Robert F. Kennedy
|Robert F. Kennedy|
Kennedy appearing before the Platform Committee, 1964
|United States Senator
from New York
January 3, 1965 – June 6, 1968
|Preceded by||Kenneth Keating|
|Succeeded by||Charles Goodell|
|64th United States Attorney General|
January 20, 1961 – September 3, 1964
|President||John F. Kennedy (1961–63)
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–64)
|Preceded by||William P. Rogers|
|Succeeded by||Nicholas Katzenbach|
|Born||Robert Francis Kennedy
November 20, 1925
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||June 6, 1968
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Ethel Skakel (m. 1950–68)
|Relations||See: Kennedy family|
|Children||Kathleen, Joseph, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas, Rory|
|Alma mater||Harvard University (A.B.)
University of Virginia (LL.B.)
|Service/branch||U.S. Naval Reserve|
|Years of service||1944–46|
|Unit||USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968), commonly known by his initials RFK, was an American politician from Massachusetts. He served as a Senator for New York from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. He was previously the 64th U.S. Attorney General from 1961 to 1964, serving under his older brother, President John F. Kennedy and his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson. An icon of modern American liberalism and member of the Democratic Party, Kennedy was a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1968 election.
After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Seaman Apprentice from 1944 to 1946, Kennedy graduated from Harvard College and the University of Virginia School of Law. Prior to entering public office, he worked as a correspondent to the Boston Post and as an attorney in Washington D.C.. He gained national attention as the chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee from 1957 to 1959, where he publicly challenged Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa over the corrupt practices of the union, and published The Enemy Within, a book about corruption in organized labor.
A prominent member of the Kennedy family, Bobby was the campaign manager for his brother John in the 1960 presidential election and was appointed Attorney General during his presidential administration. He also served as a White House adviser to the president from 1961 to 1963. His tenure is best known for its advocacy for the African-American Civil Rights Movement, crusade against organized crime and the mafia, and involvement in U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba and Indonesia. After his brother's assassination, Kennedy remained in office for a few months until leaving to run for the United States Senate in 1964 where he defeated Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating.
In 1968, Kennedy campaigned for the presidency and was a leading Democratic candidate, appealing particularly to black, Hispanic, and Catholic voters. Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, after Kennedy defeated Senator Eugene McCarthy in the California presidential primary, he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, and died the following day.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Navy service (1944–1946)
- 3 Further study and journalism (1946–1951)
- 4 Legal career (1951–1960)
- 5 JFK 1960 presidential campaign
- 6 Attorney General of the United States (1961–1964)
- 7 Assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy
- 8 Vice presidential candidate
- 9 Senator from New York
- 10 Presidential candidate
- 11 Assassination
- 12 Personal life
- 13 Electoral history
- 14 Honors
- 15 Writings
- 16 Media
- 17 See also
- 18 References
- 19 Bibliography
- 20 External links
Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the seventh child of the businessman/politician Joseph P. "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. (1888–1969) and philanthropist Rose Fitzgerald (1890–1995). His older brothers were Joseph, Jr. (1915–1944) and John F. "Jack" Kennedy (1917–1963), who was elected the 35th President of the United States in 1960. His younger brother was longtime United States Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (1932–2009). His mother feared that his brothers would not make suitable "boyhood pals." Kennedy explained his position in the family hierarchy by saying, "When you come from that far down, you have to struggle to survive."
Kennedy's father was a wealthy businessman, and a leading Irish Catholic figure in the Democratic Party. After he stepped down as ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1940, Joe, Sr. focused his attention on his first born, Joseph, Jr., planning that he would enter politics and be elected president. He would also urge the younger children to examine and discuss current events and try propelling them to public service. After Joseph, Jr. was killed during World War II, those hopes fell on his second son Jack to become president. Joseph, Sr. had the money, connections and the ambitions to play a central role in the family's political ambitions.
Kennedy's older brother John was often bedridden by illness and became a voracious reader. He made little effort to get to know Robert at that time, but would take him for walks. In the time they spent together during Robert's childhood, John would regale him with the stories of heroes and adventures he had read during his illnesses. One of their favorite authors was John Buchan, who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps. Both Robert and John were influenced by the book. John referred to Robert as "Black Robert" due to his prudishness and disposition at times. The two differed however, in their viewing of their mother Rose's agenda for everything to have "a purpose" which included their visiting of historic sites during family outings, visits to the church during morning walks and games used to expand vocabulary and math skills. Robert dutifully abided by the lessons, taking them to heart. Kennedy did try to get the attention of his older brothers while in Palm Beach by swimming after them, but fell behind as they raced each other. This was part of a recurring attempt during his youth to get their attention.
In September 1927, the Kennedy family moved to Riverdale, New York, a wealthy neighborhood in the Bronx, then two years later, moved 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast to Bronxville, New York. He spent summers with his family at their compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and Christmas and Easter holidays with his family at their winter home in Palm Beach, Florida, purchased in 1933. He attended public elementary school in Riverdale from kindergarten through second grade; then Bronxville School, the public school in Bronxville, from third through fifth grade. He repeated the third grade. A teacher at Bronxville reflected that Kennedy was "a regular boy". She added, "It seemed hard for him to finish his work sometimes. But he was only ten after all." He then attended Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys in Riverdale, for sixth grade. Kennedy would later recall of his childhood "going to different schools, always having to make new friends, and that I was very awkward...[a]nd I was pretty quiet most of the time. And I didn't mind being alone." He developed an interest in American history. His bedroom was decorated with pictures of various U.S. Presidents while his bookshelves contained volumes on the American Civil War. Kennedy also became an avid stamp collector. Once, he received a handwritten letter from Franklin Roosevelt, who was also a philatelist.
In March 1938, when he was 12, Kennedy sailed with his mother and his four youngest siblings to England, after his father had begun serving as ambassador. He attended the private Gibbs School for Boys in London for seventh grade, returning to the U.S. just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe. In April 1939, Kennedy gave his first public speech at the laying of a cornerstone for a youth club in England. According to embassy and newspaper reports, Kennedy's statements were penciled in his own hand. They were also delivered in a "calm and confident" manner.
St. Paul's and Portsmouth Priory
In September 1939, for eighth grade, Kennedy attended St. Paul's School, an elite private preparatory school for boys in Concord, New Hampshire. However, he transferred after two months at St. Paul's to Portsmouth Priory School, a Benedictine Catholic boarding school for boys in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, for eighth through tenth grades. Kennedy's mother Rose withdrew him for the use at times of the Protestant Bible at the school. She took advantage of her husband's absence by sending Kennedy to Portsmouth Priory School, where there were morning and evening prayers along with mass three times a week and high mass on Sundays.
At Portsmouth Priory School, Kennedy was known as "Mrs. Kennedy's little boy Bobby" due to him introducing his mother to classmates, who made fun of them. Kennedy was defensive of his mother and on one occasion chased a student out of the dormitory after the student commented on her appearance. Kennedy befriended Peter MacLellan and wrote him at the time his brother John was serving in the U.S. Navy. Kennedy wrote that he would be visiting his brother "because he might be killed any minute."
Kennedy blamed himself when his grades failed to improve. In letters to her son, Rose urged Robert to read more and strengthen his vocabulary. Rose also expressed disappointment and wrote that she did not expect him to let her down. He began developing in other ways and his brother John noticed his increased strength, predicting that Robert "would be bouncing me around plenty in two more years." Monks at Portsmouth Priory School regarded Kennedy as a student who was moody and indifferent. Father Damian Kearney who was two classes behind Kennedy reflected that Kennedy "didn't look happy" nor "smile much". According to Father Damian's review of Kennedy's records, he was a "poor-to-mediocre student, except for history."
In September 1942, Kennedy transferred to Milton Academy, a third boarding school in Milton, Massachusetts, for eleventh and twelfth grades. That same month, his mother wrote his two older brothers and explained Kennedy was transferring since he "did not seem to like" the headmaster at Portsmouth Priory School. She also reasoned that her son "did not seem to make much headway in his classes last year".
