“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. 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.”
“People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him.”
“I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.”
“Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”
—Robert F. Kennedy
Robert Francis Kennedy was born on this day in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1925. Today is the 87th anniversary of his birth.
He was the seventh of nine Kennedy children, the third son. The family split their time between New York and their summer home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Bobby attended public schools until 6th grade. He went to a series of private schools including a Benedictine boarding school for boys and Milton Academy.
Shortly before he turned 18 he enlisted in the US Naval Reserve. He participated in the V-12 Navy College Training Program at Harvard and Bates College from 1944 to 1946 and served on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr, a destroyer named after his brother, on it’s shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. He was honorably discharged later that year. He then went on to the University of Virginia Law School.
In 1952 he managed John F. Kennedy’s run for U.S. Senate. His brother won the Senate seat and Robert Kennedy served
briefly on the staff of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Disturbed by McCarthy’s controversial tactics, Kennedy resigned from the staff after six months. He later returned to the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations as chief counsel for the Democratic minority, in which capacity he wrote a report condemning McCarthy’s investigation of alleged Communists in the Army. [John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum]
Next he tackled corruption in trade unions as Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee. His book The Enemy Within details the corruption he confronted with the Teamsters and other unions.
In 1956 he was an aide to Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson lost, but the experience was good training. Bobby took the reigns again for his brother’s bid for the presidency against Richard Nixon in 1960. When John Kennedy won he made Bobby the Attorney General.
He fought organized crime and “became increasingly committed to helping African-Americans win the right to vote.” [Ibid] In a 1961 speech in Georgia he said:
“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 the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.” [Ibid]
He worked with the administration to create the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
He was also instrumental in foreign affairs including the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Robert Kennedy was devastated by the death of his brother and friend. He even felt guilt — had his aggressive pursuit against organized crime and obsession to “get” Castro some how brought this about? [I won’t even attempt to resolve the myriad of conspiracy theories here. Suffice it to say Bobby was not the same man after the death of his brother.]
He resigned from his post as Attorney General nine months after the assassination and began a run for U.S. Senate. He won the seat.
He climbed Mount Kennedy, a mountain that was named for his brother and the highest peak in Canada that had not be summited, in 1965.
In 1966 he went to South Africa to speak out against the Apartheid government. He dared to ask “Supposed God is black? 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?”
As Senator he also spoke out against the Vietnam War, continued to work for Civil Rights and the War on Poverty.
He sought to remedy the problems of poverty through legislation to encourage private industry to locate in poverty-stricken areas, thus creating jobs for the unemployed, and stressed the importance of work over welfare. [John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum]
On March 16, 1968 he declared his bid for the Presidency. His platform was based on racial and economic justice, he was also anti-war
…he challenged the complacent in American society and sought to bridge the great divides in American life – between the races, between the poor and the affluent, between young and old, between order and dissent. His 1968 campaign brought hope to an American people troubled by discontent and violence at home and war in Vietnam.[Ibid]
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968 Kennedy found out about it minutes before he was to give a speech in downtown Indianapolis. He could have gotten back in his limo and let some one else make the announcement to a crowd that was certain to be upset by the news, but he stepped in front of the inner city crowd and gave an impromptu speech calling for reconciliation between the races.
Many other American cities burned after King was killed. But there was no fire in Indianapolis, which heard the words of Robert Kennedy… a well-organized black community kept its calm. It’s hard to overlook the image of one single man, standing on a flatbed truck, who never looked down at the paper in his hand — only at the faces in the crowd. [NPR.org]
Kennedy also fell victim to an assassin’s bullet. He was fatally shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968. He had just won California’s Democratic Primary.
[One of my earliest real memories is watching the train that carried Robert Kennedy’s body to its Arlington National Cemetery. My parents had taken us all on a picnic at the the ball field near the train tracks. We weren’t the only family there, there were lots of kids playing and other families on blankets eating cold chicken and potato salad. Then a train rolled through and all the adults stood up and faced the tracks. We kids didn’t need to be hushed. My mother was silently crying. I took her hand and asked her what was going on. As the flag festooned final car passed she whispered “A great American is on that train.” And then it was over. We packed up the picnics. No one was hungry or wanted to play any more.]
[Do you have a Bobby Kennedy story? Share it with us please.]