When we first learned Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
Hot, muggy day in farm country Virginia. Late spring, not yet Summer. The Solstice was about two weeks off, but all practical purposes it was Summer with school soon to be out for the season. Humid with a hint of afternoon thunderstorms, the air was pungent with honeysuckle flowers and tree pollen and the promise of picnics in the shade and swimming in lakes.
I was outside in the yard playing. My little sister and brother were probably around somewhere, playing with me, but I don’t remember them this particular day. I just remember my Momma, and Daddy, too, a little bit.
We grew up on Riverview Dairy Farm in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Outside of the town of Farmville. Earlier in the late 1950s and early to mid 1960s the Civil Rights movement had swept across the South and into Prince Edward Country. Racial desegregation and integration efforts polarized whole communities, shut down the schools, and brought Mike Wallace to Farmville for the Evening News and Prince Edward County before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Vietnam and Southeast Asia burned overseas and riots and urban guerrilla warfare kept erupting all around the United States. We were still in the thick of it all, this second revolution or quasi-civil war or whatever you wanted to call these rock’n’roll times, with no end in sight. As time would tell, these Troubles would grind and rumble on till 1975. Though many in the Occupy Wall Street and Everywhere on Earth movement today claim to draw their inspiration as much from these turbulent times as from the Arab Spring.
The sharp staccato roar of the gasoline-powered farm tractor washed over us as Daddy drove it around and around the pasture out back. We were used to that awful mechanical racket, however, and other than a glance over now and then paid it no mind. It was a green and yellow John Deere 420 with a wide, adjustable-width front end manufactured back in the mid-to-late 1950s. Dad sat up in there turned sideways in the seat as was his custom, one hand on the steering wheel, the other gripping the big fin of the rear fender as he made sure the tractor and the mower and the line of hay and the lay of the land were in perfect alignment. He wore blue denim jeans, a white, short-sleeved T-shirt, and a khaki baseball cap. Back then he smoked Camel cigarettes, too.
I heard a shriek. Loud one, too. Momma! I stood up.
The back door of the house slammed open and Momma sailed down the stairs. I remember her in slow motion, dressed in white clothes, had on a white skirt or dress. Black hair thrown back. Her legs wide as a ballet dancer’s leap. She raced shouting toward my father as he rounded the side of the pasture closest to our backyard. By then I was running there, too.
“Bobby’s shot!” Momma yelled. “Bobby’s been shot!”
Dad turned off the tractor, the engine burped and stopped, and he appeared a little thrown off by this unexpected disturbance of his work. Farmers are always racing the weather. Thunderstorms might soak the hay.
“What are you talking about?” he shouted back from the tractor.
Momma was crying by now. Weeping and weeping and wiping her face with her wavy curls all askew.
“Bobby Kennedy’s been shot. He’s dead. Just heard it on the news,” and she sobbed and sobbed. Dad got down off his tractor without saying a word. Looked like he struggled to maintain composure and not show any tears.
It must’ve been “Oh, no, not again. Not again!” They said something similar when I asked about this event many years later. Robert F. Kennedy, or Bobby as most folks called him, had all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination as the primary candidate to run against Richard M. Nixon of the Republicans. LBJ had quit. RFK’s murder was the next to the last of a series of major American assassinations. These murders in particular did more than kill famous people. Bobby Kennedy’s death by bullets was the one that finally killed the last little bit of hope left in a fractured nation.
There was also a lot of fear. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been gunned down not even two months earlier and cities were still in flames. What would happen now? What would the Soviet Union do to take advantage of this power vacuum in America? After all, Attorney General RFK had stood with his brother JFK against the military hawks and the CIA in their desire to nuke the Russians during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Wednesday, June 5, 1968 – Senator Bobby Kennedy, “RFK,” (D-New York) was shot; died the next day, June 6, shortly after midnight in Los Angeles, California.
April 4, 1968 – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “MLK,” shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee.
February 21, 1965 – Imam Malcolm X shot dead in New York City, New York.
November 22, 1963 – President John F. Kennedy, “JFK,” shot dead in Dallas, Texas.
These were racially motivated and politically charged assassinations with murky and unclear investigations spawning claims, allegations, and conspiracies many of which remain unsolved to this day. Nixon went on to win the Election of 1968 to become President of the Unites States in January 1969. Then there was another assassination, another murder. Fred Hampton, a national leader of the Black Panther Party, was shot dead in a raid by White cops in Chicago on the 4th of December 1969. This killing was accomplished by teams of White conspirators from the Chicago Police Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and the State of Illinois Attorney’s Office in Cook County. It drove home what Malcolm X once declared in the year before he was shot, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”
Nixon reigned until after the Watergate conspiracy, triggered in part by Nixon’s own paranoia but also by the CIA’s refusal to obey his orders as President to turn over to him all their classified files on the JFK assassination, destroyed his Administration and forced his resignation in 1974. The man who tried more than once to stalk and shoot Nixon and failed to even pull the trigger, however, shot former Alabama Governor George Wallace on 15 May 1972 as Wallace ran for president. Low-level guerrilla warfare sputtered on across America even after Nixon resigned the Presidency on 9 August 1974. The following year the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) was crushed, and the Weather Underground was defunct by 1977, ending the last major urban guerrilla groups from that era. After more than two decades of turmoil the “the Revolution” was finally brought to an end.
I remember the extreme sense of sudden hopelessness and despair my parents expressed back in June 1968.
People still sometimes wonder what ever happened to Love? It’s still there, deeper than all the bullets, deeper than all the bullets.
William Dudley Bass
November 7, 2011
Revised 8 March & 9 June 2016
United States of America
Copyright © 2011, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until Humanity establishes Wise Stewardship of our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.