At Milton, Kennedy met and became friends with David Hackett. Kennedy had Hackett join him for a Sunday mass. Hackett started accompanying him and was impressed when on one Sunday, Kennedy took it upon himself to fill in for a missing altar boy. Hackett admired Kennedy's determination to bypass his shortcomings and remembered him redoubling his efforts whenever something did not come easy to him, which for Robert included athletics, studies, success with girls and popularity. Hackett remembered both he and Kennedy being "misfits", a commonality that drew him to Kennedy along with his unwillingness to conform to how others acted and continue being himself even if doing so meant he may not gain acceptance.
Kennedy's grades improved and one of his first relationships was with Piedy Bailey. The pair were photographed together when Kennedy walked her home after chapel on a Sunday night. Bailey was fond of Kennedy and remembered him as being "very appealing". She recalled him being funny, "separate, larky; outside the cliques; private all the time." Soon after he transferred to Milton, Kennedy agitated his father to allow him to enlist, as he wanted to catch up to his brothers, who were both serving in the military at the time.
Kennedy had arrived at Milton knowing no one and made little attempt to know the names of his classmates; he instead called most of the other boys "fella". For this, he was nicknamed "Fella". Most of the school's students had come in eighth or ninth grade and due to this, cliques had already been formed. Despite this, his schoolmates would later say the school had no prejudice. Kennedy had an early sense of virtue; he disliked dirty jokes and bullying. Once Kennedy stepped in when an upperclassman tried bothering a younger student. The headmaster at Milton would later summarize Kennedy as a "very intelligent boy, quiet and shy, but not outstanding, and he left no special mark on Milton."
Relationship with parents
In his younger years, Kennedy's father dubbed him the "runt" of the family and wrote him off. Billings once remarked to his father that Kennedy was "the most generous little boy" and Joe, Sr. replied that he did not know where his son "got that". Billings discerned that the only similarity between Robert and Joe, Sr. was their eye color. As Kennedy grew, Joe, Sr. worried that Robert was soft on others, conflicting with his ideology. In response, Robert developed a tough persona that masked his gentle personality, attempting to appease his father. Biographer Judie Mills reasoned Joe, Sr.'s lack of interest in Robert was evident by the length of time it took for him to decide to transfer him to Milton Academy, where both Joe, Jr. and John attended the exclusive Protestant prep school Choate from their freshman year while Robert was already a junior by the time he was enrolled at Milton. Despite this, Robert did continue in seeking out the approval of his father, requesting that Joe, Sr. write him a letter about his opinions on different political events and World War II.
As a child, Robert also strove to meet the expectations of his mother, to become the most dutiful, religious, affectionate and obedient of the Kennedy children, but there grew greater distance between him and his father. Kennedy's mother found his gentle personality endearing, though this was noted as having made him "invisible to his father". Kennedy's mother heavily influenced him and like her, he became a devout Catholic, practicing his religion more seriously than the other boys in the family throughout his lifetime. Kennedy impressed his parents as a child by taking on a newspaper route, seeking their approval and wishing to distinguish himself. However, Kennedy had the family chauffeur driving him, so that he could make his deliveries, in a Rolls-Royce. His mother discovered this and the deliveries ceased.
Joe Sr. was satisfied with Kennedy as an adult, believing him to have become "hard as nails". Robert becoming more like him than any of the other children while his mother believed he exemplified all she had wanted in a child. Biographer Judie Mills wrote, "His parents' conflicting views would be echoed in the opinions of millions of people throughout Bobby's life. Robert Kennedy was a ruthless opportunist who would stop at nothing to attain his ambitions. Robert Kennedy was America's most compassionate public figure, the only person who could save a divided country."
Six weeks before his 18th birthday, Kennedy enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Seaman Apprentice, released from active duty until March 1944 when he left Milton Academy early to report to the V-12 Navy College Training Program at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His V-12 training was at Harvard (March–November 1944); Bates College in Lewiston, Maine (November 1944 – June 1945); and Harvard (June 1945 – January 1946). While serving in Maine, Kennedy wrote a letter to David Hackett which reflected his feelings of inadequacy and frustration at being isolated from the action. "Things are the same as usual up here, and me being my usual moody self I get very sad at times." He added, "If I don't get the hell out of here soon I'll die." Aside from Hackett, who was serving as a paratrooper, more of Kennedy's classmates went overseas and left him behind. One of them getting into combat before him was a thought that made Kennedy "feel more and more like a Draft Dodger or something." He was also frustrated with the shirker's mentality of some of the others serving in V-12 at Bates. He complained their attitudes really made him "mad especially after Joe being killed."
On December 15, 1945, the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., and shortly thereafter granted Kennedy's request to be released from naval-officer training to serve aboard Kennedy, starting on February 1, 1946, as a seaman apprentice on the ship's shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. On May 30, 1946, he received his honorable discharge from the Navy. For his service in the Navy, Kennedy was eligible for the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Further study and journalism (1946–1951)
In September 1946, Kennedy entered Harvard as a junior, having received credit for his time in the V-12 program. Kennedy worked hard to make the Harvard varsity football team as an end, was a starter and scored a touchdown in the first game of his senior year before breaking his leg in practice, earning his varsity letter when his coach sent him in for the last minutes of a game against Yale, wearing a cast. Kennedy's father spoke positively of him when he served as a blocking back and sometime receiver for the fleet Dave Hackett. Joseph, Sr. attended some of Robert's practices. He saw his son catch a touchdown pass in an early-season rout of the Western Maryland. Kennedy's teammates admired his physical courage. Kennedy was five feet ten and 155 pounds, which made him too small and too slow for college football. Despite this, he was a fearless hitter and tackled a 230-pound fullback head-on. Wally Flynn, another player, looked up in the huddle after one play to see Kennedy crying after having broken his leg. Disregarding the injury, he kept playing. Kennedy graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's degree in political science in March 1948.
After graduating, Kennedy immediately sailed on the RMS Queen Mary with a college friend for a six-month tour of Europe and the Middle East, accredited as a correspondent of the Boston Post, for which he filed six stories. Four of these stories, filed from Palestine shortly before the end of the British Mandate, provided a first-hand view of the tensions in the land. He was critical of the British policy in Palestine. Further, he praised the Jewish people he met there "as hardy and tough". Kennedy held out some hope after seeing Arabs and Jews working side by side but, in the end felt the "hate" in Palestine was too strong and would lead to a war.
In September 1948, Kennedy enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. On June 17, 1950, Kennedy married Ethel Skakel at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. Kennedy graduated from law school in June 1951 and flew with Ethel to Greenwich to stay in his father-in-law's guest house. The couple's first child, Kathleen, was born on July 4, 1951. Kennedy spent the summer studying for the Massachusetts bar exam.
John Kennedy served as best man at his brother's wedding, the pair still maintaining the same distant relationship they had in their younger years. The two focused on their father, Robert at getting his attention, John trying to keep Joe, Sr. "at arm's length", but still rarely interacted until Robert was contacted by Kenny O'Donnell to repair the relationship of his brother John and their father during John's senate campaign. As a result of this, Joe, Sr. came to view Robert favorably as reliable and "willing to sacrifice himself" for the family.
In September 1951, Kennedy went to San Francisco as a correspondent of the Boston Post to cover the convention concluding the Treaty of Peace with Japan. In October 1951, Kennedy embarked on a seven-week Asian trip with his brother Jack (then Massachusetts 11th district congressman) and his sister Patricia to Israel, India, Vietnam, and Japan. Because of their age gap, the two brothers had previously seen little of each other. Kennedy accompanying his brother came at the behest of his father. This 25,000-mile (40,000 km) trip was the first extended time they had spent together and served to deepen their relationship.
