Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Robert F. Kennedy Gave Us Hope That Poverty Would Be Addressed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Robert F. Kennedy Gave Us Hope That Poverty Would Be Addressed

Article excerpt

Byline: TONYAA WEATHERSBEE

It was a year when fate kept catching up to hope. A year when motels became morgues.

In April of 1968 Martin Luther King Jr., after leading a movement that, among other things, reduced white and colored water cooler signs to relics, was slain by an assassin as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Two months later - and 40 years ago this month - Sen. Robert F. Kennedy met the same fate. He had just finished making his victory speech after winning the California Democratic primary when an assassin killed him as he was greeting supporters in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

I was 8 years old when both King and Kennedy were killed.

And while I remember the snowy, black-and-white footage of King and other marchers confronting police dogs, high-pressure hoses - and other impediments to their dignity - I remember Kennedy confronting a barrier that still stands in the way of the dignity of too many Americans.

That barrier is poverty.

Battling poverty wasn't an afterthought for Kennedy. It was a crusade.

That wasn't hard to see from the footage of him on caravans to the poorest reaches of this country, to places like Appalachia and the Mississippi delta.

He talked to poor white schoolchildren in Kentucky. He was outraged at seeing black children in Mississippi with distended bellies.

As was everyone else.

But that outrage is gone.

The passions that drove Kennedy to connect with poor people or people besides lobbyists, or single-issue constituencies, or people driven more by fear than by reason or conscience, have become more of a political liability.

John Edwards learned that the hard way, as he tried to replicate Kennedy's poverty tour during his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. No one cared. That's too bad.

Because after Hurricane Katrina, a storm that revealed that concentrated poverty can be a killer as well as an inconvenience, poor people were on the national radar again. …

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