Thursday, June 05, 2008

The day that Bobby Kennedy died

"Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change."

Robert F. Kennedy said this in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966. Today is the 40th anniversary of his assassination.

I was 17 when RFK was killed. I was snoozing away in the room I shared with three of my four brothers. We always slept with the radio on -- couldn't get to sleep without the Beatles or Doors or Motown. The windows were open and, if it was quiet, could hear the surf breaking on Daytona Beach a half-block away. But it wasn't quiet. The radio was on and lulled us to sleep and the next thing I remember was waking up to a news report. Robert Kennedy had been shot in L.A. Another Kennedy shot! Didn't seem real but I was awake. I got up and walked to my parents' room. "They shot Kennedy," I muttered. My mother mumbled and went back to sleep. My father said something about Kennedy getting shot a long time ago. "Bobby Kennedy," I said. "In California." My father looked at me like I was nuts. "Go back to bed," he said.

They both had to work the next day -- my father at NASA and my mother as a hospital nurse. It was tough to support nine kids, even in those pre-inflation times of 35 cents/gallon gas and four loaves of bread for a dollar.

In the bright light of a Florida June morning, my parents were distressed. JFK's assassination had devastated them. This was shocking, but not on that same level. They both were moving away from the Democratic Party and into the hands of Nixon and, later, Reagan. It had mattered to them in 1960-63 that JFK was the first Irish-Catholic president. He was a war hero, too, and had solid anti-commie credentials. Bobby, though, was a radical. He was soft on Vietnam and hippies and civil rights agitators.

At school, the day before the nuns released us into the summer, we went to mass to pray for Bobby's recovery, which seemed very unlikely. Most of us were in a funk. But at least one of my classmates noted that Kennedy was a "N----- Lover" and would probably die and never be president. He voiced what others thought. This was the South, after all. Our high school was located between white and black neighborhoods. Black kids south of the school went to Campbell, the all-black high school. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., two months earlier, this part of town erupted in riots. White homeowners north of the school sat up all night, guns at the ready. At least that's what the newspapers said a few days later. I don't doubt it.

Another Kennedy was dead. King was dead. Lots of Florida boys were destined to die in Vietnam.

Things were falling apart. And it was going to get worse.


mpage225 said...

I had the radio set to get me up for school and was woken to the news that Bobby Kennedy was shot. So soon after the King assasination, it was like a bad dream and took a few minutes to sink in. This is why I always think that I "survived" the 60's rather than lived the 60's. As you say so well....

"Things were falling apart. And it was going to get worse."


kainah said...

Bob -- your experience was much like mine. I awoke to the news on my radio and immediately went into the family room and turned on the TV. TV before breakfast??? A definite no-no in my house and my mother came in and asked what the hell I was doing. I just pointed to the TV and I still remember the feeling of her sinking into the couch next to me.

What a year 1968 was.......