Who Was Bobby Kennedy?

Robert Kennedy- Leader, Follower, An Almost President

Background

The Kennedy Family has a history of elegance and prestige in the United States political and social scene- about as close to royalty as a family has ever been. The Kennedy’s ruled the political elite, holding office for over half a century. The family’s greatest political achievement siphoned John F. Kennedy into office in 1960, yet saw him assassinated in 1963. Yet, in recent American memory, the story of the younger brother, Robert Kennedy, has not been as politicized.

PX 65-105:266 1957
John and Robert Kennedy, Hickory Hill, Virginia.
Photograph by Douglas Jones, LOOK Magazine [2].
1968 in American memory served as a tumultuous, transitionary, and influential time period- shaping the United States into what it is today and defining political and social ideologies. Robert Kennedy grew up in the wealthy Kennedy family and served as the United States Attorney General during his brother’s presidency. Immediately following his brother’s assassination, Bobby resigned from his position under the Johnson administration and decided to run for Senator of New York. Robert Kennedy was marked as a worthy predecessor to his brother and declared candidacy for presidency on March 6, 1968, just five years after his brother’s death. Yet, similarly to the fate of his brother, Bobby was assassinated on the campaign trail on June 5, 1968.

Kennedy referenced 1968 by stating, “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world” [7].

Kennedy understood the world around him, feeling that 1968 was a transitional and tumultuous time, and thus felt that his agenda was best suited for the American future.

PC 180 The Kennedy Family in Hyannis Port, 1948. L-R: John F. Kennedy, Jean Kennedy, Rose Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Patricia Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, and in foreground, Edward M. Kennedy. Photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston [3].
Candidacy Too Quick?

Hinging on the memory of his deceased older brother, Robert Kennedy utilized Zelizer’s premise of material and usable memory as he announced his presidential bid “from the same spot in the Senate Caucus Room where [JFK] had announced his presidential candidacy in January 1960” [11].

At his announcement Kennedy said, “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 am obliged to do all I can” [8].

Kennedy’s platform hinged on racial equality and economic justice- the pressing matters of the time period. With the recent memory of his brother’s assassination just five years past, Kennedy’s presidential bid was repetitive, capitalizing on his brother’s publicity and worldwide admiration to stake a successful campaign.

After Lyndon B Johnson decided not to seek reelection in the 1968 election, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota pounced at the opportunity of the Democratic nomination. Yet, Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy after seeing the slated candidates and noting their catastrophic policies. After entering the candidacy late, Kennedy swept up Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and California- solidifying his presence and making him the most viable contender for the 1968 Democratic nomination [7].

[4]

Assassination

Robert Kennedy was assassinated by a Jordanian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan on the morning of June 5, 1968. As the predicted Democratic nominee, Sirhan Sirhan slashed the Democratic party’s dream and reinforced the theory of “*The Kennedy Curse.” Sirhan Sirhan singled Kennedy out at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he walked past the ice machine. Using a .22 revolver, Sirhan Sirhan repeatedly fired at Kennedy and surrounding others. Kennedy had very few enemies, yet the enemies he did have despised him as he had to make difficult decisions as Attorney General and he had “very liberal policies.” For more information regarding RFK’s assassination, and his “liberal policies,” please access this site

Yet, Sirhan Sirhan despised Kennedy due to his affiliation with Israeli politics and wrote in his journal months prior to the assassination, “My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more and more of an unshakable obsession. RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated….. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before June 5th 1968” [10].

Sirhan Sirhan- Robert Kennedy’s assassin [5]
Robert F. Kennedy abruptly departed this world as his life was stolen from him. Yet, in the aftermath of his assassination, we ask ourselves: does anyone really remember?

For more information on the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, please watch this video here:

How is Bobby Remembered Today?

It is rare that the younger generation learn of Bobby F. Kennedy before they learn of John F. Kennedy, as JFK was the President of the United States and RFK was the Attorney General, United States Senator, and presidential candidate. Both brothers left the world in the same manner, as they were assassinated by an enemy. Their stories follow similar patterns, yet the story of Bobby Kennedy is often muddled by the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
For the time period of 1968, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination served as a brutal reminder for the already brutal year, and reignited America’s sadness regarding JFK’s assassination just five years prior. Yet, today, Robert F. Kennedy is not remembered in the same dramatic fashion that his brother is. In line with Michael Schudson’s idea of “cognitivization,” American memory evidently decided that John F. Kennedy’s assassination was more important than his brother’s.

Yet, as time has passed, it is evident that Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy has grown stronger, and that his effect on American politics and memory has tripled. Netflix recently announced a series for the 50th anniversary of Bobby’s assassination titled, “Bobby Kennedy for President.” Netflix’s integration and instrumentalization of Bobby Kennedy’s legacy into material and modern American memory changes the way Kennedy is and was remembered. Memory is a processual process, and the way Bobby Kennedy is remembered is constantly changing [9]. Fifty years later, Bobby Kennedy is being “re-remembered” as an American hero and a proponent for civil rights and inclusion.

[1]

Anniversaries create a strange dichotomy for memory as they allow memory to be reintroduced and restated in importance, yet they also allow memory to be forgotten. In the case of Bobby Kennedy, his memory has only grown due to the fiftieth anniversary, and both the younger and newer generation will now know Bobby Kennedy as a household name, and realize that he and John are actually two different people.

*For more information regarding the Kennedy Curse, please reference this website – https://www.history.com/topics/robert-f-kennedy/videos/the-assassination-of-rfk.

Works Cited- Jacob Bendalin UNC 2021

Media

[1] “Bobby Kennedy for President Official Trailer [HD].” Youtube, Netflix, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io3uQ6Q4NlU.

[2] Jones, Douglas. “Senator John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, Hickory Hill, Virginia.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Senator John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, Hickory Hill, Virginia. 

[3] “Kennedy Family House.” Carl Anthony Online, carlanthonyonline.com/2012/02/07/a-presidents-residence-saved-the-kennedy-family-compound-with-rare-photos-of-their-real-life-there/.

[4] “Senator Robert F Kennedy Announces His Presidential Candidacy.” Youtube, Senator Robert F Kennedy Announces His Presidential Candidacy.

[5]  “Sirhan Sirhan.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirhan_Sirhan#/media/File:Sirhan_Sirhan.gif.

References

[6] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “United States Presidential Election of 1968.”Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 16 Oct. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1968.
Live link here

[7] History.com Staff. “Robert F. Kennedy.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, www.history.com/topics/robert-f-kennedy.
Live Link here

[8] Kennedy, Robert. “Robert F. Kennedy Speeches.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin-Luther-King.aspx.
Live Link here 

[9] “Michael Schudson.” Michael Schudson | School of Journalism, journalism.columbia.edu/faculty/michael-schudson.
Live Link here 

[10] Pike, John. “Intelligence.” Who Killed Robert F. Kennedy?, www.globalsecurity.org/intell/ops/mongoose-rfk.htm.
Live Link here 

[11] “The Kennedy Caucus Room.” U.S. Senate: The Kennedy Caucus Room, 24 Jan. 2017, www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Caucus_Room.htm.
Live Link here 

Each cited reference has their respective URL. One photo does not have its respective URL but you can find that in the post, as well as one video. The video is also linked in the post.