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Ralph Yarborough

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Ralph Yarborough is one of those significant figures who is rarely mentioned when discussing the JFK assassination. He was a key witness who promised to write an account of the assassination. As far as I can discover, he never did this.

Yarborough came from a humble background. He eventually became a lawyer and developed a reputation for taking on the oil companies in Texas. Between 1927 and 1931 Yarborough won several cases against the Magnolia Petroleum Company and other major oil companies and successfully establishing the right of public schools and universities to oil-fund revenues.

During the Second World War he a member of the 97th Division andserved in Europe and Japan. When he left the army in 1946 he had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war Yarborough became a lawyer in Austin, Texas.

A member of the Democratic Party Yarborough unsuccessfully challenged Governor Allan Shivers for the nomination in 1952 and 1954. Yarborough was one of the leaders of the progressive wing of the party. Shivers, on the right of the party, accused Yarborough of being in favour of racial integration and having support from the American Communist Party.

Yarborough, with the support of the trade unions, was elected to the United States Senate in April 1957. A left-wing member of the party, Yarborough was the only member of the Senate representing a former Confederate state to vote for every significant piece of civil rights legislation. This included the Civil Rights Act (1957) and Civil Rights Act (1960).

According to Evelyn Lincoln (JFK's secretary) LBJ put JFK under a lot of pressure to visit Texas in November, 1963. At the time there was a bitter dispute going on in the Democratic Party in Texas. Johnson and John Connally were seen as the leaders of the right-wing faction, whereas Ralph Yarborough led the liberal wing committed to civil rights (so much so that Connally and Johnson accused him of being a communist). Conservatives were also concerned that Yarborough was having a growing influence on Kennedy’s views on civil rights.

Johnson and Connally went back a long way. Connally had ran all of Johnson’s election campaigns. In 1948 Connally was accused of fraud when he discovered at the last moment the existence of 200 votes for Johnson from Jim Wells County. It was these votes that gave Johnson an eighty-seven-vote victory.

Jim Bishop (The Day Kennedy Was Shot, pages 60-61) claimed that there was a fight between JFK and LBJ regarding the seating in the motorcade. According to Michael Benson (Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination – page 489) Craig Zirbel made this claim in The Texas Connection (page 254). However, it does not appear in my edition of the book.

I think the story came originally came from William Manchester (Death of a President). Manchester claims that LBJ and JFK had a loud argument in their last meeting together. According to Manchester, only LBJ and JFK knew what the argument was about, except that it was apparently about "the state's political feud," and Yarborough's name was heard several times by people outside the room.

However, in his book, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye (1972 - page 21) Kenneth O’Connell argues that this row was not about the seating in the motorcade. When JFK arrived in Texas it was arranged for him to attend a dinner at Governor Connolly’s mansion. Ralph Yarborough discovered he had not been placed at the head table with Kennedy. He was further infuriated by the decision not to invite Yarborough’s wife to the dinner. Yarborough blamed Johnson for this snub. When the party arrived in San Antonio, Yarborough refused to ride in the same car with Johnson. Kennedy was furious about this dispute (after all, he was visiting Texas in order to heal the divisions between Yarborough and Connally supporters. Kennedy applied pressure on Connally and Yarborough and his wife got to sit on the head table. By the time of the motorcade in Dallas, Yarborough and Johnson were willing to sit together in the car.

The original story appeals to those who believe LBJ knew about the proposed assassination attempt. John Connally was a close friend (he was involved in several of LBJ’s corrupt activities). At the same time he hated Yarborough for his liberal views on civil rights. If he knew about the assassination attempt, he would rather have had Yarborough sitting next to him. Of course, it could be argued that LBJ might have wanted Connolly killed as he knew a lot of his secrets.

Anyway, it is unlikely that LBJ could have believed that Connolly could be persuaded to give up his seat in the presidential car. Connolly, not Yarborough, was the host.

There is another theory on this subject. LBJ and Connolly knew about the assassination attempt but expected it to take place later. This helps explain Connolly comments when the firing started. Something on the lines of “They are trying to kill all of us”. This implies that he believed that there was only one target that day in Dallas.

After the assassination Yarborough claimed that he had smelt gunpowder as his limo approached the triple underpass.

In 1964, hiss Republican opponent was George H.W. Bush who attacked Yarborough as a left-wing demagogue and for his vote in favor of the Civil Rights Act. Yarborough denounced Bush as an extremist to the right of Barry Goldwater. It has since been found that John Connally was covertly aiding Bush instead of party nominee Yarborough.

Although Yarborough supported Johnson's domestic agenda, he was critical of Johnson's foreign policy and the Vietnam War. Yarborough supported Robert F. Kennedy until his assassination. He then supported Eugene McCarthy until Hubert Humphrey got the nomination.

Yarborough was a member of the Senate until he was defeated by Lloyd Bentsen in 1970. He died in Austin, Texas, on 27th January, 1996.

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Namebase entry for Ralph Yarborough:


Duffy,J. Ricci,V. The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. 1992 (521)

Greider,W. Who Will Tell the People. 1993 (87)

Groden,R. Livingstone,H. High Treason. 1990 (16)

Hatfield,J.H. Fortunate Son. 2000 (31, 45-6)

Hendrickson,K. Collins,M. Profiles in Power. 1993 (xii, 149-73, 264-6, 278-80)

Hershman,D.J. Power Beyond Reason. 2002 (76)

Kantor,S. The Ruby Cover-up. 1992 (51)

Lundberg,F. The Rich and the Super-Rich. 1969 (52-3)

Marrs,J. Crossfire. 1990 (16, 249-50, 479, 482)

Reid,E. Demaris,O. The Green Felt Jungle. 1964 (43)

San Antonio Express-News 1997-11-30 (3G)

Scheim,D. Contract on America. 1988 (22)

Scott,P.D... The Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond. 1976 (16)

Sheehy,S. Texas Big Rich. 1992 (111)

Summers,A. Official and Confidential. 1993 (205-6)

Tarpley,W.G. Chaitkin,A. George Bush. 1992 (151, 160-2, 170-1, 176-84, 211)

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