In 1966, Robert Kennedy said, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped” (Kennedy). Robert Kennedy’s progressive ideas and unbiased point of view shaped his career as Attorney General under his brother, President John F. Kennedy. From 1961 until 1964, RFK served as Attorney General; he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968 while running for President. Kennedy applied his authority as Attorney General to improve civil rights while reducing poverty and organized crime throughout the country, which allowed him to leave a legacy of hope and progress following his assassination.
Robert Kennedy called attention to the issue of poverty within the country through public speeches and reports while serving as Attorney General. Almost one quarter of the United States population was below the poverty line in the 1950s, with the majority of these impoverished people being minorities and children (“Poverty’). Kennedy recognized the severity of poverty in the U. S. and immediately took action by revealing the issue to the higher classes.
In a speech at the University of Kansas on March 18th, 1968, Kennedy said, “I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so that we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their lives are not destroyed. I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change,” (“Poverty’). The imagery Kennedy used in his speech revealed the reality of domestic poverty, of which many upper class Americans were unaware.
Not only did Kennedy uncover the widespread issue of poverty, but he also enacted programs to reduce it. Since poverty was prominent throughout America, Kennedy established programs to rebuild and fund poor areas such as the Delta area of Mississippi, Harlem, NY, and Oakland, CA. Kennedy took a special interest in rebuilding struggling communities by implementing government-funded programs. He believed in providing the poor with the means to work themselves out of poverty, rather than continuously providing them with government bureaucracy and ultimately stranding them in poverty (“Poverty”).
With this belief in mind, Kennedy developed policies as long-term solutions to assist people in removing themselves from poverty instead of repeatedly distributing government handouts. Government handouts should be a temporary solution since their purpose is to give struggling citizens the basic means to survive. Contrarily, Kennedy’s government-funded programs offered permanent solutions and supported those in need until they had a home and steady income. As JFK focused on foreign issues, REK concentrated on domestic problems and developed effective solutions, such as his organization, VISTA.
Kennedy established the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which was similar to the Peace Corps in that people worked to help the poor in exchange for little pay, but all the work done by VISTA was domestic (“Volunteers in Service to America”). Kennedy established VISTA in 1965 with over 100,000 participants in the end (“Volunteers in Service to America”). The program was a huge success as it allowed countless Americans to work toward the domestic goal of reducing poverty.
In one impoverished community in Brooklyn, New York, called Bedford-Stuyvesant, Kennedy established two nonprofit organizations, called the Bedford Stuyvesant Renewal and Rehabilitation Corporation and the Development Services Corporation (Koestler-Grack). Bedford-Stuyvesant’s assistance from Kennedy exemplifies his desire to efficiently reduce poverty. Along with VISTA, Kennedy’s implementation of specific programs allowed him to significantly improve the quality of life for countless Americans.
VISTA became ACTION, a similar government program by a different name, in 1971 and ultimately joined the AmeriCorps National Service Program in 1994 (“Volunteers in Service to America”). VISTA was never disbanded, but rather absorbed into the Americorps thirty years later, proving its success and importance in American society. After Kennedy implemented programs for the reduction of poverty, he toured the poor regions of the country and was met with strong appreciation from impoverished people who benefited from the new programs.
For example, as Kennedy’s car drove through the disreputable backstreets of Oakland, California, crowds of impoverished adults and their children filled the street and surged toward the car, barely allowing Kennedy’s vehicle to move (Wicker). The support the low-class had for Kennedy proves his influence in reducing the effects of poverty. Kennedy impacted the lower class and minorities, such as African Americans, by working relentlessly to permanently improve their living conditions. Robert Kennedy supported Martin Luther King, Jr. n his fight for desegregation and equal rights for African Americans, leading to the ultimate success of the Civil Rights Movement. Robert Kennedy sent 400 federal marshals to Montgomery, Alabama to protect Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1961 when he heard that King and his supporters were being threatened (“Robert F. Kennedy. ” Britannica School). Unlike many white politicians, Kennedy focused on improving civil rights, effectively leaving a lasting impression on both supporters and opponents of the Civil Rights Movement.
Since Kennedy assisted numerous minority groups, he gained support from all levels of the political and social spectrum. Following Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s assassination, Kennedy said, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black. ” (“Robert F. Kennedy: On the Death of Martin Luther King Jr Speech (1968). “).
Kennedy’s advocacy for Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders left a legacy of acceptance and progression in all aspects of American society. At the time, when racial segregation was an enormous social and economic barrier, Kennedy’s denunciation of inequality gave Americans hope for rapid and effective progress. Kennedy strongly advocated for the desegregation of public places and reinforced the law to make racial desegregation a reality, rather than a fantasy. In 1961 and 1962, bus and rail stations across the country were desegregated according to new regulations imposed by Kennedy (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”).
Even before leaders like Rosa Parks protested segregation, Kennedy attempted to desegregate public areas. Beginning in 1962, Kennedy surveyed and desegregated all American airports (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”). Kennedy challenged societal norms, especially as a white Attorney General, to enforce the law and grant constitutional rights to all citizens of the United States. Kennedy enforced the desegregation of public places, including schools.
