PAUL KIRK: Welcome to everyone. Welcome to what promises to be a memorable celebration of the 1968 presidential campaign of Robert Francis Kennedy. With all the clarity that hindsight affords, I submit that 40 years ago today began the most noble, valiant, three-month march ever undertaken in American politics. [applause] I believe I can speak for all of my colleagues gathered here this afternoon and say what a privilege it was to be a part of that mission.
I welcome the women and men who worked and served with Robert Kennedy, those who advanced for him, those who researched and wrote about him, all who were inspired by him, and all who loved him. First and most importantly, I ask you to join me in the warmest of welcomes to the First Lady of that campaign, and of all the campaigns she carries on in his name, our pal, Ethel Kennedy. [applause]
Several generations of the Robert and Ethel Kennedy family are here with us, I think, and if they’re not they’ll be here shortly. I know Ethel’s daughter, Courtney, and their daughter, Sasha, if they’re not here, they’ll be joining us, daughter-in-law, Vicky Gifford Kennedy and her daughter, Rory, grandson Joe Kennedy III, and I’ll have the privilege of introducing Kathleen in just a few moments. Expected, if he’s not here, we always want to salute Phil Johnson, who chairs so ably the RFK Memorial and does a great job for Robert Kennedy’s legacy in that capacity. Members of our Board of Directors, Steve Smith, if he’s here, and two of Robert Kennedy’s cousins, Bob Fitzgerald and Joe Gargan. Let me say, on behalf of John Shattuck, the CEO of the Library Foundation and Tom Putnam, who’s the Director of the Library, how grateful we are to our sponsors for allowing us to put on conferences of this nature and of this importance. Our lead sponsor is Bank of America -- we give Anne Finucane, a member of our Board, credit for that -- The Boston Capital. Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, and the Boston Foundation, and our media sponsors include the Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR.
Conferences such as this couldn’t take place without some able work on the part of our staff, and I want to point out in particular Tom Putnam, Tom McNaught, Amy Macdonald, and Nancy McCoy. [applause]
This is one of those rare times when all of us are allowed to feel young again and to be grateful for our association with Robert Kennedy and his family, and to take pride in having been a part of something larger than ourselves. In the campaign of 1968, Robert Kennedy lifted the nation’s hopes and provided a clear vision and path to a better world. By example, he reminded us why politics can still be an honorable profession. This 40th anniversary permits us to celebrate and capture again for future generations the inspirational lesson of his quest for peace and for a newer world of compassion and reconciliation and justice; his energy and passion for the possible through active service; his idealism balanced by pragmatism; his courage to reach beyond himself and to challenge us to do the same; his belief in the politics of values and the value of politics; his intolerance of indifference and his compelling moral force and voice for criminal, racial, social and economic justice.
These were the powerful messages of an extraordinary politician in his campaign for the presidency of the United States. No spin. No manipulation. No focus groups. Maybe a little Dick Tuck prank here and there. But at its core, a message of gospel values. In many ways, this celebration of Robert Kennedy’s campaign exemplifies the very mission of this Library. This building is not a monument to nostalgia. Nor is that our purpose this afternoon. The daily and defining purpose of this Library is about the future and about inspiration. The daily and defining purpose of the public lives of the Kennedy family has been, and continues to be, about the future. And the central legacy of the Kennedy family will always be one of inspiration.
The decision for Robert Kennedy to run for president was complex and difficult. And I suspect we may hear something about that in the next few minutes. For now, let us go to the caucus room of the Senate of the United States, March 16th, 1968, and listen to an excerpt of what Robert Kennedy said in announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.
BOBBY KENNEDY:: I am announcing today my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. My candidacy must be tested beginning now, five months before the convention, and not after the primaries are over. I think that is the least that I can do to meet my responsibilities to the Democratic Party and to the people of the United States.
[end video clip]
PAUL KIRK: One of the most important living legacies of Robert and Ethel Kennedy is the commitment their children have made to improve this world through service. The eldest among them is Kathleen: mother, attorney, author, professor, politician, public servant. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has blazed a trail from a private practice in environmental law to assistant attorney general of Maryland, to deputy assistant attorney general of the United States, to lieutenant governor of Maryland, to an adjunct professorship at Georgetown University at its School of Public Policy, and to a visiting fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School.Kathleen has chaired the RFK Memorial and was founder of the RFK Human Rights Award. She is a member of the Board of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library Foundation and of several other nonprofit institutions. She is the author of the wildly acclaimed and powerful book, Failing America’s Faithful. To know Kathleen is to more fully appreciate the power of faith, the energy and the sense of mission that moved her father and her mother and continue to drive her in all the good that she has accomplished for so many. Please welcome Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. [applause]
KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND:: Thank you so much. Thank you, Paul. It’s great to be here. I want to thank Paul for leading the John F. Kennedy Library and reviving it and doing such an extraordinary job, and all the staff at the library -- John Shattuck, Tom Putnam, Amy Macdonald -- for arranging this memorial today and for the work that they do daily. They really do a fabulous job. So thank you so much. Really, thank you. [applause]
And, of course, I want to thank my mother, who, as you pointed out so well, Paul, has carried on my father’s legacy and helped all of us, all the children, to remember him and to keep as a family loving and caring for one another. So thank you so much, Mum. [applause]
And I just saw Phil Johnson. Thanks for showing up. Phil is the chair of the Robert K. Memorial and is doing just a wonderful job. He started the Robert Kennedy Action Corps here many, many years ago and is just really a dedicated human being. So it’s good to be with you.
This is a wonderfully interesting year to remember my father. His name is in the news. Many people are referring to him, quoting him, claiming his legacy. Disputes are rampant, and I’m not just talking about my family. [laughter] Of course, there are questions. Who is best able to carry on Robert Kennedy’s legacy? Who speaks for him? His wife? His namesake? His youngest child? His oldest? I go for the oldest myself. [laughter] There must be some advantage to years.
More seriously, the endorsements of different political candidates by members of my family, each of us recalling my father, brings me to the happy conclusion that his legacy lives, it matters, it’s important. I remember walking with my father one cool evening. It was just the two of us at twilight, and the stars were just starting to come out. The President had died a few months before. My father was telling me how he’d tried to create the best administration, what an extraordinary group of people had worked in that effort, and how special that time had been. He then quoted, as we walked, the Crispian Day speech: “This story shall a good man tell his son and Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed that they were not here and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks that fought with us upon St. Crispian’s Day.”
