June 4th: Kennedy Wins California Primary; June 5th Kennedy Shot; June 6th Kennedy Dies


I remember being shaken awake by my father. He did not want me to miss an historic event. During the election campaigns, the television is always on in my house, this has been true since I was a kid and we first got a TV. So the TV was on and he knew Robert Kennedy had been shot, and he woke me up to make sure I knew what was going on.

The next day, the same thing happened, this time with the news that Kennedy was dead.

Robert Kennedy had entered the Democratic Primary party late, after the sitting president, Kennedy's brother's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, removed himself from the race. Johnson was essentially forced out of the presidency by the power of public protest against the Viet Nam War, which is the kind of event that could happen then but cannot happen today. The government has civil protest pretty much under control and we lack vibrant and credible grassroots revolutionary leaders.

Kennedy entered the race late to campaign against a well established anti-war candidate who was, before LBJ's self-removal, considered pretty much a renegade (running against the sitting president, and all). In addition, with LBJ out, Hubert Humphrey, of South Dakota and Minnesota, now Vice President was also in the race.

There are parallels between that primary and the present primary, with Eugene McCarthy being Clinton and Robert Kennedy being Obama. But the parallels are weak and it is considered bad mojo to talk about them.

Kennedy had just lost the Oregon primary because he had an anti-gun stance, and Oregon in those days was full of gun toting hunters. (Now it is full of hippies, as I understand it.) So the California win was important, and he pulled it off.

But, some time earlier, Kennedy had supported an arms deal for Israel, and this enraged the already deranged Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian living in Southern California. Kennedy did not have Secret Service protection, and owing to bad blood between Kennedy and the mayor of Los Angeles, he also had inadequate local police security. So it was an easy matter for Sirhan Sirhan to hunt Kennedy down and shoot him in the head with a .22 caliber pistol from close range. He actually put three bullets into Kennedy and a few other people were shot at the same time, mostly in the legs, as people standing next to the assassin pushed his gun hand down while he continued puling on the trigger.

Kennedy was to the hospital but died the next day.

As such, Robert was the third of four brothers to die a violent death.

Here is a post I wrote ages ago (by internet blogging standards) that includes some RFK footage.


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Oregon in those days was full of gun toting hunters. (Now it is full of hippies, as I understand it.)

Not really... the hippie areas are Eugene and surrounds, and parts of Portland. If you go west of the Coast Range, you run into logging towns full of rednecks, and if you go east of the Cascades, you run into ranching and farming communities full of rednecks. There are a number of survivalists in the Coast Range and in the Cascades, and they're pretty fond of guns.

I ran into my share of "gun toting hunters" in the foothills around Eugene, while hiking or riding, and a group of us climbing Mount Thielsen, near Crater Lake, encountered another climber who had two large pistols in a holster around his waist (we suspect that he intended to shoot them from the very top, maybe at hawks or other hikers). In all my years hiking, trail riding, and birding throughout rural Texas, I have never encountered anyone carrying guns so openly.

Oregon is also not well-known for the ethnic diversity of its inhabitants, and the redneck atmosphere of much of the state has something to do with that. I'd refer you to one of Jello Biafra's little rants about Portland, but perhaps in the context of this thread, and the date, his former band name is pretty tasteless.