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He was no longer the aggressive investigator who served as counsel to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee and tangled fiercely in the 1950s with Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

He was no longer the fearsome enforcer of his brother’s administration who had spearheaded an aggressive crackdown on organized crime and developed a reputation for ruthlessness. As Robert Kennedy stepped to the microphone at the Hotel Casey that night, he emerged as a compassionate advocate for social and economic justice.

After leading a life of comfort and privilege as the son of a famous and powerful multimillionaire, he now identified with victims, the dispossessed and the downtrodden.

For the first time in public, he displayed a level of vulnerability that would remain part of his persona for the rest of his life.

“It’s almost as though in one speech, he was beginning to transform,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, whose father, then-state Sen. Robert P. Casey, was toastmaster at the dinner and went on to be elected governor in 1986. “It was remarkable.”

Kennedy’s appearance before the Friendly Sons took less than 20 minutes and his formal speech took 15 minutes.

In introductory comments, he recalled how President Kennedy spoke often of his 1960 Scranton visit.

“He felt that when he was going to Dublin (in 1963), he was going to get the same kind of reception that he got in Scranton,” Robert Kennedy said.

He mentioned he had told Dave Powers, an aide and close friend of the president, of his decision to come to Scranton.

Powers replied, “They are our kind of Irish.”

Displaying his wry humor in his formal remarks, Kennedy visited the Irish legend of how an angel granted St. Patrick three wishes.

One was the release of 12 Irish souls from hell every Thursday and Saturday.

“Judge Nealon just told me he thinks that several of them are here tonight,” Kennedy observed.

Turning to the essence of the address, he questioned whether it was appropriate for the United States to maintain alliances with totalitarian, repressive regimes solely because they were non-Communist. He associated centuries of discrimination against the Irish with U.S. racial discrimination of the 1960s.

He asserted a universal right to economic and political freedom and made an eerie, foretelling reference to the Vietnamese people’s entitlement to self-determination.

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