Saturday, May 30, 2020

RFK and the Decision to Run for President

Looking back more than half a century, most Americans know that Bobby Kennedy was shot while running for president, but not all realize that it was an agonizing decision, that he was late to the game, and that he had a great chance of being victorious. Kennedy could be a polarizing figure. Because he worked tirelessly and held staunchly to his beliefs, those who didn't agree with him though him ruthless and inflexible. However, those who agreed with his vision for a better America adored him and were intensely devoted to him.

Many Americans to this day remember Robert F Kennedy as the best president we never had, but he almost didn't even run in 1968. Most of his family and friends encouraged him to wait until 1972, so what changed his mind?

John and Robert Kennedy
John F Kennedy said his brother Robert was, "A puritan, absolutely incorruptible. Then he has this terrific executive energy." This summary of Bobby demonstrates why he struggled with the decision to run for president. He needed to know that it was the right thing to do, but answering that questions wasn't simple. Lyndon Johnson, who had succeeded JFK was a sitting president and member of Kennedy's own party. It would take a lot to justify dividing the democratic party to run against him.

Bobby believed that Johnson was throwing away the progress that had been made during JFK's administration. "He knows all about politics and nothing about human beings," he succinctly described Johnson. As New York's junior senator, RFK had traveled around the country visiting the poor. Whether it was in Brooklyn, the Mississippi delta, Indian reservations, or migrant worker camps in California, Bobby found a way to connect to the people in a way that Lyndon Johnson never could - not that he ever tried.

RFK with Charles Evers
But that was not enough to cause Bobby to run for president in 1968. He couldn't divide the party because of personal dislike and disagreement. But there was also the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and Eugene McCarthy.

McCarthy had already taken the step of defying the party norm to run against the president on an anti-war platform. He was getting more support than many had suspected he would, and the Kennedy crew knew that Bobby would be even more popular. Except that it meant Bobby would be choosing to divide the party even further.

Neither McCarthy nor Johnson had the relationship with the poor and downtrodden like Kennedy. Johnson's failure to react to race riots in 1967 helped prompt Bobby into action. The people dying of violence and hunger were not just numbers to him, and when he spoke people knew he really cared. Could he leave them to another four years of Johnson policy? Was McCarthy likely to be better? Certainly, republican challenger, Richard Nixon, was not going to be a champion for the black or the poor.

Then the Tet Offensive began in January 1968. More than 100 cities and camps in South Vietnam were attacked, killing American soldiers and demonstrating the weakness of their position after years of involvement. RFK was livid that the lives of young - and primarily poor - men were being wasted on a war that the South Vietnamese didn't seem to be as invested in as they should have been. The vulnerability of US troops in Vietnam exposed the truth of how far from victory they really were. Bobby believed these young men deserved to be brought home.

RFK and Jackie after JFK assassination
Still, the decision wasn't simple. Some encouraged RFK to run while his political capital gained from the memory of his brother was high. Others thought he might have more accomplishments of his own to run on by 1972. Any political capital he had from any source might be lost if he ran but didn't win. He felt that he had a duty to run because it was the right thing to do to try make a positive difference, because he couldn't in good conscience endorse Johnson or McCarthy, and because he wanted to help people. The ambition to help others was always a greater incentive to action with Bobby Kennedy than political strategy. "Let's face it," he said to one reporter, "I appeal best to people who have problems."

In 1960, John F Kennedy had announced his intention to run for president in the caucus room of the Old Senate Building. On March 16, 1968, in the same room and at the same age, Robert F Kennedy did the same. Afterward, Jacqueline Kennedy told Arthur Schlesinger, "Do you know what I think will happen to Bobby? The same thing that happened to Jack."

Additional Suggested Reading:

Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr
85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy by Jules Witcover
The Last Campaign: Robert F Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Compassion of Robert Kennedy

One of the characteristics that made Bobby Kennedy so popular was his vast compassion. Although he came from a wealthy Irish Catholic family, he seemed capable of understanding the hardships and trials of others in situations he had never experienced. Whether he was cradling an emaciated infant in Mississippi, listening to the concerns of migrant workers in California, or visiting an impoverished Indian reservation, Kennedy "could move from world to world and never be a stranger anywhere."

