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Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968), also referred to by his initials RFK, was an Americanmarker politician. He was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and acted as one of his advisers during his presidency. From 1961 to 1964, he was the U.S.marker Attorney General.

Following his brother John's assassinationmarker 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 Yorkmarker, 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 the front-running candidate of the Democratic Party. In the Californiamarker presidential primary on June 4, Kennedy defeated Eugene McCarthy, a fellow U.S. Senator from Minnesotamarker. Following a brief victory speech delivered just past midnight on June 5 at The Ambassador Hotelmarker in Los Angelesmarker, Kennedy was assassinatedmarker by Sirhan Sirhan. Fatally wounded, he survived for nearly 26 hours, dying early in the morning of June 6.

Early life, education, and military service

Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925, in Brooklinemarker, Massachusettsmarker, the seventh child of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose E. Fitzgerald.

In September 1927 the Kennedy family moved to Riverdale, New Yorkmarker, then two years later, moved northeast to Bronxvillemarker, 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 Beachmarker, Floridamarker, 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, then Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys in Riverdale, for sixth grade.

In March 1938, when he was twelve-years-old, Kennedy sailed on abroad on the with his mother and his four youngest siblings to Englandmarker 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 Streetmarker in Londonmarker 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 away from home to St. Paul's Schoolmarker, an elite private preparatory school for boys in Concordmarker, New Hampshiremarker. However, he did not like it and his mother thought it too Episcopalian, so after two months at St. Paul's, Kennedy transferred to Portsmouth Priory Schoolmarker, a Benedictine boarding school for boys in Portsmouthmarker, Rhode Islandmarker, for eighth through tenth grades. In September 1942, Kennedy transferred to Milton Academymarker, a third boarding school in Miltonmarker, Massachusetts, for eleventh and twelfth grade.

In October 1943, 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 Collegemarker in Cambridgemarker, Massachusetts. His V-12 training was at Harvard (March–November 1944), Bates Collegemarker in Lewiston, Mainemarker (November 1944–June 1945), and Harvard (June 1945–January 1946). On December 15, 1945, the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer USS Joseph P.marker Kennedy, Jr.marker 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 Caribbeanmarker. 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 a B.A. in government in March 1948 and immediately sailed off on 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, provide an inside view of the tensions that would lead up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In September 1948, Kennedy enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Lawmarker in Charlottesvillemarker. On June 17, 1950, Kennedy married Ethel Skakel at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwichmarker, Connecticutmarker. 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 Franciscomarker 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 Israelmarker, Indiamarker, Vietnammarker, and Japanmarker. Because of their eight-year separation in age, the two brothers had previously seen little of each other. This 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 Georgetownmarker in Washington, D.C.marker, and started work as a lawyer in the Internal Security Section (which investigated suspected Soviet agents) of the Criminal Division of the U.S.marker Department of Justicemarker. In February 1952, he was transferred to the Eastern District of New York in Brooklynmarker to prosecute fraud cases. On June 6, 1952, Kennedy resigned to manage his brother John's successful 1952 U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusettsmarker.

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 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 which he had helped investigate; the book sold very well.

Attorney General

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 that he had chosen his brother "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 advisor 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 advisor. 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.

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 Investigationmarker (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 which earned him equal praise and criticism from the press.

Civil rights

Kennedy expressed the administration's commitment to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law Schoolmarker:

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 advisors were communist. 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 April 1966 and was revealed in 1968, days before Kennedy's death. No evidence of communist activity or influence was uncovered.

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.

During the attack and burning, by a vast white mob, of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. was in attendance with protesters, the Attorney General telephoned King to ask his assurance that they would not leave the building until the U.S. Marshals and National Guard 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. The relationship between the two men was to undergo great change over the years that they would know each other—from a position of mutual suspicion to one of shared aspirations. For King, Robert Kennedy initially represented the "softly softly" approach that in former years had disabled the movement of blacks against oppression in the U.S. For Robert Kennedy, King initially represented what was then considered the unrealistic militancy that many in the white-liberal camp had regarded as the cause of so little governmental progress.

