Appreciating Bobby Kennedy's Stunning Transformation - HISTORY
An old tape recording of Martin Luther King Jr., played in public that sheds new light on the complicated relationship between two iconic Take the quiz! “His brother [Robert Kennedy], who at that time was his campaign. At one point, Whittaker, who by then was half carrying a couple of young Kennedy would quiz them about their experiences. Kennedy dutifully rehearsed his answer to the question of whether he had wiretapped Martin Luther King. Bobby Kennedy started out clueless on race, and yet when he died he was a civil rights hero. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't welcome, nor were the top people from the . He may have been clueless about race relations when he took over as Bobby was in Indiana for the first of the big primary tests in his.
It was Robert Kennedy who had helped spring King from jail in Georgia; saved his life or so he thought when King huddled in the basement as an angry mob besieged a Montgomery, Alabama, church; pleaded with him to halt the Freedom Rides; and, when King refused to drop two aides with past communist ties, directed that his telephone be tapped.
Theirs was an uneven relationship, and for King, a slightly degrading one: And while he hectored, lectured, criticized, and exasperated Robert Kennedy, he also helped educate him. But a little boy with a distended belly sitting on the dirt floor of a shack in the Mississippi delta may have done more to change Robert Kennedy than Martin Luther King ever did.
The ostensibly spiritual King approached Bobby Kennedy with a hardheadedness that the pragmatic Kennedy would have admired. As a United States senator, Kennedy no longer lorded over King and had fewer plums to dispense. He was freer to identify with King, or to distance himself from him, and did both. And King had fewer favors to ask.
So, over the last four years of their truncated lives, they barely saw each other — maybe only once: Inveterately social and intellectually adventurous, Kennedy probably invited more blacks to his home — the black essayist and novelist James Baldwin among them — than any white politician of his era, but Martin Luther King was never among them… And yet, their preoccupations and goals — ending the war in Vietnam; tackling racial discrimination in the United States, South Africa, and elsewhere; fighting poverty — increasingly overlapped… When, inKennedy visited Chief Albert Luthuli, the South African civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner living in internal exile, he is thought to have delivered a letter from King.
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After Kennedy toured the poverty-stricken Mississippi delta, King praised him. But guilt too, may have been a barrier… For his part, King never got in bed with politicians, even the most promising, and sympathetic: Representative John Lewis, who worked with them both… King would probably not have endorsed Kennedy in — he never endorsed anyone — but would have made it clear Kennedy was his choice.
In fact, as was often true when Kennedy asked such questions, he already had his answer. Standing on the back of a flatbed truck at 17th and Broadway, he spoke for seven minutes. He held some notes, but after glancing at them at the beginning, he never referred to them again. As moving as his speech that night in cold and drizzly Indianapolis had been, it elicited little commentary afterward: But to his disciples back at the Lorraine Motel that night, and throughout the black community, he had picked up his torch.
In him, everyone in that room at that grim moment seemed to agree, resided pretty much all of whatever hope remained. There was but one question about that torch: So, as I did with Malcolm, and Dr.
King, too, I found myself digging for more.
I was so transfixed by this man to the point that I found myself memorizing and quoting his words the way Bobby would memorize and quote one poet or philosopher or another. I found myself tracing his life steps—the good, the bad, the ugly, the genius, the many contradictions—so that I could learn something of myself as a human being, as a man, as someone who had also committed my life to serving and helping others.
I had to know Bobby, had to study him, had to know about his wife Ethel, their 11 children. I had to understand that John F. I found myself buying Bobby Kennedy posters and magazine covers in the late s and into the s and framing them for my apartment walls.
I found myself seeking out people who knew him, who had worked with him, or had worked on his presidential campaign. I found myself studying what happened to his children: I found myself using words that Bobby used, thinking ideas Bobby thought, of being a bridge-builder, as he attempted to be in the last four years of his life. Kennedy shaking hands with local residents as he visits damaged properties in Washington, D.
I found myself enthralled as Bobby came to oppose the very Vietnam War his brother helped to escalate—as he, Bobby, supported that escalation. And I found myself wondering if Bobby knew he too would have a short life, if he cared or not, if he were afraid or not, and if fear had something to do with him hesitating to declare himself a candidate for presidentknowing he might not make it to the White House.
And I felt, always, a heavy sadness about Bobby as I studied him closely in those final chapters of his journey. Perhaps this especially explains his embrace of black America, how our pain became his pain, how our struggle became his struggle.
Because aside from Native Americans no other people in this land have known the blues like us, have sung the blues like us, have been hated on like us. I saw in Bobby, this dead white man, the kind of true ally to black people, to people of color, to any disempowered group, who was so badly needed. Bobby knew that the casual racism of the average white American would dismiss the legitimate cries from people dark like me.
So as the true ally he became took up the mantle of leadership in its purest form: I think if there are two singular events that capture the essence of my feelings for Bobby Kennedy they are these: Mike would tell me often that he could never bring himself to work on another political campaign again—until I ran for Congress in Brooklyn in and Now that I think about it, I am sure some of the information I have received through the years about Bobby has undoubtedly come from Michael.
Like me, he sees in Bobby both human greatness and human frailties, and a man, a being, completely unafraid to show either by the end of his life.
A captivating and beautiful portrait of the woman who stood with and next to Bobby through it all, and who was there with him that sad June day in when he too was assassinated. It was Rory who made the film, who had gotten her mother to talk, on camera, in a way she had never done before.
I thanked Rory for doing it, for honoring her mother, for honoring her father.William Pepper on the Assassinations of MLK, RFK and JFK.
I do not remember her reaction completely, but I do remember the humility, and how much Rory looked like her father. The other scene that remains with me about Bobby took place at the Oakland Museum in the Bay Area of California just a couple of years back. I was rightfully intrigued too, as a lover of history, as someone who is always looking to learn new and different things about that entire decade. Among other things, it promised the right to vote to all citizens with a grade-school education, and eliminated legal discrimination in public accommodations such as hotels and restaurants.
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Kennedy himself had numerous affairs, of course. In the summer of the administration was worried about the upcoming March on Washington to highlight civil rights. Unable to stop the planning, the White House recruited white union and labor groups to participate, to counter criticism that whites were not interested in sweeping civil rights changes.
Afterwards the president met with civil rights leaders in the Oval Office, and among other things emphasized the difficulties he faced getting a civil rights bill through a Congress dominated by conservative Southern committee chairmen. JFK demurred when A.
What was needed, said JFK, was not such dramatic action but political leverage intended to win some Republican support for a bipartisan bill. In the end the bill did pass.