defined as “national security” to block full disclosure.

So, in October 2017 we may not get a decisive answer to the question, “Who Killed JFK?” But we will get a definitive answer to a more contemporary (and perhaps important) question: “Will the CIA obey the law when it comes to JFK?

If the CIA does not practice full disclosure in October 2017 we will know that the CIA’s answer is “No,.” that the CIA’s current leadership does not intended to conform to the will of people as expressed by Congress and the law when it comes to transparency about ancient files related to the the murder of a sitting president. That will be revealing, though hardly surprising.

But if the CIA can be persuaded–or shamed or obliged or otherwise convinced– to practice full disclosure in October 2017, I say there is a chance that the new information will lead to decisive clarification.

The key is full disclosure. Only full disclosure will dispel the suspicion, presumably unfounded, that the CIA’s current leadership is concealing malfeasance in the wrongful death of the 35th president.

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