Certainly, I was impressed that he could recite Shakespeare, but I was not surprised. My bedroom was next to his room where each morning he listened to Shakespeare as he did his sit-ups. The story of him besting Richard Burton in a Shakespeare reciting contest in front of Elizabeth Taylor, no less, was part of family lore. Nor that evening did I think how he just talked about manhood and brothers, not sisters and women. That awakening came to me at another time. But that evening I was moved by the sadness of my father’s loss and touched by his deep desire, yearning really, that the feats and scars of those 1,000 days would be long remembered, would be toasted, and talked about for years to come.
He would take satisfaction that we are here today, then, and that we glory in the deeds of giants such as John Seigenthaler and Bill vanden Heuvel and Gerry Doherty and Dolores Huerta and Rafer Johnson and Peter Edelman. He would be pleased.
Still, unlike Henry the V, whose legacy is the glory of a single battle well fought, my father’s memory is more complicated. He engaged in multiple fights in different fields of endeavor. Trying to define my father’s legacy reminds me of a passage in Andre Malraux’s book, Man’s Fate, where the general and the intellectual struggled to figure out what wisdom means. The general declares that everyone defines wisdom in a way that reflects their own worldview, their priorities, and their best view of themselves. I think there’s something to that in how each of us feels about Robert Kennedy. How we look at him says a great deal about how we define the challenges that our country faces, what we want from our leaders, and what we think of ourselves.
There are many aspects to my father: prosecutor, defender of civil rights, moralist, athlete. He prosecuted the mob because he said either they will own the country or we will, and he shamed J. Edgar Hoover into admitting that organized crime did in fact exist. He stood up to Southern governors who had been his allies and who wanted to perpetuate segregation. And then went on to help enact two of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Like Winston Churchill, he believed that moral courage was the most important virtue. So he told college students at Creighton University that the draft deferment was unfair, medical students in Kansas that they had a responsibility to pay for healthcare, and liberals across the country that work was worthwhile. He appreciated the role of faith in public life. On his visit to South Africa in 1966, he said, “It’s not realistic or hard-headed to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and a passion and belief, forces ultimately more powerful than all the calculations of our economists or our generals.” And the God he prayed to was not made in his own image, but was a large God who cared about justice for all.
When he returned from South Africa, he wrote an article entitled, “Suppose God Is Black.” He challenged himself physically, a varsity letter with the Harvard football team, climbing Mount Kennedy, walking 50 miles in bad shoes and snow and ice, kayaking down the Colorado, and telling me, at our Saturday morning touch football practices, “Kathleen, if you can touch it, you can catch it.” Easy for him to say.
He had a great sense of humor. When a Southern governor upset about a Justice Department policy would complain, “This is the most outrageous thing that has ever happened and the attorney general should be impeached.” He would call up the senator and say, “I was thinking of changing my job anyway.” The list goes on. Each of you would have your own special remembrance and insight.
But I would focus on three aspects of my father in the pursuit of justice that I think are most relevant today: politics, results and compassion. First, politics. During his senate campaign, he was being interviewed on a TV talk show and I was sitting in the Carlyle watching him all by myself. The host asked a question and then said something to the effect that, “But you’re not a real politician.” My father could have ducked or demurred. Instead, he disagreed and said, “Yes, I am. I am a politician.” That was a gutsy thing to say because it was popular then -- just as it is popular now -- to criticize politics and politicians, to run against Washington, to claim self-righteousness: “I’m not like those people.” But my father used to quote often John Bucken (?) that “politics is the most honorable profession,” and in fact a book of memories by his friends was entitled An Honorable Profession. His appreciation of politics and engagement, that he saw that happiness comes from participation, from knowing that you can affect change, from knowing that your voice counts not just on election day, but throughout the year in a variety of settings.
So he insisted that 51 percent of the board of community health centers be drawn from the community. He liked community action programs because they were supposed to achieve maximum participation. Government was not supposed to do things to you or for you, but with you. Second, he focused on results. During the 1968 campaign, he said that government is the way to solve our most solemn, common problems. I wish we had politicians today who could say that now. I wish that they would not knock what they’re doing, not pretend it is awful, but rather explain what’s attractive about politics. Why it can be used to solve our biggest and most difficult problems: healthcare, education, the war in Iraq, social security.
When my father saw a problem, he wanted to solve it. He would ask, “What are we going to do about it? Who can help? How are we going to get results?” He was action-oriented. He wanted to accomplish something, not just complain. He wanted people to focus on the problem and solve it. He didn’t want vague answers. I think he was frustrated in the Senate because there was not that same sense of urgency, of getting the job done. In fact, he would often complain that liberals were more interested in being right than getting legislation passed.
In 1967, when the education bill was enacted, he worked really hard -- in a measurement system -- to see if all that federal money that was going into the local school districts would actually get people more educated. And I’m telling you, he met with a lot of resistance then. But he persisted.
And third, what he gave us was a sense of compassion. I think the memory of my father still lives because he touched people’s deepest desires to live a good life. Forty years ago, my father ran for president and still hardly a day passes without someone telling me about an encounter, a shared moment, an act of kindness. He still touches people all around the world. In February, 1968, he agreed, he had agreed, to speak on Sunday evening at my high school in Vermont. And so my parents spent that weekend in New England, during what turned out to be our last weekend together. We raced each other down the ski trails in the brisk air, discussed my paper on Wordsworth by the fire, and talked about running for president.
I loved that he wanted to hear about my life, school, friends, and he wanted to hear what my fellow students were thinking about: Vietnam, race relations. He was so good at asking questions and listening. That Sunday, he addressed the assembled students and talked about the war, the violence in our cities, the desperation on Indian reservations. He painted a picture of a world yearning for justice, and he asked us -- as the privileged and fortunate students that we were -- to get involved, to take our responsibility seriously, to resist merely private pleasure and to use our gifts to lighten and enrich the world.
That night, my friend Sophie and I decided to take up his challenge and to work on an Indian reservation in the summer. I did not imagine then that I would be living with the Navajos after his death. In looking back, I see that he believed in me and he believed in the power and potential of youth, believed that we must make moral choices about our lives. His own sense of justice recognized a role for righteous anger and the value of love and compassion.
He often cited the graffiti on the wall of the pyramids that no one was angry enough to speak out. And his anger at injustice impelled him to attack corruption in the labor unions. He insisted that the Greyhound Bus Company, which resisted transporting the Freedom Riders, to find a driver. He reminded the sheriffs who wanted to preventively arrest the farm workers about the Bill of Rights. He suggested to American diplomats who would defend South American oligarchs and North American business interests that those who make a peaceful revolution impossible make a violent revolution inevitable.
