“A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.” – Robert F. Kennedy, 1966, on the Senate Floor.
I never get to this point in the calendar when I don’t recall how hope disappeared one night in 1968 in the U.S. I would argue that the country never recovered and the future was permanently altered for the worse at that point. I am talking about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
He never intended to run for President until after his brother was assassinated in 1963. It took him a couple of years to learn to cope with that death and he had to learn to campaign on his own. Up until that time he had always been the master behind the scenes. It was he that pushed for intervention on behalf of civil rights during his brother’s term and with Vietnam raging he soon became the hope for peace. Something else though, he also taught himself how the poor were having to live. If you think about that, it was remarkable.
He went to the poorest regions of the country and he interacted and eventually he became their champion talking about social issues that still have not been resolved like education, hunger – one in four U.S. kids goes to bed hungry each night – or social medicine for all. There was a political depth to his thinking that left all others in his wake. When he won the California primary in 1968 it was clear to most of the country that this was the guy who was going to be the next president. Moments later he lay dying on the hotel floor having been shot by a Palestinian. Recently, sound recordings from that moment have revealed there probably was a second person in the room as well that shot at him. The whole truth will never be known on this side of life.
What America got instead was Richard Nixon. Recently it has been discovered that Nixon actually sabotaged a peace agreement that had been agreed to between the U.S. and North Vietnam so that he could win the election. This made the war drag on for four more years. Then of course there was Watergate which uncovered the criminal enterprise the White House had become. All because Robert Kennedy was killed.
If you want to know how popular Kennedy was then I recommend you watch footage of the aftermath of his death. He was only a Senator so there was no State funeral per se. His body went by rail from the West Coast to New York. Along the way, in big cities and small towns alike and even on farms and in migrant camps, people stopped what they were doing and they lined the railroad tracks to bade the man his farewell. There were no signs or rallies. People just gathered alongside the tracks and paid their respects as the train rolled along.
When the casket was laid in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, there was initially only suppose to be a short viewing time before the funeral but so many people lined the streets for blocks that the church was forced to keep its doors open all-night to accommodate the crowds who filed through in quiet tears. It was as though they knew hope had fallen.
I don’t have many political heroes. I probably can count them on my fingers but Robert Kennedy tops that list. I have a huge picture of the photo above framed and always near my work station. It was a gift from friends long ago. It is a famous 1960 photo of the two brothers before Jack even won the Presidency. I think it says a lot.
I’ve stood on the spot where Kennedy lost his life and I’ve wondered like so many others as to ‘why’? Two books I would recommend are Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words which is nothing but a long written transcript of interview recordings he gave before he went back to public life after his brother’s death. It is a frank and one of the most revealing accounts of power behind the scenes you will ever encounter. Also, The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke of Kennedy’s 1968 Presidential run.
This was a favorite line of his that I will end with: “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.” – Aeschylus