Robert Kennedy Assassination

Midway through 1968 there had already been a number of historic events that led to and showed the stunning amounts of civil unrest and chaos that was present in the United States. Walter Cronkite’s reporting of the Tet offensive, various civil rights protests and marches, and Martin Luther King’s assassination are great examples of early 1968 of the social unrest. At this time, a young politician was gaining popularity and support throughout the country running on a platform broadly based on anti-war, racial and civil justice, and social change. This man was Robert F. Kennedy, a former US Attorney General, under his brother John F. Kennedy. Both Kennedy’s in their brief time in office together were big champions and supporters of civil rights.

In 1968 the Tet Offensive caused a big shift in American attitudes about the war in Vietnam to more anti-war. This led to the less widespread support of the incumbent President, Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1968 election. Robert Kennedy had previously not decided to run in this election because of the perceived popularity of Johnson. But after Johnson’s close win against Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy declare his candidacy. Robert Kennedy’s main platform was one of social and economic justice and a more anti-aggression strategy in foreign conflicts. He was rapidly gaining support that peaked when he won the California primary. But the night of this victory he was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, and died shortly after.

Robert Kennedy’s assassination was so shocking and frightening to a lot of people especially people of color. They had seen John Kennedy, a huge champion of civil rights himself get shot, Martin Luther King Jr., the biggest characterin the civil rights movement get assassinated two months prior, and at the height of his popularity Robert Kennedy get assassinated. In the span of 5 years, arguably the three biggest figures in the civil rights movement were killed. Juan Romero, who was at the scene where Robert Kennedy was shot, said the event “made me realize that no matter how much hope you have it can be taken away in a second” (Telegraph). That was a common thought process that echoed across large sections of US citizens. There was so much promise for civil rights, whether it was the Kennedy’s in power or the amount of influence that MLK was gaining, but all of those central civil rights figures were killed within five years of each other.

Juan Romero is shown here holding up Robert Kennedy after he was shot June 5th, 1968 by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, CA

Robert Kennedy’s civil rights platform was not the only thing that endeared him to Americans. To a lot of people, he was someone who would restore their faith in the US and its government after the difficult times in 1968 and with the Vietnam War. The nation was very divided at this point and Kennedy was someone who could restore “Americans’ belief in their integrity and decency” (Clarke). Theodore White a passenger on the train carrying Robert Kennedy during his funeral said when the train “emerged from the tunnel under the Hudson that one could grasp what kind of a man he was and what he had meant to Americans” (Clarke). In total two million people showed up to watch the train carrying Robert Kennedy’s body travel from New York City to Washington D.C. If you look at the people in the crowd, it consists “of young and old, rich and poor, white and black, rural and urban, … and stood as testament to Kennedy’s broad appeal and the deep devotion he inspired across the country” (Berman).

Two million people showed up to see Robert Kennedy’s train go from New York to Washington DC before his funeral

Since his death, Robert Kennedy’s legacy has lived on. Joseph Palermo says that “Kennedy’s words cut through social boundaries and partisan divides in a way that seems nearly impossible today” (Palermo). Eric Holder, the attorney general under Barack Obama, says that Kennedy was his inspiration that the Justice Department “can and must – always be a force for that which is right” (Washington Post). Although Robert Kennedy’s assassination is not talked about as much today as MLK’s or his brother, John’s it still is a huge moment in US history to a lot of people, especially people who lived through it. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is because he was killed when he was so young and he had so much potential and left to do. King had already inspired millions and was seen as the leader of the civil rights movement, John was already three years into his presidency when he was killed, but there was so much left for Robert to do and accomplish, particularly as he was gaining steam in his candidacy. That is the main reason that for people in 1968, his death was a truly shocking moment, but while still being seen as a major event it is not talked about as much as MLK’s or JFK’s assassinations today.

Carter Sheridan

Allen, Nick. “Busboy describes Bobby Kennedy’s final moments.”  The Telegraph, 30 August 2015.

Berman, Andrew. “This Day in History: Robert F. Kennedy Assassinated.” GVSHP, 2 June 2013.