Legal career (1951–1960)
In November 1951, Kennedy moved with his wife and daughter to a townhouse in Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and started work as a lawyer in the Internal Security Section (which investigated suspected Soviet agents) of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In February 1952, he was transferred to the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn to prosecute fraud cases. On June 6, 1952, Kennedy resigned to manage his older brother Jack's successful 1952 U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusetts.
In December 1952, at the behest of his father, Robert Kennedy was appointed by Republican Senator Joe McCarthy as assistant counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. McCarthy was a friend to the Kennedy family, and was the godfather of Robert Kennedy's daughter Kathleen. This was a highly visible job for Kennedy. He resigned in July 1953, but "retained a fondness for McCarthy". The period of July 1953 to January 1954 saw Kennedy have "a professional and personal nadir". This being due to Kennedy feeling that he was adrift while trying to prove himself to the rest of the Kennedy family.
After a period as an assistant to his father on the Hoover Commission, Kennedy rejoined the Senate committee staff as chief counsel for the Democratic minority in February 1954. That month, McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn subpoenaed Annie Lee Moss, accusing her of membership within the Communist party. Kennedy revealed Cohn had called the wrong Annie Lee Moss and he requested the file on Moss from the FBI. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had been forewarned by Cohn of Kennedy and denied him access, referring to Kennedy as "an arrogant whipper-snapper."
When the Democrats gained the majority in January 1955, he became chief counsel. Kennedy was a background figure in the televised McCarthy Hearings of 1954 into the conduct of McCarthy. The Annie Lee Moss incident made Cohn an enemy of Kennedy, which led to him during the hearings of assisting Democratic senators in ridiculing Cohn. The animosity grew to the point of Cohn being restrained after asking Kennedy if he wanted to fight him and the feud became publicized by newspapers.
When asked about his motivations in working for McCarthy by writer Peter Maas, Kennedy recalled believing at that time that there was a "serious internal security threat to the United States", also believing that McCarthy was "the only one who was doing anything about it." Despite the elaboration, Kennedy admitted that he was wrong. For his work on the McCarthy committee, Kennedy was included in a list of "Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1954", created by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. It was Kennedy's first national award. Kennedy's father had arranged the nomination.
Soviet Union visit
Kennedy remained fixed with communism after leaving the McCarthy committee and visited the Soviet Union in 1955, accompanied by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Douglas was friends with Kennedy's father, who had arranged for his son to accompany the Supreme Court Justice on the trip, by Douglas' account believing it would do his son "some good." Douglas would recall that Kennedy saw Russians as "people with problems" rather than the soulless fanatics he had initially considered, also viewing them as human beings and achievers such as himself. Hilty concluded that Kennedy's views on environment during the following decade were "at least partially influenced" by his being an associate of Douglas.
Stevenson aide and chief counsel
Kennedy went on to work as an aide to Adlai Stevenson II during the 1956 presidential election to learn for a future national campaign by Jack. The candidate did not impress Kennedy, so he voted for incumbent Dwight D. Eisenhower.:416–417 Kennedy soon made a name for himself as the chief counsel of the 1957–59 Senate Labor Rackets Committee under chairman John L. McClellan. In a dramatic scene, Kennedy squared off with Teamsters union President Jimmy Hoffa during the antagonistic argument that marked Hoffa's testimony.
Senators Barry Goldwater and Karl Mundt wrote to each other and complained about "the Kennedy boys" as having hijacked the McClellan Committee. They believed the pair were intent to focus attention on Hoffa and the Teamsters. By doing this, according to their theory, Robert Kennedy covered for Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers, a union which typically would back Democratic office seekers. Amidst the allegations, Kennedy wrote in his journal that the pair had "no guts" and the two never addressed him personally, instead only to newspapermen. Kennedy left the Rackets Committee in late 1959 in order to run his brother's presidential campaign.
The Enemy Within
In 1960, he published the book The Enemy Within, describing the corrupt practices within the Teamsters and other unions that he had helped investigate; the book sold very well. Kennedy had drafted the book over the summer of the previous year. Biographer Evan Thomas wrote the book was a best seller and could have launched Kennedy on a political career on its own, but "family duty called."
JFK 1960 presidential campaign
Kennedy worked on the presidential campaign of his brother John. He stressed the importance of commitment and held members of his own family to the same level of high expectations in that regard as that of the volunteers. In contrast to his role in his brother's previous campaign eight years prior, Kennedy gave stump speeches throughout the primary season, gaining confidence with the platform. Kennedy's ideology "to win at any cost" led him to call on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. to attack Hubert Humphrey as a draft dodger. Roosevelt eventually did make the statement that Humphrey avoided service.
RFK went to great lengths to protect his brother. Concerned that JFK was going to receive the Democratic Party's nomination, Johnson supporters revealed to the press that Kennedy had Addison's disease, saying that JFK required life-sustaining cortisone treatments. Though in fact a diagnosis had been made, RFK denied it, saying his brother had never had "an ailment described classically as Addison's disease." After securing the nomination, JFK decided to offer Lyndon Johnson the vice presidency. This did not sit well with some Northern Kennedy supporters and RFK tried to convince Johnson to turn down the offer. This attempt was unsuccessful, and Johnson viewed RFK with contempt afterward.
Attorney General of the United States (1961–1964)
After winning the 1960 presidential election, President-elect John F. Kennedy appointed his younger brother Attorney General. The choice was controversial, with The New York Times and The New Republic calling Robert Kennedy inexperienced and unqualified. He had no experience in any state or federal court, causing the President to joke, "I can't see that it's wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law." However, Kennedy did have significant experience in studying and fighting organized crime.
According to Bobby Baker, the Senate Majority Secretary and a protégé of Lyndon B. Johnson, President-elect Kennedy did not want to name his brother as Attorney General. However, their father overruled the President-elect. At the behest of Johnson, Baker persuaded the influential Southern Senator Richard Russell to allow a voice vote to confirm the President's brother in January 1961, as Robert F. Kennedy "would have been lucky to get 40 votes" on a roll-call vote. Lincoln wrote of that November 19, 1963, conversation just three days before Kennedy's assassination.
Kennedy performed well in his confirmation hearing and chose what friend and biographer Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. called an "outstanding" group of deputy and assistant attorneys general, including Byron White and Nicholas Katzenbach.
Hilty concludes that Kennedy "played an unusual combination of roles—campaign director, attorney general, executive overseer, controller of patronage, chief adviser, and brother protector" and that nobody before him had such power. His tenure as Attorney General was easily the period of greatest power for the office – no previous United States Attorney General had enjoyed such clear influence on all areas of policy during an administration.
To a great extent, President Kennedy sought the advice and counsel of his younger brother, resulting in Robert F. Kennedy remaining the President's closest political adviser. Kennedy was relied upon as both the President's primary source of administrative information and as a general counsel with whom trust was implicit, given the familial ties of the two men. He exercised widespread authority over every cabinet department, leading the Associated Press to dub him, "Bobby—Washington's No. 2-man."
The president once remarked about his brother that, "If I want something done and done immediately I rely on the Attorney General. He is very much the doer in this administration, and has an organizational gift I have rarely if ever seen surpassed."
As one of President Kennedy's closest White House advisers, Robert Kennedy played a crucial role in the events surrounding the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Operating mainly through a private backchannel connection to Soviet spy Georgi Bolshakov, Kennedy relayed important diplomatic communications between the US and Soviet governments. Most significantly, this connection helped the US set up the Vienna Summit in June 1961 and later defuse the tank standoff with the Soviets at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie in October.
Organized crime and the Teamsters
As Attorney General, Kennedy pursued a relentless crusade against organized crime and the mafia, sometimes disagreeing on strategy with J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Convictions against organized crime figures rose by 800 percent during his term.
Kennedy was relentless in his pursuit of Teamsters union President Jimmy Hoffa, resulting from widespread knowledge of Hoffa's corruption in financial and electoral actions, both personally and organizationally. The enmity between the two men was intense, with accusations of a personal vendetta being exchanged between the two; in what Hoffa called a "blood feud" between him and Kennedy. In 1964 Hoffa was imprisoned for jury tampering.
