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This Weekend in 1968

This Weekend in 1968: RFK's Enduring Message of Hope

Ann Heppermann

Kara Oehler

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Robert Kennedy campaign stop, Oregon
(Wayne Cornell)
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Crowd reacts to news of Kennedy's shooting
(JFK1963)

All this week, you've been seeing and hearing coverage of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination 40 years ago. This weekend in 1968, Bobby Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. His funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and the procession traveled by train from New York to Washington, D.C.

Coming just two months after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., RFK's death, for many, was just too much. People talked about the end of hope -- that the nation did not have enough grief. But Bobby Kennedy's life continues to inspire others, and his presidential campaign resonates today, perhaps more than any year since his death.


Tim Roemer: Bobby Kennedy reminds our country of the good side of American politics and the hopeful side.

Robert Kennedy (archival tape): I run for the presidency because I want the United States of America to stand for hope.

Roemer: His was a candidacy of coalition-building, and the best promise of what people can do when they come together.

Kennedy: If you believe the United States can be changed, if you believe that we should start on a new course domestically and in our relationship to other countries, help me.

Crowd of supporters (archival tape): RFK!

(archival tape): Senator Kennedy has been shot, is that possible? Is that possible, is it possible ladies and gentlemen? It is possible, not only Senator Kennedy, oh my God...

(archival tape): Everybody please stay back, please stay back...

(archival tape): Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. today, June 6th, 1968.

(archival tape): I think it's a terrible country we live in right now, that all these assassinations are happening and I don't care, I'm not even voting this year. I don't care what happens anymore.

(archival tape): 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 someday come to pass for all the world.

Roemer: My name is Tim Roemer, former congressman from South Bend, Ind., currently the president for the Center for National Policy. But back in 1968, I was in the fifth grade in San Jose, in a Catholic school. And I will always remember -- I was daydreaming about kickball grandeur when all of the sudden my teacher riveted my attention back into the classroom. She was asking a question about one of my heroes, Bobby Kennedy.

(archival tape): Your generation, this generation can not afford to waste its substance and its hope in the struggles of the past.

Roemer: And she asked who would be willing to volunteer to run Senator Kennedy's presidential primary campaign in the classroom and somebody else would do Eugene McCarthy. And when Bobby Kennedy's name was mentioned, my hand shot up like a rocket ship going to the moon.

Kennedy (archival tape): I think the first thing we have to do here in the United States is face our problems and then take actions to deal with them -- and that's what I intend to do...

Roemer: I worked tirelessly to try to persuade them to vote for Bobby Kennedy.

(archival tape): Who's going to be the next president of the United States? Bobby!

Roemer: And after buttons, proposals, speeches, twisting arms on the recess playground, I convinced enough of my fifth grade fellow students to vote for him -- and we won! It was a victory.

(archival tape): Sock it to'em Bobby, yeah yeah! Sock it to'em Bobby, yeah, yeah!

Roemer: I later went to see Senator Kennedy speak at a local campus. And I'll never forget the feeling there wasn't so much that I understood every nuance of his policy...

Kennedy (archival tape): I think we can find peace with honor in South Vietnam.

Roemer: But it was really exciting, it was like rock concert with somebody proposing hopeful ideas that brought people together -- that they all felt they could make a difference, and make America a better place. And they certainly chanted "Bobby, Bobby..."

(archival tape): We want Bobby! We want Bobby! We want Bobby!

Kennedy: If you believe that we should start a new path for peace in Vietnam, help me.

(archival tape) Advertisement: "For Robert Kennedy, staying in touch with the future is simply a matter of practice. California can make the difference."

Roemer: I went to bed on the night of the California primary, and was just euphoric.

Kennedy (archival tape): And my thanks to all of you -- and now it's on to Chicago and let's win there.

Roemer: Because even that young in the fifth grade, this means that he might even be president.

(archival tape): RFK! RFK!

Roemer: My mom woke me up the next morning and came to my bed and said 'Hey, I've got some really terrible news.' And I thought, oh, the eggs are burned or I can't have waffles. And she said, 'Your hero was shot last night and he's not going to make it.' It was devastating, and I remember tears running down my cheeks and asking my mom, you know, 'Hey, do I really have to go to school after I've lost such a friend like this guy.' And she said 'No, that's one of the lessons -- you've got to buck it up and go. And you know, you presented him in your classroom and you've got to go and be the fact of him, even in tough times.'

