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Robert F. Kennedy
Bobby Kennedy.jpg
Official portrait, c. 1965
United States Senator
from New York
In office
January 3, 1965 – June 6, 1968
Preceded by Kenneth Keating
Succeeded by Charles Goodell
64th United States Attorney General
In office
January 21, 1961 – September 3, 1964
Preceded by William P. Rogers
Succeeded by Nicholas Katzenbach
Personal details
Robert Francis Kennedy

(1925-11-20)November 20, 1925
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died June 6, 1968(1968-06-06) (aged 42)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Assassination
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Democratic
(m. 1950)
Relatives Kennedy family
Military service
Branch/service U.S. Naval Reserve
Years of service 1944–1946
Rank Seaman apprentice
Unit USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.
Battles/wars World War II

Robert Francis Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968), also known by his initials RFK and by the nickname Bobby, was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 64th United States Attorney General from January 1961 to September 1964, and as a U.S. Senator from New York from January 1965 until his assassination in June 1968. He was, like his brothers John and Edward, a prominent member of the Democratic Party and has come to be viewed by some historians as an icon of modern American liberalism.

Early life and education

Robert Francis Kennedy was born outside Boston in Brookline, Massachusetts, on November 20, 1925. He was the seventh of nine children to businessman/politician Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and philanthropist/socialite Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. His parents were members of two prominent Irish-American families in Boston. His eight siblings were Joseph Jr., John, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Jean, and Ted. All four of his grandparents were children of Irish immigrants.

His father was a wealthy businessman and a leading figure in the Democratic Party. His father, Joe Sr., was politically ambitious and wanted one of his sons to become president. At first, his hopes fell on his oldest son, Joseph Jr., and after he was killed during World War II, on his second son, John.

The Kennedy family in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, with Robert on the bottom left in a jacket, 1931

Kennedy's older brother John was often bedridden by illness and, as a result, became a voracious reader. Although he made little effort to get to know his younger brother during his childhood, John took him on walks and regaled him with the stories of heroes and adventures he had read. One of their favorite authors was John Buchan, who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, which influenced both Robert and John.

During childhood Bobby went to different schools, always having to make new friends. In March 1938, Kennedy sailed to London with his mother and four youngest siblings to join his father, who had begun serving as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He attended the private Gibbs School for Boys for seventh grade. Bobby returned to the United States just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.

In September 1939, Kennedy began eighth grade at St. Paul's School, an elite Protestant private preparatory school for boys in Concord, New Hampshire, that his father favored.

After two months, his mother took advantage of her ambassador husband's absence from Boston and withdrew Kennedy from St. Paul's. She enrolled him in Portsmouth Priory School, a Benedictine Catholic boarding school for boys in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Kennedy attended Portsmouth for eighth through tenth grade.

In September 1942, Kennedy transferred to his third boarding school, Milton Academy, in Milton, Massachusetts, for 11th and 12th grades. His father wanted him to transfer to Milton, believing it would better prepare him for Harvard.

Naval service and further education

Six weeks before his 18th birthday in 1943, Kennedy enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve as a seaman apprentice.

He was released from active duty in March 1944, when he left Milton Academy early to report to the V-12 Navy College Training Program at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

On December 15, 1945, the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (named after Bobby's elder brother who had been killed in action). Kennedy requested to be released from naval-officer training in order to serve aboard Kennedy. On May 30, 1946, he received his honorable discharge from the Navy. For his service in the Navy, Kennedy was eligible for the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

RFK 1948 football
Kennedy holding a football in Cape Cod with sisters Eunice and Jean, November 1948

In September 1946, Kennedy entered Harvard as a junior, having received credit for his time in the V-12 program. He graduated from Harvard in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in political science.

In September 1948, he enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. Kennedy's paper on Yalta, written during his senior year, is deposited in the Law Library's Treasure Trove. He graduated from law school in June 1951 (56th in a class of 125).