During 1963, 60 Southern school districts were desegregated, resulting in a total of 972 desegregated districts (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”). Kennedy enforced the Brown v. Board of Education decision by continuing to push against the opposition for the desegregation of schools throughout the nation. Regarding school desegregation, Kennedy stated, “We will not stand by or be aloof. We will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 [Supreme Court school desegregation] decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is the law.
Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law” (“Robert F. Kennedy. ” JFK Library). Kennedy justified his actions protecting African Americans by referencing the law and disregarding societal and political pressure to remain segregated. Kennedy strove to eliminate barriers preventing African American from voting and employment in order to further reduce racial inequality. Kennedy introduced policies which prohibited denial of employment due to race. As a result, in 1962, 16 African-Americans became State Attorneys and 11 became U. S. Marshals, including in Southern and border states (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”).
Not only did Kennedy promote desegregation, but actually allowed people of color to gain employment previously held solely by whites. Robert Kennedy worked to grant all African Americans the ability to vote. Kennedy stated that voting was a fundamental right and the Department of Justice was obligated to provide it because of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 which ensured African Americans the equal opportunity to vote (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”).
As Attorney General, Kennedy acknowledged his responsibility with the Department of Justice to protect the natural rights of all citizens and to uphold the law. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 drastically increased the African-American involvement in society since they could finally vote for the country’s leaders who best represented their beliefs. In order to ensure the equal opportunity to vote, Kennedy had to abolish discriminatory registration tactics.
When Kennedy was Attorney General, there were 62 voting records inspections and took action in reducing discrimination in 115 countries, increased from only 53 counties in the previous administration (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”). Investigations of voting record inspections in numerous counties across the country were necessary to eradicate voting discrimination. For example, in Fayette and Haywood counties in Tennessee, registration intimidation tactics were used to prevent African Americans from voting.
Once Kennedy investigated the counties’ registration process and eliminated intimidation tactics, 5,000 African Americans registered to vote. Previously, only 38 African Americans in the counties combined were registered voters, proving the impact of intimidation tactics throughout the South. (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”). Kennedy was determined to resolve this inequality by performing internal investigations to highlight and eliminate unjust registration tactics.
Similarly, after discriminatory practices in Macon County, Alabama were ordered by the court to end, over 1,000 African-Americans registered to vote (“Robert F. Kennedy Report to President John F. Kennedy Regarding Civil Rights”). Throughout the South, Kennedy persisted in removing barriers preventing African Americans to vote. Not only did he remove these barriers, but thousands of African American across the country became eligible to vote. The organizations and policies that Kennedy used to fight organized crime from the federal level were successful in catching interstate crime.
Since members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters delivered most newspapers, the press failed to cover the corruption and crime associated with the organization (Neff 101). Previously organized crime had not been investigated because of internal connections between the Mafia and newspaper companies. Kennedy ignored the unsaid rules and thoroughly scrutinized organized crime for the first time. Although democrats were pro labor, Kennedy attacked the labor unions because of the crime and corruption involved (Gross).
Kennedy did what was best for the country, whether or not his political party directly supported it. In a speech about organized crime and racketeering, Kennedy explained that the U. S. government is responsible for busting organized crime by using its federal power in taxation and prevention of interstate crime (Kennedy). Similar to the enforcement of desegregation, Kennedy recognized the government’s responsibility in busting organized crime. Kennedy’s programs were the first federal programs to involve all 26 law enforcement agencies in order to bust organized rime (“Attorney General’s Office”). Kennedy overpowered the common ignorance of corrupt labor unions and implemented programs and laws so that the government was forced to investigate. From 1960, when Kennedy’s programs were established, until 1963, the number of mob convictions increased from 35 to 288, an 800% increase (Sabato). Kennedy’s programs were extremely successful, especially since they were the first of their kind. Jimmy Hoffa, head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, became Kennedy’s prime target in busting labor racketeering and the Mafia.
Kennedy gathered concrete evidence and was prepared to persecute Hoffa with legally obtained recordings of his wire tapped conversations (Neff 101). In the end, Kennedy convicted Hoffa on two counts of jury tampering and one count of fraud, resulting in a total of 13 years in prison and numerous fines (“On This Day: Jimmy Hoffa Sentenced for Jury Tampering”). Kennedy proved his ability to reform the U. S. by developing laws to assist in the reduction of crime that he aimed to achieve. Robert Kennedy’s advocacy for the struggling minorities within the country is the reason he left behind a legacy of optimism and progression.
Kennedy reduced poverty and organized crime while supporting the Civil Rights Movement as Attorney General. Kennedy overcame the initial doubt of his appointment and led the country to develop and progress appropriately, which threatened ultra-conservative Americans, including his assassin, Sirhan Sirhan. Although Kennedy was killed, his assassination proves he was a strong, intelligent politician. Kennedy’s accomplishments prove that “only cowards cave. The brave get assassinated” (Donna Lynn Hope).