Remembering Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, 50 years on

Fifty years. Hard to believe, but it’s fifty years since we baby boomers were convulsed by the assassination of an icon of our generation. BoomerCafé co-founder and publisher David Henderson remembers the day, and the year, and the changes they made on our nation, and on us.

As we pause and observe the 50 year milestone since the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, I ask myself … what was it about 1968 that changed so much in our young lives back then … and changed history ever since?

Perhaps we didn’t realize it at the time … I sure was too stunned and saddened by the events of that year to grasp what happened … but, looking back, it was a year of several seismic events that profoundly changed youthful hopes and dreams for the future.

Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly, himself a baby boomer, captured this famous image of Robert Kennedy arriving in Los Angeles during the Presidential campaign in 1968. Kennerly recalls, “Everybody could get close, everybody wanted to.”
(Photo used by personal permission of David Hume Kennerly. https://kennerly.com)

We had only begun to heal from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 … and, 1968 — that year of darkness — came along.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis on April 4, 1968 and our cities burned out of anger and tears and heartache. And, then came Bobby …

Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of John F. Kennedy, was himself campaigning in 1968. He had fought organized crime and worked for civil rights for African-Americans. He was an advocate of the poor and all minorities. In a broader sense, I believe Bobby is remembered for being blunt yet sincere, his skill at creating unity, and his authenticity when he spoke. People listened and trusted.

Robert Kennedy with wife Ethel greeting people in South Africa.

Robert Kennedy was father to ten children, and his wife, Ethel, was pregnant with their eleventh in June 1968.

To this day, I truly do not accept the circumstances of how Bobby Kennedy died. He had just won a major victory — the California Primary — and was addressing his supporters just after midnight on June 5, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. When he finished speaking, his advisors led him through the hotel kitchen, a shortcut to the press room, even though his bodyguard, a former FBI agent, warned it might not be safe.

Update: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. doesn’t believe Sirhan acted alone in killing his father, calls for reexaminating the evidence.

In the kitchen, a 24-year-old Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan pulled out a .22-caliber revolver and shot Senator Kennedy three times. Sirhan subsequently claimed he killed Kennedy because of his support for Israel. But … but … why that cruel twist of fate of a shortcut that unexpectedly took Bobby Kennedy through the kitchen rather than the hotel hallways. How would Sirhan have known?

A special Penn Central train carried Robert Kennedy’s coffin from New York to Washington for burial. Thousands of people lined the tracks.

At Bobby’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, his grieving brother Ted Kennedy said …

“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.”

After Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, 1968 went on … swaths of American cities remained in charred ruins, American involvement in Vietnam expanded and the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, the Democratic Party’s convention in Chicago turned into street riots while the GOP nominated Richard Nixon at their convention in Miami. The world and our country had changed. For members of the baby boomer generation, many of us were still reeling from the loss of what could have been had John, Martin, and Bobby lived to fulfill their dreams.

It’s been written that Robert Kennedy’s assassination was a blow to the optimism for a brighter future that his campaign had brought for many Americans who lived through the turbulent 1960s. For me, “they” had killed the third inspiration of my generation … John, Martin, and Bobby.

A musician named Dion wrote a song, a remembrance of 1968. It was called “Abraham, Martin, and John.” Abraham referred to slain President Lincoln.

There was this line I shall never forget …

“Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby,
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.”

 
[The editors wish to thank Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly for the use of his iconic image of Bobby Kennedy arriving in Los Angeles in 1968. We encourage readers to visit his website, https://kennerly.com.]

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3 Comments

  1. The murder of John and Robert Kennedy were sad and shocking days indeed. Just when things began to get better in the country, someone(s) decided on a different agenda. And look where we are today… 🙁

  2. The circumstances of both Kennedy brother’s assasinations warrants further investigation. Their well documented connection to Marilyn Monroe and others who were associated with known mob members will no doubt reveal critical information. Although the Kennedys were held in high esteem their personal lives and infidelity jeopardized their country! I’m anxious to see where the request to open another investigation by Robert Kennedy’s children will lead!

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