And yet, when the injustice attached to him directly, he did not react in anger. When my uncle, John Kennedy, died, he wrote me a letter from the White House. “Dear Kathleen, You seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the grandchildren, you have a special responsibility. Be kind to others and work hard for your country. Love, Daddy.”
At that moment, he could’ve been bitter. He could’ve been angry, resentful, vengeful. And yet by writing, he told me that he was thinking of me, caring about me, wanting me to be responsible, kind and loving. Most remarkably, that understanding heart embraced people all around the world, not ones who were easy to love, but those who were difficult. He believed in treating enemies with respect rather than vilifying them, so he wrote Just Friends and Brave Enemies. He said we should talk to the Vietcong. He reached his hand to children living in unheated shacks in Appalachia, to students protesting US foreign policy in Japan and South America. He broke bread with Cesar Chavez after his month-long fast. His love impelled him to drive into an inner-city when Martin Luther King was killed and say, “My brother was also killed by a white man,” and asked that there be love and compassion, not revenge. It is hard to dance between anger and love. In this world that is unfair and unjust, it is so much easier to fall victim to anger’s righteousness. My father had reason to curse the fates, but he resisted that course. He chose a path that found wisdom in pain and in so doing demonstrated empathy for those who hailed from different nations, social classes, ethnicities or faiths.
I think his memory lives because we each yearn for examples of those who go forward in the face of tragedy. Politics results in compassion and the most important of these is compassion. At the City Club of Cleveland the day after Martin Luther King was killed, he said, “We must recognize that this short life can either be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course, we cannot banish it with a program nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember, even if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers and sisters, that they share this same short moment of life, that they seek, as we do, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can. Sure this bond of common faith, this bond of common good, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn at least to look at those around as fellow men and fellow women, surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts countrymen once again.” Thank you for putting on this remembrance. [applause]
JOHN SHATTUCK: Kathleen, thank you so much for those beautiful, moving remarks to start our conference. I’m John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and it’s my privilege to introduce the first panel of this historic 40th anniversary conference. Let me echo Paul Kirk by saying how honored the Kennedy Library is to host the conference and how wonderful it is to be able to welcome Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy here amongst us. Ethel, thank you so much.
Our first panel will take us right to the heart of Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign: what motivated him to run, how was the campaign organized, what was happening in the primary states, how did RFK respond to the mood of the country and how did the country respond to him? And to answer these questions, we have an extraordinary panel of speakers who were with Robert Kennedy in this historic moment and have gone on to make their own marks on history.
Let me introduce them starting with the two speakers to my left and coming at the end to John Seigenthaler. Gerard Doherty ran Robert Kennedy's campaign in Indiana, the first primary state in the campaign. Gerry is a distinguished member of the Kennedy Library Foundation Board of Directors. He’s a Massachusetts state representative and former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, who also served as Senator Edward Kennedy’s campaign manager in 1962, and Jimmy Carter’s New York State presidential campaign director in 1976, and now practices law in Boston.
Peter Edelman was at Robert Kennedy’s side as his key adviser throughout his Senate career and his presidential campaign. He joined Senator Kennedy’s staff after serving as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. He’s the author of Searching for America’s Heart: RFK and the Renewal of Hope. And he teaches at the Georgetown University School of Law.
Rafer Johnson was a close friend and adviser to Robert Kennedy who traveled with him throughout the 1968 campaign and was with him in Los Angeles the night of the California primary. An Olympic decathlon gold medalist in 1960 and the bearer of the Olympic torch in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Rafer founded the California Special Olympics in 1969 and is a member of the International Board of Special Olympics.
Dolores Huerta -- I’m sorry, Dolores, I didn’t mean to skip over you -- co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Cesar Chavez in 1962 and has dedicated her life to fighting for better working conditions for people all over the country, especially farm workers. She was a strong supporter of Robert Kennedy and helped him win the California primary, and today she is the president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which focuses on organizing and leadership training in low-income and under-represented communities.
Bill vanden Heuvel was Robert Kennedy’s special assistant during his time as attorney general. Later, he served as ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and is deputy US representative to the UN in New York. Since 1987, he’s been the president of our sister presidential library foundation, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. He’s the author of another leading book about Robert Kennedy, On His Own: RFK 1964-1968.
Last but certainly not least, the moderator of both of our panels in this conference today is John Seigenthaler. John was a distinguished journalist for the Nashville Tennessean when he joined Robert Kennedy’s staff in the Justice Department in 1961. He was deeply involved in the Kennedy administration’s civil rights struggles and was sent by Attorney General Robert Kennedy as his special representative to aid the Freedom Riders in their historic desegregation trip through the Deep South, where he was attacked by a mob of Klansmen in Montgomery, Alabama and badly beaten. John is one of our nation’s foremost journalists and founded the First Amendment Center in 1991 to promote national dialogue and debate. Please join me in welcoming to the stage of the Kennedy Library Gerard Doherty, Peter Edelman, Rafer Johnson, Dolores Huerta, Bill vanden Heuvel, and John Seigenthaler. [applause]
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, John. What a great honor it is for me, and I know for my colleagues, to be here today with Ethel, dear Ethel, and with Kathleen, and with all of you who share something -- whatever your age -- share something of the sense of what that campaign, that last campaign, was about. We come from, as you’ve just heard from John, different parts of the country, and we met Robert Kennedy in different ways. And the question is whether we, with our collective memories, can over the next hour help you recapture a sense of the spirit and vitality of that campaign. It was, I think for all of us, and I know for many of you, it was a campaign to be remembered. Not, as Paul Kirk said, out of a sense of nostalgia, but for what it meant for that time and what it can mean for this time, and, indeed, in political life, what it might mean for every time -- hopefully it could mean for every time.
And let me just begin with Bill vanden Heuvel. As you’ve heard, he was there in the Justice Department. He played a role particularly in working on solutions to tough problems in the area of civil rights. And then Robert Kennedy runs for the United States Senate and Bill, a New Yorker, is part of that campaign. And, Bill, I’ll just begin by asking you what your own thoughts and feelings were. You and so many others had invested so much in making certain that this carpetbagger from Massachusetts by way of Washington could get elected to the United States Senate there in New York, and you were active in making a success of that. Now, there is another risk, another step, another leap. What’s going on in your head and your heart as he begins to talk about the possibility of a change?
WILLIAM VANDEN HEUVEL: Dear Ethel, Kathleen, thank you for the beautiful, eloquent statement about your father. John, I think it’s important to recall those days of 1964 as it leads to the presidency and the campaign of ’68. Robert Kennedy was overwhelmed with anguish and grief and sadness, the death of the President, and struggled to find his own direction. For all of us, we looked to him as the one who carried this faltering lamp hopefully to a new plateau and to a new mountain peak where the dreams of John F. Kennedy would be realized and enhanced.