In September 1962, he sent U.S. Marshals and troops to Oxford, Mississippimarker, to enforce a federal court order admitting the first African American student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippimarker. Riots ensued during the period of Meredith's admittance, which 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.

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 Universitymarker, 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:

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.

Civil liberties

Kennedy also used the power of federal agencies to influence US 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 US 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 Iowamarker, 1963) and Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, represented 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.


Kennedy giving a speech in 1964
As his brother's confidante, 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 which, unbeknownst to those at the White House attempting to prevent a nuclear war, placed the entire US/Soviet relationship in perilous danger.

The "Family Jewels" documents, declassified by the CIA in 2007, state that before the Bay of Pigs invasion Robert Kennedy personally authorized one such assassination attempt, which involved the boss of the Chicago Outfit, Salvatore Giancana, and Tampa crime boss Santos Trafficante.

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 US and Soviet Russia. His clandestine meetings with members of the Soviet government continued to provide a key link to 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".

The assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy

The assassination of President Kennedymarker 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.

During the two days after the assassination, Kennedy wrote letters to his two eldest children, Kathleen and Joseph II, telling them about the tragedy, as well as to follow what their uncle started, as his son, Max, who was born in 1965, said in Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy and the Words That Inspired Him.

Robert Kennedy was asked by Democratic Party leaders to introduce a film about his late brother John F. Kennedy at the 1964 party convention. When Bobby Kennedy was introduced, the crowd (including party bosses, elected officials and delegates) applauded thunderously and tearfully for a full 22 minutes before they would let Bobby 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:

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 Housemarker 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 Kennedymarker. At the time it was the highest mountain in Canadamarker 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 Townmarker 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....")

During his years as a senator, Kennedy also helped to start a successful redevelopment project in poverty-stricken Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklynmarker in New York Citymarker, 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, Robert 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. Robert Kennedy vigorously supported President Kennedy's earlier efforts, but, like President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy 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 brother John F. Kennedy's still intact staff of advisors. 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, Senator Kennedy placed increasing emphasis on human rights as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Presidential candidate

Tired, but still intense in the last days before his Oregon defeat, Robert Kennedy speaks from the platform of a campaign train.
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 which 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 Minnesotamarker 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.

Kennedy's policy objectives did not sit well with the business world, in which he was viewed as something of a fiscal liability, opposed to the tax increases necessary to fund such programs of social improvement. When verbally attacked at a speech he gave during his tour of the universities he was asked, "And who's going to pay for all this, senator?", to which Kennedy replied with typical candor, "You are." 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, a recent convert to LBJ's War on Poverty, 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'smarker 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 Indianamarker and Nebraskamarker Democratic primaries, but lost the Oregonmarker primary. If he could defeat McCarthy in the Californiamarker 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 Dakotamarker) at the Chicago national convention in August.


Kennedy scored a major victory when he won the California primary. He addressed his supporters in the early morning hours of June 5, 1968, in a ballroom at The Ambassador Hotelmarker in Los Angelesmarker, 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 Christian Palestinian-American (who felt betrayed by Kennedy's support for Israelmarker in the June 1967 Six-Day War, which had begun exactly one year before the assassination), opened fire with a .22-caliber revolver and shot Kennedy. Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to Los Angeles's Good Samaritan Hospital where he died early the next morning.

His body was returned to New York City, where it lay in repose at Saint Patrick's Cathedralmarker 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:

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.marker 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 Cemeterymarker in Arlingtonmarker, Virginiamarker (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.

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.Terence Cardinal Cook, 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: )

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.

Personal life


In 1950, he married Ethel Skakel, who gave birth to eleven children:
  1. Kathleen Hartington (b.1951)
  2. Joseph Patrick II (b.1952)
  3. Robert Francis, Jr. (b.1954)
  4. David Anthony (1955–1984)
  5. Mary Courtney (b.1956)
  6. Michael LeMoyne (1958–1997)
  7. Mary Kerry (b.1959)
  8. Christopher George (b.1963)
  9. Matthew Maxwell Taylor (b.1965)
  10. Douglas Harriman (b.1967)
  11. Rory Elizabeth Katherine (b.1968)
The last child, Rory, was born six months after her father's assassination.

