Good morning and welcome to hype week for Sword & Silk's first Historical Fiction novel So Long, Bobby by Lillah Lawson! We are excited to hand over the reins to Lillah, whose passion for history and storytelling created this epic multi-generational piece.
So Long, Bobby Hype Week ~
Robert F. Kennedy: The Words Live On
Robert F. Kennedy, the muse of my novel So Long, Bobby, was no stranger to good prose. Bobby was known for many things: being the younger brother and right-hand-man of older brother President John F. Kennedy; going head-to-head with Jimmy Hoffa; his career, first with the CIA, then in his brother’s cabinet, then as a senator, before moving on to his candidacy for President; his steadfast marriage to Ethel, which produced eleven children; the wayward strawberry-blond hair that wouldn’t stay out of his eyes; his “maligned” (his words) dog, Freckles; his tireless devotion to the poor; his murder at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel; the funeral train that bore his body back to Washington for burial, a train which saw thousands of spectators come out of their homes to pay their last respects.
Everyone thinks of something different when you mention Bobby Kennedy. Speaking to my aunt recently, who was a teenager in the late-1960s, she remarked, “Oh, I remember that terrible business in the kitchen. That was so sad.” It was the infamous photograph, taken in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, showing Kennedy lying on the floor in a pool of blood, that immediately came to her mind. Others still might mention his involvement with controversial Senator Eugene McCarthy or the sordid rumors of an affair with Marilyn Monroe. In the Netflix documentary Robert Kennedy for President, another hero of mine, dearly departed Congressman John Lewis, choked back tears as he recalled the funeral train that bore Bobby back for burial. Upon learning that his friend had died, he said, he cried all the way from Los Angeles to Atlanta.
One thing people remark on too rarely when it comes to Bobby Kennedy, in my humble opinion at least, is that he could turn a phrase. Bobby Kennedy had such a way with words -- at times humble, at times firm, but always to the point and achingly poignant. A lover of literature and poetry, Bobby was able to pull quotes from his favorite philosophers and authors out of thin air, pinning them to any current moment with a startling relevancy.
The first page of So Long, Bobby quotes Bobby Kennedy, from the speech where he announces the death of Martin Luther, King, Jr. It is one of my favorite speeches, and one that is forever etched in American history, remembered for the beautiful eulogy he gave, on the fly from the back of a flatbed truck, drawing from his own experiences with grief and from the philosopher Aeschylus:
“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote, “And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Years earlier, in 1961, Bobby Kennedy visited the University of Georgia Law School to give a speech, a scene that I recreate in my novel, when Bobbi Newton’s older brother Ed pulls some strings to get her a seat at the lecture. Bobby spoke at length about Civil Rights and the importance of upholding the law; at first blush, his words might seem like nothing much, but given that the University of Georgia had only been desegregated months before, his words were nothing short of remarkable:
“My firm belief is that if we are to make progress in this area, if we are to be truly great as a nation, then we must make sure that nobody is denied an opportunity because of race, creed, or color. We pledge by example to take action in our own back yard, the Department of Justice. We pledge to move to protect the integrity of the courts in the administration of justice. In all this we ask your help. We need your assistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy was not always as progressive as he became – in his early career, he worked for Eugene McCarthy, and later for the CIA, in which he participated in wiretapping. It was only after the death of his brother JFK, who was assassinated in 1963, and after becoming disillusioned with the way the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty were progressing, that Bobby’s morals and ideologies began to shift. And shift they did. He became a staunch ally for Civil Rights and spoke tirelessly on poverty and hunger in America, aligning himself with the likes of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. By the time he appeared on Merv Griffin in 1967, another scene I recreated in my book (Bobbi and her Dad watch together over popcorn), Bobby was determined to be the change he wanted to see in the world.
On June 6, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, having campaigned tirelessly on his last-minute bid for the presidency, was tired, but jubilant. Against all odds, he had won California! His victory speech, what would end up being his last words in public, were so very Bobby:
“…what has been going on in the United States over the period of the last three years, the division, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the division whether it's between black and white, between the poor and the more affluent or between age groups or over the war in Vietnam that we can start to work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”
Bobby had no idea that these words would be his last. Moments later, in a small, crowded kitchen, he would forever be silenced. Fortunately, his words – and his deeds – remained.
Resources & Further Reading
Kennedy, Robert F. Speech Upon the Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 1968) JFK Library. Statement on Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968 | JFK Library
Kennedy, Robert F. Speech to Univtersity of Georgia Law School. (May 1961) American Rhetoric: Robert F. Kennedy - Law Day Address at the University of Georgia Law School
Kennedy, Robert F. Speech after California Primary. (June 1968) jfk.hood.edu/Collection/White Materials/White Assassination Clippings Folders/Kennedy Family Folders/Kennedy Robert F/RFK 0391.pdf