Born in Brookline, Mass., younger brother of President John F. Kennedy. A graduate of Harvard (1948) and the Univ. of Virginia law school (1951), he managed John F. Kennedy's successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1952. From 1953 to 1956 he was counsel to the Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. He then became (1957) chief counsel to the Senate subcommittee investigating labor rackets and there gained a reputation for toughness by exposing corruption in the Teamsters union. In 1960 he was manager of his older brother's presidential campaign. His inclusion in President Kennedy's cabinet gave rise to charges of nepotism, but he proved a vigorous Attorney General, especially in prosecuting cases relating to civil rights. He was also his brother's closest adviser.
After John Kennedy's assassination, Robert Kennedy continued for a time to serve in President Lyndon Johnson's cabinet, but in 1964 he resigned to run for election as Senator from New York. Despite criticism that he was a carpetbagger from Massachusetts, he won the election. In the Senate he was a vigorous advocate of social reform and became identified particularly as a spokesperson for the rights of minorities. Although Kennedy had supported his brother's intensification of American aid to the South Vietnamese government, he became increasingly critical of Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and by 1968 was advocating that the Viet Cong be included in a South Vietnamese coalition government.
Urged to run against President Johnson for the Democratic nomination in 1968, Kennedy appeared reluctant until Sen. Eugene McCarthy's showing in the New Hampshire Democratic primary convinced him that a challenge to Johnson could be successful. Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16, 1968. Although Johnson withdrew (March 31) from the race, the administration's standard passed to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, while Senator McCarthy retained the support of many opponents of the Vietnam War, who accused Kennedy of opportunism.
Kennedy conducted an energetic campaign and won a series of primary victories, culminating in the one in California on June 4. At the end of that day he gave a victory speech to his supporters in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and then, while leaving by a rear exit, was shot. He died a day later (June 6, 1968). The gunman, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, was captured at the scene of the crime and later convicted of first degree murder. Like his brother John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He wrote The Enemy Within (1960), Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1969), and To Seek a Newer World (1969).
See Penn Kimball, Bobby Kennedy and the New Politics (1968); David Halberstam, The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy (1968); Douglas Ross, ed., Robert Kennedy: Apostle of Change (1968); Jack Newfield, Robert Kennedy: A Memoir (1969); Jules Witcover, Eighty-Five Days (1969); Victor Navasky, Kennedy Justice (1971). See also Edwin O. Guthman and Jeffrey Shulman, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words (1988).
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