Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968), also referred to by his initials RFK, was an American politician, a Democratic senator from New York, and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism and member of the Kennedy family, he was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and acted as one of his advisors during his presidency. From 1961 to 1964, he was the U.S. Attorney General.
Following his brother John’s assassination on November 22, 1963, Kennedy continued to serve as Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson for nine months. In September 1964, Kennedy resigned to seek the U.S. Senate seat from New York, which he won in November. Within a few years, he publicly split with Johnson over the Vietnam War.
In March 1968, Kennedy began a campaign for the presidency and was a front-running candidate of the Democratic Party. In the California presidential primary on June 4, Kennedy defeated Eugene McCarthy, a U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Following a brief victory speech delivered just past midnight on June 5 at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan. Mortally wounded, he survived for nearly 26 hours, dying early in the morning of June 6.
Early life, education, and military service
In September 1927, the Kennedy family moved to Riverdale, New York, a neighborhood in the Bronx, then two years later, moved 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast to Bronxville, New York. Kennedy spent summers with his family at their home 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, repeating the third grade; then Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys in Riverdale, for sixth grade.
In March 1938, when he was 12, Kennedy sailed aboard the SS Manhattan with his mother and his four youngest siblings to England, where his father had begun serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Kennedy attended the private Gibbs School for Boys at 134 Sloane Street in London for seventh grade, returning to the U.S. just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
In September 1939, for eighth grade, Kennedy was sent 200 miles (320 km) away from home to St. Paul’s School, an elite private preparatory school for boys in Concord, New Hampshire. However, he did not like it and his mother thought it too Episcopalian. It was for these reasons that—after two months at St. Paul’s—Kennedy transferred to Portsmouth Priory School, a Benedictine boarding school for boys in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, for eighth through tenth grades. In September 1942, Kennedy transferred to Milton Academy, a third boarding school in Milton, Massachusetts, for eleventh and twelfth grades.
Six weeks before his eighteenth birthday, Kennedy enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as an apprentice seaman, 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). 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 starting on February 1, 1946, as an apprentice seaman on the ship’s shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. On May 30, 1946, he received his honorable discharge from the Navy.
In September 1946, Kennedy entered Harvard as a junior, having received credit for his two and a half years 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 the Harvard-Yale game wearing a cast. Kennedy graduated from Harvard with an A.B. in government in March 1948 and immediately sailed off on 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. 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. His prediction came to pass with the 1948 Arab-Israeli 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. Kennedy’s first child, Kathleen, was born on July 4, 1951, and Kennedy spent the summer studying for the Massachusetts bar exam.
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 John (then Massachusetts 11th district congressman) and his sister Patricia to Israel, India, Vietnam, and Japan. Because of their eight-year separation in age, the two brothers had previously seen little of each other. This 25,000-mile (40,000 km) trip was the first extended time they had spent together and served to deepen their relationship.
Early career until 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 brother John’s successful 1952 U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusetts.
In December 1952, at the behest of his father, he was appointed by Republican Senator Joe McCarthy as assistant counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He resigned in July 1953, but “retained a fondness for McCarthy.” 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. 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.
Kennedy worked as an aide to Adlai Stevenson during the 1956 presidential election to learn for a future national campaign by John. The candidate did not impress Kennedy, however, and 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. Kennedy left the Rackets Committee in late 1959 in order to run his brother John’s successful presidential campaign.
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.
Attorney General of the United States (1961–1964)
Kennedy speaking to a Civil Rights crowd in front of the Justice Department building on June 14, 1963.
John F. Kennedy’s choice of Robert Kennedy as Attorney General following his election victory in 1960 was controversial, with The New York Times and The New Republic calling him 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.” There was precedent, however, in an Attorney General being appointed because of his role as a close adviser to the President, and Kennedy had significant experience in handling organized crime. After performing well in the Senate hearing he easily won confirmation in January 1961. To compensate for his deficiencies Kennedy chose an “outstanding” group of deputy and assistant attorneys general, including Byron White and Nicholas Katzenbach.
Robert Kennedy’s 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 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.
President Kennedy 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.”
Yet Robert Kennedy believed strongly in the separation of powers and thus often chose not to comment on matters of policy not relating to his remit or to forward the enquiry of the President to an officer of the administration better suited to offer counsel.