And in that period of 1964, as he struggled with what he should do, he thought of many things. He wrote to President Johnson about being ambassador to Vietnam. He then decided that being vice president might be the best course to proceed. And there was tremendous strength for that possibility in the country, to Democratic leaders everywhere. But, of course, the things that he had to wrestle with at that period of time included one of the most extraordinary, deceptive, brilliant, manipulative politicians of our time, Lyndon Johnson.
And by July, it was already July of 1964 when President Johnson called him to the White House and told him that he would not choose him to be the candidate for vice president. Robert Kennedy had already announced that he was not going to run for the Senate in New York. So faced with this decision by Johnson, he quickly had to figure how to stay in the public life and keep alive the possibilities that, one day, he would ascend to the presidency. And, believe me, at that point people were thinking -- and he was thinking -- of 1972, not 1968. He decided to run for the Senate in New York and a key ally was Robert Wagner, then mayor.
And at one point, Adam Clayton Powell made an announcement that he was going to choose the candidate for president with the bosses in New York, and not Robert Wagner. So Bobby took a great risk and said, “I will not run for Senate in New York unless Robert Wagner endorses me, and I am his candidate.” Because he realized that boss-ism was a very destructive issue in New York politics and could certainly cost him the election.
He won that nomination and then began a campaign that, as 1968 developed … it has to be remembered what was happening then. These enormous crowds throughout the state, hundreds of thousands of people, every city, small villages, one o’clock in the morning in Glen Falls, New York, 4,000 people waiting in the street for Robert Kennedy, the candidate, to come six hours late on a campaign journey. And so those who saw what was developing in 1964 were prepared somewhat for what then happened in 1968. And this also happened: They were so overwhelmed by crowds that the message he was trying to deliver, the message that he wanted to talk about, what government should be and what he wanted to do as a senator, was immersed, submerged, really, in the crowds. Well, it was a fascinating campaign and a classic campaign in many ways, that I wish there were details from it. But my point of it is, since we’re really talking about the presidency, is that Robert Kennedy, in my judgment at least, did not seriously contemplate running for the presidency in 1968 until 1967.
He was faced with -- first of all, we all think today of the Vietnam War and being overwhelmed by it -- but when he was elected to the Senate, and as much as in 1966, the war in Vietnam was relatively new because on the day of John Kennedy’s death we had only 16,000 advisers, no combat forces in Vietnam. And it was Lyndon Johnson who escalated the war in ’65 and ’66 and made it our war. And so that that developed as an issue, but it wasn’t the dominant issue when he was elected to the Senate, and it wasn’t the dominant issue in 1965 and ’66.
He became the principal spokesman who understood what Vietnam and our involvement meant as a nation. We’ve heard the talk about his concept of public morality. He was terribly disturbed to see a war where literally thousands and thousands of innocent Vietnamese were being killed, where a country was being destroyed, where our own soldiers were being killed, and yet the country was so little involved with it and felt so little responsibility for it. So 1967, in March, he gave a major speech on Vietnam, and he was thoroughly identified as the major spokesman on that issue against Johnson at that point, or at least Johnson thought so, and it was true. And then groups including Al Lowenstein -- who many of you will remember -- came forward and urged him to stand up against Johnson as the candidate. Now, that was one of the most complicated and difficult decisions that could possibly be made, because Robert Kennedy understood that if he stood up against Johnson it looked as though he was calling for the rights of restoration, that you had to have someone speak to the cause of Vietnam where the issue itself was alone and not complicated by the rivalries of Robert Kennedy seeking the presidency that Lyndon Johnson had succeeded to.
But the warfare between Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy was intense. It was personal, and I think ultimately discouraged him from making a decision in 1967 that he should be the candidate. In my judgment, the decision to run for the presidency he made in February 1968, and he made it after the Tet Offensive, before New Hampshire, before the results of New Hampshire were known. He had sent word to Eugene McCarthy that he was going to be a candidate. And regardless of what had happened in New Hampshire, had made that decision to run.
He saw the war, and he saw the lack of interest and concern and the dedication of resources to the problems that the Kerner Commission had reported. He had lived through Watts; he had seen the racial devastation of divisiveness, and he desperately wanted to have as a leadership in this country someone who was committed to that. So it came -- and, I mean, maybe in the course of this we’ll go through the extraordinarily painful journey that it took to making that decision, and he was ambiguous many times. Certainly, his heart and his soul wanted him to be the spokesman for the cause that he felt so deeply about, but the politics of the occasion, I think, justified his delay.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Thanks, Bill. Peter, let me move next to you. You’re on the Senate staff in the months of decision-making that Bill opens the door on. And there is ambivalence and there is indecision and there are people like me saying, “Don’t do it. Lyndon Johnson’s going to be president. He doesn’t like you, you don’t like him. You don’t unseat a sitting president at a convention.” Absolute logic from my point of view. Not logic from your point of view. Not logic from the point of view of Jeff Greenfield, Adam Walinski. Early on you’re pushing in the other way. Why? And didn’t it occur to you that we were right about that? [laughter]
PETER EDELMAN: First, let me say, I’m so honored to be here, John, and to be with Ethel and Kathleen, your wonderful remarks. Well, yes, it occurred to me you were quite wrong -- isn’t that what you just asked? [laughter] Not only me, we couldn’t understand that whole bunch of you. Well, you know, Robert Kennedy, I think, had -- and let me say, just before I go into that, just so we record a little piece of history, I was Bill vanden Heuvel’s assistant in the 1964 senatorial campaign. It’s important to have that on the record. If I hadn’t learned everything that I know from Robert Kennedy, I surely would have from Bill vanden Heuvel.
Well, of course, it was a tremendously turbulent time. Everyone in the room knows that, either from having lived through it or otherwise. And this war that so many millions of Americans opposed so deeply, that was so wrong, and the depth of the racial divisions in our country, the concerns about poverty, and many other things, but certainly the question of a need for reconciliation at home and for ending that war.
I’ve always thought of Robert Kennedy as being a person, such a complex man, but at least two things vying for each other in his mind. On the one hand, a kind of a foot in regular politics, if you will, in the idea that you don’t go into something, you don’t run for office you don’t go into something that you don’t expect to win or that you might very well not win. And the fact was that if you just thought about it in conventional political terms, that was probably rather likely.