Edward Kennedy (archival tape): My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death what he wasn't in life.

Roemer: It was certainly, for a short period, a very profoundly sad time. But there was kind of a flame that was lit...

Edward Kennedy (archival tape): Those of us who loved and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.

Roemer: Bobby and my parents were the pillars for my decisions to go into a life of public service.

Edward Kennedy (archival tape): Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?'

Roemer: I decided to run for congress in 1989 and I often thought about Bobby Kennedy, not just on the campaign trail, but as I went forward legislating.

Kennedy (archival tape): We've been talking for years about 'Tell it like it is.' And I don't know whether it's going to have your approval or disapproval, but I'm going to tell you what I think.

Roemer: There were many times that I thought of Senator Kennedy -- what he would do, what example he provided. One of the Kennedy legacies was the Peace Corps, and later in my Congressional efforts I helped start the AmeriCorps program. And so Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy's policy ideas continued inspire me as a member of Congress... and it lives on today.

(archival tape): We want Bobby! We want Bobby!

Roemer: He is present in many ways -- you hear him in the words of one of the presidential candidates today.

Sen. Barack Obama: I know how hard change is.

Roemer: ...talking about building coalitions and unifying the country and talking about hope. I was actually in Fort Wayne, Ind., campaigning with Barack Obama. Of course, Senator Kennedy is still popular in Indiana. So when Senator Obama was working the rope line it was amazing to me, standing next to him, the number of people in 2008 that were handing Senator Obama pamphlets, literature, mail from Bobby Kennedy's campaign. And they wanted Senator Obama to sign something that Bobby Kennedy had given them 40 years earlier. It truly shows that Senator Kennedy will never be forgotten.

(archival tape): If we win here in Indiana, we'll win in California as well, we'll go on to the convention in Chicago in August and we'll beat the Republicans in November.

Roemer: Well, it sounds almost like I'm a groupie. Well, you know now I was in the fifth grade and now I'm you know 51 years old and I still have Bobby Kennedy pictures hanging in my office or my study. But more importantly, it's not busts or pictures, it's this guy's life.

(archival tape) Kennedy: Every time a man stands up for an idea or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends out a tiny ripple of hope... and those ripples build a current which break down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.

(archival tape) Kennedy: This generation can not afford to waste its substance and its hope in the struggles of the past for beyond these walls is a world that needs to be helped and improved and made safe for the welfare of mankind. And the real question before you, before all young Americans, is whether we will help bring about that future or whether we will not help and stand by.

  • Music Bridge:
    The Ghost of the Exquisite
    Artist: Loren Connors and David Grubbs
    CD: Arborvitae (Hapna)
More stories from our This Weekend in 1968 series

Comments

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  • By Ali khajawall

    From Las Vegas, NV, 06/06/2008

    Dear American Voters,

    Hon. Senator McCain and Obama, besides each of them having many attributes, qualification, and characteristics. The critical differences between the two respected presidential presumptive nominees are ? under:

    1. Presidential "Temperament and Composer".
    2. Little Washington "insider Versus outsider" experience.
    3. Vision and mission for our nation future rather than past.
    4. American policies, " first USA centric" than any other country [ ies ] centric.

    In my professional opinion one hon. senator has it and the other does not.

    The need of our next movement is that our Greatgrand Nation has to address many present and future challenges and utilize opportunities with a new clean slate and Senator. I am sure RNC and other groups will use seduction, confusion, and deception to win.

    The American people are too smart to see thru their seduction, confusion, and deception.

    God Bless America. its diverse people, and our Greatgrand Nation.

    Our Greatgrand nation needs real change and change in inconsistant leadership, at every level and thru next few decades.

    I am sure Senator Obama with help of senator Clinton can deliver that real change in washington and its past leadership.

    Stay involved, stay engaged, and stay informed. Do not let any incoming seduction, deception, and or confusion effect your vote[s].

    Yours truly,

    COL. [retd] A.M.Khajawall MD
    Disabled American Veteran.
    Forensic psychiatrist, Las Vegas NV

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