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50 Years Later, A Look Back At Robert Kennedy’s Message Of Hope

Robert F Kennedy's Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Tim Evanson, Flickr

Robert F Kennedy’s Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Tim Evanson, Flickr

Tuesday marks 50 years since Robert F. Kennedy was shot in California while campaigning for the presidency. He died from his wounds the following day.

Earlier that same year — 1968 — the Vietnam war was raging, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, race riots were erupting and Cesar Chavez, a leader for migrant farm workers, went on a hunger strike. Kennedy, then U.S. senator from New York and former U.S. attorney general, brought a message of tolerance and hope to the striking workers in California.

In March of 1966, as Peter Edelman remembers it, Kennedy didn’t need much convincing to get on a plane headed for Delano, California. “I said, Cesar Chavez is a impressive, young organizer and leader of the farm workers and this is the first and best chance of succeeding in creating a recognized union for farm workers.”

Edelman was a legislative aid for Kennedy who was on a Senate subcommittee on migratory labor. Edelman traveled with Sen. Kennedy to California’s Central Valley for committee hearings, investigating why grape farm workers were striking. Edelman says tensions were high during the hearings, with owners of the farms and the migrant workers sharing the same hall.

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