The other part of him, increasingly so, I think, as he was in the Senate, as he was on his own, as your book is entitled, Bill, and as he saw and experienced and was connected to these tremendous divisions in our society, was that there was a cause. A cause-oriented politics is different. Cause-oriented politics says you do it simply because it’s right, and he always thought about what was right. But he was somebody who throughout every election that he’d been in with his brother, the President, everything else, he’d always worked to win.
And I think he also believed that any time he would -- starting when these divisions were there -- that he would stick his foot into the public water, so to speak, that it would in some ways make matters worse, because the relations with Lyndon Johnson was so psychologically fraught that he would fear that Johnson would do something actually worse as a result of the fact that Robert Kennedy had espoused a decision.
So you had the struggle going on. And it wasn’t just the younger ones against the older and wiser ones. I can remember some who had gray in their hair by then, who also thought he ought to do it. And so, it was a time of being really torn, really torn, and he had decided by the time, as it turned out, by the day of the Tet Offensive, at the end of January 1968, that he was not going to run.
And he went into the Godfrey Sperling breakfast, which was a Washington institution that used to take place at the old Sheraton Carlton Hotel on 16th and K -- of course, there are no cell phones, no instant messaging coming through, none of that technology, all those things -- you went in there and the door was shut and you didn’t know what was going on in the outside world. And during the time of that breakfast, during which he said to the reporters, “I will not be a candidate for president under any foreseeable circumstances,” the news of the Tet Offensive came across the wires from the other side of the world.
And so he walked out, having said that, with the whole political framework, the whole equation, having been changed by that attack of the Vietcong halfway across the world. So for that next period of time, over the month of February, he was struggling with what to do with much more of a sense of duty that he had to do that, but having stuck himself, inadvertently if you will, by making that statement. And so I think that was a very tough time.
Now, the last thing that I want to say in terms of the end of that segment of the history, that story, is that on March 10th, 1968, which is, in a way, not only remarkable historically but remarkable that the three of us sitting here were involved in the events of that day, because he was on his way to be with Cesar Chavez when Cesar was going to break the fast that he’d had, which Kathleen referred to, and -- so Dolores, of course, was there, and you and I and Ed Guffman. You joined us in Des Moines where we had been at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, and we got to Los Angeles and I thought: “What’s John doing here? It’s always nice to see John, but what’s this about?”
And we got into a four-seater plane. Ed joined us. Now, I’ve got kind of a double mystery in my mind. I mean, this is an important day, certainly, for the farm workers and literally for Cesar Chavez’ physical health because the fast had taken a toll. We got on that plane and Robert Kennedy turned to the three of us and he said, “I am going to run for president,” two days before the New Hampshire primary, which was scheduled for March 12th. And so, I think all of us, as long as I’m around to say anything, want to share that little piece, that little, in a sense, footnote, but that piece of eyewitness to history. Because clearly he had come to that decision. He didn’t get up that morning and say -- or whenever he called you to ask you to come -- and say, “I think I’ll run.” I’m sure he and Ethel talked about it and he talked about it with other people and with his family, maybe the children. So, Bill, as you said, during that month of February 1968, he came to that decision, and I know we can talk more about the campaign as it unfolded, but that’s where I would start the conversation.
WILLIAM VANDEN HEUVEL: I remember we walked into the place where Cesar was on his cot and the first thing Bob said to him was, “Cesar, how goes the strike?” And Cesar Chavez said, “Bobby, that’s not the question. How goes the campaign?” [laughter] And I thought, “You know, there is something to spiritualism after all.” Cesar wasn’t on that plane, but he knew.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Well, let’s go to Indiana. Here, the carpetbagger has been from Massachusetts to Washington to New York and now, Gerard Doherty, you're out there. First of all, what’s a wonderful Irish-Catholic lad like you doing in Indiana and heading up a Robert Kennedy campaign?
GERARD DOHERTY: I carry a St. Jude medal for the impossible. The best way to begin is begin. I got a call the following Thursday after Robert Kennedy announced from Edward Kennedy, and he was somewhat guarded and hesitant and said, “Indiana is the first primary we might be able to get into. Would you have anybody who would go to Indiana and look around?” After he sort of hemmed and hawed a little bit, I said, “Do you want me to go?” And he said, “That would be great.” [laughter] So I said, “We have all this stuff down in Washington.” So I got on a plane and flew to Washington and got all this stuff. “All this stuff” turned out to be the names of three people that we had in Indiana. So I flew to Indiana and got there at midnight, and I was greeted by three men who made this whole thing possible: a fellow by the name of Michael Riley, a fellow by the name of Lou Maillehearn (?), and a guy by the name of Bill Shriver. And I said, “Well, what do we have to do to get on the ballot?” And they said, “Ahh, they just passed a law. First of all, he has to file 5,500 certified signatures in five and a half days. You can’t have any more than 500 in one congressional district. We have 11 congressional districts. So you have to get 5,500 signatures in six days. In addition to that, what you have to do is you have to get them certified by the county clerk. And we know several of the county clerks, particularly a county clerk by the name of Cooper who was up in Lake County, which was Gary and Hammond, he will not certify at all.”
So I said, “Well, do we have a petition?” And he said, “No, we don’t have a petition.” I said, “Can you get a petition for the governor?” -- who had announced he was going to run, Roger Brannigan -- “And we’ll get his petition to make sure that all the words are in the right place, take his name off the petition and have them printed?” Well, they thought that was a brilliant idea. So we worked all night. The next question is how are we going to get about 10,000 signatures in six days? So I got on the phone, and maybe the statute of limitations has …
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Now we’re going to find out what a good Irish boy was doing in Indiana.
GERARD DOHERTY: Being an Irish-Catholic, the first thing I did is I called, oh, maybe about 18 Catholic schools, and then I got up to Fort Wayne and I really hit a boon about 9:30 that morning. I got 18 seminarians from Fort Wayne. A determination was made to go to the biggest population centers in each one of these districts, and then we decided what we’d do is go to the colleges. And then, about 10 o’clock that morning, somebody said something about Crispus Attucks High School. And I can remember Crispus Attucks being killed at the Boston Massacre. So I called up the principal and I said, “Robert Kennedy is going to present his petitions next Thursday night” -- this is Friday morning before -- “and he will have a parade, and we’d like the Crispus Attucks Band to lead the parade.” Well, he thought that was terrific, except at 2:30 I called him and I said, “You know, I don’t know if this is going to happen.” And he said, “Well, what’s the problem?” I said, “We have to get some signatures and we don’t have anybody.” So we ended up getting, we had just … I must say, I’m going to make an aside now. There are over 30 people in this audience today who really should be saluted, because they came from Massachusetts and they worked -- in those days we didn’t have operatives, we didn’t have tacticians, we didn’t have consultants -- all of these people worked free. I mean, they weren’t paid, as I wasn’t paid. Anyway, we had a very good Saturday, and the other thing we were doing, we kept sending petition by Greyhound, and we were doing pretty well. And then we ran into a problem in going into Gary. Every petition we sent never arrived. And then we later found out that Roger Brannigan was the lawyer who represented Greyhound, and that's why they didn’t arrive. So we ended up calling some people in Chicago, and they came down and handled the first district.