As Attorney General
Kennedy expressed the administration's commitment to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School:
We will not stand by or be aloof—we will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 [Supreme Court school desegregation] decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is now the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.
Kennedy predicted during an interview in May 1961 that an African-American "can also achieve the same position that my brother has as President of the United States" over the course of the next thirty to forty years. Sabato would later write that when RFK's family backed Barack Obama in 2008, they picked a candidate with great differences in upbringing from that of the privileged President Kennedy.
In 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who viewed civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. as an upstart troublemaker calling him an "enemy of the state", presented Kennedy with allegations that some of King's close confidants and advisers were communists. Concerned that the allegations, if made public, would derail the Administration's civil rights initiatives, Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspect associations, and later issued a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King's civil rights organization. Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so", Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy. The wire tapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968, days before Kennedy's death.
Kennedy remained committed to civil rights enforcement to such a degree that he commented, in 1962, that it seemed to envelop almost every area of his public and private life—from prosecuting corrupt southern electoral officials to answering late night calls from Coretta Scott King concerning the imprisonment of her husband for demonstrations in Alabama. During his tenure as Attorney General, he undertook the most energetic and persistent desegregation of the administration that Capitol Hill had ever experienced. He demanded that every area of government begin recruiting realistic levels of black and other ethnic workers, going so far as to criticize Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson for his failure to desegregate his own office staff.
Although it has become commonplace to assert the phrase "The Kennedy Administration" or even "President Kennedy" when discussing the legislative and executive support of the civil rights movement, between 1960 and 1963, a great many of the initiatives that occurred during President Kennedy's tenure were as a result of the passion and determination of an emboldened Robert Kennedy, who through his rapid education in the realities of Southern racism, underwent a thorough conversion of purpose as Attorney General. Asked in an interview in May 1962, "What do you see as the big problem ahead for you, is it Crime or Internal Security?" Robert Kennedy replied, "Civil Rights." The President came to share his brother's sense of urgency on the matters at hand to such an extent that it was at the Attorney General's insistence that he made his famous address to the nation.
Kennedy played a large role in the Freedom Riders protests. He acted after the Anniston bus bombings to protect the Riders in continuing their journey. Kennedy sent John Seigenthaler, his administrative assistant, to Alabama to attempt to secure the riders' safety there. Despite a work rule which allowed a driver to decline an assignment which he regarded as a potentially unsafe one, Kennedy also persuaded a manager of The Greyhound Corporation to obtain a coach operator who was willing to drive a special bus for the continuance of the Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, on the circuitous journey to Jackson, Mississippi.
Later, during the attack and burning by a white mob of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. and some 1,500 sympathizers were in attendance, the Attorney General telephoned King to ask his assurance that they would not leave the building until the force of U.S. Marshals and National Guard he sent had secured the area. King proceeded to berate Kennedy for "allowing the situation to continue". King later publicly thanked Robert Kennedy for his commanding of the force dispatched to break up an attack that might otherwise have ended King's life.
Kennedy then negotiated the safe passage of the Freedom Riders from the First Baptist Church to Jackson Mississippi, where they were arrested. He offered to bail the Freedom Riders out of jail, but they refused. This upset Kennedy, who went so far as to call any bandwagoners of the original freedom rides "honkers".
Kennedy's attempts to end the Freedom Rides early were in many ways tied to an upcoming summit with Khrushchev and De Gaulle, believing the continued international publicity of race riots would tarnish the President heading into international negotiations. This reluctance to protect and advance the Freedom Rides alienated many of the Civil Rights leaders at the time who perceived him as intolerant and narrow minded. In an attempt to better understand and improve race relations, Robert Kennedy in May, 1963, held a private meeting in New York City with a black delegation coordinated by prominent author James Baldwin (see Baldwin–Kennedy meeting).
In September 1962, he sent U.S. Marshals to Oxford, Mississippi, to enforce a federal court order allowing the admittance of the first African American student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. Kennedy had hoped that legal means, along with the escort of U.S. Marshals, would be enough to force Governor Ross Barnett to allow the school admission. He also was very concerned there might be a "mini-civil war" between the U.S. Army troops and armed protesters. President John F. Kennedy reluctantly sent federal troops after the situation on campus turned violent.
Ensuing riots during the period of Meredith's admittance resulted in hundreds of injuries and two deaths. Yet Kennedy remained adamant concerning the rights of black students to enjoy the benefits of all levels of the educational system. The Office of Civil Rights also hired its first African-American lawyer and began to work cautiously with leaders of the civil rights movement. Robert Kennedy saw voting as the key to racial justice, and collaborated with presidents Kennedy and Johnson to create the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which helped bring an end to Jim Crow laws.
As U.S. senator and presidential candidate
He was to maintain his commitment to racial equality into his own presidential campaign, extending his firm sense of social justice to all areas of national life and into matters of foreign and economic policy. During a campaign speech at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana on April 4, 1968, Kennedy questioned the student body on what kind of life America wished for herself; whether privileged Americans had earned the great luxury they enjoyed and whether such Americans had an obligation to those, in U.S. society and across the world, who had so little by comparison. It has been argued that although this speech has been largely overlooked and ignored, because of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it was one of most powerful and heartfelt speeches Kennedy delivered.
After the assassination of his brother, Robert Kennedy undertook a 1966 tour of South Africa in which he championed the cause of the anti-apartheid movement. The tour was greeted with international praise at a time when few politicians dared to entangle themselves in the politics of South Africa. Kennedy spoke out against the oppression of the native population and was welcomed by the black population as though a visiting head of state. In an interview with Look magazine he had this to say:
At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. 'But suppose God is black', I replied. 'What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?' There was no answer. Only silence.
In South Africa, a group of foreign press representatives chartered an aircraft, after the National Union of South African Students failed to make sufficient travel arrangements. Kennedy not only accommodated a suspected Special Branch policeman on board, but took with good grace the discovery that the aircraft had once belonged to Fidel Castro.
Kennedy also used the power of federal agencies to influence U.S. Steel not to institute a price increase. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had set prices of steel "by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police." Yale law professor Charles Reich wrote in The New Republic that the Justice Department had violated civil liberties by calling a federal grand jury to indict U.S. Steel so quickly, then disbanding it after the price increase did not occur.
Death penalty issues
During the John F. Kennedy administration, the federal government carried out its last pre-Furman federal execution (Victor Feguer in Iowa, 1963) and Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, represented the Government in this case.
In 1968, Kennedy expressed his strong willingness to support a bill then under consideration for the abolition of the death penalty.
As his brother's confidant, Robert Kennedy oversaw the CIA's anti-Castro activities after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. He also helped develop the strategy to blockade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis instead of initiating a military strike that might have led to nuclear war. Kennedy had initially been among the more hawkish elements of the administration on matters concerning Cuban insurrectionary aid. His initial strong support for covert actions in Cuba soon changed to a position of removal from further involvement once he became aware of the CIA's tendency to draw out initiatives and provide itself with almost unchecked authority in matters of foreign covert operations.
Allegations that the Kennedys knew of plans by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro, or approved of such plans, have been debated by historians over the years. John F. Kennedy's friend and associate, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., for example, expressed the opinion that operatives linked to the CIA were among the most reckless individuals to have operated during the period—providing themselves with unscrutinized freedoms to threaten the lives of Castro and other members of the Cuban revolutionary government regardless of the legislative apparatus in Washington—freedoms that, unbeknownst to those at the White House attempting to prevent a nuclear war, placed the entire U.S.–Soviet relationship in perilous danger.
