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Robert F. Kennedy: His Words

May 29, 2014

Much has been written about the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

June 6th will mark the 46st anniversary of his death by assassination in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic presidential primary two days earlier on June 4, 1968.

This is a tribute to him.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, Robert F. Kennedy introduced a memorial motion picture (they weren’t called videos in those days) about the life of his brother President John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

Here are some of his remarks from that introduction:

"When I think about President Kennedy, I think about what Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet: "When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.

"President Kennedy once said that we have the capacity to make this the best generation in the history of mankind or make it the last. If we do our duty, if we meet our obligations and our responsibilities in our local cities and towns and farms, in our states and in the country as a whole, then this country is going to be the best generation in the history of mankind.

"And I think that we must dedicate ourselves, as he frequently did to all of you when he spoke, when he quoted from Robert Frost, when he said that which he applied to himself but which we could apply to all of us as individuals, that ‘the woods are lovely dark, and deep/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep.’"

In April of 1968, while flying to Indianapolis, Indiana as a candidate for President, Robert Kennedy was informed about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. At the Indianapolis airport, Senator Kennedy delivered the following extemporaneous eulogy:

"Dr. King dedicated himself to justice and love between his fellow human beings. He gave his life for that principle and it is up to those who are here - his fellow citizens and public officials - to carry out that dream, to try to end the divisions that exist so deeply in our country and to remove the stain of bloodshed from our land.

"Those of you who are black can be filled with bitterness, with hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black amongst black, white amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

"I had a member of my family killed. He was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States - an effort to understand.

"We can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace violence with compassion and with love. What we need in the United States is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our own country, whether they be white or they be black.

"Aeschylus wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’

"Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of men and make gentle the life of the world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people."

On June 8, 1968, Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered a moving eulogy to his slain brother at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. He concluded, saying the following:

"My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. He should be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

"Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us, and what he wished for others, will someday come to pass for all the world.

"As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: Some men see things as they are and say, why. I dream things that never were and say, why not."

In National Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, a simple white cross on a hillside marks his grave. It's fitting that such an unadorned site was selected as the final resting place for such a large and inspiring persona.

Many things can be said about the Kennedy's, but no one can say that Bobby Kennedy, and the vision he brought to public life, isn't missed all these years later.