Bobby Kennedy South LA visit made lasting impact on youth

Joy turns to sorrow in 48 hours

William Covington OW Contributor | 6/7/2018, midnight
Less than three years after the Watts Riots, New York Sen. Robert F Kennedy was..

Less than three years after the Watts Riots, New York Sen. Robert F Kennedy was on the presidential campaign trail in South Los Angeles. During his motorcade along Central Avenue, he witnessed burned-out buildings and empty lots, some of which appear today. That Sunday, June 3, 1968, two residents Ronald Cole, 8, and Edward Clay, 9, decided to join the Kennedy craze. This is their story:

Ronald Cole remembers being dismissed from school early, “so we would have plenty of time to prepare for the motorcade. My teacher Mr [Hank] Gentry told us to be careful because there’s going to be a lot of excited people there, so make sure you do not get knocked down or lost in the crowd. I remember using my mothers sewing pins to secure the cardboard sign to a broomstick. I stuck myself several times while building it.

“When I got home my brothers and I decided to make signs up to welcome RFK,” Cole said. “ W were joined by a neighbor, Edward Clay, who also decided to attend the rally with us. Edward was a real prankster and I thought it was weird that he was going to attend. After assembling our billboards my brothers and I walked around the corner with my mother and we were joined by Councilman Gilbert Lindsay his wife, Theresa, and other neighbors..

“As we stood on the corner of 52nd Place and McKinley Avenue, I remember all of a sudden people began to scream and yell ‘here he comes.’ He (RFK) looked very tired. I believe he had a black suit on white shirt, no tie. He appeared so exhausted I believe he was being supported by two people as the truck pulled up. I remember Rosey Grier being in the rear of the truck.

Riding with RFK

“Edward Clay tapped me and said, let’s get in. As Edward and I moved up to the truck, I remember being lifted up by someone who may have been one of his security detail. I am not sure who got in the truck first; I just remember seeing my mothers swollen hand waving bye to us. My mother had rheumatoid arthritis and her joints would swell up on her fingers, allowing me to distinguish her hand from the hundreds of other hands waving.

“As we rode along the parade route, I remember RFK’s hands being reddish; he was moisturizing them prior to stopping again. We were waving to classmates as we rode bye and Edward Clay was on his best behavior--my biggest fear was that he was going to do something to get us in trouble and we would face a long walk home. He was known for his funny outrageous behavior.

“The ride was exciting however no one inside the bed of the truck spoke, it was a strange type of quiet. Quite different from the crowds that lined the streets.”

So enthusiastic were the crowds who swarmed around Kennedy’s motorcades in Latino and Black neighborhoods, campaign aides feared he would lose White votes if he became overly identified with the aspirations of ethnic minorities, according to an article that ran in the Los Angeles Times (LAT) June 41968. The article described RFK’s hands as being bloodied with scabs as a result of the handshaking.