RFK's opponents claimed that he was ruthless, but those who were closest to him insist that it was a tireless ambition to improve the world that sometimes made him appear ruthless. Robert Kennedy was passionate about helping people and couldn't understand why more people didn't look at the world the same way. He was a devout family man, and when he saw starving children, he couldn't help thinking of how he would feel if he were that poor mother or father unable to feed their child. Even the Kennedy family nurse said that Bobby was the "most thoughtful and considerate of all the Kennedy children."

Robert F Kennedy with child
at Pine Ridge Reservation
Bobby made a point of visiting his own disabled father each week, though he had a loaded schedule and ten children of his own (his 11th was born after his death), but his compassion wasn't limited to his own family. He visited nursing homes and held the hands of the dying. Bobby and Ethel held a Christmas party each year for children living in an orphanage, and he seemed to be able to instantly connect with children of all ages and races wherever he went.

According to Arthur Schlesinger, when Kennedy visited Brazil two years after his brother's death, "He gathered barefoot children around him in a forlorn community center named for John Kennedy," and encouraged them, "President Kennedy was most fond of children. Can I ask you to do a favor for him? Stay in school, study hard, study as long as you can, and then work for your city and Brazil." He left deflated that he couldn't do more for those children.

Compassion for a child inspired one of Robert Kennedy's longest lasting legacies. While touring an impoverished neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bobby asked a mother what had happened to cause her daughter's face to be horribly disfigured. When he heard that rats had attacked her as she slept as a baby, RFK was motivated to action. The Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation was soon born, and it exists to this day, creating better lives for the residents of a once devastated neighborhood.

Robert Kennedy's trip to Mississippi Delta - 1967
Photo Credit: Jim Lucas
Kennedy ordered the investigation of labor camps in California when he found filthy children covered in sores living in old school buses. He entered the squalid shacks of those living in the Mississippi Delta, then he fought for relief for those children in Washington. He did not shy away from the grime and illness. He held sick, dirty children and promised that he would do more.

Charles Evers, brother of murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers, remembered Kennedy holding a weak, malnourished black child with tears running down his face, asking, "How can a country like this allow it? Maybe they just don't know." Evers said, "No other white man in America would have come into that house."

Remembering Robert F Kennedy makes me wonder what the world could be like if we were all just a little bit like him, if each of our hearts broke when we saw the pain of others, if we all yearned to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We need not be heroes, just compassionate everyday people.

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." ~ Robert F Kennedy

Additional Suggested Reading:

Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr
85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy by Jules Witcover
The Last Campaign: Robert F Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke

Saturday, May 16, 2020

RFK and Bedford-Stuyvesant

Robert F Kennedy was a liberal democrat with a remarkable skill for understanding problems plaguing the poor. However, he did not believe that welfare payments were the most effective solution, especially because of the way payment calculations discouraged family unity. With single mothers able to receive higher payments than households where the husband was present, RFK was concerned that the government was incenting family disintegration. Kennedy believed the better long term solution was to create comprehensive programs specific to and led by localities rather than the federal government.

Bedford-Stuyvesant is the best example of Robert Kennedy's work in this area. Through this project, RFK was able to put his ideas to the test. He believed that it was better to provide people with jobs than government hand-outs. He believed that the best way to improve a community was by getting those directly affected involved with the changes. And he believed fervently in the value of education. The plan for Bedford-Stuyvesant touched all the bases and was a comprehensive strategy to improve the neighborhood from the inside out.

Public Domain Photo by Dick DeMarsico
Robert Kennedy speaks with boy during tour
of Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1966.
A neighborhood in Brooklyn, "Bed-Stuy" was impoverished by the 1960's, but few besides Robert Kennedy took much notice. High unemployment and crime combined with racism and failing school districts to create a neighborhood awash in poverty and hopelessness. In February 1966, RFK paid Bedford-Stuyvesant a visit. At that time, approximately 450,000 people lived in the crowded neighborhood, 82% were black and 12% Puerto Rican.