The "Family Jewels" documents, declassified by the CIA in 2007, suggest that before the Bay of Pigs invasion Attorney General Kennedy personally authorized one such assassination attempt. However, ample evidence exists disputing that fact, specifically that Robert Kennedy was only informed of an earlier plot involving CIA's use of Mafia bosses Santo Trafficante, Jr. and John Roselli during a briefing on May 7, 1962, and in fact directed the CIA to halt any existing efforts directed at Castro's assassination. Concurrently, Kennedy served as his brother's personal representative in Operation Mongoose, the post-Bay of Pigs covert operations program established in November 1961 by President Kennedy. Mongoose was meant to incite a revolution within Cuba that would result in the downfall of Castro, not Castro's assassination.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy proved himself to be a gifted politician, with an ability to obtain compromises tempering aggressive positions of key figures in the hawk camp. The trust the President placed in him on matters of negotiation was such that Robert Kennedy's role in the crisis is today seen as having been of vital importance in securing a blockade, which averted a full military engagement between the United States and Soviet Russia. His clandestine meetings with members of the Soviet government continued to provide a key link to Nikita Khrushchev during even the darkest moments of the Crisis, in which the threat of nuclear strikes was considered a very present reality.
On the last night of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy was so grateful for his brother's work in averting nuclear war that he summed it up by saying, "Thank God for Bobby".
Assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy
The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was a brutal shock to the world, the nation, and the rest of the Kennedy family. Robert Kennedy was absolutely devastated, and was described by many as being a completely different man after his brother's death. Kennedy was at home, eating with aides from the Justice Department when he was called by J. Edgar Hoover, who informed him that his brother had been shot. Before RFK could ask any questions, Hoover put the phone down. There was no element of empathy. RFK later said Hoover had enjoyed telling him. Kennedy afterward tried contacting officials from Texas, hoping they would have more knowledge about events in the state, around that time receiving another call from Tazewell Shepard, a naval aide of President Kennedy. Shepard broke the news to Kennedy that his brother was deceased.
Shortly after being contacted by Hoover, Kennedy called McGeorge Bundy, who was presently at the White House, instructing him to change the locks on President Kennedy's files in the event that Vice President Johnson rummage through them. He ordered the Secret Service to dismantle the Oval Office and cabinet room's secret taping systems. Kennedy scheduled a meeting with CIA director John McCone and asked him if the CIA had any involvement in his brother's death. McCone denied this, Kennedy later telling investigator Walter Sheridan that he asked the director "in a way that he couldn't lie to me, and they [the CIA] hadn't". Kennedy received a phone call from Vice President Johnson while the vice president boarded Air Force One. The two concluded that the best course of action would be for Johnson to take the oath of office before returning to Washington.
In his 1971 book We Band of Brothers, aide Edwin O. Guthman recounted Kennedy admitting to him an hour after receiving word of his brother's death that he thought he would be the one "they would get" as opposed to his brother. In the days following the assassination, Kennedy wrote letters to his two eldest children, Kathleen and Joseph, saying that as the oldest Kennedy family members of their generation, they had a special responsibility to remember what their uncle had started and to love and serve their country. Kennedy was originally opposed to his brother's casket being closed as he wanted President Kennedy's funeral to keep with tradition, but he changed his mind after seeing the cosmetic, waxen remains.
Kennedy was asked by Democratic Party leaders to introduce a film about his late brother Jack at the 1964 party convention. When he was introduced, the crowd—including party bosses, elected officials and delegates—applauded thunderously and tearfully for a full 22 minutes before they would let him speak. He was close to breaking down before he spoke about his brother's vision for both the party and the nation, and recited a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (3.2) that President Kennedy's wife Jacqueline had given him:
When [he] shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
The ten-month investigation by the Warren Commission of 1963–1964 concluded that President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and that Oswald had acted alone. On September 27, 1964, Robert Kennedy issued a statement through his New York campaign office: “As I said in Poland last summer, I am convinced Oswald was solely responsible for what happened and that he did not have any outside help or assistance. He was a malcontent who could not get along here or in the Soviet Union.” He added: "I have not read the report, nor do I intend to. But I have been briefed on it and I am completely satisfied that the Commission investigated every lead and examined every piece of evidence. The Commission's inquiry was thorough and conscientious." After a meeting with Kennedy in 1966, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote: "It is evident that he believes that [the Warren Commission's report] was a poor job and will not endorse it, but that he is unwilling to criticize it and thereby reopen the whole tragic business." Jerry Bruno, an "advance man" for JFK who also worked on RFK's 1968 Presidential campaign, would later state in 1993: "I talked to Robert Kennedy many times about the Warren Commission, and he never doubted their result." In a 2013 interview with CBS journalist Charlie Rose, son Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told CBS that his father was "fairly convinced" that others besides Oswald were involved in his brother's assassination and that he privately believed the Commission's report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."
Vice presidential candidate
In the wake of the assassination of his brother President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson's ascension to the presidency and the office of Vice President now vacant, Robert F. Kennedy was viewed favorably as a potential candidate for the position in the 1964 presidential election. Several Kennedy partisans called for Kennedy to be drafted in tribute of his brother, national polling showing that 3 in 4 Democrats were in favor of Kennedy as Johnson's running mate. Democratic organizers were supportive of Kennedy being a vice-presidential write-in candidate in the New Hampshire primary, 25,000 Democrats writing in Kennedy's name in March 1964, only fewer than the amount of Democrats who wrote in Johnson's name as their pick for president by 3,700.
Despite the fanfare within the Democratic Party, President Johnson had no inclination of having Kennedy on his ticket. The two men intensely disliked one another, feelings often described as “mutual contempt” that went back to their first meeting in 1953, and had intensified during John Kennedy’s presidency. Johnson instead chose Hubert Humphrey to be his running mate.
During a post-presidency interview with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Johnson claimed that Kennedy "acted like he was the custodian of the Kennedy dream" despite Johnson being seen as this once his brother was assassinated, arguing that he had "waited" his turn and Kennedy should have done the same. Johnson recalled a "tidal wave of letters and memos about how great a Vice President Bobby would be" being swept upon him, but knowing that he could not "let it happen" as he viewed the possibility of having Kennedy on the ticket as making it to where he would never know if he could be elected "on my own".
In July 1964, President Johnson issued an official statement ruling out all of his current cabinet members as potential running mates, judging them to be "so valuable were they in their current posts." In response to the statement, angry letters poured in directed towards both Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, expressing disappointment with Kennedy being dropped from the field of potential running mates. Johnson worried that delegates at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City would draft Kennedy onto the ticket, which led to his ordering the FBI to monitor both Kennedy's contacts and actions there and make sure that Kennedy would not speak until after Hubert Humphrey was confirmed as his running mate.
Senator from New York
Nine months after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Robert Kennedy left the Cabinet to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, representing New York. Kennedy announced his candidacy on August 22, 1964, two days before that year's Democratic National Convention. Kennedy had considered the possibility of running since early spring, also giving consideration to leaving politics altogether after the plane crash and injury of his brother Ted in June, two months prior to his announcement. Positive reception in Europe convinced Kennedy to remain. Despite their notoriously difficult relationship, President Johnson gave considerable support to Kennedy's campaign. His opponent in the 1964 race was Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating, who attempted to portray Kennedy as an arrogant carpetbagger. Kennedy emerged victorious in the November election, helped in part by Johnson's huge victory margin in New York.
Kennedy drew attention early on due to being the brother of President Kennedy as well as his close aide, which set him apart from other senators. He drew more than fifty senators as spectators when he delivered a speech in June 1965 in the Senate on nuclear proliferation.
In 1965, Kennedy became the first person to summit Mount Kennedy. At the time it was the highest mountain in Canada that had not yet been climbed. It was named in honor of President Kennedy after his assassination.
In June 1966, Robert F. Kennedy visited apartheid-era South Africa accompanied by his wife, Ethel, and a small number of aides. At the University of Cape Town he delivered the Annual Day of Affirmation speech. A quote from this address appears on his memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. ("Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope")
During his years as a senator, Kennedy also helped to start a successful redevelopment project in poverty-stricken Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in New York City, visited the Mississippi Delta as a member of the Senate committee reviewing the effectiveness of 'War on Poverty' programs and, reversing his prior stance, called for a halt in further escalation of the Vietnam War.
