Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
by Jeremy Meier

President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation at the end of March 1968; he would be calling for peace negotiations to end the war in Vietnam and he would not be seeking re-election to the presidency. LBJ’s favorability in the polls was precipitously slipping and a new claimant to the Democratic candidacy had recently thrown his hat into the ring. “I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies,” Robert F.  Kennedy had told Americans two weeks prior.  America was racing to the climax of a tumultuous decade and Robert Kennedy was looking to guide the nation out of multiple violent crises.

Robert Kennedy was profoundly cognizant of the challenges and struggles of the 60s.  Having served as Attorney General for his brother, Robert had multifaceted responsibilities.  These included running efforts against persecution—seeking protection for the Freedom Riders’ voyage south in 1961 — and fighting against those seeking to halt de-segregation efforts on college campuses in Mississippi and Alabama in ‘62 and ‘63.   He had run against the clock during The Cuban Missile Crisis as he sought solutions in back channel meetings with Russian representatives. 

Robert Kennedy was also familiar with the rigors of running a campaign. He had managed his brother’s successful senate and presidential campaigns in 1952 and 1960. After winning his own election to the U.S. Senate, RFK had found his tenure in the 89th Congress to be a frustrating venture. His views on important issues found little traction.  Robert’s skepticism on any rationale for staying in Vietnam was especially eschewed and tensions between him and LBJ escalated.  “By speaking out, I just make Lyndon do the opposite out of spite.  He hates me so much that if I asked for snow, he would make rain,” Bobby said privately in the winter of ’66.

But now President Johnson was stepping down and Bobby was in the running lane.   Entering the presidential campaign later than fellow Democrat, Eugene McCarthy, RFK would run one of the most relentless—and dexterous—campaigns in history.  Throughout April and May, 1968 Kennedy would tour inner cities and rural farmlands.  He would visit Indian Reservations and college campuses.  He would present himself as an agent of change: for freedom and justice.   But RFK would also point to his credentials as former Attorney General: he was a “law and order” candidate.  Robert Kennedy would run on his pedigree in American politics.   He would run on mottled experiences painted by a bloody decade.  He would often feel in the shadow of his martyred brother and he was ever possessed by purpose. 

“I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all I can.”  In June 1968, his life was cut tragically short by an assassin’s bullet and the world was left to wonder what might have been, had he finished the race.


Recommended Reading

Clarke, Thurston.  The Last Campaign: Robert Kennedy and the 82 Days that Inspired America.  Henry Holt and Company.  2008.

Kennedy, Robert F.  Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  W.W.  Norton & Company.  Reprint 1999.

Schlesinger, Arthur M.  Robert Kennedy And His Times.  Mariner Books.  2002.

Thomas, Evan.  Robert Kennedy: His Life.  Simon & Schuster.  2002.

Tye, Larry.  Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.  Random House.  2016.


Jeremy Meier

Jeremy Meier is a Theatre Professor at Owens Community College in northwest Ohio.  He teaches acting and has directed nineteen student productions at the school including Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet. He also has adapted and directed texts for the stage including Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell.  In addition to his portrayal of RFK, Meier has created original solo performances for the Ohio Humanities on John Dillinger and Oliver Hazard Perry.  In 2016, Meier was awarded a grant by Ohio Humanities to pilot the state’s first Chautauqua Training Program for new scholars learning to develop original figures based on historical figures.


Bullet Points

  • A member of the Racket’s Committee, Robert F.  Kennedy battled against union corruption as the 1950s concluded.  His sights set on Union boss, Jimmy Hoffa, Kennedy had no shortage of political enemies by the dawn of the American 60s.
  • RFK served as Attorney General to his brother, President John F.  Kennedy from 1961 to 1963 (also for President Lyndon Johnson until September of 1964).  In his role as AG, Robert played a crucial role in navigating the troubling challenges of the early 60s: the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War diplomacy negotiations with Russia, de-segregation efforts in the South, and federal Civil Rights legislation.
  • RFK and wife, Ethel’s, Hickory Hill hosted some of the most recognizable and elite personalities of the 1960s.  Celebrities, writers, politicians and great minds congregated at the Kennedy home to share ideas and socialize in the most a transformative of decades.  The Hickory Hill guest list included poets, writers, musicians and actors; it was also a summit for discussions involving Cuban ex-patriots, Washington Congressmen and Russian diplomats.
  • Robert Kennedy served as the junior senator from New York from 1965 until his death in 1968.  His major ambitions in the United States Senate were to push for opportunities for the poor in inner cities and to seek an exit from the war in Vietnam.  His efforts largely thwarted, RFK considered a run in 1968 against incumbent President Johnson.
  • A late entrant into the presidential race, Robert F.  Kennedy campaigned at a rapid pace through the Midwest and California in the spring of 1968.  He stumped for justice and equality with blacks, challenged college students over deferments from Vietnam, supported Cesar Chavez in his cause to end violence against farmworkers in California, and promised opportunities to the underprivileged on Indian reservations.  In short, Bobby Kennedy was “the change candidate” for Americans in the late 1960s.



“The final lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is the importance of placing ourselves in the other country’s shoes.”

“We are stronger, and therefore have more responsibility, than any nation on earth; we should make the first effort—the greatest effort, and the last effort—to control nuclear weapons.  We can and must begin immediately.”

“War is not an enterprise lightly to be undertaken, nor prolonged one moment past its absolute necessity.”

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

“Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured.  But we can reduce the number of tortured children.  And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?” - Albert Camus (RFK repeatedly used this quote in public speeches in 1967 and 1968)

“My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; rather 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.” - Edward M.  Kennedy (from RFK’s eulogy) June, 1968



1925 - Born in Brookline, Massachusetts on November 20.

1946 - Becomes an Ordinary Seaman aboard USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. 

1950 - Marries Ethel Skakel on June 17.  Between 1951 and 1968, they have 11 children.

1951-52 - Works as an attorney in the Criminal Division, Department of Justice.

1952 - Manages brother, John F.  Kennedy’s successful senate campaign.

1953 - Briefly serves as Assistant Counsel under Joseph McCarthy, working alongside Roy Cohn.

1959-60 - Manages brother, John F. Kennedy’s successful presidential campaign.  Subsequently, serves as Attorney General in the president’s cabinet.

1960 - His book on experiences pursuing racketeering factions, The Enemy Within, is published.

1962 - Cuban Missile Crisis occurs October 16-28.  Robert Kennedy works backchannels of communication with Russian representatives in brokering a solution.

1963 - John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas on November 22.

1964 - Announces he will run for the senate on August 22, representing the state of New York.  After a successful campaign, begins his tenure as part of the 89th Congress.

1967 - His book "To Seek a Newer World" is published.

1968 - Announces he will to enter the primary race in pursuit of the Democratic nomination for the presidency on March 16.

1968 - Gives a speech in Indianapolis on April 4 in which he informs the crowd that Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated in Memphis.  He pleads for non-violence, forgiveness and healing for the nation.

1968 - After winning the important California primary, Robert is shot by an assassin in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5.  He perishes on June 6.

1969 - His account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Thirteen Days, is published.