The Atlantic

The Last Words of Robert F. Kennedy

In the months before he was assassinated, the Democratic presidential candidate insisted that Americans confront their country’s shortcomings—and live up to its potential.
Source: Reuters

Editor’s Note: This is part of The Atlantic’s ongoing series looking back at 1968. All past articles and reader correspondence are collected here. New material will be added to that page through the end of 2018.

Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles while celebrating victory in a primary for the Democratic presidential nomination. He was a senator from New York, and before that, U.S. attorney general in the presidential administration of his older brother John F. Kennedy. Every anniversary of his death brings new remembrances from his contemporaries.

But the words he spoke in his final months perhaps best capture what he meant to his supporters, and why some still feel the loss, all these decades later, when imagining what might have been had he lived to run against and defeat Richard Nixon.


There he is in March 1968 at the University of Kansas, complimenting William Allen White (“that notorious seditionist,” he quipped), for saying: “If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come out of our college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.”

He is “an honored man today, here on your campus and around the rest of the nation,” Kennedy . “But when he lived and wrote, he was reviled as an extremist and worse. For he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic7 min readSociety
Are Politics Regressing to Premodern Forms?
The sultan’s hand felt soft and gentle, more suited for a moisturizer commercial than for participating in a public stoning. By the official count, the sultan of Brunei had shaken tens of thousands of hands in the previous two days, and I worried tha
The Atlantic4 min read
Narlugas Are Real
In the late 1980s, an Inuit subsistence hunter named Jens Larsen killed a trio of very strange whales off the western coast of Greenland. He and his fellow subsistence hunters would regularly catch two species: narwhals, whose males famously have lon
The Atlantic5 min readPsychology
The Tyranny of Workplace Food-Shamers
The first time someone commented on what I was eating at work, I was a teenager at my first job, manning the front desk at the local courthouse’s law library. On the way out one day, a regular visitor interrupted my fistful of cashews to tell me he l