At 12:30 PM on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas—just as Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots into the presidential limousine—Louis Steven Witt stood on the sidewalk of Elm Street as the presidential motorcade passed. Witt was doing something that many of us would consider peculiar. He carried a large black umbrella opened widely as the sun shined brightly in the Texas sky. In Abraham
|Umbrella Man at far left of photo.|
Umbrella protests first began in England after Chamberlain arrived home from the conference carrying his trademark accessory. Wherever Chamberlain traveled, the opposition party in Britain protested his appeasement at Munich by displaying umbrellas. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Americans on the
|Neville Chamberlain and his umbrella.|
While it is clear that many have been tagged as umbrella men over the years, Dallas’s Louis Steven Witt said that his real target of his protest was Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the ambassador to England at the time of the Munich agreement and whose support of Chamberlain was well known. Appearing before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, Witt explained that being a “conservative-type fellow” and, having heard from a work colleague that the umbrella was a “sore spot” for President Kennedy (because his father had been criticized intensely), he had wanted “to heckle the President’s motorcade” and thought the umbrella would do the job.
|Louis Steven Witt testifying in 1978.|
Witt’s explanation is plausible, but what really matters is how others understood his actions that morning. If we consider the historical context—Dallas’s status as a redoubt of the far Right and the flurry of newspaper articles in Ted Dealey’s Dallas Morning News comparing Kennedy to Chamberlain and the 1963 Test Ban Treaty to the Munich agreement—it is likely that Witt’s umbrella was at least perceived by the crowd around him as a protest of President Kennedy’s nuclear disarmament policy. “Kennedy acts like Neville Chamberlain,” observed one letter to the editor in March 1963. Another reader wrote in August 1963 that the “dissolution of the British Empire started at Munich with Neville Chamberlain, that of the United States in January, 1961, with the Kennedy regime.” Another Dallasite, W.E. Parks, wrote in 1963: “the nuclear-test-ban treaty . . . is the Chamberlain-Hitler ‘peace in our time’ pact with a new cast and new lines.” In an editorial on September 9, 1963, the Dallas Morning News drew what it called “parallels between the Munich agreement and the current U.S.-British-Soviet test-ban treaty.” Suggesting that President Kennedy was another Neville Chamberlain, the News observed, there “is no more encouragement today for believing that the Soviets have changed their aggressive intentions than there was to believe the Nazis had changed their goals in 1938.”
The incident illustrates the potency and ubiquity of far Right ideas in Dallas in 1963. Elements of this worldview extended into different aspects of everyday behavior, sometimes even when ordinary moments turned into extraordinary events.
Edward H. Miller received his Ph.D. in History from Boston College. His manuscript, Into Nut Country: Dallas Republicans, the Southern Strategy, and the American Right, 1952-1964, is currently under review by the University of Chicago Press. Miller currently is an adjunct professor at Northeastern University.
 Attesting to the umbrella’s popularity as a sign on the Right in the 1960s, Todd Gitlin writes, “In one corner, right-wingers from Young Americans for Freedom hoisted black umbrellas, intimating that we were Munich-minded equivalents of Neville Chamberlain, and hissed sporadically throughout the evening.” The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (Bantam Books, 1987), 99.
 Richard Reeves, President Nixon: Alone in the White House (Simon & Schuster, 2001), 468; Geoffrey M. Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press, 2012), 100; and Neil A. Hamilton, The 1970s (Facts On File, 2006), 87.
 Ira Chernus, Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace (Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 90.
 Kevin Mattson, Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech and the “Rocking, Socking” Election of 1952 (Bloomsbury, 2012), 168.
 Thomas G. Paterson, Kennedy’s Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961–1963 (Oxford University Press, 1989), 42.
 Dallas Morning News, September 24, 1978; September 26, 1978.
 Ibid., March 24, 1963.
 Ibid., August 12, 1963.
 Ibid., August 5, 1963.
 Ibid., September 13, 1963.