It has been 55 years to the day since Bobby (referred to more formally as Robert F.) Kennedy died, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. The anniversary brings back personal memories and lingering sadness over what could have been had an assassin not ended his life and, with it, the hopes of a generation. Here’s a snippet from my work-in-progress memoir:
When Robert Kennedy comes to Philadelphia during the 1968 Pennsylvania primary campaign, I wind up at City Hall Plaza and climb a pole to see him, even as I take notes on what he says. There is so much excitement at his physical presence; feelings of hope, of possibility, are palpable. I share this as well, although, true to my calling, I don’t yell or cheer, I merely scribble on my notepad. The crowd is so large and boisterous, the candidate has trouble addressing it. “I’m very pleased to be here,” he begins. “I can’t do anything, but I’m very pleased to be here. It’s a marvelous rally. No one can hear.” After a few minutes, he is able to speak seriously, but with flashes of humor. “Listen, would you mind giving me a little cheer at the end of each sentence…I’d like to announce someone’s taking off my shoe.” I am writing this from my notes, penciled on two ripped out notebook pages. None of it finds its way into print—until now. Two months later, the heir apparent to the martyred president will himself be dead, felled by an assassin’s bullet in Los Angeles just after declaring victory in the key California primary.
I still have those notes, saved on scraps of paper. The night of the California primary , I stayed up late to watch Bobby Kennedy’s remarkable victory speech on our small black and white TV, and then came the assassin’s shot and mayhem. It was 2 a.m. in Philadelphia, and suddenly it was mourning — not morning — in America. I was 26 years old and now felt a lot older.
His death comes two months after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, by a white racist, James Earl Ray, who will die in prison. In just the blink of an eye, our future has been taken from us, sparking outbursts of rage and unspeakable sadness. The feeling of helplessness, of hopelessness is almost palatable, as the Democrats convene in Chicago, where police attack protesters, who chant, “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching.” I am watching, too, but on television, horrified. What to do?
Fifty-five years later, there are still no good answers.