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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..
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Cole’s description of RFK looking very tired and possibly being supported by two staff makes sense. The day before the election, Kennedy embarked on his most strenuous single day of campaigning. He traveled more than 1,200 miles, and hit each of the state’s three media markets. He rode in motorcades through clogged streets in Los Angeles, then flew north to San Francisco for a tour through Chinatown and the neighboring environs, and back down to San Diego for yet another long motorcade into the evening. He had been brought to the brink of physical collapse after eighty-five days of little sleep and non-stop campaigning. He had unleashed a very tactile street politics.

‘Everyone appeared exhausted’

That may have also explained Cole’s description of a “strange type of quiet.” Everyone appeared exhausted.

Edward Clay said he remembers getting this crazy idea to catch a ride in the motorcade and become a part of the excitement. He had convinced his neighbor, Ronald, to follow him and they were both lifted up by Kennedy staff members as the motorcade stopped and allowed RFK to greet Councilman Lindsay.

Clay laughs as he describes their final destination: “It was Victory Baptist Church, and I had just been banned from the church by Rev. A.A. Peters for horseplaying during a school program held at the church called “Religious Relief.” I think Rev. Peters would refer to me as a ‘Black demon’ based on my behavior.”

“His face went flush when he saw me as one of the two kids in the truck wit RFK,” Clay remembered.

The following Tuesday evening, all of the joy and excitement of seeing Kennedy turned to sorrow as he assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel.

Bobby Kennedy had forged a meaningful relationship with African Americans years before his death. In a hastily convened meeting. which could have easily been dubbed “Harlem meets Hickory Hill,” there they were 1963 in the drawing room of Joseph P. Kennedy’s palatial Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park. James Baldwin, at the request of then U.S. Attorney General Kennedy, pulled together a dozen African Americans to discuss one-on-one at the highest level of government the bubbling cauldron of rage building up in Northern ghettos and the unending racial discrimination against Blacks taking place in the South and what the New Frontier was doing about it.

Martin Luther King wasn’t invited. Nor where there representatives from the NAACP or Urban League because, reportedly, Kennedy wanted a “no-holds-barred” critique of the Administration’s leadership on civil rights. He had hoped for a sober discussion of what his brother, President John Kennedy, should do about the centuries-old issue of American racial discrimination. Kennedy listed his brother’s accomplishments in advancing Black civil rights, explaining that they were groundbreaking and warning that the politics of race could be a troubling proposition, particularly in approaching the 1964 reelection campaign. The meeting was also an opportunity for Kennedy to get the “nitty gritty” on why so many young African Americans were being drawn to the radical ideology of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam as opposed to the policy of passive resistance espoused by King.