Fifty years ago, on 5th June, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated during his run for the presidency of America. He was aged 42, and had been Attorney General in the government of his brother, John F. Kennedy, and had later served as a U.S. Senator when his life was cut short and what many considered would be a promising presidential administration was over before it began, writes Gerry Breen.
Robert Francis Kennedy, who was nicknamed Bobby, was born into the handsome, powerful and wealthy Kennedy family in Brookline, Massachusetts, on 20th November, 1925, and he and his three brothers and five sisters enjoyed a life of affluence and privilege.
When his older brother, Joseph, was killed during World War II, Bobby left Harvard to join the navy. In 1946 he returned to Harvard and graduated with a degree in government. He spent the next three years obtaining a law degree at the University of Virginia Law School. While he was in law school, he met and married a fellow student named Ethel Skakel.
In 1951, he joined the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, but he resigned his position a year later to lead his brother John’s senatorial campaign.
Once Bobby got involved in Boston politics, he became addicted. During his brother’s senatorial campaign in 1962, Bobby’s wife, Ethel, who was pregnant with their second child, also took an active part in the campaign. She knocked on doors and distributed leaflets and greeted supporters.
With the Kennedys, politics was a family affair. All joined in, and John Kennedy and his brother Bobby worked as a team. As far as Bobby was concerned, there could be only one outcome. He couldn’t contemplate losing and he always campaigned to win.
The odds were stacked against Kennedy, who was attempting to unseat the incumbent Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., but election night brought a pleasant surprise for the Kennedy camp and a bitter blow for Lodge, who was beaten by more than 70,000 votes.
About two years after the 1952 election, Bobby Kennedy joined the staff of Senator Joseph McCarthy on his Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. His brother, John, was dismayed by this turn of events. He and other friends tried to dissuade Bobby from getting involved in the McCarthy investigations. ‘By using his methods of proof,’ Bobby was told, ‘McCarthy could prove your mother was a Communist.’
Although Bobby began work on the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations with his usual enthusiasm, it didn’t take him too long to discover the truth of what he had been told about McCarthy’s methods. The Subcommittee on Investigations was quite prepared to undermine reputations with accusations that had no basis in fact. Bobby lost no time in leaving the subcommittee.
In 1957, Bobby Kennedy was appointed chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labour Management Field. Working under Senator McClellan, he uncovered the corruption of Teamsters’ union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
In 1960, Bobby Kennedy managed his brother John’s presidential campaign. Once again, the outcome was a historic victory. It was the first time in the history of the United States that a Catholic President was elected. For more than a century, the Irish in America had suffered serious religious intolerance, and now a Catholic of Irish descent had broken the greatest barrier to power.