New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was on the presidential campaign trail as a Democratic candidate when he was fatally shot on this day in history, June 5, 1968, by an assassin at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
The New York legislator, better known as Bobby, was 42 at the time of his death.
Moments before he was shot, Kennedy delivered a victory speech in front of supporters in the hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom, according to the Los Angeles Almanac. He had just won the California primary race.
The final words of Kennedy’s speech, given shortly after midnight on June 5 to a raucous crowd, were, “My thanks to all of you,” says the same source.
He added, “And now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there.”
As Kennedy worked his way through the crowd, shaking hands and greeting well-wishers and hotel staff on his way to another room for a press conference, he was shot several times by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant from Jordan, recounts the Los Angeles Almanac.
Robert Kennedy was pronounced dead a day later, on June 6, 1968, notes History.com.
“Just because we cannot see clearly the end of the road, that is no reason for not setting out on the essential journey.”
On April 23, 1969, Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to the death penalty after being convicted in Kennedy’s assassination.
In 1972, Sirhan’s sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty, according to History.com.
The summer of 1968 was a tense time in America. The Vietnam War had created a restless populace at home as well as an outspoken anti-war movement.
“In the face of this unrest, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to seek a second term in the upcoming presidential election, and Robert Kennedy, John [Kennedy’s] younger brother and former U.S. attorney general, stepped into this breach and experienced a groundswell of support,” History.com says.
“At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country,” Kennedy said in announcing his candidacy for the presidency on March 16, 1968, according to the University of Virginia. “It is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”
Robert Kennedy was born on Nov. 20, 1925, in Brookline, Massachusetts, a son of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Kennedy. He interrupted his studies at Harvard University in Massachusetts to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but returned to the university and graduated in 1948, says Brittanica.com.
Kennedy earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1951, that university notes.
On June 17, 1950, Robert Kennedy married Ethel Skakel of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The couple had eleven children: Kathleen, Joseph, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Doug and Rory, according to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization.
After earning his law degree, Kennedy started his political career in Massachusetts the next year by managing his brother John F. Kennedy’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate, notes the same source.
On March 16, 1968, Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.