Listening to RFK’s last train ride.

USA. 1968. Robert KENNEDY funeral train.

Robert Kennedy was killed on June 6, 1968.  We were living in a small village on the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya at the time.

1968 had been a hard year to be far from home.  In April Martin Luther King had been assassinated.  I remember trying to explain the significance of his death in French to an Italian missionary who didn’t speak any English.  Listening to BBC and VOA, it seemed as if the whole country was going up in flames.  About a week after MLK’s death, we were cheered that Mary was pregnant again.  Our joy was short-lived.  Malaria had kept Mary in bed for much of her second pregnancy and nearly killed her after our daughter Justine was born.  Now it struck again causing weeks of bleeding and pain, finally taking the baby in mid-May.

When we moved to Kenya in 1966, we had intended to stay indefinitely.  Losing this baby was the last straw.  Not only had malaria nearly killed Mary when the blood she had lost during her second delivery regenerated generating hordes of fresh parasites, we had nearly lost Joe the year before during a trip to Nairobi.  Now, Justine and I also were getting sick with malaria.  I had forgotten how often and how sick I was feeling around the time of Kennedy’s death until I checked my diary to write this post about Kennedy.  We decided we needed to leave before malaria took any more of us.

Then, Robert Kennedy was assassinated.  I had become quite convinced that his election would ensure an end to the war in Vietnam and bring real help to the people who lost a champion in Martin Luther King.  In hindsight I may have been naive, but at that time I believed.  Strongly.  The entry in my diary for June 6, 1968 consists mostly of a quote from Macbeth, which I had been teaching.

O horror, horror, horror!
Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o’ th’ building!

What I remember most about that time was listening to the Voice of America live broadcast on June 8 of the journey of the train carrying RFK’s casket from New York City down to Arlington Cemetery, where he was buried next to his brother John.    In Kenya we were eight hours ahead of the East Coast so I remember starting to listen in the late afternoon.  I also remember a visit that evening to disturb my vigil.  A local teacher whom I had befriended and whom I was helping with his pursuit of further education came to talk with me about details of his plans.  I tried to explain to him what I was listening to and why it was so important to me, but he just didn’t grasp what was going on inside of me.  Finally, after what seemed like hours with him talking and me trying to stay civil, he left.  And I could go back to my vigil.

I do remember Sylvanus Njiru struggling to get my attention.  What I had forgotten until I went back to my diary is that I stayed up until 5 a.m. the next morning.  Lost in my grief.  I wrote in my diary on June 9: “I don’t give a damn about the elections any more.  I hope Teddy doesn’t run.”

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