As one of President Kennedy’s closest White House advisers, RFK 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, RFK 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 something of a cause célèbre during the period, with accusations of personal vendetta being exchanged between Kennedy and Hoffa. Hoffa was eventually to face open, televised hearings before Kennedy, as Attorney General, which became iconic moments in Kennedy’s political career and earned him both praise and criticism from the press. When a key witness surfaced, Edward Grady Partin of Baton Rouge, Hoffa was convicted of 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 the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.||”|
In 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who hated civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and viewed him as an upstart troublemaker, 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 felt compelled to issue 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.
Robert Kennedy played a large role in the Freedom Rides. After the Anniston bus bombings, Kennedy acted 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. He also forced the Greyhound bus company to provide the Freedom Riders with a bus driver to ensure they could continue their journey. Later, during the attack and burning by a white mob of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama, 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 as far 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 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 the Governor 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 speech at Ball State University, 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 President Kennedy, 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, 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 Robert 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, of course, Robert and the rest of the Kennedy family. Robert was absolutely devastated, and was described by many as being a completely different man after his brother’s death.
In the days following the assassination, Kennedy wrote letters to his two eldest children, Kathleen and Joseph II, 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 asked by Democratic Party leaders to introduce a film about his late brother John F. Kennedy 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 Jacqueline Kennedy had given him:
|“||[…] and 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.
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.
President Johnson and Robert Kennedy were often at severe odds with each other, both politically and personally, yet Johnson gave considerable support to Robert Kennedy’s campaign, as he was later to recall in his memoir of the White House years.
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.
In 1965 Robert 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 his brother John Kennedy after his assassination.
In June 1966, Kennedy visited apartheid-ruled South Africa accompanied by his wife, Ethel Kennedy, 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….”)
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Immigration Act of 1965 as Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Robert Kennedy, and others look on.
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 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 California, to meet with civil rights activist César Chávez who was on a hunger strike. The weekend before the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy announced to several aides that he would attempt to persuade little-known Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to withdraw from the presidential race. Johnson won a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968, against McCarthy, which 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, Johnson stunned the nation by dropping out of the race. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, long 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 improvement. 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. A good idea of his proposals come from the following extract of a speech given at the University of Kansas.
|“||If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction—purpose and dignity—that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product—if we judge the United States of America by that—that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman‘s rifle and Speck‘s knife, and the television programs that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.||”|
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 such programs of social improvement. 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. 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 far outstripped, in its vision of social improvement, 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 in the 5 years of his presidency. 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 finally won the Indiana and Nebraska Democratic primaries, but lost the Oregon primary. 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-born Jordanian, 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. Following the shooting, 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.
His body was returned to New York City, where it lay in repose at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for several days before the Requiem Mass held there on June 8. His brother, U.S. Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, eulogized him with the words:
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 quote is actually a paraphrase of a line spoken by the devil (The Serpent) to Eve in George Bernard Shaw‘s Back to Methuselah: You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’ 
The Requiem Mass concluded with the hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” sung by Andy Williams. Immediately following the Requiem Mass, his 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. This slow transport delayed arrival at Arlington National Cemetery, causing it to be the only night burial to have taken place there.
Kennedy was buried near his brother, John, in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (just outside Washington, D.C.). He had always maintained that he wished to be buried in Massachusetts, but his family believed that since the brothers had been so close in life, they should be near each other in death. In accordance with his wishes, Kennedy was buried with the bare-minimum military escort and ceremony. The casket was borne from the train by 13 pallbearers, including former astronaut John Glenn, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, family friend Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Robert’s eldest son Joe and his brother Senator Edward Kennedy. In August 2009, Senator Edward Kennedy was also buried at Arlington, near his brothers John and Robert.
The procession stopped once during the drive to Arlington National Cemetery at the Lincoln Memorial where the Marine Corps Band played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The funeral motorcade arrived at the cemetery at 10:30 p.m. Archbishop Terence Cooke of New York and Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, conducted the brief graveside service. Afterward John Glenn presented the folded flag on behalf of the United States to Ethel and Joe Kennedy. (coordinates: 38°52′52″N 77°04′17″W / 38.88118°N 77.07150°W / 38.88118; -77.07150)
On June 9, President 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.