Robert F. Kennedy – Address to Town Hall meeting – Biltmore hotel – April 19, 1968 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
The election year 1968 – a year of tremendous upheaval, uncertainty, conflict, protest and glimmers of hope. No question, Robert F. Kennedy was poised to take the lead in the Democratic race to the White House. His popularity, emboldened by the Kennedy name, triggered a wave of nostalgia for his brother John, assassinated only five years earlier. But also Robert Kennedy symbolized a nation looking for new direction, a new voice and a new spirit that was desperate to break with old traditions and values. A nation rapidly turning against the war in Vietnam and looking for solutions to the problems gripping America at the time.
On March 31, President Johnson stunned the nation by dropping out of the presidential race. He withdrew from the election during a televised speech, where he also announced a partial halt to the bombing of Vietnam and proposed peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, long a champion of labor unions and civil rights, entered the race on April 27, with support from the party “establishment”—including the Democratic members of Congress, mayors, governors, and labor unions. Although he was a write-in candidate in some of the contests, Humphrey had announced his candidacy too late to be a formal candidate in most of the primaries. Despite late entry into the primary race, Humphrey had the support of the president and many Democratic insiders, which gave him a better chance at gaining convention delegates in the non-primary states. In contrast, Kennedy, like his brother before him, had planned to win the nomination through popular support in the primaries. Because Democratic party leaders would influence delegate selection and convention votes, Kennedy’s strategy was to influence the decision-makers with crucial wins in the primary elections. This strategy had worked for John F. Kennedy in 1960, when he beat Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia democratic primary.
Kennedy delivered his first campaign speech on March 18 at Kansas State University, where he had previously agreed to give a lecture honoring former Kansas governor and Republican Alfred Landon. At Kansas State, Kennedy drew a “record-setting crowd of 14,500 students” for his Landon Lecture. In his speech, Kennedy apologized for early mistakes and attacked President Johnson’s Vietnam policy saying, “I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions which helped set us on our present path.” He further acknowledged that “past error is not excuse for its own perpetration.” Later that day at the University of Kansas Kennedy spoke to an audience of 19,000—one of the largest in the university’s history. During that speech he said, “I don’t think that we have to shoot each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country. And that is why I run for President of the United States.” From Kansas, Kennedy went on to campaign in the Democratic primaries in Indiana, Washington, DC, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, and California.
During one of his many campaign sweeps around California, Kennedy addressed a gathering of Town Hall to give an address but also to participate in a Question and answer period right after.
Here is that address and the Q&A as it was broadcast on April 19, 1968 from Los Angeles.