Anyway, to make a long story very short, by late Sunday night, it appeared that we were well on our way to get the 10,000. So I called Senator Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, and he said, “Well, why don’t you come tomorrow?” So I flew to Washington and I got to a meeting. There were about eight or nine people at the meeting. And I proceeded to say, “Everything is terrific. I think we can run.” And nobody in the room favored going in.
They gave me a lot of history. They told me that the last northern Ku Klux Klan hanging was in Kokomo, Indiana. They then told me that John Kennedy has lost Indiana by 200,000 votes. They then told me how not one single elected official in the state of Indiana was going to support them. And I kept saying, “Well, all that might be true, but how somebody who lacks charisma, lacks vitality and energy like myself can go and get 10,000 signatures in two days.”
So also it’s rather appropriate we’re in the Stephen Smith Pavilion, because he was the only one -- you know, I was sort of a ward of his and he sort of mumbled support for me. And then the door opened, and Robert Kennedy came in. And he listened to the argument for about 10 minutes. He said, “Look, if I’m going to run, I have to start some place, and if I’m as good as I think I am and if our organization is as good as it should be, we’ll be okay. And if it isn’t, we should find out earlier rather than later.” So off we were, and we then proceeded to work at it.
And I can tell you something anecdotally, going to the very end, after we had beaten the governor, I said to Steve Smith, “You know, all the people in the world you could have sent out here, why did you send me? I mean, you had all those topnotch people in that room.” And he said, “Yeah, well, they’re very smart, do you agree?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “They all were privy to a poll which showed that Robert Kennedy would lose to Roger Brannigan by 17 points. That’s why you went.” [laughter]
So one of the other things I have to tell you, in addition to staffing Indiana, one of my other jobs was to send people to various places. And, you know, sometimes your memory makes you more important today than you were then. And I think I was, you know, I could walk on water. But one person who is here today had the best record of anybody during that whole campaign -- it was former judge David Harrison. Not only did he win one state for Robert Kennedy, he won the state of North Dakota and South Dakota.
And let me tell you sort of a funny story, and with this I’ll turn the microphone back. When I first went in the legislature -- my mother had died when I was very young, but she was a great Beano fan. My father, who had gone to the third grade in school, was lecturing me about my duties in the legislature, and he told me, “Well, just to know where you came from, never vote to fire anybody, and, for your mother’s sake, be for Beano.” [laughter] So I was for Beano, and I worked very hard for Beano. Now, we come fast-forward to the campaign, and I used to talk to David Harrison every day. And I said, “How is it going?” And he said, “Well, it’s going pretty well, but, boy, these Kennedys have more Chinese fire drills and you keep needing people and people.” And he said, “But I finally figured out how to work it out.” But he says, “I hate you.” I said, “Well, how did you work it out?” He says, “I had on the Indian reservations Beanos. I had all the people that elected you.” So there I was -- and he always voted against Beano. So with that, I should let some other people …
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: It’s so interesting when you think back, listening to the three of you speak, just anecdotes flare, and we could spend the day reminiscing about important times and times interspersed with great moments of humor and great moments of frustration. And I never had any sense that he could win Indiana or take it away from McCarthy, much less beat Brannigan in his own state on a political matter.
GERARD DOHERTY: His hometown.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: And as you tell that story about how people flocked to him, I turn to Rafer. What was it, what was the magnet for you, Rafer, that pulled you into this political campaign? Now, the background, deeply immersed in presidential politics, what was it about this politician, this honorable politician that reached out and grabbed you?
RAFER JOHNSON: Well, as with all of you, I’m very pleased to be here this morning, to be with Kathleen and Ethel. I think I saw in Robert Kennedy … I knew nothing about, obviously, all of this that was going on behind the scenes and establishing what was to happen down the line in those early days. But I think I made a somewhat simple, as Kathleen said in her remarks, when you look at a person and when you look at Robert Kennedy, your love for him comes in a direct way in terms of what he’s doing and what you’re doing. And I was in athletics and sports and I thought that Robert Kennedy was the best athlete among all of the … [laughter] … And I felt especially thoughtful when Kathleen mentioned that her dad said, “You know, if you can touch it, you can catch it.”
Now being an athlete, you know, I had just won a gold medal, and when Robert Kennedy said, “Go out.” I mean, I knew I had to catch it. There was no way that I could miss the ball. But I thought, “Well, here’s an excuse. I could say I ran track and this is football.” But I knew that that was not going to work with Robert Kennedy. [laughter] You know, I have the honor of getting to know Robert Kennedy in the very late ‘50s, and, again, knew very little about the internal workings of all the things that he was involved in as a politician. But the one thing that I did really hold onto very profoundly was the fact that he had this athletic mind of being the best that he could be. And whatever he did, you knew that he was going to be, in terms of sports, one of the best on the field. And, you know, honestly, when he chose his team, you kind of wanted to be on his team as well, because it was probably going to end up as a victory that day. But Robert Kennedy had a great passion for not only being the best that he could be, but working with the focus and the interest of having all of us, wherever we came from, whatever our walk of life profession, he wanted all of us to be the best that we could be, and all make our best and greatest contribution. So that, of course, pulled me to Robert Kennedy in getting to know him in the late ‘50s.
And I also made a commitment only to myself -- I never said this to Robert Kennedy until 1968 -- I decided that if Robert Kennedy, with my living in California, that if Robert Kennedy ever ran for political office that I would support him, and I would support him and I’d be at his side. And I made that commitment in 1959. And so I was around him for a number of years before he decided to run. And when he decided to run, I had just gotten the best job that I could possibly have wanted in my life. I was named sports commentator for KNBC in Los Angeles. And when Robert Kennedy announced, I knew exactly what I had to do. And I proceeded to help him. As it turned out, NBC thought that I was taking a little too much time campaigning and not enough time on my sports. They decided to take me off the air, which also, that made it easier for me then to do what I committed myself to doing all those years ago. So I was overjoyed that that decision was made in 1968, and pleased with this opportunity of working with Robert Kennedy.
