Thirteen gunshots filled the Embassy Room of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel on the night of June 6, 1968, leaving the nation in shock, anguish and disarray.
Two months after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and in the midst of the Vietnam War, the nation lost yet another Kennedy, adding to the list of tragedies experienced during the decade and, for a time, placing a pause on the hopes of mass societal reform in America.
On the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, we take a look back at how the younger brother to Former President John F. Kennedy took the nation by storm during his unprecedented run for president and how he helped to put all-encompassing topics on a national scale.
To this day, many wonder what a nation after the presidency of Kennedy would have meant for America and what change, if any, would have had a lasting impact over the last five decades.
Commonly referred to as Bobby, Robert Kennedy was at the forefront of U.S. politics throughout the 1960s, serving as Attorney General from 1961-64. After the untimely death of his older brother, John, Robert began to take more of a front-seat position in politics, ultimately announcing his candidacy for president for the 1968 election.
RFK, however, was not always the liberal icon he has come to be viewed as today. Originally known for his staunch moral views and hard-hitting investigative tactics, Kennedy became increasingly progressive throughout the course of the 1960s, placing issues like poverty and segregation at the top of his agenda.
His ability to make those he met, regardless of their class or color, feel heard and validated were just a few of the characteristics that endeared him to the American public.
Slow to warm up to the Civil Rights Movement and provide support for leaders like King, specifically for fear of upsetting southern Democrats, his fervent moral compass was the catalyst for the push to have racial relations as a part of the agenda during his brother’s presidency and on his own campaign agenda.
Seeing poverty and discrimination firsthand on trips like the 1967 investigation into poverty in the Mississippi Delta, also aided in bringing issues to the forefront that had never affected him in his personal life. In an interview with CBS News, Peter and Marian Wright Edelman spoke of how “he was just shocked” at the sights of starvation and sickness right here in the United States, a nation where some had claimed poverty did not exist.
Interactions and events like that above, in addition to the heavily-felt loss of his brother, “allow[ed] him to, for the first time in his life, [to] empathize with black folk and political underdogs of all stripes.”
Off of this drive for justice and equality, he built a multiracial coalition of supporters in addition to retaining a large percentage of white voters as well. His ability to unite voters over multiple fronts resembled the later coalition formed by Former President Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign and “offered a tantalizing glimpse into the future” of U.S. politics.
The loss of RFK was one of the most monumental of the latter portion of the 20th century and the extinguishment of one of the most promising political hopes many would see in their lifetime.
His belief in the ability of America to be better, however, still rings true today. Kennedy’s platform was in part based on the idea that multiple goods are not mutually exclusive: ending wars, helping the disenfranchised and creating lasting change.
Best said by his brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, in his eulogy, Robert F. Kennedy “need not be idealized” as he simply “saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”
By Vivian Alana Caesar