A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties

Campaign, 1968

By Bill Eppridge
(Copyright © 2008 Bill Eppridge)

I was in the Colorado Rockies listening to the news on a transistor radio when I first heard that Robert F. Kennedy had announced his candidacy for president of the United States. Immediately, I jumped into my rented jeep, and drove 20 miles down four-wheel-drive-only trails to a phone so that I could get my bid in to be Life's permanent photographer on the Kennedy campaign.

The general feeling on the campaign wasn't that different from 1966. Bobby was the same man, but this time he seemed more driven, and it seemed that he had a direction. Almost overnight, he had assembled his own advance team and backup staff with full funding. He was going for it - the presidency, and his message against the war in Vietnam rallied the crowds.

The campaign started well and Bobby was running full tilt. He had forced Lyndon Johnson to announce his retirement and was catching up with Eugene McCarthy—antiwar candidate and poet.

At each campaign stop, we no longer wondered what the crowd reactions would be. Everyone sensed that this man was a great figure. People wanted to see Bobby, and they came out in large numbers. Somehow within the span of those two years his reputation seemed to have grown. He was now acknowledged as his own person.

Bobby kept winning. Week after week his ratings went up in the polls. His primary victories were impressive, but there was a certain uneasiness in the press corps. This was too much of a good thing. We started nervously looking at windows and rooftops during motorcades. There were several rumors that "a man with a gun" had been seen, or had been picked up by local police. None of this could be substantiated.

Of course, Bobby had no official protection. There was no Secret Service protection for candidates at that time. He refused to have uniformed police close around him. Bill Barry, an ex-FBI agent and a Kennedy family friend, came along, but he was only one. Eventually, the senator was convinced that he should let Roosevelt Grier and Rafer Johnson and occasionally other pro-football players come along.

Presidential candidates now all use bomb-proof and bullet-proof cars. The ultimate trust that Bobby had in his fellow human beings showed itself in the fact that he demanded convertibles.

As the campaign moved into late May, there was sometimes open discussion among the 50-odd members of the press corps about the possibility of an attempt on Kennedy's life.

Crowds greeting the senator were huge and uncontrolled. In most cities, police escorted campaigning political groups but Los Angeles provided no such escort for Robert Kennedy.