He began his career as a correspondent for The Boston Post and as a lawyer at the Justice Department. Later Kennedy resigned to manage his brother John's successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1952. The following year, he worked as an assistant counsel to the Senate committee chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

He gained national attention as the chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee from 1957 to 1959. Kennedy resigned from the committee to conduct his brother's successful campaign in the 1960 presidential election. He was appointed United States Attorney General at the age of 35, one of the youngest cabinet members in American history. He served as his brother's closest advisor until the latter's 1963 assassination.

He is known for advocating for the civil rights movement, the fight against organized crime and the Mafia, and involvement in U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba.

As attorney general, he authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on a limited basis.

After his brother's assassination, he remained in office during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson for several months. He left to run for the United States Senate from New York in 1964 and defeated Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating.

In office, Kennedy opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and raised awareness of poverty. He was an advocate for issues related to human rights and social justice. He traveled abroad to eastern Europe, Latin America, and South Africa, and formed working relationships with Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Walter Reuther.

In 1968, Kennedy became a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency by appealing to poor, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, and young voters. His main challenger in the race was Senator Eugene McCarthy.


Shortly after winning the California primary around midnight on June 5, 1968, Kennedy was mortally wounded when shot with a pistol by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, allegedly in retaliation for his support of Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War. Kennedy died 25 hours later. Sirhan was arrested, tried, and convicted.

Kennedy's body was returned to Manhattan, where it lay in repose at Saint Patrick's Cathedral from approximately 10:00 p.m. until 10:00 a.m. on June 8. A high requiem Mass was held at the cathedral at 10:00 a.m. on June 8. The service was attended by members of the extended Kennedy family, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson, and members of the Johnson cabinet.

Robert F. Kennedy grave in Arlington National Cemetery
Robert F. Kennedy's grave in Arlington National Cemetery

Immediately following the Mass, Kennedy's body was transported by a special private train to Washington, D.C. Kennedy's funeral train was pulled by two Penn Central GG1 electric locomotives. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks and stations along the route, paying their respects as the train passed.

Kennedy was buried close to his brother John in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Although he had always maintained that he wished to be buried in Massachusetts, his family believed Robert should be interred in Arlington next to his brother.

On June 9, President Lyndon B. Johnson assigned security staff to all U.S. presidential candidates and declared an official national day of mourning. After the assassination, the mandate of the U.S. Secret Service was altered by Congress to include the protection of U.S. presidential candidates.

Robert Kennedy Memorial
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial built in 1971 across from his grave in Arlington National Cemetery

Personal life


Kennedy bros
The Kennedy brothers from left to right: Jack, Bobby and Ted, July 1960 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts

On June 17, 1950, Kennedy married socialite Ethel Skakel, the third daughter of businessman George and Ann Skakel (née Brannack), at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. The couple had 11 children;

Name Life Marriage and children
Kathleen Hartington Kennedy July 4, 1951 Married David Townsend (b. 1947) in 1973; four daughters.
Joseph Patrick Kennedy September 24, 1952 Married from 1979 to 1991, to Sheila Brewster Rauch (b. 1949); had two sons; Married Anne Kelly (b. 1957) in 1993; no children.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. January 17, 1954 Married three times; first to Emily Black (b. 1957) from 1982 to 1994 and had two children; then to Mary Kathleen Richardson from 1994 until her death in 2012 and had four children; Married thirdly to Cheryl Hines in 2014; no children.
David Anthony Kennedy June 15, 1955 - April 25, 1984 Never married, no children. Died in 1984.
Mary Courtney "Courtney'" Kennedy September 9, 1956 Married to Jeffrey Ruhe from 1980 to 1990; no children. Married Paul Michael Hill in 1993; one daughter, Saoirse Rosin Hill (1997-2019).
Michael LeMoyne Kennedy February 27, 1958 - December 31, 1997 Married in 1981, to Victoria Denise Gifford; had three children. Died in skiing accident.
Mary Kerry "Kerry" Kennedy September 8, 1959 Married in 1990, to Andrew Cuomo; had three daughters; divorced in 2005.
Christopher George "Chris" Kennedy July 4, 1963 Married in 1987, to Sheila Sinclair-Berner (b. 1962); one sons and three daughters.
Matthew Maxwell "Max" Taylor Kennedy January 11, 1965 Married in 1991, to Victoria Anne Strauss; three children.
Douglas Harriman Kennedy March 24, 1967 Married in 1998, to Molly Stark; five children.
Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy December 12, 1968 Born after Kennedy's death. Married in 1999, to Mark Bailey; they have three children.