As Senator, Kennedy endeared himself to African Americans, and other minorities such as Native Americans and immigrant groups. He spoke forcefully in favor of what he called the "disaffected", the impoverished, and "the excluded", thereby aligning himself with leaders of the civil rights struggle and social justice campaigners, leading the Democratic party in a pursuit of a more aggressive agenda to eliminate perceived discrimination on all levels. Kennedy supported desegregation busing, integration of all public facilities, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and anti-poverty social programs to increase education, offer opportunities for employment, and provide health care for African Americans.
The administration of President Kennedy had backed U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world in the frame of the Cold War. While Robert Kennedy vigorously supported President Kennedy's earlier efforts, like his brother he never publicly advocated commitment of ground troops. Senator Kennedy had cautioned President Johnson against commitment of U.S. ground troops as early as 1965, but Lyndon Johnson chose to commit ground troops on recommendation of the rest of President Kennedy's still intact staff of advisers. Robert Kennedy did not strongly advocate withdrawal from Vietnam until 1967, within a week of Martin Luther King, Jr. taking the same public stand. Consistent with President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, Robert Kennedy placed increasing emphasis on human rights as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.
In 1968, President Johnson began to run for reelection. In January 1968, faced with what was widely considered an unrealistic race against an incumbent President, Senator Kennedy stated he would not seek the presidency. After the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, in early February 1968, Kennedy received a letter from writer Pete Hamill, that said that poor people kept pictures of President Kennedy on their walls and that Robert Kennedy had an "obligation of staying true to whatever it was that put those pictures on those walls".
Kennedy traveled to Delano, California, to meet with civil rights activist César Chávez who was on a twenty-five-day hunger strike showing his commitment to nonviolence. It was at his visit in California where Kennedy decided he would challenge Johnson for the presidency, telling his former DOJ press secretary Edwin Guthman, that his first step was to get little-known Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to withdraw from the presidential race.
The weekend before the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy announced to several aides that he would attempt to persuade McCarthy to concede from the race to avoid splitting the antiwar vote, but Senator George McGovern urged Kennedy to wait until after the primary to announce his candidacy. Johnson won a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968, against McCarthy, which dramatically boosted McCarthy's standing in the race.
After much speculation and reports leaking out about his plans, and seeing in McCarthy's success that Johnson's hold on the job was not as strong as originally thought, Kennedy declared his candidacy on March 16, 1968, in the Caucus Room of the old Senate office building—the same room where his brother declared his own candidacy eight years earlier. He stated, "I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I'm obliged to do all I can."
McCarthy supporters angrily denounced Kennedy as an opportunist, and thus the anti-war movement was split between McCarthy and Kennedy. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson stunned the nation by dropping out of the race. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a champion of labor unions and civil rights, entered the race with the support of the party "establishment", including most members of Congress, mayors, governors and labor unions. He entered the race too late to enter any primaries, but had the support of the president and many Democratic insiders. Robert Kennedy, like his brother before him, planned to win the nomination through popular support in the primaries.
Kennedy stood on a platform of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power and social change. A crucial element to his campaign was an engagement with the young, whom he identified as being the future of a reinvigorated American society based on partnership and equality. Kennedy's policy objectives did not sit well with the business world, in which he was viewed as something of a fiscal liability, opposed as they were to the tax increases necessary to fund social programs. At one of his university speeches (Indiana University Medical School) he was asked, "Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you're proposing?" Kennedy replied to the medical students, about to enter lucrative careers, "From you."
It was this intense and frank mode of dialogue with which Kennedy was to continue to engage those whom he viewed as not being traditional allies of Democratic ideals or initiatives. In a speech at the University of Alabama, he argued, "I believe that any who seek high office this year must go before all Americans: not just those who agree with them, but also those who disagree; recognizing that it is not just our supporters, not just those who vote for us, but all Americans, who we must lead in the difficult years ahead." He aroused rabid animosity in some quarters, with J. Edgar Hoover's Deputy Clyde Tolson reported as saying, "I hope that someone shoots and kills the son of a bitch."
It has been widely commented that Robert Kennedy's campaign for the American presidency outstripped, in its vision of social welfare that of President Kennedy; Robert Kennedy's bid for the presidency saw not only a continuation of the programs he and his brother had undertaken during the President's term in office, but also an extension of these programs through what Robert Kennedy viewed as an honest questioning of the historic progress that had been made by President Johnson.
Kennedy openly challenged young people who supported the war while benefiting from draft deferments, visited numerous small towns, and made himself available to the masses by participating in long motorcades and street-corner stump speeches (often in troubled inner-cities). Kennedy made urban poverty a chief concern of his campaign, which in part led to enormous crowds that would attend his events in poor urban areas or rural parts of Appalachia.
On April 4, 1968, Kennedy learned of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and gave a heartfelt impromptu speech in Indianapolis's inner city, in which Kennedy called for a reconciliation between the races. Riots broke out in 60 cities in the wake of King's death, but not in Indianapolis, a fact many attribute to the effect of this speech. Kennedy attended King's funeral, being the "only white politician to hear only cheers and applause."
Kennedy finally won the Indiana Democratic primary on May 7 and the Nebraska primary on May 14, but lost the Oregon primary on May 28. If he could defeat McCarthy in the California primary, the leadership of the campaign thought, he would knock McCarthy out of the race and set up a one-on-one against Hubert Humphrey (whom he bested in the primary held on the same day as the California primary in Humphrey's birth state, South Dakota) at the Chicago national convention in August.
Kennedy scored a major victory in winning the California primary. He addressed his supporters shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, in a ballroom at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Leaving the ballroom, he went through the hotel kitchen after being told it was a shortcut, despite being advised to avoid the kitchen by his bodyguard, FBI agent Bill Barry. In a crowded kitchen passageway, Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, opened fire with a .22-caliber revolver. Kennedy was hit three times and five other people also were wounded.
George Plimpton, former decathlete Rafer Johnson, and former professional football player Rosey Grier are credited with wrestling Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after Sirhan shot the Senator. Kennedy asked Romero, "Is everybody OK?" and Romero responded, "Yes, everybody's OK." Kennedy then turned away from Romero and said, "Everything's going to be OK." After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted Kennedy onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, "Don't lift me..." which were to become his last words. He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. Kennedy was first rushed to Los Angeles's Central Receiving Hospital and then to the city's Good Samaritan Hospital where he died early the next morning. Sirhan said that he felt betrayed by Kennedy's support for Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War, which had begun exactly one year before the assassination.
Kennedy's body was returned to New York City, where it lay in repose at Saint Patrick's Cathedral from approximately 10:00 p.m. until 10:00 a.m. on June 8. A high requiem mass attended by members of the extended Kennedy family, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson, and members of the Johnson Cabinet was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral at 10:00 a.m. on June 8. Robert Kennedy's younger brother Ted said the following:
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'
The requiem mass concluded with the hymn "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", sung by Andy Williams. Immediately following the mass, Kennedy's body was transported by a special private train to Washington, D.C. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks and stations along the route, paying their respects as the train passed. The train departed New York at 12:30 pm. The normally four hour trip took more than eight because of the thick crowds lining the tracks on the 225 miles (362 km) journey.
When the train arrived at Elizabeth, New Jersey, an eastbound train on a parallel track to the funeral train hit and killed two spectators after they were unable to get off the track in time even though the eastbound train's engineer had slowed to 30 mph for the normally 55 mph curve and had blown his horn continuously and rang his bell through the curve. Scheduled to arrive at about 4:30 pm, sticking brakes on the casket-bearing car also contributed to delays, and the train arrived at 9:10 p.m. on June 8.
