Lee Harvey Oswald changed the course of world history when he assassinated the American President John F. Kennedy, on 22 November 1963, in Dallas, Texas.
The tragedy shifted the course of American policy and is seen as the beginning of a tumultuous decade that scarred the whole country. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, took office and intensified the war in Vietnam, which led to social unrest in the U.S.
The following decade coincidentally saw drastic changes in society through racial integration, women’s liberation, and the rise of the Hippie counterculture. The country was rocked by further assassinations and disillusioned by the Watergate scandal.
Lee Harvey was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1939. His father, who was a distant cousin of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, died of a heart attack two months before he was born. Lee’s family moved frequently when he was a child; they briefly lived in New York City during which a psychologist determined he likely had mental health issues.
The family returned to the South before any treatment could begin. An IQ test indicated that he was of average intelligence but Lee never graduated high school.
Instead, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 17 with the permission of his family.
He was nicknamed “Ozzy Rabbit”, a popular cartoon of the era, because of his relatively small size for a marine. He achieved the status of a sharpshooter during his service but was discharged on 11 September 1959 so he could care for his mother.
During his youth, he proclaimed to be a Marxist but he never joined a far-left party and friends stated that he never seriously engaged with the complex theory and only read paperback fiction about the topic.
Nevertheless, he managed to defect to the Soviet Union, where he wanted to live but was not allowed to until after his bizarre suicide attempt on the last night of his tourist visa.
Lee wanted to attend Moscow State University but was assigned to an electronics factory in Minsk, Belarus. The future Belarussian leader, Stanislav Shushkevich, was assigned to teach him Russian. After a year with no career advancement, limited social activities, and a failed romantic relationship, Lee wanted to return to the United States.
In the year it took to arrange his repatriation he married and started a family. Their return to the United States garnered less attention than Lee hoped.
Lee and his young family settled in Dallas, Texas in 1962 which had been one of his primary homes in his youth. Over the next year, Lee was fired from multiple jobs due to a poor work ethic. He eventually moved back to New Orleans to assist in a pro-Castro campaign. Lee ordered weapons through the mail using a pseudonym.
The assassination attempt of a disgraced far-right former general was attributed to Oswald by investigative committees due to a letter he wrote to his wife Marina, where he instructed her on what to do in case of his capture.
In the weeks leading up to the assassination of Kennedy, Lee traveled to Mexico in an attempt to get visas to Cuba and the Soviet Union but did not receive them quickly enough for him to actually leave the U.S.
At that time, President Kennedy’s route through Dallas was well-publicized and happened to go by the book depository where Lee had recently started working.
On 22 November, Lee fired at least three shots at the presidential motorcade killing J.F.K. and injuring the Governor of Texas. After leaving work, Oswald killed a police officer and was arrested in a movie theatre. Lee was interrogated by the police and questioned in a brief press conference. Two days after the arrest Oswald was shot on live television by Jack Ruby, while he was transferred to County Jail. He died in the hospital soon after.
Jack Ruby was a local nightclub owner and admirer of the late president; he had close relations with the local police and was able to easily enter the facility.
Numerous detailed investigations have concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and was likely motivated by social isolation, self-aggrandizement, and a degree of political ideology. However, the rushed nature of the first investigation that is still classified and the bizarre circumstances of his life sparked an entire industry of conspiracy theories. Hundreds of books, documentaries, and films have been produced about this topic, in the last six decades.