Now, again, I didn’t know all the reasons that that decision was made. We heard some this morning; we read about him as history has gone by here. But it came to life with me early on in that campaign why I was so pleased with the decision I made to work with Robert Kennedy and be a part of a glorious time and some glorious days. And I think back on one incident -- I’ll take time to do that here -- we were in Oakland and it had been a long tough day. And we ended up spending the evening with the Senator speaking to a group of people that included several members of the Black Panther Party. And they were very, very hard on the Senator. But he, as he always did, he said the very same thing no matter where he went. We could be in Beverly Hills, we could be in any of the individual states, it could be a group of individuals that included no people of color or it could be a full room of color, and Robert Kennedy always spoke to the importance of each of us being the best that we could be, and each of the people in the room making the greatest contribution they can make.
Well, through this whole process it got very heated. He answered all the questions. And when they were finished, I was over in the corner with a couple of the men who were in the Panther Party, and they were quizzing me on why this black man could support this white man? I simply said to them that he was the best, that he would serve America, that we would all be proud that he could serve America, that the candidate could serve America, and as president he’d serve it the same way. Well, while I was having this conversation, everybody left. They got in their car and boom. And I’m alone in this building with all these people that had been spoken to earlier in the evening. Well, to make a long story short, I think they remembered about halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge that Rafer wasn’t here -- where is he? And they sent a car back for me -- I think John was in that car -- to be sure that I got back.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: We were halfway over that bridge and Bob said, “Rafer?” And we were packed into this car and there’s no answer. And he said, “Where the hell is Rafer?” And when we got back to the church in Oakland, he was in front, sitting down, and he had a crowd of children around him. It was a great moment. It was a great moment. You were never forgotten.
RAFER JOHNSON: And even greater, John, was the next day when we went back to the same area for a parade through the community with Robert. Several of those individuals who had given Robert the most intense questioning the evening before walked alongside of the car, protecting that automobile. So it indicated again how powerful and how willing the people around this country, particularly in California -- because that’s where I was at the time -- were willing to reach out and grab him and not let go.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Dolores, if there was a cause that was close to his heart, it was the cause of that strike. It was the cause of those farm workers whose lives literally were on the line from time to time, certainly their wellbeing right on the table. And I remember hearing that he conducted, which my guess is you had something to do with setting that hearing up, but during the course of it the sheriff, I think, of Clark County, maybe …
DOLORES HUERTA: Kern County.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Yeah, Bob asked him why he had abused these citizens. He said, “Well, they were going to cause trouble. They were going to hurt people. They were going to do violence.” Bob said, “Well, how did you know that?” He said, “Well, we just knew.” Bob said, “So you arrested them?” He said, “Yes, they were going to do violence.” Bob said, “Mr. Chairman, during the break, could we arrange for the sheriff to read the Constitution of the United States.” But Dolores, from New England to Indiana to California, his ability to capture all sorts of people and to fight for the cause of people who are poor and powerless, nowhere did that spirit manifest itself more than in California. Talk about that.
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, first of all, I just want to thank all of you -- Ethel, Kathleen, the Kennedy Foundation, and all of you that have worked hard to keep Robert’s legacy alive, because … And the difference -- and I say this as a person who’s always worked with poor people and immigrants and undocumented, et cetera -- and I want to say this about the Kennedy family, and it comes from something that happened to me when I was just getting involved when I was in my early years, a teenager, we went to the home of this congressman and when my mother and I got there -- we had been invited to have a luncheon there -- they said, “Well, you have to come in through the back door.” Because they thought we were the maids, right?
And after meeting the Kennedy family, I just want to say to this day that the Kennedys bring you in through the front door, okay, never through the back door. [applause] And the thing is that when you think of people who are in political power and in political office, and for people, I think, that are affluent, maybe who’s in office doesn’t really affect them that much. But when you are poor, whether you’re working poor or the homeless or even in the middle class, I think in today’s world, who is in office really affects your life, you know, in so many ways. I can give 100 examples, which I won’t do right now.
And this is, of course, I think why people loved … I remember when John Kennedy was the president, among the folks that we worked with, the farm workers, they always said, “He’s the Mexican president.” This is John Kennedy. “He’s the Mexican president.” And, of course, a lot of that then was also attributed to Robert. And his relationship with the union had actually gone back a few years, way back when he was campaigning for JFK in California. And he had come to California to do fundraisers. Farm workers in Deleno did not have a clinic, a 24-hour clinic. So he helped us raise money so that we could establish a clinic for volunteer doctors, but it would be open 24 hours for the farm workers in that area.
And after that momentous day of that hearing when the Senate committee came to Deleno and had that hearing and where he instructed of course the sheriff to read the Constitution after so many of us had been arrested, we would just walk out to the picket line and they would pick us up and put us in jail for nothing. The next day after that we had a march. And it was interesting, because it started on St. Patrick’s Day. We started that march -- and this is in 1966 now, we’re going way back -- and the police tried to stop the march. They all got up in front of the march and they tried … Which was ridiculous, right? And of course Robert was there and spoke to the police and they let us keep on marching. So, you know, his involvement with us was very, very personal.
I came out to the boycott, to head up the Eastern boycott in 1968, and the first day we had all these farm workers that had come across country on a bus, on a school bus -- without any heat, by the way -- and we got into New York. And a bunch of the farm workers went out to Kuntz (?) Point Produce Market, and they got arrested. They all got arrested, all 40 of them. So what do we do now? So we picked up the phone and called the Senator’s office. “We've got all these farm workers arrested.” And, of course, right away he sent his attorneys down there to get them so they could get released and not be charged with trespassing or whatever it was that we had been charged with. So he was very helpful. So when Cesar started that fast and they said, “We have to get the Senator to come out here,” I sort of stalked him everywhere he went in New York so I could finally tell him what we wanted him to do to come out here and be with Cesar when he ended that fast.
And, of course, that was a rather glorious moment. And I just want to say, when he spoke, and I know Kathleen, I’ve heard Kathleen give that speech that he gave, but the one thing that was so important to the workers that he included in that speech, of course, he talked about Cesar’s great sacrifice, his great spirit. He had gone 25 days without any food, just water and Holy Communion, but the one thing that I remembered -- because I was there translating the speech for the Senator -- when he said to the workers, “You will some day remember that you were here with Cesar, that you sacrificed with him, that you stood with him.” And saying this to workers who had, by this time we’d been on strike for three years. That’s a long strike. And at some point people start losing hope and Cesar was doing that 25 day fast for non-violence so the workers would not get desperate and turn to violence. But those words, he just lifted everyone. When he got there, when the Senator arrived, one of our organizers had this bright idea. You know, here we have thousands of people in this park, he said, “Well, we’re just going to have all the workers line up with their flags, and the Senator and us, the board members, will walk between these flags and escort the Senator to where Cesar is at.” Are you kidding? We almost got crushed to death. People just came in and just tried to touch him. It was a very scary moment, actually, for us at that moment. “Hey, no, get back, get back!” And people were just touching him. It was just an incredible moment.