Clarke, Thurston. “Robert Kennedy and the 82 Days That Inspired America.” History NewNetwork,8 June 2008.

Dionne, E.J. “Eric Holder and Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy.” Washington Post, 28 September 2014.

Palermo, Joseph. “Robert Kennedy Would Be 90 Years Old Today.” The Huffington Post, 20 November 2015.


9 thoughts on “Robert Kennedy Assassination”

  1. This post is extremely interesting as my post is very similar. In my post, I went through more of an overall memory of Robert F. Kennedy, while you focused more on his assassination and his political platform. In my research, I did not find much on the response to RFK’s assassination by the black community, yet it makes sense that they viewed it in a negative light due to his championing of civil rights. JFK’s assassination, MLK’s assassination, and RFK’s assassination all affected that community in several ways. I find it interesting the way you say that RFK’s legacy has lived on, yet then come to the conclusion that he is much overshadowed by his brother, JFK. This is the conclusion that I also came to on my post, as RFK was never fully able to matriculate into the Democratic candidate or the President of the United States. Nonetheless, it is evident that RFK’s work was vital and necessary to the time period of 1968. I appreciate how you note that it would be interesting to see how the year would have changed if RFK had not been assassinated. This comprehensive review of his assassination also taught me a lot that I was not previously aware of.

  2. This is a well-written post; I think framing Robert Kennedy’s assassination in the context of those of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. was smart. The only thing that I really missed while reading, however, was information about Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin, even if it had only been a link to a biography of him. What were his motivations?

  3. Double check everything in the article-there are a few spelling/grammatical errors. Other than that, very informative article. Good job placing his assassination in context of other events in 1968. You also point out an interesting contrast from the effect that his assassination had on an entire group of people (people of color, as you mention) to an individual level (Juan Romero). Perhaps put the assassin’s motivation? Also, you mention that his legacy has lived on. Has his legacy remained the same? Perhaps it has changed over time and has served the memory of different groups?

  4. This post was very well thought out and very well written. The information was very detailed and thorough. You brought up points that I had never even thought of in regard to his assassination. I actually discussed this post with my grandparents who lived during his assassination and they made some of the same points as you.

  5. First of all, I really enjoyed your post–I felt that you did a great job at effectively summarizing the event of Robert Kennedy’s assassination itself while also providing enough context and analysis to understand how it is an important site of 1968 memory. I found your point about his assassination being the lesser of the three (MLK, JFK, Robert Kennedy) very interesting, as it may leave his assassination in the shadow of theirs, not nearly as significant. However, for my oral history interview, my interviewee talked about this event as he lived in California at the time, and told me how devastating it was when he was assassinated. I wonder if perhaps Robert Kennedy’s assassination at the time in 1968 was seen as even more than a sum of its parts as when combined with everything else happening in the country–civil rights, Vietnam, etc. this felt like just one more devastating blow. Overall, I thought your post was great!

  6. Really enjoy reading this post. As you concluded in the last section of your post, Robert Kenndey’s assassination itself is somewhat forgotten as compared to King’s and JFK’s today and it is really important to also remember those who sacrificed for a better and united country. You did a great job of introducing the context of Robert Kennedy’s death and how it made an influence on the society at that time. Also, I think the assassination of him showcases several premises of collective memory, through which usability and unpredictability are demonstrated.

  7. Edward, this is a very insightful post and well-written. I cannot help but consider the residual issues mentioned in your article that our society faces today, such as civil rights issues. Thank you for enabling me to consider these effects.

  8. I really enjoyed this post as it was well-written and informative. I liked how you presented Kennedy’s platform and his ability to unite Americans of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds (something sorely missing from our politics today). I also liked your comparison of RFK’s assassination with those of JFK and MLK. I found it interesting how RFK’s memory is not as present as the others because RFK still had so much yet to accomplish.

  9. Great article; you really captured the feelings of America after RFK’s assassination, especially when taking into account the previous assassinations of MLK and JFK. The quote you included, “no matter how much hope you have it can be taken away in a second” really sums up the feelings in that moment that memory cannot capture fifty years later. Really enjoyed reading this one.

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