ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - Fifty years after his death, Robert F. Kennedy’s words remain powerful. At ceremonies Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery, speakers paid homage to his oratory by simply reciting excerpts of his speeches to a crowd of several thousand that gathered to remember him.
Civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia quoted Kennedy’s speech after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which occurred just two months before Kennedy himself was shot and killed.
“What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred but love, and wisdom, and compassion for one another,” Lewis said.
Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, read a quote from a 1966 speech Kennedy gave in apartheid-era South Africa.
“First is the danger of futility: the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills - against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man,” Gonzalez said.
Kennedy, a former attorney general remembered for his efforts to advance civil rights, ran for president in 1968 and had won the California primary when he was shot June 5 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He died the next day.
A Navy veteran, he is buried at Arlington near his brother, former President John F. Kennedy.
At the start of Wednesday’s ceremony at the cemetery amphitheater next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, said the family takes comfort in the fact that so many people shared their sense of loss at her father’s death.
“It is tough to lose a parent,” Townsend said, recalling mornings in the family home where she awoke to her father’s routine of doing pushups while listening to Shakespeare. “It was very painful to lose my father.”
Dozens of members of the Kennedy clan, including Robert Kennedy’s 90-year-old widow, Ethel, attended the ceremony, which included a rendition of “This Land is Your Land” by country music star Kenny Chesney.
Robert Kennedy’s grandson, Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy III, spoke about the pictures of his grandfather that he remembers, including his tours of Appalachia and his meeting with farm labor activist Cesar Chavez.
“For a man who loved language, it’s the images that tell his story,” Joe Kennedy said. “He said to those forgotten: Your country sees you. Your country values you. America would not be America without you.”
Former President Bill Clinton gave the keynote speech Wednesday, and said Kennedy’s words are “truer today than they were then.”
He said in an era where Americans feel pressure to revert to associations of tribe and clan, Kennedy pushed Americans to unite for a greater purpose.
“He came, as you see here, from quite a clan,” Clinton said as he surveyed the Kennedys in the crowd and took note of his 11 children with Ethel. “He did every single thing he could to increase it.”
Although Kennedy loved his clan, he loved even more to reach beyond his clan to try to help others, Clinton said.
“He instinctively led a life of encounter,” Clinton said.
An earlier version of this report misspelled the first name of country music star Kenny Chesney.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.