Well, after he gave his speech and after Cesar and he broke the fast, you know, as he was starting to leave, then again the workers just crowded around him, and I believe he hopped on a car, and the workers were all yelling, “Kennedy for President, Kennedy for President!” I mean, it was just that one chant over and over and over again. And so the workers to this day think that they’re the ones that got him to run for president, okay? To this day, they really believe that.
And then, of course, I’m going to add this, too, because it’s something that people don’t know, but Cesar, I think, after that 25 day fast, he only rested, I think, about maybe a week or so, and right away we got the news that McCarthy, Eugene McCarthy, had won the election in Oregon. The Senator announced, and we had to get busy for the campaign. So we were all given our assignments, and I was so happy because I was going to be riding with the Senator on the train through California. Well, that changed really quick, because immediately Cesar said, “No, I’m going to go down to Los Angeles to start setting up the campaign down there. I want you to go through the state of California and start setting up committees.” Every place we would call ahead of time, we’d get people together and start telling them why it was important for them to get involved in the campaign. And then I ended up in Los Angeles with the rest of the organizers.
And what we did there, and it was just, you know, I tell other politicians this, I think the one thing about both Cesar and Robert Kennedy is that their faith was so strong. And when I talk about faith, I’m talking about faith in people, just faith in people. That people will respond, people will get out there. What we did to set up that campaign in Los Angeles -- because we only had a few weeks to set up the campaign before the primary -- so what we would do is we would get our precincts and then we would go knock on doors until we found somebody who was willing to be a precinct captain. Then we would leave them all the material. And then we would jump to the next precinct. And so we had all these farm workers that had come down to Los Angeles. They were sleeping on church floors and going out every single day, and we worked both in East LA and South Central. We worked both areas. But by doing this and getting people just to volunteer is that they would say, “Yeah, I’ll take over and I’ll make sure that we get people in our precinct, let them know about the election.” We were able to set up anywhere from five to ten precincts a day. And so this is why we were able to accomplish this task in a very short period of time.
And the thing is that there was so much enthusiasm. It wasn’t like you had to convince people to vote for Robert Kennedy. One of Cesar’s cousins, Emmanuel Chavez, he had a great thing going, and what he would do is he would have pictures of Robert and then when the person agreed to be the precinct captain, he would take their picture, you know, take their picture with a picture of Robert Kennedy in their hands. And so, they were officially sworn in to be the precinct captain for Robert Kennedy. So it was just wonderful, because people were so enthusiastic. It’s something that I think is a very, very rare thing to see in today’s world. But, of course, it was just an incredible campaign.
And just because, I started to say what people don’t know is that after that campaign, Cesar was bed-ridden for a whole year. His whole body went into very excruciating cramps. The rest of us went out and we did the grape boycott, finished the boycott, and Cesar really, people thought that he was going to be sick for life. And, again, it was a phone call, and I was on the boycott, I went back to California in February of ’69, and Cesar was still bed-ridden, running the union from a bed. He couldn’t get up. So one of the nurses that was there, Peggy McGivern, I said, “Well, we have to do something.” So we called Ted Kennedy. We called Ted Kennedy and Senator Kennedy sent out his doctor to look at Cesar and to get Cesar on his feet. So, again, that spiritual connection is still there and it’s still very, very strong. Thank you.
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Rafer spoke about Bob’s straight talk, tell it just the way it is, and I have to tell it just the way it is. I was supposed to have said we were going to have written questions from the audience. That was my instruction when I came up here, and in the interest of talking straight I just forgot. But I don’t know if Amy has, on her own, collected questions, and if you want to bring them to me I’ll …
PETER EDELMAN (?): John, can I say a word?
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: I just wanted to confess.
PETER EDELMAN (?): In the course of this campaign, it should be clear there was a tremendous amount of passion, and not all of it was love. It was a tremendous amount of anger against Robert Kennedy’s candidacy. Eugene McCarthy had stood up in response to groups asking to have an anti-Vietnam candidate. November 30th, when he announced that he was going to be that candidate, he said, “I expect Robert Kennedy to carry the banner to the convention.” So he never seriously had an expectation that he would be the Democratic candidate that would emerge in the 1968 convention. But then came New Hampshire, and although he didn’t win the New Hampshire primary, I think he had 42 percent of the vote. It was widely interpreted as a victory, and it changed the dynamics of the whole situation.
Robert Kennedy had made his decision to run, but the New Hampshire primary made it appear as though he had decided to run because now he saw that Johnson was vulnerable. We had dinner at Hickory Hill the night before Robert’s announcement on the 16th of March, and we wanted to do everything possible that the McCarthy people knew that we had a common enemy here, and that we had to work together to accomplish something. So it was decided that Senator Ted Kennedy would go to Green Bay and meet with McCarthy. And so on the night of March 15th, Ted Kennedy, with Dick Goodwin and Blair Clark, flew out to Green Bay and met with Eugene McCarthy in the depths of the night, and Abigail McCarthy, the senator’s wife, was in on the meeting. Gene McCarthy did not take to it very favorable or nicely, to be woken up in the middle of the night for a conversation that he thought was totally unnecessary about how he was going to cooperate with Robert Kennedy. So Bobby had asked me to stay up during the night in the library of Hickory Hill and wait for Teddy’s return, so that we knew what the message was. And I’ll never forget Senator Edward Kennedy walking in the house at about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I said, “Ted, what happened?” He said, “Abigail said no.” [laughter]
And there was one other dramatic event that should be recounted, and that was March 31st, which changed the entire nature of the campaign, when Lyndon Johnson, stunning the nation, announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection. And so the force that had united the opposition suddenly disappeared, and you had Eugene McCarthy running as a proponent of the anti-Vietnam, and Johnson, who people recognized that only Robert Kennedy could have defeated him, suddenly removed himself from the race. And then you had Hubert Humphrey coming in as another candidate in the context of all of that. That made a major difference in the tone and the direction of the campaign. And I must say, having been there on March 31st, when we had to all listen to this, Robert Kennedy, I think, alone among all of us, understood not only the drama, but the importance of what had happened and that his effort and his campaign would be more difficult, not easier. People read the Johnson announcement and said, “Oh, well, it’s all over. Bobby will be the candidate.” He knew immediately that it was now a much tougher race that he had to pursue, and the race took on a different force.