Kennedy owned a home at the well-known Kennedy compound on Cape Cod, in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, but spent most of his time at his estate in McLean, Virginia, known as Hickory Hill (west of Washington, D.C.). His widow, Ethel, and their children continued to live at Hickory Hill after his death. Ethel Kennedy sold Hickory Hill for $8.25 million in 2009.

Attitudes and approach

Kennedy was said to be the gentlest and shyest of the family, as well as the least articulate verbally. By the time he was a young boy, his grandmother, Josie Fitzgerald, worried he would become a "sissy". His mother had a similar concern, as he was the "smallest and thinnest", but soon afterward, the family discovered "there was no fear of that". Family friend Lem Billings met Kennedy when he was eight years old and would later reflect that he loved him, adding that Kennedy "was the nicest little boy I ever met". Billings also said Kennedy was barely noticed "in the early days, but that's because he didn't bother anybody". Luella Hennessey, who became the nurse for the Kennedy children when Kennedy was 12, called him "the most thoughtful and considerate" of his siblings.

Kennedy was teased by his siblings, as in their family it was a norm for humor to be displayed in that fashion. He would turn jokes on himself or remain silent. Despite his gentle demeanor, he could be outspoken, and once engaged a priest in a public argument that horrified his mother, who later conceded that he had been correct all along. Even when arguing for a noble cause, his comments could have "a cutting quality".

Although Joe Kennedy's most ambitious dreams centered around Bobby's older brothers, Bobby maintained the code of personal loyalty that seemed to infuse the life of his family. His competitiveness was admired by his father and elder brothers, while his loyalty bound them more affectionately close.

A rather timid child, he was often the target of his father's dominating temperament. Working on the campaigns of older brother John, he was more involved, passionate, and tenacious than the candidate himself, obsessed with detail, fighting out every battle, and taking workers to task. He had always been closer to John than the other members of the family.


Robert F. Kennedy Look Magazine 1963
Kennedy in a 1963 photograph taken for Look

Kennedy has been praised for his oratorical abilities and his skill at creating unity. His assassination was a blow to the optimism for a brighter future that his campaign had brought for many Americans who lived through the turbulent 1960s.

Kennedy's death has been cited as a significant factor in the Democratic Party's loss of the 1968 presidential election. Since his passing, Kennedy has become generally well-respected by liberals and conservatives.

Kennedy's (and to a lesser extent his older brother's) ideas about using government authority to assist less fortunate peoples became central to American liberalism as a tenet of the "Kennedy legacy".


President George W. Bush dedicates The Justice Department building in honor of Robert Kennedy as Ethel Kennedy looks on.

In the months and years after Robert F. Kennedy's death, numerous roads, public schools, and other facilities across the United States have been named in his memory.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights was founded in 1968, with an international award program to recognize human rights activists.

The sports stadium in Washington, D.C., was renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in 1969.

In 1978 the United States Congress awarded Kennedy the Congressional Gold Medal for distinguished service.

On January 12, 1979, a 15-cent commemorative U.S. Postal Service stamp (U.S. #1770) was issued in Washington.D.C., honoring R.F.K. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing distributed 159,297,600 of the perforated, blue-and-white stamps—an unusually-large printing. The stamp design was taken from a family photo suggested by his wife, Ethel.

In 1998 the United States Mint released the Robert F. Kennedy silver dollar, a special dollar coin that featured Kennedy's image on the obverse and the emblems of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Senate on the reverse.

