If you’ve ever witnessed an assassination or been in the vicinity of any kind of killing, it’s not something you’ll ever forget. I shudder when I think about all the killings some of our young children witness in our community and the impact killing a human being has on our children.
I know how brutal it was for me as an adult to be in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. When I say brutal, that’s an understatement.
June 4, 1968 on Primary Day in California for Presidential candidates we had witnessed a beautiful day in Southern California—in Los Angeles in particular. While still reeling from Dr. MLK’s death, we were trying to regroup and the energy and great expectations coming from then Senator Robert Kennedy in his race made us begin to believe again that good things would happen. Little did we know what we were about to witness.
Some of my friends and I had been out campaigning for Bobby Kennedy. We’d been asked to cover neighborhoods near the Ambassador Hotel. Our enthusiasm for our candidate was high. We worked until nearly dark, then came over to the hotel.
A lot of us were sitting out on the lawn on the grass singing and happily anticipating the results of the primary. We were so sure of victory, and after Dr. King and JFK’s assassination, Bobby was our next best hope. Bobby had come out against the war in Viet Nam and that was such a joy because many of us had already lost friends and relatives in that war and just wanted it to be over.
As we sat on the grass, we were singing songs like, “This land is my land; this land is your land; from California to the New York island. From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters. This land was made for you and me.” and we were having a great time anticipating what we believed was about to happen.
At dark, we came inside the hotel. Dr. Louise White and I didn’t go directly to the ballroom where Bobby was to give his victory speech. We were sitting outside the ballroom with Pierre Salinger and others. When Bobby arrived, we went to the ballroom to hear him. The place was packed so we were far back in the room when the shots rang out as Bobby was leaving the hotel. At first, we thought it was celebratory balloons—then the announcement came that Bobby had been shot! On this 50th Anniversary of his assassination, I still feel the shock of that night.
Bobby didn’t die right away, but in the next few hours, our hearts broke because the news coming to us didn’t sound good. This was like the end of hope for a better America and for an end to the war in Viet Nam.
We were demoralized, and we were glued to the television for the next 20 plus hours, hoping that the word “vegetable” which is how news people were describing Bobby were not true. It couldn’t be true—not again. We were praying that some miracle would bring Bobby back.
Sadly, no miracle happened and we were devastated. We were numb for a very long time. We remembered him as one who saw wrong and tried to right it. We never forgot how he consoled us when Dr. King was assassinated. Now he was gone. In such a short time, we lost Medgar, Malcolm, JFK, MLK, then Bobby. We wondered how much more we could endure. Ultimately more leaders emerged. We’re waiting for some of them to lead.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is National President of the National Congress of Black Women and host of “Wake Up and Stay Woke” on WPFW-FM Radio. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788.
By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.