Kennedy owned a home at the well-known Kennedy Compoundmarker on Cape Codmarker in Hyannis Portmarker, but spent most of his time at his estate in McLeanmarker, Virginia, known as Hickory Hill, located west of Washington, D.C. His widow Ethel and their children continued to live at Hickory Hill after his death. She now lives full time at the Hyannis Port home.

Attitudes and approach

Despite the fact that his father's most ambitious dreams centered around his older brothers, Robert maintained the code of personal loyalty that seemed to infuse the life of the Kennedy family as a whole. His competitiveness was admired by his father and elder brothers, while his loyalty bound them more affectionately close. A rather timid child, Robert was often the target of his father's dominating temperament.

Working on the campaigns of John Kennedy, Robert was more involved, passionate and tenacious than the candidate himself, obsessed with every detail, fighting out every battle and taking workers to task. Robert had, all his life, been closer to older brother John than the other members of the Kennedy family.

RFK's opponents on Capitol Hill maintained that his collegiate magnanimity was sometimes hindered by a tenacious and somewhat impatient manner. His professional life was dominated by the selfsame attitudes that governed his family life—a certainty that good humor and leisure must be balanced by service and accomplishment. Schlesinger comments that Kennedy could be both the most ruthlessly diligent and yet generously adaptable of politicians—at once both temperamental and yet forgiving. In this, Kennedy was very much his father's son; lacking truly lasting emotional independence and yet possessing a great desire to contribute. He lacked the innate self-confidence of his contemporaries and yet found a greater self-assurance in the experience of married life, an experience that he stated had given him a base of self-belief from which to continue his efforts in the public arena.

Upon hearing yet again the assertion that he was "ruthless", Kennedy once joked to a reporter, "If I find out who has called me ruthless I will destroy him." And yet he also openly confessed to possessing a bad temper that required self-control: "My biggest problem as counsel, is to keep my temper. I think we all feel that when a witness comes before the United States Senate he has an obligation to speak frankly and tell the truth. To see people sit in front of us and lie and evade makes me boil inside. But you can't lose your temper—if you do, the witness has gotten the best of you."

Religious faith

Central to Kennedy's politics and personal attitude to life and its purpose was his Catholicism, which he inherited from his family. Throughout his life, Kennedy made reference to his faith, how it informed every area of his life, and how it gave him the strength to re-enter politics following the assassination of his elder brother. His was not an unresponsive and staid faith, but the faith of a Catholic Radical—perhaps the first successful Catholic Radical in American political history.

Robert Kennedy was easily the most religious of his brothers. Whereas John maintained an aloof sense of his faith, Robert approached his duties to mankind through the looking glass of Catholicism. In the last years of his life, he found great solace in the metaphysical poets of ancient Greece, especially the writings of Aeschylus. In his Indianapolis speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Kennedy quoted these lines from Aeschylus:

"He who learns must suffer. Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, and against our will, comes wisdom by the awful grace of God."

Electoral history

1964 New York United States Senatorial Election
Robert F. Kennedy (D) 53.5%
Kenneth Keating (R) (inc.) 45.4%


D.C. Stadium in Washington, D.C. was renamed Robert F.marker Kennedy Memorial Stadiummarker in 1969.In 1978, the United States Congress posthumously awarded Kennedy its Gold Medal of Honor. In 1998, the United States Mint released a special dollar coin that featured Kennedy on the obverse and the emblems of the United States Department of Justicemarker and the United States Senate on the reverse.

In Washington, D.C. on November 20, 2001, US President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft dedicated the Department of Justice headquarters building as the Robert F.marker Kennedy Department of Justice Buildingmarker, honoring Robert F. Kennedy on what would have been his 76th birthday. They both spoke during the ceremony, as did Kennedy's eldest son, Joseph II.
1998 Robert Kennedy special dollar coin
Numerous roads, public schools and other facilities across the United States were named in memory of Robert F. Kennedy in the months and years after his death. The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial organization was founded in 1968, with an international award program to recognize human rights activists. In a further effort to not just remember the late Senator, but continue his work helping disadvantaged, a small group of private citizens launched the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps in 1969, which today helps more than 800 abused and neglected children each year. A bust of Kennedy resides in the library of the University of Virginia School of Law, from where he obtained his law degree.

