Robert Francis Kennedy is perhaps less well-known than John Fitzgerald Kennedy, US president from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. However, ask any American over sixty where they were on 8 June 1968, and they will tell you.
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Born in 1925, Robert, better-known as Bobby, was the seventh of nine children of the prominent political Kennedy family. As a lawyer, he fought organised crime and earned a reputation as an uncompromising prosecutor. With his older brother in the White House, Bobby was appointed US Attorney General. He served as the President’s closest advisor, taking part in major decisions, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the resolution of which averted nuclear war with the USSR.
After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Bobby discarded the tough image he had cultivated and began to advocate for issues related to civil rights and social justice. He opposed US involvement in the Vietnam War and raised awareness of poverty in the country, sponsoring legislation to bring businesses to impoverished communities.
BOBBY FOR PRESIDENT
In 1968, Bobby took the risky step of challenging Lyndon Johnson, the incumbent president of his own party, the Democrats. New York Senator at the time, Bobby became a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, appealing to poor, African-American, Hispanic and young voters. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, Bobby asked King’s followers not to respond with hatred, and his empathy earned their respect.
SHOT IN ACTION
On 5 June 1968, just after winning the California primary, Kennedy was shot three times at close range at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and died a day later. The shooter was twenty-four-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, in alleged retaliation for Kennedy’s support of Israel. But Bobby’s assassination, like that of his brother, continues to be the subject of controversy.
THE FUNERAL TRAIN
On 8 June 1968, after his funeral in New York, the body of the senator was taken by train to Washington D.C. destined for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The journey usually took four hours, but the train travelled at half the speed because hundreds of thousands of people had gathered on station platforms and by the tracks. The photographer Paul Fusco was among the passengers on the train. The pictures he took, compiled in a book published in 2000, stand as a testament to the human impact of a world-changing event.