Robert F. Kennedy: Personal Recollections / by marilyn salenger

                                                             From the Private Collection of Marilyn Salenger

                                                            From the Private Collection of Marilyn Salenger

 

                                                   

The first time I saw Bobby Kennedy was September of 1966. Our country was in chaos as the war in Viet Nam raged and race riots and racial divides filled our streets and our lives. Tension permeated the air on a near daily basis as many fought not to suffocate. I was three months into my first job as a television news reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio when Robert Kennedy arrived in town to speak to a large outdoor evening rally at the Cincinnati Zoo. His appearance became my assignment. The power of the impression Kennedy made on me that night remains vivid in my mind fifty-two years later. His face focused as his eyes swept across the crowd making each individual feel as if he was talking to them personally about the issues confronting their lives. He made me feel as if he was talking to me. 

Two years later I left the news business and went to work as a volunteer for Senator Kennedy's presidential campaign. Operating out of the Chicago Kennedy for President office, my home town area of northern Indiana became my base as I settled in heading up the campaign's speaker's bureau. The Indiana primary was a critical must win election to propel Kennedy's candidacy forward. He was running against Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota) and Indiana Governor Richard Branigan. The politics of the state had always been split by its regions.

Gary, Indiana had just elected Richard Hatcher the second black mayor of a major U.S. city and my mother, Gloria Feigenbaum, became Hatcher's secretary. The turf was familiar to me having grown up in its ethnic melting pot communites, as were the racial issues that had arisen. Bobby Kennedy needed to put together a strong coalition of black and white voters in order to win. My campaign days morphed into serving as a bridge between Kennedy's New York advisors and the newly elected Mayor. The out-of-towners sometimes arrived a bit too heavy handed for the locals, and I somehow seemed to help them work through some of their issues. It was an amazing way for a twenty-four year old to learn how a presidential campaign was run. In our small store front location and around the country there was an intensity of passionate commitment to elect the man who sought a "Newer World".

Among the many of Robert Kennedy's gift's was his ability to empower people to work on effectuating positive change. Kennedy's focus on equal rights, equal opportunity and hope for our future became our focus. He was a man who quoted scholars but spoke to best of our human spirit. His victory in the Indiana primary propelled him to California to claim victory once again. I was in Los Angeles with the campaign at an Oakland rally the night before an assassin's bullets struck. The words to describe the feelings upon hearing the news of his death in those early morning hours of June 6, 1968 were beyond those of personal loss. We knew nothing would ever be the same.

On June 12, I receved a letter from Richard Wade, a University of Chicago professor, who headed up the Chicago Kennedy for President office: 

rfk letter edit.jpg

Robert Kennedy was no ordinary politician. To remember him on this fiftieth anniversary of his death is to remember the man and the enormous power of his commitment to the words he spoke and all that they meant for the times. He came from great wealth and committed to helping the poor through thought and action. He saw the inequities in our society and chose not to tolerate them but help us begin to rectify them. 

"There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed."                                                                         Robert F. Kennedy