ABC News’ Jason Ryan reports:
At an event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s swearing-in as Attorney General, his eldest daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, made reference to the recent Tucson shooting and called for tighter gun control laws. Kennedy Townsend, who lost both her father and uncle to assassins’ bullets, said, “I believe that this department and this country have got to do a better job on gun regulation and on gun control and making our citizens safe. As my father said, we glorify killing on movies and on television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades and sanity to acquire weapons, and violence breeds violence. Repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.”
Legends of the civil rights movement, members of the Kennedy Family and current and former Justice Department officials gathered in the Great Hall at the Justice Department to remember RFK on the 50th anniversary of his arrival as Attorney General. The Justice Department released a trove of pictures from the archives honoring him as the 64th Attorney General of the United States. Find them HERE.
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington bears his name. Today’s tribute reflected on the strides he made for civil rights in the United States.
Attorney General Eric Holder described his excitement watching the Kennedy brothers when he was a young boy, and how, years later, actions taken by RFK to integrate the University of Alabama touched his life.
“On June 11, 1963, my family watched — and celebrated — news reports that two brave young students had stepped past Governor George Wallace to become the first African Americans to enroll in the university. Years later, one of those students — a wonderful woman named Vivian Malone Jones — would become my sister-in-law. Long before I married her sister, Vivian became the University of Alabama’s first African-American graduate. Shortly after earning her degree, she moved to Washington and began her career right here — in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.”
Attorney General Holder, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and former Justice Department attorneys and staff who worked for Kennedy described how RFK dispatched U.S. Marshals to protect “Freedom Riders” in Georgia who rode buses to desegregate interstate transportation. They remembered the conflicts with Governor George Wallace over segregation at the University of Alabama.
John Doar, who served as Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division from 1960 to 1967, said Kennedy’s “greatest legacy was the Civil Rights Act.”
Appearing in a video message, former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who served as RFK’s Deputy Attorney General and traveled to Alabama to confront Wallace with deputized members of the Alabama National Guard, recounted his time with Kennedy. Katzenbach recounted how RFK was the least popular of President John F. Kennedy’s cabinet picks — “too young and too inexperienced and, most of all, too political.” Katzenbach, who succeeded Kennedy as Attorney General, said Kennedy’s dedication to the government and the law instilled him to take on civil rights issues and efforts to battle organized crime. Katzenbach called Kennedy, “The greatest Attorney General of the 20th century.”
Holder said, “Attorney General Kennedy championed the cause of the least among us — and made our nation more just, more fair, and more humane. He was not afraid to dream a better world and to act to create it. As we celebrate Robert Kennedy’s life and his impact on this Department, let us also commit ourselves to carrying on — and carrying out — his mission to make gentle the life of this world, and to make good on the promise of our nation.”