On November 20, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft dedicated the Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington, D.C., as the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, honoring Kennedy on what would have been his 76th birthday. They both spoke during the ceremony, as did Kennedy's eldest son, Joseph.

Robert F. Kennedy silver dollar
1998 Robert Kennedy Proof Dollar (obverse).jpg1998 Robert Kennedy Proof Dollar (reverse).jpg
Obverse Reverse
Proof Robert F. Kennedy silver dollar

In a further effort to remember Kennedy and continue his work helping the disadvantaged, a small group of private citizens launched the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps in 1969. The private, nonprofit, Massachusetts-based organization helps more than 800 abused and neglected children each year.

A bust of Kennedy resides in the library of the University of Virginia School of Law where he obtained his law degree.

On June 4, 2008, the New York State Assembly voted to rename the Triborough Bridge in New York City the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge. New York State Governor David Paterson signed the legislation into law on August 8, 2008. The bridge is now commonly known as the RFK-Triborough Bridge.

On September 20, 2016, the United States Navy announced the renaming of a refueling ship in honor of Kennedy during a ceremony attended by members of his family.

Personal items and documents from his office in the Justice Department Building are displayed in a permanent exhibit dedicated to him at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. Papers from his years as attorney general, senator, peace and civil rights activist and presidential candidate, as well as personal correspondence, are also housed in the library.

Established in 1984, the Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Archives stored at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth contains thousands of copies of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act public disclosure process as well as manuscripts, photographs, audiotape interviews, video tapes, news clippings and research notes compiled by journalists and other private citizens who have investigated discrepancies in the case.

Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

Several public institutions jointly honor Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

  • In 1969, the former Woodrow Wilson Junior College, a two-year institution and a constituent campus of the City Colleges of Chicago, was renamed Kennedy–King College.
  • In 1994 the City of Indianapolis erected the Landmark for Peace Memorial in Robert Kennedy's honor near the space made famous by his speech from the back of a pickup truck the night King died. The monument in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park depicts a sculpture of RFK reaching out from a large metal slab to a sculpture of King, who is part of a similar slab. This is meant to symbolize their attempts in life to bridge the gaps between the races—an attempt that united them even in death. A state historical marker has also been placed at the site. A nephew of King and Indiana U.S. Congresswoman Julia Carson presided over the event; both made speeches from the back of a pickup truck in similar fashion to RFK's speech.

In 2019, Kennedy's "Speech on the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." (April 4, 1968) was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Art, entertainment, and media

Kennedy has been the subject of several documentaries and has appeared in various works of popular culture. Kennedy's role in the Cuban Missile Crisis has been dramatized by Martin Sheen in the TV play The Missiles of October (1974) and by Steven Culp in Thirteen Days (2000). The film Bobby (2006) is the story of multiple people's lives leading up to RFK's assassination. The film employs stock footage from his presidential campaign, and he is briefly portrayed by Dave Fraunces. Barry Pepper won an Emmy for his portrayal of Kennedy in The Kennedys (2011), an 8-part miniseries. He is played by Peter Sarsgaard in the film about Jacqueline Kennedy, Jackie (2016). He is played by Jack Huston in Martin Scorsese's film The Irishman (2019).

Interesting facts about Robert Kennedy

  • As a child, he developed an interest in American history and decorated his bedroom with pictures of U.S. presidents.
  • The young Kennedy was an avid stamp collector and once received a handwritten letter from Franklin Roosevelt, also a philatelist.
  • At school, he was a regular student. He had to repeat third grade.
  • In April 1939, he gave his first public speech at the placing of a cornerstone for a youth club in England.
  • At Harvard, he was on the varsity football team as an end.
  • Kennedy authored his account of the Cuban Missile Crisis in a book titled Thirteen Days.
  • He was a devoted Catholic throughout his life.
  • Kennedy was the first sibling of a president of the United States to serve as U.S. Attorney General.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Robert F. Kennedy para niños

  • Kennedy family tree
  • List of assassinated American politicians
  • List of peace activists
  • List of United States Congress members who died in office (1950–99)
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