Robert F. Kennedy’s Visit to UA

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Did you know that Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech at the University of Alabama in March of 1968, just months before he was assassinated? Kennedy was invited to the University to speak as part of the Emphasis Program, which was an annual symposium on contemporary issues that was sponsored by the University of Alabama Student Governement Association and ran from 1967 to 1971. Audio recordings of all of the speeches made at the symposium are available in Acumen.

Robert F. Kennedy with James Hood, one of the first African-American students admitted to the University of Alabama

Robert F. Kennedy was the keynote speaker for the 1968 symposium, in which the topic was “America at the Crossroads.” His speech was given on March 21, 1968, just five days after announcing his candidacy for president. Kennedy speaks about the lack of unity in the United States at the time. He believes there are too many conflicts dividing the people. He discusses the United States’ military involvement in Vietnam, Kennedy also discusses the timely topic of the struggle for civil rights and expresses his desire for a national action to ensure equality. Kennedy’s speech is introduced by astronaut John Glenn, who will later enter politics himself. The introduction and Kennedy’s entire speech can be heard here.

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13 Responses to Robert F. Kennedy’s Visit to UA

  1. Bill Thiry says:

    I left early from a class I was taking and saw the last part of RFK’s speech and question answering at Foster Auditorium. I was standing in an entrance way watching and, when he left, he happened to leave through that exit and walked within 12 feet of me. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but after he was assassinated a few months later, I wondered why there was not more attention given to his security. I was just nineteen at the time and certainly didn’t look threatening, but don’t recall receiving any special attention from his security entourage.

    • kgmatheny says:

      I don’t think anyone worried so much about the security of candidates then — not like we do now, with their Secret Service details. I believe RFK’s assassination was the wakeup call that set that policy in motion.

      Thanks for sharing your observations, Bill!

  2. Elizabeth Holmes says:

    I was there, too. We shook hands as he made his way out, and it was hard to let go. Earlier that day my then 8 year old son carried a “Bama Backs Bobby” sign when RFK and John Glenn flew into the Tuscaloosa Airport. Seeing the little boy with the sign, John Glenn beckoned him over to the vehicle they’d gotten into and lifted him across his lap to meet RFK. What a day that was!

  3. James Couch says:

    I believe the RFK speech was in Memorial Coliseum (later named Coleman Coliseum). The coliseum was opened in January 1968 — and the speech, 3 months later, was one of the largest events held at that time. Seating was on the floor and the west side.

    • kgmatheny says:

      Thanks so much for the added details!

    • Dick Cheatham says:

      You are right. I was there. When I read earlier comments about Foster Auditorium, I thought I was losing my mind.

      • M says:

        I saw Robert Kennedy in Foster Auditorium at UA. One of his remarks – harkening back to Wallace’s stand in the school house door was “I never thought I’d see the inside of this building.” But his speech would have been some time between Jan 1966 and June 1967 because that’s the time I was in undergraduate school there By the time I was in law school – Fall 1970 – RFK had been assassinated. Are there Crimson White archives online that we can use?

  4. Charles E. Adams says:

    I was also present for the Robert Kennedy speech. The audience was very much in his hands–the applause was thunderous. Correction to the statement saying event was in the Memorial Coliseum. Not so, it was in Foster Auditorium. I had forgotten that John Glenn introduced him. I was close enough to see him exit the front ground floor exit. Students were leaning over the edge of the balcony applauding and yelling. He gave the balcony group a big smile and a wave.

    July 7, 2014

  5. Redding Pitt says:

    Robert Kennedy’s March 21,1968 Emphasis (and campaign) speech at the University was delivered in the Memorial Coliseum, now Coleman Coliseum. He had announced his campaign for the Presidency only
    five days earlier, on March 16, 1968. He had previously delivered another well received address at the first Emphasis program in March 1966, at Foster Auditorium.

    • Margaret S Marston says:

      Thanks for that note about Robert Kennedy’s appearance at Foster Auditorium in March 1966. I knew I’d seen him when I was at Alabama as an undergraduate (Jan 1966 – June 1967). I knew it was Foster because one of his remarks was that he never thought he’d see the inside of this building (Foster) referring to the time when he was US AG and Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. Security was lax compared to today. I was in the balcony and he was leaving the building through the middle aisle through the seats on the floor. I made my was to be just above him as he exited. I said, “Good night, Senator.” He looked up and said, “Good night.” That is not a moment anyone would misplace or forget.

  6. Redding Pitt says:

    Also, with respect to Robert Kennedy’s March 21, 1968 appearance at the University, John Glenn did
    not introduce him. John Glenn was present with Senator Kennedy, was himself introduced, separately,
    and spoke briefly on behalf of Senator Kennedy’s just launched candidacy. In that first week of RFK’s
    1968 Presidential campaign, he spoke at the University of Kansas, Kansas State, the University of Alabama
    and Vanderbilt.

  7. moody connell says:

    I was at his speech and have a full copy as a member of the working press. That Robert Kenedy
    could overcome the anger once held due to civil rights movement and drew a thunderous applause
    demonstrates that Alabama was making adjustments and was overwhelmed by JFK’s assassination
    in Dallas.

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