10 fascinating facts about Robert F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy was one of the seminal figures of the 1960s and led a very public life before he was fatally shot on June 5, 1968, at a Los Angeles hotel.
Kennedy was just 42 years old and in the midst of one of the most controversial presidential campaigns of the 20th century. President Lyndon Johnson had dropped from the race in March 1968, and Kennedy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey were heading to the Chicago convention with the nomination unsettled.
Kennedy’s assassination stunned America, coming just months after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis.
Here are 10 facts about Kennedy, who spent nearly half of his young life in public service.
1. Robert Kennedy was the seventh child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. The Kennedys had nine children. Robert was more than eight years younger than John F. Kennedy, and more than six years older than Edward Kennedy.
2. Kennedy traveled to England when he was just 12. As the son of a U.S. ambassador, young Robert was in Great Britain just before World War II started in Europe. He also enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve just before his 18th birthday.
3. Kennedy played football at Harvard. The Kennedys were famous for playing touch football, but as a student, Robert played on the varsity squad at college during the 1947 season and wore number 86 until he broke his leg. Kennedy won a varsity letter when he returned briefly after his injury.
4. Kennedy connected with his brother Jack during a 1951 trip. The brothers had been separated by war, school, and other life events. But in 1951, the two brothers and their sister Patricia went on a 25,000-mile, seven-week trip to Asia, the Pacific, and the Middle East that cemented their bond.
5. Kennedy worked for the McCarthy Committee for six months. Father Joe Kennedy’s political and social connections helped Robert Kennedy land a spot on the high-profile Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by the controversial Senator Joseph McCarthy. Robert Kennedy, 27, left after he had problems with the committee, which focused on Communist threats; he also had with conflicts with counsel Roy Cohn.
6. Kennedy voted for Eisenhower in 1956. Kennedy landed a position in the presidential campaign of Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson against President Dwight Eisenhower, where he was mostly ignored. At the end of the 1956 campaign, Kennedy voted for the Republican instead and was highly critical of the Stevenson campaign.
7. Kennedy vs. Hoffa was a prime-time feud. As the chief lawyer for a Senate committee investigating crime and labor, Kennedy famously clashed with Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa on live television in the 1950s. Robert Kennedy continued the fight with Hoffa when he became attorney general in 1961.
8. Kennedy served as a New York senator. Nine months after his brother’s death, Robert Kennedy ran for the U.S. Senate in the state of New York—not Massachusetts. Although he was legally qualified and the family had lived in the state for some time, his opponents called him a “carpetbagger.” Kennedy won the election as part of the Johnson landslide in 1964.
9. Kennedy had a strong connection to the civil rights movement. It was Kennedy, as attorney general, who ordered U.S. marshals to protect James Meredith, the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi. He also gave a passionate speech after the murder of Dr. King to a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis, in which he said he knew of the pain of losing a family member to an assassin.
10. Kennedy’s convicted assassin is still alive. Sirhan Sirhan’s death sentence was commuted in 1972 after the California’s courts outlawed the death penalty. He is currently incarcerated in Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California.
Learn more about the National Constitution Center’s The 1968 Exhibit, which brings one of America’s most colorful, chaotic, culture-shifting years vividly to life and illuminates the power of “We the People” to exercise and expand our freedoms. The exhibition is at the museum June 14 – September 2, 2013.
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