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The Maundy Monday Newsletter - This Week in History June 5 - 11.
The crowd continued to cheer as the candidate was swept from the stage and ushered toward the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. At 42 years old, he held the promise of the renewed American spirit, one that his late brother’s presidency ushered in just eight years prior but had lost as the decade progressed.
Having just won the California Democratic primary, New York United States Senator and former United States Attorney General Robert Francis Kennedy delivered a passionate victory speech. His words were infused with empathy and compassion that defined his political career and presidential campaign launched just months earlier after President Lyndon Johnson announced to the nation on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek reelection.
Kennedy expressed gratitude to women, migrants, African American communities, and marginalized groups supporting him. 1968 was already a tumultuous year, with the war in Vietnam raging and civil unrest at home, partly due to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination on a Memphis balcony that April, but tonight Kennedy spoke of unity and social justice.
The political win was a sign that the country was ready for a new direction, one of healing and reconciliation. It was a call to action, where Kennedy urged his supporters to remain engaged to effect change by active participation.
But a new future was just a few steps away, cemented in a past that sought vengeance.
Twenty-four-year-old Palestinian Jordanian Sirhan Sirhan stood in the kitchen waiting for Kennedy to enter. His .22 caliber revolver was concealed in a political campaign poster of support toward the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the sign did not reflect Sirhan’s heart.
His hatred of Kennedy and Kennedy’s strong support of Israel consumed every part of his being. A year earlier, on June 5, 1967, the Six-Day War had begun, resulting in a humiliating defeat for Sirhan’s people. He blamed Bobby.
As Kennedy approached, Sirhan stepped toward him and drew his weapon while just a few feet away. Their eyes locked on each other, and Bobby threw his hands up to defend his face as three shots rang out that landed into the senator’s body, causing him to drop to the floor, and his blood began to soak the cement floor.
As Sirhan was wrestled to the floor, he continued to fire his gun and injure another five people before he was subdued. The decade of political violence saw another tragic end to a promising future when Robert Francis Kennedy died 26 hours later, on June 6, 1968.
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Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
1. Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes on June 9, 1973. This magnificent animal would capture the Triple Crown by becoming the fastest finisher at the Belmont, which still stands today.
2. Affirmed won the Belmont Stakes on June 10, 1978. The Champion galloped away with the Triple Crown for the third-fastest time in Belmont Stakes history. The funny thing about Affirmed’s name – it's in reference to the owner, whose conviction from the SEC on securities fraud was affirmed after an appeal.
3. Vivian Malone and James Hood successfully enrolled in classes at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. Bobby’s brother got involved in a standoff with Alabama Governor after Wallace denied black students entry to his state’s flagship university. I wrote about it in detail back in 2021.
Any death that involves a Kennedy is mired in conspiracy. Reports since the assassination throughout the decades claim that up to twelve shots were fired and that a bullet that struck Kennedy’s head behind his ear was fatal and, therefore, couldn’t have come from the convicted assassin. His son and current Democratic presidential nominee has long claimed that Sirhan did not murder his father.
I won’t go down that rabbit hole but instead would like to focus briefly on Bobby Kennedy’s complicated life.
Bobby Kennedy is an example of personal and political growth and transformation. His lineage in a wealthy and prominent family accelerated his access and opportunities to rise to the highest powers of the American government, where he helped shape numerous policies that governed the country, mainly during an intense political world climate.
Once thought of as ruthless and more law and order, by June 1968, he publicly thanked Cesar Chavez for his support. At one time, he ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigations to wiretap MLK, and by April 1968, he was a supporter and advocate of King’s dream of a place of peace and unity.
Unfortunately, like King and his presidential brother before him, we are left with dreams of what could have been.
Okay, sorry for the depressing beginning of your week, but I have always been a fan of Bobby Kennedy, his flaws and all.
I’ll be back on Friday ranking the Amendments, and it might be the amendment I wrote about during last Friday’s Ask Me Anything edition. The only way to find out is to do absolutely nothing and wait until Friday.
In the meantime, thanks again for reading and supporting Okay History.
I hope this week is a good one.