Community reflects on Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy, 50 years after assassination
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, U.S. Senate Historian Emeritus Donald A. Ritchie moderated a discussion about Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy at the Robert C. Byrd Center Auditorium on Saturday afternoon.
The free event was recorded by C-SPAN and sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, the Spirit of Jefferson and Farmer’s Advocate and the Shepherdstown Book and Author Group.
Jules Witcover, a journalist who traveled with Kennedy’s campaign, witnessed his assassination and wrote “85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy”; and John R. Bohrer, an MSNBC producer and author of “The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest after JFK,” talked about Kennedy’s relationship with John F. Kennedy, the American public and Lyndon B. Johnson during the event.
“I think he was his brother’s brother,” Bohrer said. “That’s how he scored in politics and ran his campaign. When John Kennedy died, Robert Kennedy died in a sense, without an idea of how to go on without his brother. His decision to run for president was a painful one.
“He wasn’t just John Kennedy’s brother – he was the leader of a younger generation that was trying to carry on after his brother’s assassination.”
Witcover described Kennedy as someone people could relate to, because he was a “young man of great wealth who had also suffered greatly.”
“He was an intellectual Kennedy, which at that time worked with American campuses,” Witcover said. “He certainly developed an emotional following.
“Ted Kennedy said, ‘They see that he hurts, and they can identify with that,'” Witcover said about the public’s generally favorable view of Robert Kennedy after JFK’s assassination.
Despite his emotional appeal, popularity with young voters and opposition to the U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War, Witcover said he didn’t think Kennedy would have won the Democratic party presidential nomination in 1968.
Bohrer disagreed, although he said the road to gaining the nomination would have been difficult.
“I think Bobby had a strong shot at it,” Bohrer said. “He knew that he could maybe rely on an emotional appeal, which Johnson was also aware of.”
Five community members spoke during the question and answer session following the initial discussion, some of whom wore black in honor of his legacy and reminisced on meeting Robert Kennedy as children.
Ritchie also described his memories following Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
“When I think of 1968, I remember phones waking people up at night, telling people that Robert Kennedy had been shot,” Ritchie said “I remember feeling relieved when 1968 was over, thinking things would get better.”