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Shaw, Clay (1913-1974)  
 
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People around the world know Clay Shaw as the only person ever tried for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Most, however, do not know that he was a highly decorated war hero, a prominent New Orleans businessman, a French Quarter preservationist, a valued civic leader, and, from age sixteen, a successful playwright.

He was also a homosexual in a time and a place that viewed homosexuality as abhorrent, immoral, and criminal. In that society, gay people, particularly prominent citizens like Clay Shaw, were compelled to remain closeted and were extremely vulnerable.

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Born on March 17, 1913 into a respected family in the small Louisiana town of Kentwood, Clay Laverne Shaw was named for his grandfather, Thomas Clay Shaw, Kentwood's Town Marshal. When he was five he and his family moved to New Orleans.

At Warren Easton High School, Shaw's one-act play "Submerged," which he wrote with a classmate, won a state playwriting contest. Seventy-five years later, it was still being produced by high school drama clubs.

After graduation from high school, Shaw moved to New York where he managed a Western Union office, took classes at Columbia University, and, later, was booking manager for a lecture bureau, representing luminaries such as poet John Masefield, actor Maurice Evans, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

When World War II began, Shaw enlisted as a private in the medical corps. Soon commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, he was appointed to the staff of Brigadier General Charles O. Thrasher, directing supplies for the million men who crossed the English Channel in the D-Day invasion.

For his role in liberating France from the Nazi occupation, Shaw was awarded the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit by the United States Army and the Croix de Guerre by the government of France.

Discharged from the Army in 1946, Major Shaw returned to New Orleans, his home for the remainder of his life. Within months Shaw was hired to launch the International Trade Mart, whose dual objectives were to sell American products abroad and to increase foreign trade into the Port of New Orleans. His army experience in transportation and shipping, along with a fluency in both Spanish and French, made him the ideal person for the job.

In a world still recovering from the horrors of war, Shaw saw international trade as more than just a matter of economics. He told a local newspaper, "People who are doing business with each other don't often get into a fight. Nobody shoots a good customer, and countries who have friendly relations aren't going to start a war."

While serving as Managing Director of the International Trade Mart, Shaw also became a pioneer preservationist, renovating French Quarter buildings.

All of these activities left little time to write, so Shaw decided to retire from the ITM once he could afford to do so. That point came in 1965. At his retirement, the City of New Orleans awarded him its highest honor, the International Order of Merit, in appreciation of his many contributions to the city.

But the social and political turbulence of the 1960s made a quiet retirement for the aspiring writer impossible. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a blue-ribbon committee to investigate the assassination and to report its findings to the American people. Headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, it became known as the Warren Commission. The Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin, but a large portion of the population felt that they had not presented the whole story.

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison was one such skeptic. Brilliant, ruthless, and politically ambitious, Garrison saw in the Kennedy assassination his opportunity for fame. He announced that the Warren Commission had deliberately lied to the American people, purposefully covering up a conspiracy. Reveling in the international attention he received, Garrison proposed variously that the conspiracy was hatched by the C. I. A., the F. B. I., the military-industrial complex, Cuban Communists, and Lyndon Johnson and Texas oil barons.

But Garrison needed a theory that allowed him jurisdiction to prosecute, so he came up with the idea that the conspiracy was planned in New Orleans, and the assassination was a "homosexual thrill killing." He told a journalist, "They had the same motive as Loeb and Leopold when they murdered Bobbie Franks in Chicago."

On March 1, 1967, Jim Garrison arrested Clay Shaw and charged him with conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy. Garrison knew Shaw was gay, but the general public did not, though soon Shaw's homosexuality was exposed. The discreetly gay Shaw was soon described as a sadist as well as a homosexual.

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