AUBURN – Auburn residents gathered at Legion Memorial Park May 10 to remember Robert Kennedy’s final 82-day campaign and what some call the “last great hope to change the world.”
Mayor Scott Kudrna described the political and social atmosphere that surrounded Kennedy by the time he climbed the steps of the park bandshell 50 years ago.
Kudrna: “He had just declared that he was going to run for the presidency a month before against his own party’s incumbent. His own party’s incumbent withdrew from the race. I can’t remember any time that has happened.”
Kudrna: “It was an amazing time. It was during the Vietnam War. Bobby Kennedy was against the war. President Johnson, a Democrat, was obviously the policy for the war.
Both Kennedy and candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy saw the upcoming California primary as vital to their bids for the Democratic nomination.
McCarthy had won all of the state primaries to that point. As Kennedy was campaigning in Indiana, James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr.
Kudrna: “He is campaigning in the heart of Indianapolis and the majority of the population he is talking to is black. The police force is telling him, ‘hey, if they decided to riot when they find out this information, we can not protect you.’
“Bobby Kennedy implored them saying, listen, my brother was shot by a white man too. We have to move forward for this country to be better. I believe in the faith of the people.”
Dale Thomas was a third grader when he sat on the ledge of the bandshell platform and “muscled-in” at buffet dinner that followed to get RFK’s autograph.
Thomas: “Just under four weeks after Kennedy was here, you know, he was assassinated in Los Angeles and I think people have finally figured out how different this world would be if RFK had been elected.”
Janet Beethe Hawley attended the speech with her classmates from Brock.
Hawley: “He was going … he was our last hope of changing of the world. Honest. After he was assassinated, it was devastating for all of us.”
Kennedy won the Nebraska primary, defeating McCarthy 52 to 31 percent. Kennedy died June 6, 1968, and Hubert Humphrey was nominated in August at a violence-marred convention in Chicago. He lost to Richard Nixon that November.