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Landon Lecture Series on Public Issues

The Landon Lecture Series
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Robert Kennedy

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy

U.S. Senator, New York

Robert Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on November 20, 1925. In 1960, he managed the presidential campaign of his brother, John F. Kennedy. When JFK was elected, he appointed Robert as U.S. attorney general. In 1964, Kennedy was elected New York senator. In 1968, he was a presidential candidate, but was assassinated following his victory speech during the California primaries in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968.

Robert Francis Kennedy, nicknamed Bobby, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on November 20, 1925. His parents were Joseph, a rich businessman, and Rose, daughter of the mayor of Boston. Raised as devout Roman Catholics, Robert Kennedy and his seven siblings enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege. Among Kennedy's older brothers was future U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

When Kennedy's father, Joseph Sr., became a U.S. ambassador to Britain, the family moved to England. As they had been in America, the Kennedy family members were regarded as handsome, charismatic and powerful, making them darlings of the press. The family returned to the States in 1939 as the threat of World War II was rapidly approaching.

Back in Massachusetts, Kennedy graduated from Milton Academy prep school, and then enrolled in Harvard. After his older brother Joseph was killed during World War II, Kennedy left Harvard to join the Navy. In 1946, he went back to Harvard and graduated with a degree in government two years later. Kennedy spent the next three years pursuing a law degree at the University of Virginia Law School. During that time he met and married his sister's roommate, a fellow student named Ethel Skakel. In 1951, the same year he graduated law school, Kennedy passed the Massachusetts bar exam.

Fresh out of law school, Kennedy joined the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division in 1951. In 1952, he resigned the position to lead his older brother John's senatorial campaign. In 1953, Kennedy became advisor to the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations under Senator Joseph McCarthy. Kennedy left the position just six months later, objecting to McCarthy's unjust investigative tactics.

In 1954, Kennedy joined the Senate's permanent Subcommittee on Investigations as chief counsel for the Democratic minority. Kennedy aptly expressed his approach to helping minorities achieve equal rights in a speech to South African students: "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 that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

In 1957, Kennedy was appointed chief counsel to Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor of Management Field. Working under Senator McClellan, Kennedy uncovered the corruption of Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

In 1960, Kennedy managed brother John's presidential campaign. When JFK was elected, Kennedy was made U.S. attorney general and became one of JFK's closest cabinet advisors. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, Kennedy resigned.

A year later he rebounded and ran successfully for senator of New York, with the ultimate goal of becoming a U.S. presidential candidate.

In 1968, Kennedy was nominated to run against Eugene McCarthy in the presidential elections.

On June 5, 1968, following his victory speech at the California Democratic Primary at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was shot several times by Palestinian extremist Sirhan Sirhan. He died the next day at age 42, his promising presidential administration over before it began. The last of Kennedy's 11 children was born six months after his untimely passing.

Robert F. Kennedy
Landon Lecture
March 18, 1968

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