Date Thesis Awarded

5-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Charles McGovern

Committee Member

Andrew Fisher

Committee Member

John Froitzheim

Abstract

This thesis will argue that Robert Kennedy’s understanding of civil rights developed from a political issue to a personal issue as the movement for civil rights transitioned from the South to the Northern cities. This thesis will highlight key moments in Kennedy’s last five years when the show of politics was put aside for something more authentic. His personal struggle to reconcile himself with what he deemed “the terrible truths of our existence” caused him to search for solutions and test his ideas with regards to the inner cities. This journey put him at the forefront of a struggle for justice, equality, and above all love.

Beginning with the James Baldwin meeting in late May of 1963, Robert Kennedy began to sense the depth of despair felt by blacks in the Northern cities and began to take personal responsibility, pushing his brother to take a moral stand on this issue. After his brother’s assassination, separated from his life’s work, Robert Kennedy was forced to go deeper, to search for who he was and what he stood for. In New York, as a Senator, Kennedy drew closer to the urban problem, understanding issues in the context of New York’s own metropolises, but more importantly, in terms of his own constituents. With this understanding, Kennedy had a unique perspective on the main issues plaguing the nation, the cities and the Vietnam War and their interconnectedness. During his run for President, Kennedy highlighted these issues and after the death of King became the torchbearer for the movement in many eyes. Understanding the path of Kennedy’s change gives us a roadmap as to what it requires to change our politics, ourselves and ultimately our world.

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