Robert Kennedy was the junior senator from New York at the time, and some Brooklyn leaders doubted his sincerity. However, he quickly convinced those in the community that he understood their predicament and was there to help, not just for the photo-op. Within months, Kennedy had created a team with representatives from Ford, IBM, Welch's, and several other companies and organizations to tackle the issues Bedford-Stuyvesant was facing.

The team was bipartisan, including New York City's republican mayor and the senior senator from New York, republican Jacob Javits. The result of their collaboration was the Bedford-Stuyvesant Development and Service Corporation (now known as the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation). Kennedy stated that, “The program for the development of Bedford-Stuyvesant will combine the best of community action with the best of the private enterprise system. Neither by itself is enough, but in their combination lies our hope for the future.” RFK continued his involvement in the project until he began his 1968 presidential campaign.

Trash was cleared from vacant lots. Homes in need of repair were renovated, and affordable mortgages were made available. Space was cleared for community areas, and an empty milk bottling plant was made the new home of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Through federal grants and business investments, legal help, tax preparation services, and work-study programs were made available. Residents were hired for restoration work, and a large majority of those workers found full time employment in construction when the Bedford-Stuyvesant project was complete. New businesses were opened by neighborhood residents, and employment rates slowly improved.

Public Domain photo of RFK
touring Bedford-Stuyvesant
More than half a century has passed since Kennedy's initial visit to Bedford-Stuyvesant, and in that time the neighborhood has participated in its own revitalization. Although they have experienced inevitable setbacks, the results have included education programs, job training and placement, residential renovations, and an art academy. The revitalization effort improved the community while providing jobs. Because of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, residents of the neighborhood enjoy greater quality of life and increased self-sufficiency.

Thanks to its rows of historic brownstone homes and the decades of revitalization efforts, Bedford-Stuyvesant started to become a more desirable address in the 2000's.

Robert Kennedy was passionate about the success of Bedford -Stuyvesant and what that success might mean to other poor neighborhoods. He once stated that, "If I wasn't the United States senator, I'd rather be working in Bedford-Stuyvesant than any place I know."

Kennedy hoped to see other impoverished neighborhoods benefit from the Bedford-Stuyvesant example, but his plans were cut short when he was killed on June 4, 1968. Others have applied the Bedford-Stuyvesant strategy to a wide variety of urban neighborhoods. Creating a sense of community and creating jobs while improving the living standards of a neighborhood continues to be a more fulfilling solution to poverty than cash welfare programs.


Additional Suggested Reading:
Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr
85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy by Jules Witcover
The Last Campaign: Robert F Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Road to Liberation: Trials and Triumphs of WWII

I'm excited to participate in another great blog tour! Today, we get a sneak peek at The Road to Liberation, a collection of stories exploring the trials and triumphs of World War II. Marion Kummero, one of the authors included in this anthology, is here to talk about the inspiration for this book.

Welcome, Marion!

~ Samantha


Inspiration Behind the Anthology

A Guest Post by Marion Kummero

I write WWII fiction because it’s important to remember the past, and especially the ugly times, to prevent us from making the same mistakes again.

Through my stories, where I put my main characters deep into a moral dilemma, I want the reader to reflect on pat events and ask themselves, “How would I react in such a situation? What would I do?”

It was soon clear for me, that I wanted to do something meaningful for the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. When I first conceived the idea of this collection, everywhere in the world, celebrations were planned to commemorate the liberation of concentration camps, prisoner of war camps, and ultimately, entire nations from oppression.

The idea to create a collection of books to not only commemorate the occasion, but also to leave a lasting impression on the readers, way past the moment of the anniversary was born, and it was an easy task to an appropriate theme for our collection: Liberation.

After six years of horrible war, people all across the world were finally liberated. Some from horrible oppression, others from having to fight against their fellow humans. Soldiers on both sides who bore the brunt of violence yearned for an end to the hostilities, but also civilians wished to be liberated from being afraid for family members, or from hunkering down in bunkers during air raids.

We wanted to give a diverse selection of stories about all different kinds of people who all had a different war experience, but undoubtedly all of them were, if not happy, at least relieved, that it was finally over.