On June 4, 2008, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy, the New York State Assembly voted to rename the Triborough Bridgemarker in New York Citymarker the Robert F.marker Kennedy Memorial Bridgemarker in honor of the former New York Senator. New York State Governor David Paterson signed the legislation into law on Friday, August 8, 2008.

Kennedy and King

Several public institutions jointly honor Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • In 1994, the City of Indianapolis erected a monument, Landmark for Peace Memorial, in Kennedy's honor in the space made famous by his oration from the back of a pickup truck the night King died. The monument, in Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park, depicts Kennedy as a piece of a large metal slab reaching out to King, who is also part of a similar slab. This is meant to symbolize their attempts in life to bridge the gaps between the races—an attempt that united them even in death. A historical marker has also been placed at the site. A nephew of King and Indiana U.S. Congresswoman Julia Carson (Democrat) presided over the event; both made speeches from the back of a pickup truck in similar fashion to Kennedy's speech.

Coat of Arms

In 1961, his brother John was presented with a grant of arms for all the descendants of Patrick Kennedy from the Chief Herald of Ireland. The arms of the Kennedy family are black with three gold helmets depicted upon it, within a border that is divided into red and ermine segments, and strongly alludes to the symbols in the coats of arms of the O'Kennedys of Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond from whom the family is believed to be descended. The crest is an armored hand holding four arrows between two olive branches, elements taken from the coat of arms of the United States of America and also symbolic of Kennedy and his brothers. The coat of arms is described in heraldic terms as, Sable three helmets in profile Or within a bordure per saltire gules and ermine, and the crest is, Between two olive branches a cubit sinister arm in armor erect the hand holding a sheaf of four arrows points upward all proper on a torse Or and sable, while the mantling is gules doubled argent.

The Canadian government honoured his brother John after the assassination in 1963 by naming a yet unclimbed mountain for the deceased president. Robert Kennedy was part of the first ascent team to climb the newly named Mount Kennedymarker in 1965 to plant a banner of the family's arms and other personal items of his brother's at the summit.


Considered an eloquent speaker generally, Kennedy also wrote extensively on politics and issues confronting his generation:•"The Enemy Within: The McClellan Committee's Crusade Against Jimmy Hoffa and Corrupt Labor Unions" (1960)•"Just Friends and Brave Enemies" (1962)•"The Pursuit Of Justice" (1964)•"To Seek a Newer World" (1967)•"Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis" (1969)


  • "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
  • "Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital, quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change."
  • "The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country."
  • "Men without hope, resigned to despair and oppression, do not make revolutions. It is when expectation replaces submission, when despair is touched with the awareness of possibility, that the forces of human desire and the passion for justice are unloosed."
  • "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not."
  • "Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. 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, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
  • "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." South Africa, June 1966
  • "What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black." Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968 Announcing to the crowd that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
  • "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." From his last speech, June 5, 1968
  • "Laws can embody standards; governments can enforce laws—but the final task is not a task for government. It is a task for each and every one of us. Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted—when we tolerate what we know to be wrong—when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened—when we fail to speak up and speak out—we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice." June 21, 1961
  • "...We must recognize the full human equality of all our people-before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous-although it is; not because the laws of God and man command it-although they do command it; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do."


  • Grubin, David, director and producer, RFK. Video. (DVD, VHS). 2hr. WGBH Educ. Found. and David Grubin Productions, 2004. Distrib. by PBS Video
  • Hilty, James M. Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (1997), vol. 1 to 1963. Temple U. Press., 1997. 642 pp.
  • RFK's speech after the death of Martin Luther King in 1968.
  • Navasky, Victor S. Kennedy Justice (1972). Argues the policies of RFK's Justice Department show the conservatism of justice, the limits of charisma, the inherent tendency in a legal system to support the status quo, and the counterproductive results of many of Kennedy's endeavors in the field of civil rights and crime control.
  • RFK (documentary Film from the Public Broadcasting Service, USA) online transcript

See also


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