Remembering Ted Kennedy: How a 1968 Speech Comforted an 8 Year-Old
On April 7 1968, Ted Kennedy gave a speech to the Alaska Democratic Convention days after Martin Luther King’s assassination, on the subject of civil rights.
I was 8 years old and living in Attleboro at the time. Lessons at school stopped and we sat watching television coverage for days. My dad was a minister who had recently run afoul of the local powers that be after an African American doctor tried to move into our neighborhood and the residents came together to pressure the homeowner into refusing to sell the house to him. My dad got upset and formed a commission to "help make it easier for black people to move to Attleboro." The church let him know that his services would probably be better applied elsewhere.
We left Attleboro for Seattle and my dad left the ministry two months after Kennedy gave this speech. I wasn’t quite old enough to understand all that was going on, but as I watched the television and listened to Ted Kennedy speak in the days following the King assassination, he helped me to resolve what had happened, and what was going to happen in an important and deeply affecting way that shaped my outlook for the rest of my life. He comforted all of the 8 year-olds in that classroom, and helped me to understand why we were being uprooted and ejected from the community. He let me know that in his own way my dad had done something remarkable, especially for someone who hailed from rural Tennessee.
My dad was a pretty modest guy who never really boasted about his accomplishments. He died when I was a teenager. It wasn’t until after his death that I learned he had been in the Ph.D program at Boston University with Martin Luther King in the early 50s.
I got to talk to Ted Kennedy in January of 2006 during the Alito fight. It was pretty affecting.