Robert Kennedy was buried near his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (just outside Washington, D.C.). Robert Kennedy had always maintained that he wished to be buried in Massachusetts, but his family believed he should be interred in Arlington next to his brother. The Navy Band played The Navy Hymn. The procession passed the New Senate Office Building (where Kennedy had his offices), and then proceeded to the Lincoln Memorial where it paused. The Marine Corps Band played The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The funeral motorcade arrived at the cemetery at 10:24 pm. As it entered the cemetery, people lining the roadway spontaneously lit candles to guide the motorcade to the burial site.
The 15-minute ceremony began at 10:30 p.m. Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, officiated at the graveside service in lieu of Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, who fell ill during the trip. Also officiating was Archbishop of New York Terence Cooke. John Glenn presented the folded flag on behalf of the United States to Senator Ted Kennedy, who passed it to Kennedy's eldest son Joe, who passed it to Ethel Kennedy.
Arlington National Cemetery officials say that Robert Kennedy's burial was the only night burial to have taken place at the cemetery. However, the burial of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the infant son of President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, who died two days after birth in August 1963, and the couple's stillborn daughter Arabella also occurred at night. The two children were buried next to their father on December 5, 1963.
On June 9, President Lyndon B. Johnson assigned security staff to all U.S. presidential candidates and declared an official national day of mourning. After the assassination, the mandate of the U.S. Secret Service was altered by Congress to include Secret Service protection of U.S. presidential candidates.
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On June 17, 1950, he married socialite Ethel Skakel, the third daughter of businessman George and Ann Skakel (née Brannack) at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. The couple had eleven children:
- Kathleen (born July 4th, 1951), has four daughters
- Joseph (born September 24th, 1952), has two sons
- Robert Jr. (born January 17th, 1954), has six children
- David (June 15th, 1955 – April 25th, 1984) (aged 28), has never married or had children
- Courtney (born September 9th, 1956), has one daughter
- Michael (February 27th, 1958 – December 31st, 1997) (aged 39), has three children
- Kerry (born September 8th, 1959), has three daughters
- Christopher (born July 4th, 1963), has four children
- Max (born January 11th, 1965), has three children
- Douglas (born March 24th, 1967), has five children
- Rory (born December 12th, 1968), has three children
Kennedy owned a home at the well-known Kennedy Compound on Cape Cod in Hyannis Port, but spent most of his time at his estate in McLean, Virginia, known as Hickory Hill, located west of Washington, D.C. His widow Ethel and their children continued to live at Hickory Hill after his death. She now lives full-time at the Hyannis Port home.
Attitudes and approach
He was the gentlest and shyest of the family as well as the least articulate orally. By the time Kennedy was a young boy, his grandmother Josie Fitzgerald worried he would become a "sissy"; his mother had a similar concern. Rose Kennedy expressed a similar concern as he was the "smallest and thinnest", but soon after the family discovered "there was no fear of that." Lem Billings met Kennedy when he was 8 and would later reflect that he loved Kennedy, adding that Kennedy "was the nicest little boy I ever met." Billings also said he was barely noticed "in the early days, but that's because he didn't bother anybody." Luella Hennessey, who became the nurse for the Kennedy children when Robert was 12, called him "the most thoughtful and considerate" of his siblings.
Kennedy was teased by his siblings. In the Kennedy family it was a norm for humor to be displayed in that fashion. Kennedy would turn jokes on himself or remain silent. Despite his gentle demeanor, Kennedy could be outspoken, once engaging a priest in a public argument that horrified his mother, who later conceded that he had been correct all along. Even when arguing for a noble cause, his comments could have "a cutting quality".
Despite the fact that his father's most ambitious dreams centered around his older brothers, Kennedy maintained the code of personal loyalty that seemed to infuse the life of the Kennedy family. His competitiveness was admired by his father and elder brothers, while his loyalty bound them more affectionately close. A rather timid child, Kennedy was often the target of his father's dominating temperament. Working on the campaigns of older brother Jack, Kennedy was more involved, passionate and tenacious than the candidate himself, obsessed with detail, fighting out every battle and taking workers to task. He had, all his life, been closer to Jack than the other members of the Kennedy family.
Kennedy's opponents on Capitol Hill maintained that his collegiate magnanimity was sometimes hindered by a tenacious and somewhat impatient manner. His professional life was dominated by the selfsame attitudes that governed his family life—a certainty that good humor and leisure must be balanced by service and accomplishment. Schlesinger comments that Kennedy could be both the most ruthlessly diligent and yet generously adaptable of politicians—at once both temperamental and yet forgiving. In this, Kennedy was very much his father's son; lacking truly lasting emotional independence and yet possessing a great desire to contribute. He lacked the innate self-confidence of his contemporaries and yet found a greater self-assurance in the experience of married life, an experience that he stated had given him a base of self-belief from which to continue his efforts in the public arena.
Upon hearing yet again the assertion that he was "ruthless", Kennedy once joked to a reporter, "If I find out who has called me ruthless I will destroy him." And yet he also openly confessed to possessing a bad temper that required self-control: "My biggest problem as counsel, is to keep my temper. I think we all feel that when a witness comes before the United States Senate he has an obligation to speak frankly and tell the truth. To see people sit in front of us and lie and evade makes me boil inside. But you can't lose your temper—if you do, the witness has gotten the best of you."
Religious faith and Greek philosophy
Central to Kennedy's politics and personal attitude to life and its purpose was his Catholicism, which he inherited from his family. He was easily the most religious of his brothers. Whereas Jack maintained an aloof sense of his faith, Kennedy approached his duties with a Catholic worldview. Throughout his life, Kennedy made reference to his faith, how it informed every area of his life, and how it gave him the strength to re-enter politics following the assassination of his elder brother. His was not an unresponsive and staid faith, but the faith of a Catholic Radical—perhaps the first successful Catholic Radical in American political history.
In the last years of his life, he also found great solace in the metaphysical poets of ancient Greece, especially the writings of Aeschylus. In his Indianapolis speech on April 4, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby slightly misquoted these lines from Aeschylus:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
1964 New York United States Senatorial Election
|Robert F. Kennedy (D) 53.5%|
|Kenneth Keating (R) (inc.) 45.4%|
D.C. Stadium in Washington, D.C. was renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in 1969. In 1978, the United States Congress posthumously awarded Kennedy its Gold Medal of Honor. In 1998, the United States Mint released a special dollar coin that featured Kennedy on the obverse and the emblems of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Senate on the reverse.
In Washington, D.C. on November 20, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft dedicated the Department of Justice headquarters building as the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, honoring Robert F. Kennedy on what would have been his 76th birthday. They both spoke during the ceremony, as did Kennedy's eldest son, Joseph.
Numerous roads, public schools and other facilities across the United States were named in memory of Robert F. Kennedy in the months and years after his death. The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial organization was founded in 1968, with an international award program to recognize human rights activists. It is now known as the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
In a further effort to not just remember the late Senator, but continue his work helping disadvantaged, a small group of private citizens launched the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps in 1969, which today helps more than 800 abused and neglected children each year. A bust of Kennedy resides in the library of the University of Virginia School of Law, from where he obtained his law degree.
On June 4, 2008, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy, the New York State Assembly voted to rename the Triborough Bridge in New York City the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge, the second bridge in New York City named in honor of the former New York Senator, the RFK Draw Bridge being the first. New York State Governor David Paterson signed the legislation into law on Friday, August 8, 2008.
Personal items and documents from Kennedy's office in the Justice Department Building are displayed in a permanent exhibit, dedicated to him in the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. Kennedy's papers from his years as attorney general, senator, peace and civil rights activist and presidential candidate as well as personal correspondence are also housed in the library.
Kennedy and King
Several public institutions jointly honor Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
- In 1969, the former Woodrow Wilson Junior College, a two-year institution and a constituent campus of the City Colleges of Chicago, was renamed Kennedy–King College.
