Explore the life and legacy of Robert F. Kennedy


The Early Years

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts on November 20, 1925. His parents were Joseph, a successful businessman, and Rose, daughter of the mayor of Boston known as “Honey Fitz.”

Raised as devout Roman Catholics, Robert Kennedy and his seven siblings enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege. Among Kennedy’s older brothers was future U.S. President John F. Kennedy.



After his older brother Joseph was killed during World War II, Kennedy left school to join the Navy. In 1946, he went back to Harvard where he lettered in football.


Graduates Harvard in 1948 with a degree in government. Kennedy spent the next three years pursuing a law degree at the University of Virginia Law School.

Kennedy Travels to Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and Italy as a special correspondent for the Boston Post.

While touring Jerusalem at age 22, he was arrested, blindfolded, and brought to the Haganah headquarters, where he was advised to stay off of the streets.


Marries Ethel Skakel

Robert and Ethel became engaged in February 1950 and were married on June 17, 1950, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenwich, CT.

Spring, 1951

Invites Ralph Bunche, an Black American who had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, to speak at the University of Virginia Law School. Bunche refused to speak before a segregated audience; Kennedy’s passionate argument before the university’s governing board persuaded them to agree to an integrated event.


Attorney, Criminal Division, 
Department of Justice

Kennedy managed his brother John’s successful 1952 U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusetts, elevating JFK to national prominence, paving the way for his eventual presidential run.


In 1954, Kennedy joined the Senate’s permanent Subcommittee on Investigations as chief counsel for the Democratic minority.


Accompanies Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas behind the Iron Curtain on a tour of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Kirghizia, and Kazakhstan


Bobby vs. Hoffa: The Feud

In 1957, Kennedy was appointed chief counsel to Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor of Management Field. Working under Senator McClellan, Kennedy uncovered the corruption of Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa


Bobby manages JFK’s successful presidential campaign against Richard Nixon.

January, 1961

January 21, 1961 Sworn in as nation’s 64th Attorney General

May, 1961

Freedom Riders

RFK Dispatches U.S. Marshals to protect Freedom Riders in a Birmingham church surrounded by a hostile mob. In response to President Kennedy’s threat to send in federal troops, Alabama Gov. John Patterson deploys National Guard to disperse the mob, allowing Freedom Riders to continue their journey unhurt.

September 22, 1961

In response to Freedom Rides, Kennedy orders Interstate Commerce Commission to end segregation in interstate bus terminals.

February, 1962

“The future of the world belongs, not just to the younger generation of my countries, but to the younger generation of all countries”

Embarks on a multi-nation tour with Ethel, carrying a message of freedom and democracy to students and leaders around the Globe. Stops included Berlin, Jakarta and Tokyo. “Just Friends and Brave Enemies” is published, capturing highlights of that trip.

September 30, 1962

With on-the-ground support from Robert Kennedy’s deputies, James Meredith becomes the first Black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

Meredith’s enrollment sparked riots by white students and residents that led to two deaths. The campus was the site of the first presidential debate between Democratic Candidate, Senator Barack Obama and Republican Candidate Senator John McCain in 2008.

October 14-28, 1962

Cuban Missile Crisis

During the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy works closely with his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and other cabinet members to avert nuclear war with the Soviet Union over missiles it had placed in Cuba. Robert Kennedy is especially instrumental in negotiating a solution with Soviet ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin.

June 11, 1963

Vivian Malone + James A. Hood

Kennedy sends Deputy Attorney General Nicholas de Katzenbach to escort Vivian Malone and James A. Hood as they enroll in the University of Alabama, where Governor George Wallace stood in the door of the administration building, attempting to block their entrance. That night, JFK delivers speech calling civil rights “a moral issue,” a phrasing that RFK had urged.

July 1, 1963

“America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity – the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”

Robert F. Kennedy Testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee on behalf of the Civil Rights Act.

Fall 1963

Spearheads “Free Schools” program in Prince Edward County, VA, where local officials had closed public schools in 1959 rather than integrate them.

Funded by a combination of private, public, and foundation money, the Free Schools Program leased the closed public school buildings and hired teachers from around the country to offer local Black students the education that they were constitutionally entitled to.

November 22, 1963

President John F. Kennedy is Assassinated.

The nation mourns. President Kennedy killed by a gunman in Dallas, Texas.

July 2, 1964

Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law

As Attorney General, Robert Kennedy had in many ways served as the administration’s spokesman on the law, and he was instrumental in persuading Senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, to support the bill, ensuring that civil rights supporters could overcome the Southern Democrats’ filibuster.

August 22, 1964

Announces candidacy for New York’s Senate seat.

August 27, 1964

Receives a 22-minute ovation at Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, NJ. “I had never seen anything like it,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote of the crowd’s response.

January 4, 1965

Senator Kennedy

Takes the oath as the junior senator from New York.

March 7, 1965

Bloody Sunday

On March 7, 1965, John Lewis led a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, demanding voting rights for Black Americans. When Lewis and his followers saw law enforcement, they dropped to their knees and prayed. That’s when state troopers and deputized Klansmen on horseback whipped, trampled and beat the marchers. John Lewis bore the scars of that day throughout his life.

Read Heather Cox Richardson’s analysis of the marches and Bloody Sunday here.

June 4, 1966

Robert Kennedy travels to Apartheid era South Africa, at the invitation of University students. Delivers the Day of Affirmation address at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.​

Day of Affirmation Address

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

December 10, 1966

Revitalization Effort in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

Announces a major revitalization effort in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. An innovative partnership between the federal government, private enterprise, and the neighborhood’s residents and leaders, results in the formation of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the nation’s first community development nonprofit, which endures to this day.


‘To Seek A Newer World’ is published.

Creates Special Subcommittee on Indian Education to study educational programs on Native American reservations. Throughout his career, Robert Kennedy showed a special concern for Native Americans, frequently visiting reservations and speaking on the need to improve conditions facing the first Americans.

April 1967

Tours Mississippi Delta

Views first-hand poverty and hunger in the Mississippi delta and commits to helping, leading to aid for the sick and poor and food program bills.

March 10, 1968

Cezar Chavez

Travels to Delano, California to break bread with United Farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez, who was ending a 25-day fast to draw attention to the conditions facing migrant farmworkers in California.

March 16, 1968

Presidential Campaign

Announces Candidacy for U.S. Presidency.

“It is our right to moral leadership of this planet…I cannot stand aside from the contest that will decide our nation’s future and our children’s future.”

April 4, 1968

Statement on Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In one of the great speeches in American history, Robert Kennedy offers an impromptu eulogy to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered earlier in the day. Speaking to a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis that had not yet learned of Dr. King’s death. While cities across America rioted and burned that night, Indianapolis was peaceful.

June 6, 1968

Assasinated at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel after winning California primary

After winning the California Primary in June, Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles. In December of 1968, the 11th and youngest child of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, Rory Katherine Elizabeth was born.

1969 – Present

A Legacy Continued

That same year, his family and friends established a living memorial to carry forth his unfinished work in efforts to realize his dream of a more just and peaceful world.

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