Remembering Bobby Kennedy Thirty Years Later
By Candy Crowley/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 4) -- Thirty years ago this week, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down moments after he claimed victory in the California presidential primary.
The scene at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles is one etched into many Americans' political memories, hard to forget, but also hard to believe.
"My thanks to all of you, and now, it's on to Chicago, and let's win there," Kennedy told his supporters. Moments later, he lay wounded on the hotel kitchen floor.
"I remember so well. He was so up and so happy," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights pioneer and early Kennedy supporter. "He would have been president. We would have made great strides toward the building of a truly interracial democracy in America. We would have been much further down the road toward dealing with what Dr. [Martin Luther] King called the beloved community, an open society. I think we would have ended the war in Vietnam much earlier."
It was June 1968, a year when hope and despair often filled the same hour.
"Something died in America, something died within all of us," Lewis said. "And in one way or another, I don't think we have truly recovered from what happened in '68."
There were times in 1968 it seemed the whole world was on fire. In January, North Vietnam launched the Tet offensive.
In February, the Kerner Commission warned of a U.S. moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.
In March, Eugene McCarthy rocked the political world with a 42 percent showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Within weeks, Kennedy jumped into the race and President Lyndon Johnson bowed out.
"I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president," Johnson said.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in early April, and a coast-to-coast rage set America's cities on fire.
One week in May, the death count of Americans in Vietnam reached 562, a new high. Peace talks began in Paris.
In June, America mourned again as a second Kennedy brother was killed. After a New York funeral, a train carried his body from New York to Arlington National Cemetery.
"Somehow and some way I didn't want the train to stop in Washington," Lewis recalled. "You just wanted to spend a few more moments, maybe few more hours, with Robert Kennedy, but you had to stop in Washington. He had to be buried. But it had to come to an end."
And the year raged on.
In August, riots surrounded the Chicago convention where Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination. The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia.
Fall came and with it the election of Richard Nixon. Three athletes were banned from the U.S. Olympic team for their black power salute at the Mexico City games.
The U.S. death toll in Vietnam passed the 30,000 mark.
At the time and three decades later, there are many people who question whether Kennedy would have won the presidency, much less changed the world.
It hardly matters now. His memory survives not so much on reality as on possibility, not so much on what he would have done, but on what we once believed.
What does Lewis think died that year?
"Some of the goodness, a degree of innocence, the possibility of creating a peaceful community, the beloved community," he said.
In December, man left Earth's orbit for the first time, and by Christmas the astronauts of Apollo 8 were circling the moon, life's soaring promise sharing the year with its most desolate moments.