- In 1994, the City of Indianapolis erected the Landmark for Peace Memorial in Kennedy's honor near the space made famous by his oration from the back of a pickup truck the night King died. The monument in Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park depicts a sculpture of Kennedy reaching out from a large metal slab to a sculpture of King, who is part of a similar slab. This is meant to symbolize their attempts in life to bridge the gaps between the races—an attempt that united them even in death. A state historical marker has also been placed at the site. A nephew of King and Indiana U.S. Congresswoman Julia Carson presided over the event; both made speeches from the back of a pickup truck in similar fashion to Kennedy's speech.
Kennedy wrote extensively on politics and current events:
- The Enemy Within: The McClellan Committee's Crusade Against Jimmy Hoffa and Corrupt Labor Unions, (1960)
- Just Friends and Brave Enemies, (1962)
- The Pursuit Of Justice, (1964)
- To Seek a Newer World, essays, (1967)
- Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, published posthumously, (1969)
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The 2012 documentary film Ethel about the life of Ethel Kennedy recounts many of the major personal and political events of Robert Kennedy's life, through interviews with family members including Ethel herself, and news footage.
The 2010 film RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope is a documentary that follows Kennedy's five-day visit to South Africa in June 1966, during which he made his famous Ripple of Hope speech at the University of Cape Town.
The 2008 film A Ripple of Hope is a documentary that retells Kennedy's call for peace during a campaign stop in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The 2006 film Bobby is the story of multiple people's lives leading up to Kennedy's assassination. The film employs stock footage from Kennedy's presidential campaign, and he is briefly portrayed by Dave Fraunces.
In 1967, Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko met with Kennedy and in 1968 wrote a poem about him, "Я пристрелен эпохой" ("I was shot by an epoch").
The Rolling Stones began recording the song Sympathy for the Devil on June 4, 1968, continuing into the next day, with overdubs done on the 8th, 9th and 10th. The original lyrics had the line "I shouted out 'Who killed Kennedy?'", and this got changed to "I shouted out 'Who killed the Kennedys?'"
The British playwright Roy Smiles' play about Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign: The Last Pilgrim was staged in London in 2010. It was shortlisted for Best Play at the Off West End Awards in the UK in 2011.
Documentary filmmaker DA Pennebaker made a number of films featuring Robert Kennedy and his family. His short film Jingle Bells (1964) follows Kennedy and his children as they celebrate Christmas in New York City with local school children and Sammy Davis, Jr. His later film Hickory Hill documents the 1968 Annual Spring Pet Show at Kennedy's Virginia estate, Hickory Hill.
- Robert F. Kennedy assassination
- List of assassinated American politicians
- List of peace activists
- Kennedy family tree
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- Bryant, Nick (Autumn 2006). "Black Man Who Was Crazy Enough to Apply to Ole Miss". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (53): 71.
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- Kennedy, Robert F. (August 23, 1966). "Suppose god is Black". Look. Archived from the original on October 23, 2004.
- "Flying with Bobby K", Empire volume 1, issue 3.
- "Smiting the Foe". TIME. April 20, 1962.
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- "History: Historical Federal Executions". Retrieved August 3, 2013.
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- January 4, 1975, memorandum of conversation between President Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger, made available by the National Security Archive, June 2007
- CIA's 'family jewels' on show, The Daily Telegraph, June 23, 2007
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- Clarity Through Complexity, October 2000, FindArticles.com, Retrieved June 10, 2007
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- "Robert F. Kennedy saw conspiracy in JFK’s assassination". The Boston Globe. November 24, 2013.
- Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor, ed. Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 137–139. ISBN 978-0-15-100356-3.
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- See e.g. Statement of Mayor Bart Peterson April 4, 2006 press release.[dead link]
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- "Bobby's Last, Longest Day". Newsweek: 29–30. 1968-06-17.
- "The busboy who cradled a dying RFK has finally stepped out of the past".
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- "Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror". boston.com. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
- http://www.crimemagazine.com/part-ii-why-sirhan-sirhan-assassinated-robert-kennedy | Part II: Why Sirhan Sirhan Assassinated Robert Kennedy by Mel Ayton | Crimemagazine.com
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- Shipler, David K. "Family Serves in Funeral Mass." New York Times. June 9, 1968; Kilpatrick, Carroll. "Johnsons Attend Kennedy Services." Washington Post. June 9, 1968.
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- Schlesinger, p. 191 Cf. Murray Kempton, The Progressive, September 1960.
- RFK's version compared to 2 by Edith Hamilton
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- RFK Memorial
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- "Assassination: The Night Bobby Kennedy was Shot". The Independent (London). January 21, 2007. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
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- "Ripple of Hope". Retrieved May 4, 2012.
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- Dooley, Brian (1996). Robert Kennedy: The Final Years. New York: St. Martin's. ISBN 0-312-16130-1.
- Goldfarb, Ronald (1995). Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes: Robert F. Kennedy's War against Organized Crime. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-43565-4.
- Grubin, David, director and producer, RFK. Video. (DVD, VHS). 2hr. WGBH Educ. Found. and David Grubin Productions, 2004. Distrib. by PBS Video
- Hilty, James M. Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (1997), vol. 1 to 1963. Temple U. Press., 1997.
- Martin, Zachary J. The Mindless Menace of Violence: Robert F. Kennedy's Vision and the Fierce Urgency of Now. Lanham, Md.: Hamilton Books, 2009.
- Murphy, John M. (1990). "'A Time of Shame and Sorrow': Robert F. Kennedy and the American Jeremiad". Quarterly Journal of Speech 76 (4): 401–414. doi:10.1080/00335639009383933. ISSN 0033-5630. RFK's speech after the death of Martin Luther King in 1968.
- Navasky, Victor S. Kennedy Justice (1972). Argues the policies of RFK's Justice Department show the conservatism of justice, the limits of charisma, the inherent tendency in a legal system to support the status quo, and the counterproductive results of many of Kennedy's endeavors in the field of civil rights and crime control.
- Newfield, Jack (2003). RFK: A Memoir. Nation Books.
- Niven, David (2003). The Politics of Injustice: The Kennedys, the Freedom Rides, and the Electoral Consequences of a Moral Compromise. U. of Tennessee Press.
- Palermo, Joseph A. (2001). In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Columbia U. Press.
- Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. (1978). Robert Kennedy and His Times. National Book Award.
- Schlesinger, Arthur, M. Jr. (2002 re-print), Robert Kennedy And His Times, Mariner Books-Houghton Mifflin Co., ISBN 0-618-21928-5
- Schmitt, Edward R. (2010). President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty. UMass Press. ISBN 1-55849-730-7
- Shesol, Jeff (1997). Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade.
- Schmitt, Edward R. President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010) 324 pp. ISBN 978-1-55849-730-6
- Thomas, Evan (2002). Robert Kennedy: His Life.
- Zimmermann, Karl R. (1977). The Remarkable GG1.
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- Robert F. Kennedy at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Annotated Bibliography for Robert F. Kennedy from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
- Text, Audio, and Video of Robert Kennedy's Address at Ball State University
- American Experience: RFK, PBS
- Text, Audio, and Video of Robert Kennedy's Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr
- Text, Audio, and Video excerpt of Robert Kennedy's Address at Cape Town University
- Edward Kennedy eulogy to Robert Kennedy (text and audio)
- Robert F. Kennedy at the Internet Movie Database
- Robert F. Kennedy at Find a Grave
- My Father's Stand on Cuba Travel by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Washington Post, April 23, 2009
- Rare photos, videos, audio-clips and other RFK source materials from the U.S. National Archives.
- Radio airchecks/recordings of the shooting and death of Senator Kennedy including Mutual Radio's Andrew West's shooting coverage, continued live coverage from CBS Radio, announcements of RFK's death, CBS Radio's complete coverage of funeral mass St. Patrick's Cathedral, and CBS Radio coverage of the train arrival of RFK's body in Washington DC.
- KTTV assassination coverage at The Museum of Classic Chicago Television