The anniversary of Victory Day in Europe on May 8th 2020 was supposed to be a happy occasion with splendid celebrations in many countries, remembering those who survived and those who didn’t.

But the universe had different plans and all public events were cancelled. For us, the six authors who contributed a book to this collection, it’s one more reason to keep going.

We want to spread hope across the world in the form of our stories. Stories, that every person who’s currently at home can read, and can remember the heroes and heroines from the past.

We want to make sure, the sacrifices so many years are not forgotten and the lessons from this dark part of history are kept alive, handed down to the younger generations to keep them fighting for a better world.


The Road to Liberation: Trials and Triumphs of WWII

A Collection by Marion Kummerow, Marina Osipova, Rachel Wesson, JJ Toner, Ellie Midwood, and Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.

From USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors comes a collection filled with courage, betrayal, hardships and, ultimately, victory over some of the most oppressive rulers the world has ever encountered.

By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories.

The stakes are high—on both sides:

Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.

Read about a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, an Auschwitz survivor working to capture a senior member of the SS, the revolt of a domestic servant hunted by the enemy, a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo, the chaos that confused underground resistance fighters in the Soviet Union, and the difficult lives of a British family made up of displaced children.

2020 marks 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WWII. These books will transport you across countries and continents during the final days, revealing the high price of freedom—and why it is still so necessary to “never forget”.

Stolen Childhood by Marion Kummerow

The Aftermath by Ellie Midwood

When's Mummy Coming? by Rachel Wesson

Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova

Liberation Berlin by JJ Toner

Magda’s Mark by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

The Road to Liberation is available at
Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon CA.

Meet the Authors

Marion Kummerow was born and raised in Germany, before she set out to "discover the world" and lived in various countries. In 1999 she returned to Germany and settled down in Munich where she's now living with her family.

After dipping her toes with non-fiction books, she finally tackled the project dear to her heart. UNRELENTING is the story about her grandparents, who belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. It's a book about resilience, love and the courage to stand up and do the right thing.

Marina Osipova was born in East Germany into a military family and grew up in Russia where she graduated from the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. She also has a diploma as a German language translator from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. In Russia, she worked first in a scientific-technical institute as a translator then in a Government Ministry in the office of international relations, later for some Austrian firms. For seventeen years, she lived in the United States where she worked in a law firm. Eventually, she found her home in Austria. She is an award-winning author and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Rachel Wesson is Irish born and bred. Drawn to reading from an early age, she started writing for publication a few years back. When she is not writing, Rachel likes to spend her time reading and playing with her three kids. Living in Dublin there are plenty of things to do, although the cowboys and Indians of her books rarely make an appearance. To chat with Rachel connect with her on Facebook. To check out her newest releases sign up to her mailing list.

JJ Toner: My background is in Mathematics and computing, but I have been writing full time since 2005. I write short stories and novels. My novels include the bestselling WW2 spy story The Black Orchestra, and its three sequels, The Wings of the Eagle, A Postcard from Hamburg, and The Gingerbread Spy.

Many of my short stories have been published in mainstream magazines. Check out EGGS and Other Stories - a collection of satirical SF stories. I was born in a cabbage patch in Ireland, and I still live here with my first wife, although a significant part of our extended family lives in Australia.

Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl. Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. After obtaining her BA in Linguistics, Ellie decided to make writing her full-time career and began working on her first full-length historical novel, The Girl from Berlin. Ellie is continuously enriching her library with new research material and feeds her passion for WWII and Holocaust history by collecting rare memorabilia and documents.

In her free time, Ellie is a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, neat freak, adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and then as a managing editor for a magazine publisher before jumping the editor's desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own communications training company. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives' personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. She has won several awards for her short stories and now primarily writes historical fiction. During a trip into northern Italy over the Reschen Pass, she stood on the edge of Reschen Lake and desperately wanted to understand how a 15th-century church tower ends up sticking out of the water. What stories were lying beneath? Some eight years later, she launched the "Reschen Valley" series with five books and a novella releasing between 2018 and 2021. For more on Chrystyna, dive in at